The AlphaOmega Foundation, a pioneer of Venture Philanthropy in France
Meeting with Elisabeth Elkrief, Managing Director
What is the mission of the AlphaOmega Foundation?
Our Foundation focuses on one subject, the academic success of young people from modest background. Education, function of the State, works well but for only about 80% of the pupils. The situation of the remaining 20% ones cannot be resolved by National Education. We have therefore decided to devote our action to these 2 million young people who are neither in school nor at work. There are 5 key stages in the educational path. We have identified the related “pivotal risks”: academic shortcomings, marginalization, wrong orientation, leaving the school system, difficulty in entering the workforce. To confront these risks, many actors exist, trying to reduce them.
How do you select the associations you support?
We choose the most advanced ones, able to change scale: for example, going from a target of 10% of young people involved to 80%. We only support those that have proven their worth, with real impact. Take the example of the “Coup de Pouce” association with which we collaborate on continuous improvement or even on reducing the cost invested per young person in order to increase their number. Thanks to the support of our dedicated internal team, we help them better organize themselves in areas such as information systems management, lean management and communication.
How did the idea to turn to the Venture Philanthropy model come about?
It was Maurice Tchenio, a venture capital pioneer in the 1970s, who had the idea. By choosing to invest in unlisted companies he identified a number of overlooked champions capable of growing but struggling to scale up. In a company of 20 people, the necessary talents in IT, management, communication, etc., are not necessarily present. Maurice Tchenio’s objective was therefore to invest in skills to support these businesses. At the same time, he had always wanted to do business in the general interest. He therefore commissioned an international market study to understand the challenges. He thus discovered Venture Philanthropy, already taught at Harvard, and then understood that it was not necessary to reinvent hot water since his approach had already been conceptualized!
What is the difference between Venture Philanthropy and a “traditional” foundation?
First of all, Venture Philanthropy requires a substantial budget because support for associations is long-term, often ten years or so. In fact, we provide financial support to their structure and not to their projects, unlike what many foundations do. Finally, AlphaOmega offers them the skills they don’t have. Seven people from our team work full time to provide them with this strategic and operational support. We also rely on pro Bono stakeholders to advise them in multiple fields such as Oliver Wyman for strategy missions, Devoteam for digital transformation, Alter Equity for support to managers, but also lawyers, coaches, IT specialists. These are very business-oriented assignments that call for specialized professional skills. Consultants work in associations, sometimes for several weeks, as they would for a company, and are noted for their assignments.
How do the associations react to this support, which is likely to change their daily habits?
Before putting an association in our portfolio there is a period of due diligence of 9 to 12 months. Since we will be supporting them for several years, it is essential for us to know whether the association really wants to change scale. Some may be reluctant because “growing up” is not a priority for them. However, most of them understand our approach and welcome the solutions we can provide them with regard to their organizational problems.
It seems to me that the reason must be found in the cost because Venture Philanthropy requires, in addition to a substantial financial budget, real internal skills. In France we are pioneers. Maurice Tchenio launched his Foundation 10 years ago and today we support 7 associations. We should avoid the “sprinkling” and multiply by 10 the number of young people supported by these 7 associations to really solve the problem of dropping out of school.
The AlphaOmega Foundation is recognized as a public utility and an umbrella foundation, why is it important?
This recognition makes our Foundation a “label” in a way. But our objective is not to become the France Foundation! Many players involved in the education sector choose to support our associations because they know the work of “due diligence” carried out upstream. For example, we are home to “Les Ecoles de la 2e chance” association. We also collect investments from philanthropists who put their money in an endowment fund, the proceeds of which will be partially donated to our Foundation. While we cannot speak of a real donation, this device allows philanthropists to give with confidence avoiding them seeking associations themselves. This means that they agree to delegate. It is therefore a real partnership that is established in favor of the general interest and this is the whole interest of Venture Philanthropy.