One-on-one with George Conrades
George Conrades is Executive Chairman of Akamai. George became an investor in New Profit in 2006 and served on New Profit's Board of Directors from 2006-2010. We sat down with George in December 2009 to talk to him about his experiences with New Profit and his thoughts on innovation and entrepreneurship in the social sector.
What initially attracted you to New Profit and why did you decide to invest and join the Board?
I was seeking a method for highly targeted social philanthropy—one that was less concerned about the administration of funds and more focused on the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization serving the needs of the underserved. Large funds, such as traditional foundations, didn't seem to me to be either efficient or effective for what I wanted to achieve with my philanthropy.
Then I learned about New Profit's entrepreneurial approach. The business model of New Profit is highly attractive, particularly to someone with experience in the venture capital world who knows the importance of being highly focused, managing to objectives and goals, and being accountable for results and to feedback from customers. New Profit finds the most focused social entrepreneurs, provides them with growth capital funding and customized management support, and helps ensure that their organizations are highly effective in meeting the vital needs of the people they serve. I believe this approach is critical to ensuring progress—it's the best way to take great innovations and grow them.
What do you value most about being involved with New Profit?
I value the wisdom that New Profit's leadership and the other Board members possess about social philanthropy. Some of us are experts in finance. Others can make persuasive calls to potential partners. Others, like myself, love to connect the dots between strategy and execution. My involvement has been a great learning experience.
New Profit's and the Board's experiences with social entrepreneurship are tremendous and have been a real eye-opener for me. The wisdom in the group about the relative value of investments, and New Profit’s long history working with organizations and investments like Teach For America and KIPP, together facilitate pattern recognition that better informs choices. There are so many barriers to scaling these organizations but so many success factors that organizations can adopt if they receive the right support and guidance.
What do you believe is the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in the social sector and our nation? What's the role of New Profit?
Innovation and entrepreneurship create 99 percent of the jobs in the private sector and there's no reason to think that this model doesn't apply to the social sector. A market economy where there's innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition helps ensure that the best ideas surface and win.
For me, in the social sector, just like the private sector, it's all about linking strategy and execution. Some people have strategy and no execution. Others have execution and no strategy (execution without strategy is hallucination!).
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10 thousand hours for the human brain to learn something. The Beatles did 1200 performances before they played on the Ed Sullivan show—the results in the music and lyrics they produced are priceless. It's all about practice and execution.
I believe we can apply this philosophy to philanthropic dollars and building a social entrepreneurial organization. New Profit social entrepreneurs are in very competitive environments—for funding, for other resources, and they're working in and fighting to change a system that's broken. New Profit brings a competitive element to philanthropy that I think is highly efficient and effective. By reviewing 300 organizations a year and only making investments in four to five, those social entrepreneurs who make it through to investment are highly competitive and focused on their strategy and execution.
Make a career of humanity...and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.