As seen onFavicon for

5 Great Lean Startup Talks by Social Sector Changemakers (That Everyone Can Learn From)

From the 2013 Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, December 9-11, 2013.


  1. When you're like me and have spent your career working in nonprofits and philanthropy, it’s common to spend a lot of time talking to, attending conferences, and reading the work of others in the same "space." But, I also know that to make large-scale, transformational change happen on any issue from education to transportation,  people in all different industries and sectors need to work together.  And, people in the private sector have a lot to teach those in the social sector, and vice versa.


    This idea took me to the 2013 Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, December 9-11.  In case the word “startup” puts you off, I’ll quote Eric Ries who shared this great definition of the term to kickoff the conference:
  2. By this definition, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a nonprofit or philanthropic foundation working to address complex social, economic, or environmental problems who is not in fact a startup. (Whether it's "lean" is a whole different story.)


    Which is why I was heartened to see is that there are a lot of great social sector changemakers—working in a range of areas—adapting lean principles to accelerate their impact.  Here are five talks delivered at the Lean Startup conference by social changemakers that I think everyone would benefit from hearing.

  3. 1.  When Lean Startup Arrives in a Trojan Horse--Innovation in Extreme Bureaucracy

    Steven Hodas was the first presenter at the conference, sharing his experience using lean to innovate in the NYC Department of Education.  He articulated some great insights on how a large bureaucracy and its leadership resist change, and how he has used lean startup principles to make change happen nonetheless.

  4. Idea to whet your appetite:
  5. Steven's presentation:
  6. Steven Hodas @ The Lean Startup Conference 2013 - 12/9/13
  7. 2. Using Lean Startup to Do Plenty with Very Little

    Kimberly Bryant  shares the story of how her organization Black Girls CODE had to pivot to an entirely different structure when it ran out of money, and how this shift helped them reach exponentially more girls.

  8. Idea to whet your appetite:
  9. Kimberly's presentation:
  10. Kimberly Bryant @ The Lean Startup Conference 2013 - 12/9/13
  11. 3. Build a New Product, Infect a Whole Organization

    Catharine Bracy shares how Code for America’s decision to expand internationally forced them to articulate all the assumptions embedded in their existing strategy, and helped them see what could and couldn’t be adapted to other countries and cultures.

  12. Idea to whet your appetite:
  13. Catharine's presentation:
  14. Catherine Bracy @ The Lean Startup Conference 2013 - 12/9/13
  15. 4. Institutionalizing Innovation

    Diane Tavenner who leads Summit Public Schools shares what she learned during her first couple of years of  implementing lean startup principles in her charter school system.  The end of her presentation is particularly rich in insights about changing a culture to embrace lean.

  16. Idea to whet your appetite:
  17. Diane's presentation: (Video pending, we'll post when it's available.)
  18. Diane's slides:
  19. 5. Funding for Lean Impact

    Christie George of New Media Ventures delivers a rousing call to action for philanthropy to take more risk in order to develop better solutions, and to encourage truth-telling so that social changemakers don't repeat mistakes.