Find a Solution where Disciplines Intersect

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When you think about the nonprofit sector, you may not think about Coca-Cola. But, maybe you should. Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, analyzed marketing and business strategies used by Coca-Cola that can benefit nonprofits.


In her TED Talk “What Nonprofits Can Learn from Coca-Cola”, Gates recalls her travels around the globe and the unavoidable presence of Coca-Cola everywhere she went, even in the most remote and disprivileged areas. If Coke can reach these corners of the world, why can’t governments and nonprofits do the same with essential resources?


“If we’re going to speed up progress, we need to learn from the innovators — they come from every single sector”, says Gates. “If we can understand what makes something like Coca-Cola ubiquitous, we can apply those lessons then for the public good.”


Globally, Coca-Cola advertises and employs a large number of local entrepreneurs. Employing motivated individuals with a penchant for selling product to their neighbors and local communities enables Coke to be a household item across the globe, with 1.5 billion servings consumed per day.


Calling upon local talent is a great way to open up a dialogue about innovative solutions to social problems. Innosight and the Eli Lilly Foundation put this theory to work and hosted a two-day Innovation Summit to overcome barriers preventing the eradication of super strains of tuberculosis. In attendance ranged leaders from the World Health Organization (WHO), MIT, Partners in Health, and Wal-Mart.


The key to cross-disciplinary solutions like the Innovation Summit is “systems thinking”, which Innosight senior partner Joe Sinfield describes as “multi-step process for ‘diverging,’ or breaking down a giant problem into more solvable components, and then ‘converging,’ or putting those components back together into a holistic system.”


Summit participants generated more than 90 specific solutions to the TB problem, then narrowed it down to five realistic projects. Innosight and the Eli Lilly Foundation are now exploring options for bringing these solutions to the market.


Collaboration among individuals from a multitude of viewpoints and disciplines may be exactly what the nonprofit sector needs to tackle longstanding social problems, such as homelessness or hunger. suggests social entreprenuership as a cross-disciplinary solution to homelessness in the United States and around the world. Groups like SF Homeless Innovation have formed to fill in where government funding and resources for homelessness fall short. The San Francisco meetup group formed with “the motive of drawing in enthusiastic talents of all ages from various occupations to a common space to craft and implement original solutions to end homelessness.”


Another instance of San Francisco’s crusade against homelessness is Project Homeless Connect (PHC). To ease the expense of travel, time, and money of the homeless in San Francisco, the PHC has provided a multitude of essential services during a one day fair, under one roof, since 2004. Dental care, haircuts, photo IDs, eyeglasses, health insurance, professional portraits, massages, and more are available to homeless attendees.


“It’s a one-stop homeless shop, and it’s helped over 70,000 people in San Francisco alone over the last decade,” says


Increasing cross-disciplinary formations is necessary in order to make a more profound social impact. In order to end homelessness, “We need to see a multiplication of such cross-disciplinary formations within communities,” according to “The efforts of local educational institutions to involve students in homeless projects, commitment from all levels of government and partnerships between private, public and NGOs to erase the stigma and reduce the risk of being homeless could finally put an end to this multifaceted problem.”


Nonprofits face multifaceted social problems. Cross-disciplinary collaboration engages multiple sectors to provide multifaceted solutions.


For more on cross-disciplinary solutions, read Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations are the Key to Ending Homelessness,  Can Cross-Discipline Thinking Yield Solutions to a Major Global Health Crisis?, and The Most Innovative Homeless Service You’ve Never Heard Of.

About the author: Sarah Daxton is a self-proclaimed cat lady, chocoholic, beard enthusiast, and aspiring writer. She is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master of Professional Writing at Chatham University.