ISSUE NUMBER 37   |   DECEMBER 1, 2014 

How Will You Solve Tomorrow's Problems?

By 2025 at least one-fifth of all grantmaking will focus on solving problems that do not currently exist today or that we aren't yet aware of. Solving these problems will mean:
  • Using data that has not yet been collected
  • Applying technologies that have not been created or thought about thus far
  • Engaging a workforce in jobs that do not currently exist

If you don't believe me, consider some of today's problems that we weren't aware of 10 years ago:

  • Ebola: 10 years ago no one thought we would be concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States.
  • Substance abuse: Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed in the past decade, and kids can now buy synthetic marijuana at their local mall (it's marketed as incense). 
  • Toxic chemicals: We are exposed to an increasing amount of toxic chemicals. Most of us weren't checking labels for BPA-free plastic 10 years ago.  Today's children are born with over 200 toxic chemicals in their umbilical cord blood.
  • Early math: There is mounting evidence that the mathematical understanding of preschoolers is highly predictive of how well they will do in math and other subjects, and kids who lack this knowledge when they start school typically do not catch up. I'm a mom of two preschoolers and I didn't even realize this. This is a problem because over half of 3 & 4 year olds in the United States do not attend preschool.

To be positioned to identify and tackle tomorrow's problems, there are 4 questions grantmakers should ask themselves:

  1. Are we continually scanning the field, community & environment in each of our program areas?
  2. In what ways to we regularly expose ourselves to new ideas and thinking?
  3. Do we regularly review our human capital and leadership, and make strategic investments in their development?
  4. Do we intentionally stay abreast of technology and identify ways to leverage it?

While you think about those, I'm going to go play some math games with my twins...


To learn more tips for grantmakers, check out my free resources, such as 10 Mistakes To Avoid When Hiring Philanthropy Consultants (article), Stop the Board Docket Madness (blog post), or Who Is Your Customer (podcast).


2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution. 

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is the president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. and author of the Philanthropy411 blog.

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