Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 11:03 pm | Fair 68º

 
 
 
 

Steven Crandell: Stuart Davidson Has an Acumen for Leadership

Leadership is more than an abstract quality to Stuart Davidson. It’s a reason to invest. And Mr. Davidson does a lot of investing — both for profit and for the common good.

His “day job,” as he calls it, sees him working as a managing partner of Labrador Ventures (its portfolio includes the personalized Internet radio service, Pandora, and the leading live interactive broadcast platform, Ustream).

His other calling is as a remarkably creative venture philanthropist, giving his time, money and talents to promising nonprofits and social enterprises.

For Mr. Davidson, a trustee of the Woodcock Family Foundation, “leadership is so important it trumps all other attributes” when it comes to potential impact on an organization. In fact, Mr. Davidson points out that Woodcock’s philanthropic strategy — it supports social enterprises seeking systemic change — often turns on finding “unusually able and innovative individuals.”

Acumen Fund is one example of the strategy in action. Acumen combines traditional philanthropic motives with market-based strategies, investing in early stage enterprises serving low-income populations around the world. It invests in areas like health care and alternative energy-expecting both a social and a financial return. Any “profit” is put into a new investment. Since it began in 2001, Acumen has made a total of $88 million in investments in 82 enterprises, helping more than 100 million people, according to Wikipedia.

Mr. Davidson and Woodcock have supported Acumen from the beginning — he’s a current board member — and he says the organization took off because of its founder and leader.

“Acumen needed someone who understood the issues of the developing world, who was ready to take a leap, who felt like her purpose in life was to achieve these goals and had the skills,” he says. “We found all those ingredients in Jacqueline Novogratz.”

Ms. Novogratz’s success has not been limited to Acumen. She serves on the Aspen Institute board and the board of IDEO.org, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

So what makes a good leader? Mr. Davidson says communication, management skills and the ability to deal with conflict are all important. But commitment and motivation stand out.

“Some people come to Labrador Ventures and just show me how much money they will make for us,” he says. “I often don’t take a second meeting.” If their main motivation is making money, he reasons, then they will go do something else “when they hit the first bump in the road.” He believes a good leader is totally committed to a project and won’t rest until he or she gets the job done.

He also has some advice for his fellow philanthropists as they evaluate their gifts and impact investments.

“Bet the jockey, not the horse,” he says. “That’s another way of saying the person is more important than the concept of social change.” His experience — both as a venture capitalist and a venture philanthropist — has taught him that it’s easier to change the mission of an organization than to change its culture and leadership.

“If the leadership is right,” he says, “they will figure out what to do. Go with leadership.”

Click here for more information from Investing in Leadership, a guide I wrote for the nonprofit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

— Author and writer Steven Crandell helps integrate story and strategy for organizations, with nonprofit foundations a particular focus. “Thinking Philanthropy” aims to provide practical, thought-provoking ideas about giving. This article was cross-posted on Tumblr. Steven can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @stevencrandell. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >