A Peery Foundation Mohawk

By Jessamyn Lau

A little while ago I developed the analogy of ‘getting a Mohawk’. In a past life I actually had a mohawk, so figured I was qualified enough to define it as: a decision that is risky, but not permanent, and helps you become more of who/what you want to be.

We are a young foundation. Small. Learning. Still admittedly getting some things wrong. But with aspirations to be better. Mostly we’re trying to figure out who and what we are as an organisation, and how we are uniquely situated to be most effective in our support.

On a fairly regular basis we get a mohawk. We make decisions and try things out that involve risk, but that aren’t irreversible. Things that help us figure out what we are and how we best operate. Sometimes we talk about big mohawks with spikes and colours, and then realise they aren’t right for the moment. We don’t go through with all of them. Mostly we get small mohawks. But it is this openness to experimentation and thoughtful iteration that makes the PF an exciting, and potentially more effective, organisation to work within.

One small current mohawk: This year we’re going to have a social entrepreneur check-in with our social entrepreneurs. Sounds strange? Let me explain.

With each of our partners we aim to have quarterly or semi annual check-ins. We discuss how they are doing with their milestones, what their current challenges are, and find out if and how we can further help them. Neither Dave nor I will be the primary contact for check-ins with the PF for our Global Portfolio partners in 2011. Instead the check-ins will be with one of their own; a social entrepreneur.

One of our partners and advisors, Martin Burt (founder of Fundacion Paraguaya), has been working with us on our international due diligence, providing deeper insights in to the challenges and opportunities of global models. This year as we are not anticipating growing our Global Portfolio, and so not having international due diligence to perform, Martin has agreed to act as our quasi international program officer. He has a strong grounding in the PF’s process and networks as we’ve worked with him over a number of years in various capacities, and he performed due diligence on many of our current portfolio members, so already has a good grounding in many of their organisations. We’re hoping that our partners will feel even more comfortable talking through issues with him -as a peer practitioner- but also that he will be able to give them more useful advice and support as they discuss issues that he may have come up against and worked through himself at some point.

There are risks associated with trying this. Concerns we’ve already thought about are issues of continuity, effective communication through another layer of conversations, capturing and sharing Martin’s insights, etc. We’re still fine tuning how exactly it will work. Dave and I will not be stepping back completely from the Global portfolio, and we need to figure out how each of our partners sees something like this working for them. Some may opt out.

At the end of the day if it doesn’t work, it’s not a permanent decision. But we hope this mohawk will help us continue to learn. That’s how we’ll find a better way to do things and the best way for us to support our partners.