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The Lipman Family Prize is Redefining ROI

Joi Sears headshotWords by Joi Sears
Investment & Markets
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The world needs more people like Barry Lipman. The retired -- or, as he would say, “recovering" -- Bay Area attorney is deeply committed to making the world a better place by investing in scalable social impact projects. Five years ago, he and his wife, Marie, launched the Lipman Family Prize with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School -- awarding nearly $1 million to 15 social change organizations around the globe.

The annual global prize celebrates leadership and innovation among trailblazing organizations who are creating positive social impact and developing sustainable solutions to significant social and economic challenges. And although he has a deep respect for social enterprise, Lipman is more attracted to a slightly different niche.

“There are so many social issues where people can’t make a profit and governments won’t get involved,” Lipman told TriplePundit. “These are the organizations that my prize honors. We offer strategic impact investments in the form of unrestricted funds and tools to organizations which are not able to profit from the work they’re doing in the world.”

Winners of the Lipman Family Prize are models for the good they achieve as well as for their approach and implementation. The winner of the Prize tackles universal problems in a local setting by offering an approach, model, or innovation that can be adapted to create a positive impact elsewhere around the globe.

The Lipman Family Prize recognizes and supports these organizations — providing a service to the broader social sector by connecting organizations across service areas to the broader University of Pennsylvania community. Not only does the prize reward exemplary work in the social sector, it supports honorees through an educational and consultative partnership, brings together leaders from exemplary organizations so that they can learn from one another and educates students about the social sector through the prize making process.

The work of the Prize resides within the Wharton Leadership Program and is conducted with the support of other university institutes and centers, such as the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the Center for Leadership and Change Management, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy and the Master of Science Program in Nonprofit/NGO Leadership.

Lipman, a University of Penn alum, said the idea to partner with the University came as a lightning bolt idea in the middle of the night. A few days later, he sat down with the Dean of Wharton to discuss it. “I was trying to explain to him why I thought a partnership would be a great idea. All the while, he was trying to convince me of the exact same thing,” he said.

It took six months of working with different people at the University to bring the project to fruition. They set up a curriculum along with extra-curricular activities that could involve students and developed a process for researching and selecting the honorees. Together, they found a structure that would be mutually beneficial for the school, the students and the prize beneficiaries.

However, Lipman has a different ROI in mind, a “return on impact." He attests that this work has no direct benefit to him, aside from the joy he gets from living a life of service. “I’d say it’s 5 percent about me and 95 percent about expanding positive social impact,” he shared. “I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get out of this or how rewarding this project is for me. My ROI is off the charts. I get so much more out of this than what I put into it. I don’t see any financial return. In that sense, it’s not a very good investment. But nothing can compare to the unbelievable pleasure I feel when I hear about all of incredible things these organizations have done with the money.”

The Prize awards $250,000 to one organization per year in unrestricted cash and $50,000 to two honorees. The Prize also includes an ongoing partnership with the University which includes promotion of their work and accomplishments and access to tuition-free executive education programs at Wharton and the Center for Social Impact Strategy, valued at $15,000.

Organizations are rewarded for their commitment to leadership, innovation, impact and transferability. The first Lipman Family Prize winner, iDE, leveraged their prize resources to scale up a pilot project conducted in Cambodia, aimed at improving health and sanitation in rural villages by creating a local market for simple, clean latrines. Today, iDE has active programs in 5 countries and, in just three years, has facilitated the sale of more than 141,000 latrines through local Cambodian entrepreneurs, making it the most successful sanitation marketing program ever, globally.

The 2013 Lipman Family Prize winner, READ Global, has established 80 READ centers serving 237 rural villages and 2.1 million villagers in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Gender equality advocate Breakthrough, the 2014 prize winner, has gone global with collaborative, multi-media campaigns aimed at ending domestic violence, sexual assault on campus, sexual harassment in public, and violence against women in pop culture.

The 2016 Winner, Soccer Without Borders, uses soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing newcomer refugee, asylee, and immigrant youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success. The organization works in ten countries on three continents, training more than 200 coaches and reaching more than 2,000 youth annually and over 10,000 to date. Their players come from more than 35 countries as far-ranging as Guatemala, Nepal, Afghanistan and Somalia. Many have fled severe violence and discrimination and over 70 percent of Soccer Without Borders participants are refugees or have sought asylum in the U.S.

"Seeing the impact these organizations can make when they have the resources they need has not only surpassed any return I had hoped for; it has confirmed my commitment to identify, nurture, and accelerate organizations doing world-changing work," Lipman said. “I’ve done well in my life, now it’s time to do good.”

Images courtesy of Barry Lipman

Joi Sears headshotJoi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

Read more stories by Joi Sears