Open Road Alliance
In 2011, the future Founder of Open Road Alliance was already an active individual philanthropist supporting initiatives at the community level. She had been interested in exploring international giving but was skeptical, as many are, about the impact her individual support could have against global challenges. Then a conversation with a friend changed everything.
The friend told a story about hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical equipment donated to a Congolese hospital, which sat idly on a loading dock in the U.S. because the non-profit didn’t have the funds to ship it and the donor wouldn’t cover additional costs. Then she heard another similar story…and another… stories of worthwhile projects halted or derailed because the organizations running them couldn’t find relatively small amounts of money to overcome unforeseen obstacles.
She was intrigued and wanted to help. So she approached williamsworks to help her learn more.
Testing the hypothesis
Together, we began a discovery process to answer the question, were these isolated incidents, or part of a larger systemic problem?
We started by listening.
We tapped into the williamsworks network and together spoke with dozens of other philanthropists, non-profits, foundations and experts. We spoke with organizations from all geographies and sectors. For more than six months, we listened, we analyzed, and we listened some more. And again and again, we found examples where even though only a relatively small amount of money was needed get an important and worthy project back on track, none was available.
With enough anecdotal evidence to support the theory, it was time to test it. Working closely with the Founder, we helped develop partner and grant criteria, applications, and due diligence models for a small series of pilot grants to provide one-time gifts to organizations which had encountered these unexpected roadblocks.
Creating Open Road
After eight pilot grants and a year of incubation, her small gifts had led to catalytic impact in areas ranging from global health, to land rights, to gender-equality and media in the developing world. With results beyond what she had expected and even more ambition, the Founder turned to williamsworks to take what we’d learned during this pilot phase and create a lean, effective grant-making organization solely focused on this unique method of funding. Over the next year, williamsworks built and acted as day-to-day staff for nearly all aspects of what is now Open Road Alliance, including:
- Building a grant application, partner and grant criteria, and inclusion/exclusion metrics
- Sourcing and vetting partners and grantees
- Managing the proposal evaluation, gift agreement, mid-cycle reporting, and final evaluation processes
- Building a communications platform for the Founder.
- Managing and positioning Founder externally as a thought leader
- Ensuring due diligence and legal compliance for all grants and fiscal processes
- Managing ongoing project M&E
- Creating and managing the branding and website
In the last two years of operations, Open Road Alliance has supported over 20 projects in 14 countries through its unique model of funding. These discrete, one-time gifts have leveraged millions of dollars in original investments and realized impact for tens of thousands of individuals around the world. Open Road’s unconventional funding strategy has also begun to serve as a platform for addressing some of the root causes of these reoccurring roadblocks and opening a dialogue between other donors and their grantees to drive towards solutions. Over time, Open Road carries the potential to catalyze a movement in philanthropy that fundamentally changes the way business is done and increases efficiency across the system.