Discovering Open Road

Letter from Open Road's CEO

MAYA WINKELSTEIN

Maya Winkelstein image

Open Road’s 10th Anniversary - Accelerating into the Future

For the past 10 years, I have worked alongside Laurie Michaels and our team to build the Open Road Alliance. Over that decade, Open Road has grown from a staff of one to a team of 10+. We have evolved from a grantmaker to the market leader in short-term bridge loans. We have expanded our asset base from a single donor to a growing community of impact-focused investors. And yet, despite these shifts and changes, so much of Open Road has remained the same.

Letter from Open Road's CEO, MAYA WINKELSTEIN

Open Road’s 10th Anniversary - Accelerating into the Future

Maya Winkelstein image

For the past 10 years, I have worked alongside Laurie Michaels and our team to build the Open Road Alliance. Over that decade, Open Road has grown from a staff of one to a team of 10+. We have evolved from a grantmaker to the market leader in short-term bridge loans. We have expanded our asset base from a single donor to a growing community of impact-focused investors. And yet, despite these shifts and changes, so much of Open Road has remained the same.

Open Road was born out of a simple idea: when “stuff” hits the fan, help.

Who needs help and how that help is structured has changed over the years, but that core idea—help keep impact on track—has remained the same.

The other aspect of Open Road that has remained unchanged is how we approach providing that help. Too often different from the market norm, our help is fast, it is flexible, and it is driven by what entrepreneurs need to continue on their path to catalytic impact.

As I look ahead to the next 10 years, I am convinced that Open Road’s model and approach are needed now more than ever. Trillions of dollars are pouring into impact investments—and many of them will encounter an Open Road moment. Yet, as we look at the challenges of the next decade—from climate change to growing inequality—we cannot simply keep impact on track; we must accelerate it.

This is the role of Open Road in the next decade. As we focus on expanding and honing the model of our Impact Fund, Open Road bridge loans will accelerate the growth of healthcare companies in South America, accelerate the installation of solar mini-grids in Africa, and accelerate the critical impact work being done by hundreds of companies around the world.

To meet the moment our world is calling for, our own organization is accelerating, too. In the past 10 years, Open Road has disbursed more than $68 million, including $50 million in loans. In the next three years, we are poised to deploy another $50 million in loans, alone.

Our name, Open Road, was conceived to evoke the image of removing a roadblock so the engines of impact can continue unimpeded. While that description remains true, I see a new image at play when I think of the future. I see the open road, where a loan from us lets entrepreneurs put the pedal to the metal, speeding toward the horizon, bringing us the impact our world so badly needs.

As we celebrate the past decade and look at the next, we invite you to grab your favorite road anthem and join us for the ride.

Maya Winkelstein
CEO

Keeping Impact on Track

In An Uncertain World

ROADBLOCKS EMERGE. IMPACT SUFFERS.

In 2012, we noticed something: around the world, across sectors and regions, social impact companies face delays or derailments because they can’t find relatively small amounts of funding to enable catalytic opportunities and overcome unpredictable roadblocks.

ROADBLOCKS SCENARIOS

A RESEARCH STUDY

A research study testing the effectiveness of a new climate-friendly “white asphalt” is underway in South Africa. The study is fully funded, and all personnel have been hired and trained. The study is six months into its 12-month cycle when a sudden change at the Ministry of Environment requires them to pause and then extend the study by three months beyond the original grant.

A CHILDHOOD VACCINE

A childhood vaccine developed by a medical nonprofit in the United States couldn’t roll out in Latin America because the nonprofit lacked $40,000 to accommodate a sudden change in legal compliance requirements. As a result, millions of children did not receive the vaccine for several years.

AN EDUCATION-FOCUSED NGO

An education-focused NGO in the U.S. is poised to expand its services to millions of students in the coming year; suddenly, their primary funder unilaterally changes its disbursement schedule, which would cause the NGO to miss the start of the school year and imperil its growth plans.

A MODEL BREAKTHROUGH

Open Road was built to address this challenge and create a scalable solution for impact across the globe. Ten years later, what seemed like a simple concept to help nonprofits overcome unexpected cash crunches, has evolved into a breakthrough model addressing a major market gap in the wider impact finance sector, derailing millions of dollars in impact per year.

Discovering Open Road

TIME IS MONEY... AND IMPACT.

Launched in 2012, Open Road was founded by Laurie Michaels with an ambitious goal: to ensure innovative efforts to address the world's greatest challenges carry on without interruption.

As a philanthropist and psychologist, Laurie understood that the world is unpredictable; she also knew that when unpredictability strikes, it can often be fixed.

Through a unique grantmaking strategy, Open Road looked at the market and offered nonprofits and social enterprises what they needed: fast, flexible, finite capital necessary to overcome obstacles and move forward as planned, thus keeping impact on track.
 

Our Model

READY FOR THE MOMENT

The Open Road funding model not only enables companies to break through barriers, but it is also a model of leveraged impact.

Funding Delays

- New regulatory requirements
- Changes in personnel
- Policy changes
- Changes in disbursement schedule
- Funder strategy shifts
- Pause on investments
- Unexpected travel
- Third-party delays
- World events

Impact kept on track

- Maintain momentum for entering new markets
- Continue on-time payment of salaries
- Enable partnership opportunities requiring upfront investments
- Avoid “starvation” of the business
- Ensure steady resources for longer-term growth

Founder Reflections

LAURIE MICHAELS REFLECTING ON 10 YEARS OF OPEN ROAD

Founder Reflections

LAURIE MICHAELS REFLECTING ON 10 YEARS OF OPEN ROAD

Watch video

Impact Spotlight

OPEN ROAD’S FIRST GRANTEES

From a land rights organization in Kenya, to a clean water organization in India, to a healthcare program in Peru, Open Road’s very first round of charitable grants reflected the versatility of Open Road’s model. Within months of Open Road’s first pilot grants, it became clear that there was a system-wide need for this practical, problem-solving approach to grantmaking. 

Engaging global leaders in virtual and overseas professional development opportunities.

1How did you find out about Open Road, and what did you think when you first heard about our model?

Atlas Corps heard about Open Road through our Host Organizations, primarily Global Press Institute, as well as the NEXUS Community.

2How is your organization doing today?

Atlas Corps is developing leaders and strengthening organizations through our in-person and virtual leadership programs. At our heart, we are creating and strengthening a global community of talented professionals who celebrate the achievements and support during the challenges. Just last week, our Atlas Corps Leaders (Alumni, Fellows, and Scholars) organized a community poetry event online. It was amazing! They shared original works, listened to one another, and were present in that moment. The sense of rejuvenation was felt throughout the attendees. I am confident that after that event, our Leaders left ready to better engage with their communities, organizations, and families.

3What advice can you share with other impact organizations as they navigate social impact in an uncertain world?

Write it down. The written word is a helpful technique to create solid ground amidst so much uncertainty. It may be an implementation plan. It may be a run of show for an upcoming event. It may be as simple as the agenda for a weekly meeting. When organizations present a visual plan, your community can follow. Also, smile - celebrate the little wins - find joy in your work and be inspired!

4In your mind, what is something unique that Open Road offers to the social sector?

Open Road actively engages in the conversation related to what the organization needs and how Open Road can help achieve that goal. Over our collaboration with Open Road, we have appreciated these conversations. We have experienced some opportunities and unforeseen challenges. Open Road listened, advised, and helped us overcome these temporary roadblocks. We did not adapt to their set of criteria. Instead, we discussed impact and how to achieve it together.

5A source of inspiration and/or pride for you/your organization?

Our global community is a continued source of inspiration! We feature many of our stories on blog.atlascorps.org. On paper, Atlas Corps is a mid-size nonprofit organization. In practice, we are Sergio, an emerging professional from Colombia who is now leading entrepreneurship ventures throughout Latin America. Or Hira, a Pakistani professional who launched a women's leadership program in Pakistan to stimulate economic opportunity. Or Medha, a public health activist from Nepal who launched her own organization to enhance health services for youth. Atlas Corps believes that talent exists throughout the world, yet opportunity does not. We open the door of opportunity and inspire emerging leaders to share their talents and strengthen their own networks to achieve positive impact at home and abroad.

6Anything else you want to share?

Congratulations, Open Road! We are thrilled to be in your orbit. Much like you, Atlas Corps started as an idea 15 years ago. The involvement of innovative individuals and creative organizations has grown us to this global community of 1,200 professionals from 112 countries! In 2020, the pandemic hit and threatened our entire structure as an international exchange organization. We did not stop. We reached out, and we innovated. One of the first entities we contacted was Open Road because of our dynamic history and innovative thinking. Now, two years later, Atlas Corps is thriving! We continued to bring Fellows to the United States through our Blended Fellowship. We launched a new leadership program, Virtual Leadership Institute, that engaged about 300 participants in the first year. We even experienced the transition from a founder-led organization. We appreciate Open Road for walking with us through these highs and lows. We look forward to a bright future together!

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Clean water, clean hands, clean toilets, and menstrual health support for kids in urban poverty — co-developed with local governments.

1Take us back to your roadblock; how did you find out about Open Road, and what did you think when you first heard about our model?

Our CEO, Eric Stowe, met Maya through a mutual acquaintance (Mark Arnoldy @ Possible Health) in late 2013. Splash was excited about the focus on funding organizations to overcome unexpected roadblocks or take advantage of unexpected opportunities, which remains a unique philanthropic model today. At the time, Splash hit a significant roadblock in our work in China. We ultimately declined an offer from ORA to help us through it once we determined it was more complex than we originally anticipated. Though, it was that initial meeting and the subsequent negotiations that made it clear that ORA was acting wildly different than most funding partners. It was an exciting proposition they were endorsing, especially as we watched other funders try to reconcile the laser-focus that ORA publicly committed, combined with the reality that ORA wouldn’t exist if those same funders had built their grants and maintained their portfolios with the flexibility that any successful work in the development sector requires.

2How is your organization doing today?

Open Road’s support has been transformational to our organization. We started as a clean water organization and now implement a holistic water, sanitation, hygiene, and menstrual health program thanks to Open Road’s support at pivotal moments along the way. Since 2007, we’ve served over 830,000 kids across 2,300 schools, orphanages, shelters, and pediatric hospitals. Today, we are mid-way through a $45M project to reach 800,000 kids across India and Ethiopia.

3What advice can you share with other impact organizations as they too address some of the most complex issues of our time?

Treat funders as people and not as ATMs. Develop deeper relationships by reaching out to share updates, successes, and, most especially, challenges along the way to help funders feel invested in your success. If a funding partner runs at the first hint of a challenge, they aren’t partners. Conversely, if an NGO shields the funder from a challenge, they aren’t partners, either. For organizations working in an international context, ensuring local ownership is key. This includes government co-funding and engagement of a wide range of stakeholders, from government to NGOs and civil society. Be laser-focused on what you do and do a few things exceptionally well. If your organization’s portfolio of work continually diversifies and expands, your impact likely dilutes in equal proportion. Only the monolithic INGOs can sustain wide-ranging interventions. Even then, that should be in question.

4In your mind, what is something unique that Open Road offers to the social sector?

Open Road treats grantees as true partners. They offer fast, flexible funding, a streamlined grant-making process, and a quick decision regarding grants. They tell you no clearly and compassionately, they ask really tough questions to ensure a good fit, and they move at a lightning pace -- all of which allows organizations to respond more quickly and effectively to address roadblocks and opportunities.

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Charitable Grants: By the numbers

A Decade of Impact

The charts below show the aggregate impact of Open Road's charitable grant portfolio over the past 10 years. Behind each number is a story: Atlas Corps, Splash, Landesa, PATH, Food for Education, ARMMAN, Pro Mujer, North Star Alliance, Talking Points, PSI, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, Root Capital, Global Press Institute. These are just a few of the nearly 200 stories of impact kept on track, enabled by a grant from Open Road.

$18.9M+

Awarded

191

Organizations funded

$202.6M+

Impact kept on track

Roadblocks

Faced by Grantees

With the exception of COVID-19, the most common source of roadblocks we saw in the past decade were funder-created. The pursuit of catalytic opportunities also accounted for an additional 15% of Open Road’s grants.

Funder Created Obstacles

Acts of god | Economics

Organization Misfortune