At our heart, That Spark is an experiment to test how we might help grow the amazing people that will lead the future of China’s social impact sector.
Gao Rui and Jennifer Brady met in 2014 when working on an initiative to support community-based organizations in China working on important but under-resourced issues, like disabilities care and early childhood development for kids ages 0 to 3.
Our theory was this: If we provided coaching, connections, and multi-year funding that allowed for experimentation and development, then the leading organizations working on a particular issue would be able to overcome many of their toughest growth challenges.
If they could grow, improve, and expand their work, and support peer organizations to do the same, then they would have a much higher chance to achieve impact at scale and, in the long run, help lead the country's response to needs within their focus areas.
Funded by the Legatum Foundation and implemented by Geneva Global, the program supported significant growth in 33 of China’s pioneering organizations. Through network leadership, these 33 invested in over 7,000 peers, and in the process activated whole communities of changemakers—parents, frontline service providers, procurement officers, volunteers, and others—in cities all over the country.
2018 created space for a new start when our role as philanthropy intermediaries came to an end. By mid-year we were questioning what was next for us—individually and as a team. We’d had a good run as program officers. We’d built and implemented effective strategies; we’d supported some fantastic organizations. And yet there was one area where we had so many burning questions. We couldn't stop thinking about the problem of the talent gap.
Through partnerships with dozens of organizations, we saw that even the healthiest, most impactful of them all shared the same key challenge of finding, keeping, and growing the right people.
Examining our own journeys as changemakers offered some insight. We mapped our own experiences, the stories, the people, and the ideas that helped us find not only the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of our work. We wondered if it was it possible to create something that would offer others what we’d had.
With the Legatum Foundation as our incredible founding partner, we launched That Spark in early 2019 to offer a response to the talent challenge in China’s social impact sector. Though the company itself is new, the vision continues from our earlier work supporting pioneering organizations to help grow a health, vibrant, effective sector.
As we like to say, That Spark is an experiment to see how we might look at an old problem in a new frame, and possibly discover a new view of the solution possibilities.
Ultimately, we are interested in what motivates and inspires people to grow, and to offer the best platform possible to help them do that. If we start with people, can we help China create and keep more changemakers? Let’s see where the story goes from here.