by Teresa Fausey
After 13 years of service to her country (as a West Point graduate and US Army officer) and her fellow citizens (as director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign), Becky Kanis Margiotta is taking on a new challenge.
It seems to be in Becky’s DNA to lead, educate, support, and encourage others to go beyond the expected and the safe. She has a bias toward productive action. She sets ambitious and specific goals, with deadlines that she actually meets. She uses real-time (or as close to real-time as she can get) data to make continuous improvements. And she is always on the lookout for new and better ways to get the job done.
Becky had the tools, the know-how, and the experience to show individuals and organizations what they can and must do if they want to solve problems, rather than remain an endless loop of just managing them. So, when the 100,000 Homes Campaign wrapped up in 2014, she was already looking for her next adventure.
The Billions Institute
Last fall, Becky, along with her friend Joe McCannon, wanted to help people and organizations tackle big problems and lead large-scale change. She explains, “Joe was my coach, mentor, and consultant for the 100,000 Homes Campaign. He’s an expert in large-scale change and implementation. So, when 100K Homes was finished, we thought, ‘Why don’t we keep doing stuff together?’ I think what unites us is that we sincerely and humbly and grandiosely share a desire to help solve the world’s biggest problems in the next 50 years.”
And, being people with a bias toward action and seemingly boundless enthusiasm, they created a brand-new nonprofit organization called the Billions Institute.
The kinds of problems the Institute looks to tackle—and solve—are some of the biggest and most urgent: the environment, violence, disease, and poverty. “We think that for a lot of these problems, small-scale solutions may already exist. But they’re not widespread…it’s a question of scale.”
A New Approach
“If we set a deadline, we would have to do things completely differently.”
Here’s how you achieve real change: 1) set an ambitious, clear, time-bound goal, so you can measure your progress against it; 2) create an improvisational drumbeat of change toward achieving that aim; 3) get out into the field with the people who are actually implementing the change; and 4) use data—ideally daily data—to drive continuous improvement. A big part of this approach is integrating state-of-the-art quality improvement techniques into socially oriented sectors that haven’t benefitted from this kind of structure and accountability before.
“There are firms that do consulting work in this area,” Becky says. “One of the ways we’re different is that we go beyond consulting by working with you as you’re leading large-scale change. We don’t just hand out advice and leave. We create change with you and stay involved through implementation. We have a bias toward action, learning, and doing.”
The Billions Institute’s Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change, located in Los Angeles, California, offers a unique learning experience that enables change agents to tackle even the largest and seemingly intractable problems, and bring about meaningful change. Leaders from across the country—or around the globe—can spend a week with a “dream team of instructors, coaches, and mentors [who] will inspire and support [them] to fully inhabit their capacity to dream and do big.”
The School helps change agents master the skills of personal transformation, and understand the nuts and bolts of orchestrating large-scale change efforts. Participants learn how to take their ideas and passion beyond planning and process, and transform them into ambitious, clear, deadline-driven actions that achieve tangible and measurable results. In short, participants learn how to escape the endless talk that most organizations get caught up in and instead, act.
Becky sums up the Billions Institute in this way, “The Billions Institute is a nonprofit business with two partners and three part-time employees at present. We hope and intend to be here for a long time—until we’re no longer needed. And then we’ll do something else.”
Becky is married to Christine Margiotta and lives in Los Angeles, California, with their adorable son, Huck, and their pug, Esther.
Learn more about the Billions Institute; read about this unique approach to leading large-scale change in Becky and Joe’s recent article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog; register for the next training at the Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change; or join an upcoming Genius Journey.