Foundations, Innovation and Social Change: A Quixotic Journey Turned Case Study

Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society (Duke)



Case Study Sector


For decades, social service agencies, educators, foundations, policymakers, and researchers have conducted a relentless search for program interventions that effectively address the phenomena that imperil the life prospects of at-risk youth. Many initiatives that concentrate largely on education and training have been rigorously evaluated over the years. Lamentably, the results have often been discouraging. The quest for effective, developmentally oriented approaches has triggered interest in an unexpected source of methods and models, namely the U.S. military. It enjoys a well-deserved reputation for reaching, teaching and training young people who are rudderless, and for setting the pace among American institutions in advancing minorities.
Launched in 1993, a quasi-military youth corps for dropouts aged 16 to 18 came to be known as the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. More than 92,000 young people have subsequently graduated from ChalleNGe. Earlier this year (2010), MDRC, the esteemed evaluation outfit, released the interim results of a rigorous evaluation using random assignment. The evaluators called these impacts "impressive," although the jury obviously remains out until the final results are available later this year.
ChalleNGe serves as an instructive case study for examining the role of philanthropy in fostering innovation that "looks outside the box" for unorthodox approaches that may generate apprehension and opposition along the way. This working paper examines the broader implications for the role of philanthropy in fostering innovation in a changing philanthropic landscape.



  • Evaluation
  • Strategy


  • Northern America

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