2013: Strokes of luck
Established in 2012, the Pioneer Fund starts operations in 2013 – like many pioneers it does not yet have a clear plan of action, but in our case, we are able to draw on substantial resources. Besides, we have the most precious commodity of all: the backing of the Migros Executive Board.
We start out with a generous helping of enthusiasm, ambition and respect. By the end of the year, our portfolio already comprises 19 very presentable pioneering projects. Our use of the «outcome mapping» toolkit proves fortuitous. In December 2013, we adopt the target matrix, which is still our main tool for outcome-based project management. This ensures we and our project partners are pursuing the same goal. It is the basis for the first part of the handbook.
2014: Learning the hard way
Looking back, the Pioneer Fund's year two taught us some especially valuable lessons. Scarcely a day passes without us experiencing the harsh reality of a pioneering project. Nothing works out as planned. In one instance, after a series of workshops there is such a conspicuous lack of collaboration that everything descends into a complete shambles. In another case, the pressure of ambitious targets causes a young project team to disintegrate. A third project sees the enthusiasm for its vision quickly evaporate, followed swiftly by its product’s clientele.
Our learning curve is steep. Bit by bit, we come to recognise the essential ingredients of a viable plan. Which by no means says it is still going to work. The entire second part of this handbook summarises how we learnt the hard way.
2015: Common thread
Year three of the Pioneer Fund sees us raise our profile. For all the challenges of the previous year, we have not lost our appetite for pioneering projects. Quite the contrary: With so much to be learnt, we make learning a matter of principle. We are now able to align our contracts with project progress. Our partners sign up to the «copyleft» principle and come to see themselves as a model for sharing their experiences, to the point of actively encouraging imitation.
In December 2015, we host our first launch event with the title «Pioneering projects, models for success and brilliant failures». Admittedly the «brilliant» bit isn't especially bold. Because even if ongoing learning often feels like failure, in the best case it is about failing successfully. Now in chapter 3.1.
2016: Getting down to brass tacks
The Pioneer Fund's fourth year is when the pieces start to come together. We adopt the sustainable development concept and introduce an impact matrix as the basis for giving a thematic focus to the issues we are addressing. This sheds light on how we want to alter the behaviour of key target groups, for instance, but also on external determinants and players in a specific context. This comprises the systemic basis for the first part of this handbook.
In 2016, we get down to brass tacks and launch the Pioneer Lab. Because we have discovered that pioneers need not only finance, but also support in terms of content; quickly and without complications. This is in terms of organisational development, the business model, customer focus, communications, finances or even fundraising. The Pioneer Lab features large in part two of this handbook.
2017: The crisis and the gong
It seems the Pioneer Fund is now truly on an even keel. Our scouting work is booming now that we are organising it in sprints and optimising it with every sprint. And our portfolio has reached the target of 60 pioneering projects. We even draw up a skills profile for our team to find our own superheroes. Except that the mood in the team is deteriorating week by week. A media training session turns into crisis talks. Our coach tells us: Air your grievances. So that's what happens. As a group, we come to realise that amid our drive for results and efficiency, we have lost sight of the need to appreciate and respect each other.
We now realise not every problem is best solved with the intellect. Every week, our team sets aside time for the heart. We call this ritual our «gong» (like the gong used to summon people to meditation). We have even bought one: It reminds us how important the people are with whom we're working on a project. See chapters 2.1 and 3.2.
2018: A manifesto
Our drive to be more open creates ripples. The team works on a manifesto, as well as on its scouting and on supporting pioneering projects. Based around the big three questions Why, How and What, it summarises on four A4 pages what motivates and is important to us. It sets out the principles that are often taken for granted but, if left unspoken, could fail to produce the necessary impact, thus leading to misunderstandings. No other document has supplied us so often (including unexpectedly) with clear answers and guidance on decisions as our manifesto. As such, components of it are to be found scattered throughout the handbook.
Everything has been running smoothly for some time now. Maybe precisely because there's no such thing as everything running smoothly. We no longer get worked up about having to admit a solution doesn't work; we are relieved to realise that in ample time. The British innovation fund nesta portrays the Pioneer Fund in its «Foundation Horizon Scan». We join foundations worldwide in discussing how to forge stronger alliances for systemic change and where the limits of our influence lie. The issue is one that has continued to preoccupy us ever since, see chapters 3.3 and 3.4.
2020: High time for impact
This is the year the world is turned upside down. Will the pioneering projects survive the pandemic? It's the ultimate test of their crisis resilience (see chapter 3.1). And our impact model is also under scrutiny. In August 2020, we embark on describing it in succinct terms. The result is the Impact Guide. It becomes the inspiration for this handbook and the basis for its first part.
2021: From 0 to 100
We reach a milestone: The Pioneer Fund launches its 100th project and has now invested a total of 100 million francs. At this auspicious moment, our fervent wish is to be able to encourage even more pioneers to embark on visionary projects. That is why there is this handbook. It contains everything we've learned so far and we would like to share it with you.
The handbook for pioneers
If you've got a special idea – one that might benefit society as a whole – then this handbook for pioneers will help you get your idea off the ground and go about the right things the right way. It's utterly practical. With a whole array of inspiring tips and specific tools. Above all, it includes all the experience that other pioneers have acquired through their projects. Its twelve chapters contain handy tips, concrete advice and suggestions, as well as loads of «0 to 100» moments that demonstrate what a true pioneering project feels like. In other words, those little boosts of energy that reveal what gives you and your idea that crucial lift and spurs you on to big things. From 0 to 100!
The book will be available at bookshops from 25 January 2022.
Do you have a special idea? Go for it!
Photo/stage: Migros Pioneer Fund/2erpack