Fostering Creativity and Experimentation in Organizations

Creativity and innovation aren’t just buzzwords for Silicon Valley. In addressing the world’s most complex and entrenched challenges in a rapidly changing context, social impact organizations need to harness creativity to adapt to economic shifts, policy changes, political polarization, technological developments, and other trends that impact their work. In this session, we'll discuss how funders can meaningfully support capacity for innovation in the sector. What conditions, resources, and leadership foster creative problem solving? How can groups test and develop new ideas? And how can these lessons inform funders' own approach to grantmaking?


Colleen Briggs: Executive Director of Community Engagement, J.P. Morgan Chase

Palak Shah: Social Innovations Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Elena Matsui: Strategy Associate, Rockefeller Foundation

Swapna Reddy: Co-Founder and Director, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project


Rodrigo Canales: Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Yale School of Management

Panelist Bios:

Colleen Briggs is Executive Director of Community Innovation within the Office of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase & Co, a global leader in corporate philanthropy with $250 million invested in communities annually. She is responsible for helping establish and execute the firm’s global philanthropic strategies on financial health and community development, including two signature initiatives – the Financial Solutions Lab and PRO Neighborhoods competition. The Lab is a $30 million, five-year initiative that convenes leading experts in technology and design to improve consumer financial health for underserved populations. PRO Neighborhoods is a five-year, $125 million program that works to increase the availability and accessibility of vital economic opportunities in distressed neighborhoods. Colleen also manages numerous programs across both topics designed to surface new approaches to community challenges, as well as explore global cross-cutting themes across the Foundation’s work, such as women’s empowerment, peer learning, evaluation, and attracting additional investment in our projects.

Prior to joining, Colleen was the Economic Policy Advisor to Senator Debbie Stabenow. In this role, Colleen managed the Senator’s economic portfolio, including policy related to financial services, tax, small business, job creation, community development, manufacturing, and housing. Colleen managed the Dodd-Frank market reforms for the Senate Agriculture Committee, and helped draft the Recovery Act, TARP, the Dodd-Frank Act, and healthcare reform.

Colleen is a member of the Asset Funders Network Steering Committee and the Innovations for Poverty Action Policy Advisory Group. She earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Palak Shah is the Social Innovations Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Founding Director of Fair Care Labs, the innovation arm of the domestic worker movement. Palak leads NDWA’s national strategy on raising market norms and standards, partnering with the private sector, and building scalable and sustainable business ventures. NDWA is the nation’s leading organization working for the power, respect, and fair labor standards for the 2.5 million nannies, housekeepers and elderly caregivers in the U.S.


Elena Matsui joined The Rockefeller Foundation in 2015. As a member of the Strategy and Strategic Planning team, she supports the Foundation’s teams in developing new programmatic initiatives and with strategic planning, risk mitigation, and impact assessment for initiatives currently in execution.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Ms. Matsui was a member of the World Bank’s Finance and Private Sector Development team based in Afghanistan where she was responsible for developing public-private partnerships that leveraged large extractive industry investments to support equitable economic growth and diversification throughout the country. She previously supported UNICEF, providing strategic planning and coordination support for a multi-year initiative designed to support marginalized youth living in conflict-affected contexts through educational and livelihoods programming. Earlier in her career, Ms. Matsui worked for Oxfam International where she developed strategies to improve the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis through risk management, systems mapping and the creation of adaptive approaches.

Ms. Matsui holds a B.A. from Harvard University and a Masters of International Affairs in economic development and international conflict resolution from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Swapna Reddy is co-founder and Director of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), a nonprofit that brings rapid, remote legal aid and community support to refugee families in moments of crisis, including mass detention and raids. Since its founding, ASAP has prevented the imminent deportation of more than 350 refugees; provided online community education to thousands of formerly detained refugee mothers; and mobilized more than 500 volunteers. ASAP's work has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, TIME Magazine, and Chicago Tribune. In 2017, ASAP was recognized by the J.M. Kaplan Fund as a J.M.K. Innovation Prize awardee.

Swapna is currently an Echoing Green Fellow and Equal Justice Works Emerson Fellow. She has a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics from Harvard University, a JD from Yale Law School, and has received numerous awards for her commitment to public interest work. Prior to ASAP, she provided civil rights and immigration legal services and conducted artificial intelligence and development economics research.


Rodrigo Canales does research at the intersection of organizational theory and institutional theory, with a special interest in the role of institutions for economic development. Specifically, Rodrigo studies how individuals are affected by and in turn purposefully change complex organizations or systems.  Rodrigo's work explores how individuals’ backgrounds, professional identities, and organizational positions affect how they relate to existing structures and the strategies they pursue to change them. His work contributes to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that allow institutions to operate and change. Rodrigo has done work in entrepreneurial finance and microfinance, as well as in the institutional implications of the Mexican war on drugs. His current research is divided in three streams. The first focuses on the structural determinants of the quality of startup employment. The second, in partnership with the Hewlett Foundation, explores the conditions under which development policies and practices are built upon and incorporate existing, rigorous evidence. The third, with generous support from the Merida Initiative, explores how to build effective, resilient, and trusted police organizations in Mexico.