By Bill Shore, Darell Hammond, & Amy Celep

Many of the fastest-growing
nonprofit organizations
begin with well-intentioned
interventions and relatively naive ideas about
the magnitude and complexity of the problems they aim
to solve. Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! are no exception.
By some measures our organizations were successful
US nonprofits—growing rapidly, engaging numerous partners,
and improving the lives of tens of millions of children.

Yet all the while, the problems we were tackling—hunger
and the lack of opportunities to play—were getting worse
and even accelerating in recent years as the economy took
a downturn. More than 16 million kids in America now live
in poverty, up from 11.6 million in 2000. For Share Our Strength,
we knew the grants we were providing to feed hungry people were
benefiting the recipients, but we confronted the hard truth that
one in five American children struggles with hunger. Similarly, for
KaBOOM!, we witnessed how children who played on our playgrounds
benefited physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally,
but we faced the fact that one in three children is obese or overweight,
and one in five suffers from a mental illness, with rates of depression
higher than ever before. The list goes on.1

Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! realized that to make significant
progress we had to move beyond simple solutions to complex
problems, and we had to answer anew, in a much bolder way, the
most critical question of all: “What does success look like?”

Our stories are all too familiar. The foundation on which many
nonprofits are built is flawed and simplistic, focused on a symptom
rather than the underlying set of problems, developed in isolation
rather than as part of an integrated system, and organized to administer
a narrowly tailored program or benefit rather than generate
sustained, significant change for a person or community. As a result,
change is incremental, not big or bold enough to make a lasting and
transformative impact.

A variety of factors combine to make this dynamic so pronounced.
Some are external and macro, such as the challenges inherent in solving
problems that affect people who are politically voiceless and the
value our culture places on the immediate over the long term. Some
are internal, like the failure of imagination or the fear of failure that
leads us to the easier, less expensive solution rather than the solution
that addresses the underlying problems. Some are both, like
public pressure to keep nonprofit salaries and overhead low, and
internal acquiescence that can constrain necessary and catalytic
investments in people, technology, and systems. The result is often
like filling a glass of water one drop at a time. Impact dissipates and
evaporates, and the glass seems never to be more than half full. To
solve big problems we need strategies sufficient to fill the whole glass.

Collective impact is one approach for solving problems, but one
can use it to tackle a problem at a large or a small scale. If solving social
problems is what we aspire to achieve, we need to set long-term,
bold goals that acknowledge the magnitude of an issue. Defining a
bold goal changes the game, leading to different decisions that set us
on a new trajectory, which ultimately leads to greater impact, faster.

We recognize the pathology we describe because we once practiced
it, making many of the same mistakes we now bring to the fore.
We unintentionally shortchanged ourselves and those we meant to
serve until time, experience, and perhaps some wisdom taught us to
use a more strategic—and potentially effective—approach. Now we
have embarked on a new course, one that focuses less on the transactions
involved in the delivery of direct services and more on exerting
the influence necessary to solve problems at the magnitude
they exist. By ensuring lasting and significant change for all those
affected by an issue, we are aiming for transformational change.

Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! aren’t the only organizations
focused on transformational change. In 1996, Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids embarked on a mission to reduce tobacco use
among kids. The smoking rate among US youth dropped from 36.4
percent in 1997 to 18.1 percent in 2011.2Malaria No More adopted
the ambitious goal to end deaths from malaria in Africa by 2015.
Since its work began, malaria deaths have decreased 33 percent in
Africa.3 And from 1988 through the early 1990s, the Harvard Alcohol
Project sought to introduce a new social norm in the United States:
the “designated driver.” By 1991, 52 percent of Americans younger
than 30 had served as a designated driver. In the three years prior
to the start of the campaign there had been no change in the annual
number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities; from 1988 to 1992 the
nation saw a four-year decline of 24 percent, from 23,626 to 17,858.4

Though it may seem counterintuitive for a sector already struggling
to support, sustain, and scale up its impact—our approach calls
for nonprofits to embrace a much heavier lift. We must look beyond
short-term achievements that please funders, staff, and stakeholders
but yield only incremental change, and instead hold ourselves
accountable for the harder-to-achieve long-term outcomes that will
ultimately solve social problems.

Babes in the Woods

Share Our Strength had its genesis in 1984 when I (Bill Shore), then
29 years old, read a tragic story on the front page of The Washington
Post about the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians expected to die
soon from famine. Though experienced in politics and government,
I had no experience in the nonprofit sector.

So I began with an idea that was clear, simple, and wrong: we
would end hunger by raising money and granting it out to food banks
and other emergency food assistance programs. It should have been
obvious then, as it is now, that hunger is a symptom of the deeper,
more complex problem of poverty. In addition to being young and
idealistic, we were untrained, uninformed, and unsophisticated. So
we made grants to thousands of organizations around the United
States, all of which were doing an impressive job of feeding hungry
people, but few of which were focused on ending hunger. Since its
founding, Share Our Strength has raised and invested more than
$376 million and has won the support of national leaders in business,
government, health, education, sports, and entertainment. But much
of the focus, internally and externally, was on the entrepreneurial
ways it generated funds (through innovations in cause-related marketing)
rather than on how it used the funds to advance its mission.

The origins and founding principles of KaBOOM! were similar.
The spark for KaBOOM! came in 1995, when I (Darell Hammond),
then 24 years old, read a story, also in The Washington Post, about two
children who suffocated while playing in a car because they didn’t
have anywhere else to play. I’d grown up with seven brothers and
sisters in a group home outside of Chicago and could identify with
that kind of deprivation.

Our assessment of the problem at the time was that children
lacked sufficient opportunities for play. So we focused on building,
improving, and opening playgrounds by mobilizing communities and
engaging the corporate sector to fund and volunteer to support the
work. Over the past 18 years, we’ve helped build more than 15,000
playgrounds, engaged more than 1 million volunteers, and served
more than 6 million children. We’ve also been recognized for how well
we bring together communities and new partners, particularly businesses,
to work toward a common goal of building a great place to play.
We’ve used a fee-for-service model and have had steady double-digit
growth, attracting high-profile Fortune 100 companies as funders.

The End of Innocence

Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! grew rapidly, got great press, and
enjoyed the admiration of family, friends, and peers in the nonprofit
sector. But the novelty and satisfaction of one’s own organizational
growth, and the accolades that come with it, wear off over time.
One needn’t do the work for very long to realize that our efforts
were reaching only a fraction of those in need and the problem was
much more complex than we had imagined. Leaders in both of our
organizations found that compared to effectively solving the task
that still remained, growth alone began to feel hollow.

To the leadership of Share Our Strength something didn’t make
sense. Despite the many good private efforts, including Feeding
America, Bread for the World, and ours, as well as many established
and well-funded public programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (food stamps), school lunch, and school breakfast,
the problem of hunger seemed to be increasing, not decreasing.
It was also unsatisfying that we could not quantify our impact. Was
the funding we provided equal to 1 percent of what was needed, or
was it 50 percent? When was our job done? Without a specific measure
of success it was impossible to know.

To define our goal, we thought about the writer Jonathan Kozol’s
advice to pick battles big enough to matter, but small enough to win.
This struck the right balance between inspiring and remaining within
reach. In 2005, extensive research led us to refocus our broad-based
anti-hunger efforts on a specific subset: chronically hungry US children.
We realized that it was possible to do more than just feed kids
and that we could actually end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

We pivoted from being the grantmaking intermediary that we had
been for two decades to designing and leading a national campaign—No Kid Hungry—with a primary strategy of winning the childhood
hunger battle state by state through cross-sector collaborations. The
premise of the campaign is that kids are not hungry because of a
lack of food or effective programs (like school breakfasts, summer
meals, and food stamps), but because they lack access to or face the
stigma associated with participating in these programs. Our focus
became coordinating and resourcing the community organizing
needed to knock down barriers preventing kids from participating
in these programs.

The implications of this change were significant. We needed new
staff, skills, experience, partners, data, funding, and ways of working.
That meant that some of our existing staff, partners, and funders
would need to make room for others, change the way they worked,
train and prepare for new roles, and in some cases even transition
out of the organization. We also made the tough but deliberate choice
to make No Kid Hungry our primary consumer-facing brand after
nurturing the Share Our Strength brand for more than 20 years.

The result has been catalytic and profound. Holding ourselves
accountable to a specific outcome that was bold but believable inspired
our stakeholders and gave them confidence that we merited
their investment. Our revenues increased from $16 million in 2007
to $42 million in 2012. We added more than 70 staff and made long-overdue
investments in financial acumen, branding, and public
policy development.

As a result of our investments, we’ve added hundreds of thousands
of children who weren’t receiving food aid to public nutrition
programs. Since summer 2011, we’ve helped connect children across
the country to more than 28 million additional school breakfasts
and 6 million additional summer meals. In addition, more than
330,000 people have taken the No Kid Hungry pledge and Congress
has received more than 100,000 letters championing the No
Kid Hungry goal.

At KaBOOM!, the story was similar. We’d built playground after
playground and helped inspire others to do the same. The KaBOOM!
“builds” had gotten a great deal of media coverage, but much of it
was predictable—“XYZ Corporation and local community organization
partner with KaBOOM! to build a playground in a day with
200 volunteers”—and didn’t get at the importance of play in kids’
lives or necessarily move the needle on ensuring that kids get the
play they need to become healthy and successful adults.

In 2012, we had our best financial year ever. The board was
pleased and would have been content for us to continue on a linear
path. But the board and senior staff also believed that recent
success afforded us the opportunity to think and act more boldly.
Despite our growth, we weren’t solving the problem at the magnitude
it existed. It wasn’t just about building more places for kids to
play; there was a more complex social problem around how society
thinks about, values, and engages in play. We couldn’t continue to
ignore that many playgrounds are empty most of the time, active
play is disappearing in America, kids are spending more than eight
hours a day in front of a screen, and that almost half of all kids living
in poverty attend schools that don’t offer recess.

The choice was stark: continue our almost exclusive focus on
building playgrounds—providing tangible benefits to communities
with incremental impact—or take a risk and chart a new course that,
while maintaining what had made KaBOOM! successful, would also
address the broad scale and complexity of the issue with the hope
of creating transformational change. We chose the latter. Our new
goal: All children, particularly the 16 million children living in poverty
in the United States, get the play they need to become successful
and healthy adults.

Thinking at this level changed everything for KaBOOM!. We are
adding new strategies—inspiring, empowering, and leading play
advocates and informing while elevating the societal conversation
about the importance of play in kids’ lives—that leverage our core
strength of creating and catalyzing great places to play. For example,
we are launching a new initiative that will reward individuals
taking action to make their communities more playful or who have
great ideas that inspire or enable active play in their communities,
whether the individual is a mom who takes the lead on improving a
playground in her neighborhood or the head of the local PTA who
mobilizes supporters to reinstate recess in school.

Our new goal has also forced us to rethink how we partner with
other nonprofits, and not just the handful of national nonprofits that
focus on play. To be sure, we want organizations such as Playworks,
which transforms schools by providing more and better play opportunities
at recess and throughout the school day, to thrive. But we
also realize that, by themselves, the small inner circle of play-focused
national nonprofits do not have the resources or reach to achieve
anything but incremental growth in the services they provide.

Since we are in the initial stages of this strategic extension of
our work, we cannot yet tell whether it will be successful. We may
find that we lack the ability to execute new initiatives that require
different skill sets. Or we may lose major funders who are wary of
supporting new initiatives or who are uncomfortable with the long-term
horizon required to change behavior and societal norms. But
we know that at least we are aiming for the right target.

Lessons Learned

These strategic shifts presented leadership challenges for both
Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! from which we learned important
lessons. Our experiences align closely with insights developed
by Community Wealth Partners, which has researched a number of
historical and present-day change agents also tackling problems at
the magnitude they exist—such as the anti-malaria movement, the
designated driver campaign, the reduction in crime in New York
City in the 1990s, and the anti-tobacco movement.5

Drawing on our research and experience, we have identified four
lessons most critical to achieving transformational change, starting
with the most important: setting a long-term, bold goal. This becomes
the North Star by which an organization makes decisions and allocates
resources and the bottom line against which the organization
measures its progress. Everything else flows from it.

Focus: Set a Bold Goal | Solving a social problem at the magnitude
it exists requires an organization to shift from focusing on
short-term incremental progress to focusing on long-term transformational
change. The latter is risky, hard to measure, and even harder
to achieve, but it provides the inspiration that generates motivation,
resources, and a new sense of what is possible. This means developing
a goal so bold that achieving it means a social ill has been eradicated.

Malaria No More, for example, adopted the goal in 2006 to end
all deaths from malaria in Africa by 2015. This bold goal—considered
“crazy” by many inside and outside the malaria field—eventually
inspired other organizations to join Malaria No More in achieving
it. Since 2006, malaria deaths have fallen by one-third in Africa.

Similarly, in December 2004 the CEO of the Institute for Healthcare
Improvement, Donald Berwick, declared a bold goal and issued a
challenge to hospital administrators: “Here is what I think we should
do. I think we should save 100,000 lives. And I think we should do
that by June 14, 2006—18 months from today. Some is not a number;
soon is not a time. Here’s the number: 100,000. Here’s the time:
June 14, 2006—9 a.m.” Hospitals that participated in the challenge
saved an estimated 122,300 more lives than were projected during
this time frame.6

It is also important to create a sense of urgency and a reason
to believe that the long-term bold goal can be accomplished. This
can be achieved by setting shorter-term milestones and developing
small-scale proof points. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and
its partners had a long-term goal to reduce tobacco use and its deadly
toll. They also set a shorter-term goal of establishing FDA jurisdiction
over tobacco, which they achieved in 2009, giving stakeholders
faith that even bigger change was possible.7

The challenge with a bold goal is that, by definition, it aims at
a target that is large, complex, and poorly understood. For many
stakeholders at Share Our Strength and KaBOOM!, this was not
what they’d signed up for. This shift has presented challenges for
both organizations in their relationships with internal and external

At Share Our Strength, we recognized that the most important
audience for this strategic shift was the person sitting next to us. If we
couldn’t persuade, inspire, or explain our new goal to our co-worker,
what chance was there of winning over others? So we spent weeks
making sure that everyone at Share Our Strength was on the same
page. We also recognized that we needed to integrate new staff with
very different work styles and expertise into our existing team. We
brought on former political campaign operatives accustomed to working
with urgency in an environment of complexity and uncertainty.
But we needed them to work with existing staff used to operating in
a more planned and deliberate manner. At times, there were clashes.

In reviewing our partnerships in light of our new strategy, we
identified a case of misalignment and made the hard decision to
let a million-dollar corporate relationship expire. And some of our
nonprofit partners had reservations about being held accountable
for ending childhood hunger by 2015. But we accepted these as the
costs of doing business in a new way.

At KaBOOM!, we now are in the process of convincing partners
to adapt with us. Some partners are embracing the shift because
they share the belief that active play—whether on the playground
or not—leads to better outcomes for children and that playgrounds
alone won’t solve the problem. Others are not interested in empowering
play advocates because the primary value they derive from
partnering with us is a high-end employee volunteer engagement
experience with a tangible product (playgrounds) to tout. Still others
have expressed concern that focusing on play may dilute the
citizen engagement and social capital that comes from building a
playground in partnership with a community.

Stakeholders: Open Up Your Circle | Transformational change
requires an organization to look outside of its core group of true believers
and put greater emphasis on mobilizing those less engaged.
Every leader trying to solve a problem at the magnitude it exists
must ask the simple question: Who has a role to play in solving this
problem? The answer often includes cross-sector stakeholders, and
those making transformational change are particularly adept at moving
beyond their core champions and engaging seemingly unlikely
partners. They excel at converting the “maybes”—by far the largest
stakeholder group for any social goal—into “yeses.”

Jay Winsten of the Harvard School for Public Health, one of the
architects behind the designated driver movement, demonstrated
the value of opening one’s circle by successfully engaging the Hollywood
community in an effort to make the designated driver concept
a social norm. Many Hollywood elites adopted the cause as their
own, writing it into scripts of shows such as Cheers. The designated
driver campaign played a significant role in the 24 percent decline
in alcohol-related traffic fatalities between 1988 and 1992. The concept
has since been passed down from one generation to the next.

Similarly, Malaria No More recruited as champions of the cause
powerful influencers of public opinion,
such as American Idol, one of
the most popular television shows
in the United States, and the FC
Barcelona soccer team, one of the
most celebrated brands across the
globe, including in Africa, where
90 percent of malaria deaths occur.
Malaria No More also identified
Exxon Mobil Corp. as an ally, recognizing
that malaria infection is
the leading cause of worker absenteeism
in key African oil-producing
countries such as Angola, Chad, and Nigeria.

Share Our Strength started to subcontract with hundreds of
small community nonprofits that could advance our campaign in
schools and summer meals sites, and work with state legislatures,
local school superintendents, and other community organizations.
In some states No Kid Hungry campaigns are staffed by our own employees,
giving us tighter control over their work and performance.
In other states we provide the funds to embed campaign managers
in existing community organizations. As a result, they sometimes
face conflicting interests and have conflicting loyalties to agendas
that are similar but not necessarily the same as ours. This requires
compromise, acknowledging that our community partners have
their own agenda as well as sharing ours.

At KaBOOM!, we’re just now navigating the challenge of opening
our circle, which will require us to embrace more decentralized
activity. It’s not always easy to do this when one’s model has been
built on a very centralized and controlled approach. Without standardization,
we could not deliver a best-in-class volunteer experience
or produce a safe, high-quality playground. But changing behavior
and societal norms presents a very different challenge. It requires
grassroots mobilization to empower individuals to create a new,
more playful future for their communities in ways that are best for
them, not directed by us.

For example, earlier this year KaBOOM! recognized more than
200 US cities, including Atlanta, as Playful City USA communities
for their commitment to play-friendly policies. Facing declining
revenues, Atlanta’s proposed 2014 budget included a $3 million cut
to parks and recreation. Cynthia Gentry, the founding director of
Atlanta Taskforce on Play and a longtime friend of KaBOOM!, immediately
rallied play advocates in Atlanta to make the case for full
funding, without any prompting from KaBOOM!. Our challenge with
this type of mobilization is to overcome our well-intentioned instinct
to engage with and help every single person who takes self-directed
action. Our limited capacity and resources can go only so far, and
we need others to take up the cause as their own if we ever hope to
increase public sector support, catalyze comprehensive community-wide
action, and create transformational change.

Communication: Change the Conversation | Solving problems
at scale requires an organization to do more than open up the
circle of champions. At times, it requires leaders not just to join a
conversation but to actually change the conversation. Changing the
conversation can broaden the base of support for an idea by making
it accessible to more people and interests or helping others better
understand its connection to them.

For example, in the late 1990s, the state of Florida’s “truth” campaign
shifted anti-tobacco messaging to teenagers from the standard
health-based frame of instructing teenagers on proper health behaviors
to providing them with information to identify and assess false
or manipulative tobacco advertising targeting them. The campaign
equipped teens to fight back against “the bad guys.” One year after
the campaign’s launch, smoking among Florida middle-school and
high-school students had declined by 19.4 and 8 percent, respectively.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated
that this was “the largest annual reported decline observed in the
nation since 1980.”8

Leaders also need to be willing to change the conversation by
asking for more money or new types of funding that may be needed
to achieve bold goals. In the late 1990s, the Rheedlen Centers for
Children and Families founded the Harlem Children’s Zone, transitioning
from providing various services to meet the needs of the
local community to building and executing on a plan to end the cycle
of generational poverty and send every child who lives in a 97-block
area of Harlem to college. To accomplish this bold goal the organization
needed to drastically increase its financial resources: from $8.1
million in 1999 to $25.9 million in 2000.9 Instead of seeking funding
program by program, Harlem Children’s Zone president Geoffrey
Canada presented the organization’s bold goal along with a business
plan that demonstrated how it would accomplish this goal. Canada
explains, “We honestly would not take money that was not multiyear
and it had to be unrestricted. You had to fund the plan, not a
specific program.” This new conversation enabled Canada to win
the attention of large national funders. And once he had secured
funding from the first major new funder—the Soros Foundation—
he used the accompanying credibility to open doors with others.

Share Our Strength made a concerted effort to change the conversation
from one focused solely on hunger to one focused on the
connection between hunger and health-care costs, educational
achievement, and economic competitiveness. Our No Kid Hungry
campaign collaborated with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. on a
project to identify and quantify the potential long-term impacts associated
with children participating in the federal school breakfast
program. The findings indicated that, on average, students who eat
school breakfast achieve 17.5 percent higher scores on standardized
math tests.10 Linking hunger and school performance has increased
interest among policy-makers and funders committed to education.

The Deloitte project, as important as it was in terms of changing
the conversation, also exposed us to new scrutiny. We knew that social
science projections can never be made with certainty and that
people might challenge our findings. So there were extensive negotiations
with and within Deloitte
over what numbers could be used.

Many corporations partner with
KaBOOM! because playgrounds are
not controversial, but some of our
partners are not necessarily passionate
about the cause of play. When
KaBOOM! started talking about giving
kids the childhood they deserve,
however, people often had a visceral
reaction—based on personal experience
(my kids are growing up too
fast) or tragic news events (Sandy
Hook). This new approach puts play at the center of the solution.
At the same time, this change in the conversation has its challenges.
We have a stronger point of view now on social issues and the role
of play in solving them. For example, we believe that kids need balance
but are spending too much time in front of a screen. With a
stronger point of view, we risk alienating some corporate partners
who might favor the use of technology by kids.

Approach: Disrupt the Norms | As Thomas Edison famously
quipped in response to a new employee’s inquiry about laboratory
rules, “There ain’t no rules around here. We’re trying to accomplish
something!” To create transformational change, organizations must
be willing to act as skeptics, questioning—and often disrupting—the norms among those affected by and those who affect a social
problem. Norms are standards or patterns of social behavior that
are typical or expected of a group. Ultimately, the reason to disrupt
norms is to motivate a critical number of people to change their behavior,
leading to a new norm, and then to advocate for standards
or policies that will enforce the new norm.

For decades, the status quo of policing dictated that officers ignore
petty crimes. Given limited resources, police in the mid-20th century
were generally taught to ignore minor “quality-of-life” offenses like
graffiti, panhandling, and broken windows and instead focus on serious
or violent crimes and rapid response to 911 calls. In the 1980s,
sociologists and political scientists began to advance the “Broken
Windows” theory, which questioned traditional policing standards.
The new approach held that disorderly behavior is contagious and
can accelerate community decay. The antidote is a “zero-tolerance”
approach in which officers proactively stymie small offenses, an approach
that former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton
embraced as he aimed to reduce crime in the city by 40 percent in
three years. Under Bratton’s watch (1994-1996), murders fell by 47
percent, felonies by 39 percent, and theft by 35 percent. Public confidence
in the New York City Police Department over that period
rose from 37 to 73 percent.11

At Share Our Strength, the norm for school breakfast had always
been to offer it before the bell and in the cafeteria, which presented
transportation and stigma barriers for many of the kids who needed
it most. Experiences from forward-thinking schools across the country
had demonstrated that alternative approaches to serving breakfast,
including serving it after the bell and in the classroom, could
increase breakfast participation. Share Our Strength funded many
schools and districts to scale up these efforts through our No Kid
Hungry campaign. We then collaborated with Deloitte to analyze
the results in Maryland, which showed that in the schools where
breakfast in the classroom was implemented, there was as much as
a 7.2 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism. This data equipped us
to speak to school leaders and policy makers about the educational
benefits of alternative approaches to breakfast.

We have made a concerted effort to influence elected officials
to pass legislation requiring high-need schools to adopt alternative
models of providing breakfast. During the 2013 legislative session,
three No Kid Hungry states successfully undertook three different
policy efforts to expand school breakfast participation. In Colorado,
for example, the new law will require more than 360 schools to offer
breakfast after the bell, giving more than 80,000 additional
children access to a daily breakfast.

But in some places the educators we expected to be allies initially
were opponents. According to our 2012 survey of public school teachers,
nine out of 10 teachers say that breakfast is very important for
academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast with increased concentration
(95 percent), better academic performance (89 percent),
and better behavior in the classroom (73 percent). Yet in schools where
we introduced in-classroom breakfast, those same teachers initially
opposed the program, citing perceived barriers such as increases
in messes and pests, and decreases in instructional time. These
changes can be disruptive when first implemented, but experience
from schools across the country indicates that as students, teachers,
food service staff, and custodians become accustomed to these new
processes, the benefits become evident and the opposition turns to
support. But it requires the fortitude to stick it out.

In pursuing its goal to ensure that children get the active play
they need, KaBOOM! understands that building standard post-and-platform
playgrounds is not adequate by itself to create widespread
behavior change. Change of this magnitude requires that society
place more value on active play and reinforce the expectation that
children play in an active way every day. KaBOOM! views innovation
in play-space design as a key lever for elevating the importance
of active play and inspiring children to play more.

To accomplish this, KaBOOM! now attempts to drive the development
and introduction of new play-space concepts in a playground
industry whose innovation is stifled by safety regulations and the
risk of litigation. Imagination Playground is a mobile play system
made up of intentionally odd-shaped big blue blocks designed by
renowned architect David Rockwell that taps into a child’s natural
curiosity and creativity. The blocks—designed to get children to play
longer and come back more frequently—are a notable example of
play-space disruption. KaBOOM! helped create a market for Rockwell’s
innovative design by partnering with foundations and corporations
to grant Imagination Playground sets to centers, elementary
schools, before- and after-school programs, children’s museums, and
other nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, thus
offering loose parts play as a lower-cost, high-value complement to
the typical playground. This type of design and distribution innovation,
which is more accessible to low-income communities because
it is significantly less expensive and does not require permanent
installation, is inspiring behavior change and disrupting the norm
of inactivity in underserved communities.

Though we believe this type of disruptive innovation is critical,
the challenge is to continue doing this while maintaining effective
partnerships with leaders in the playground industry who help us
to provide more and better play opportunities to children in low-income
communities across the country. We are doing this by positioning
these new programs as a way to create a bigger market, not
to compete with the existing playground market. Yet, we sense and
recognize that challenging norms can be threatening to those who
are well-established industry players.

Everything Is Impossible Until It Isn’t

When Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! began, we provided children
with meals and places to play. But this has gotten us only so
far, and we have seen the prospects for children, particularly those
living in poverty, worsen. Now we have shifted course. In our own
ways, we are seeking to give all kids the childhood they deserve.
We understand that this is fraught with challenges and runs a high
risk of failure. A large part of the current leadership challenge for
us is to resist temptations to slide off strategy when the going gets
tough, which it inevitably does after the early and relatively easy
successes, or to chase funding that appears to be more readily available
for popular but nonstrategic initiatives.

The purpose of this article is not to suggest that there is a formula
for solving social problems or that every organization should follow
our path. But we—as individuals, a sector, and society—cannot be
satisfied with business as usual. Whether a change agent inside a
community-based, national, or global organization, or in the public
or private sector, we must commit to finding our unique place in
creating transformational change. We must find the courage to aim
for the harder-to-achieve long-term outcomes that will solve social
problems. Good is not good enough when people are suffering. And,
history has shown us—whether dramatically reducing tobacco use,
alcohol-related traffic fatalities, or deaths from malaria—that everything
is impossible until it isn’t.

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