Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation and the Meth Project

authorsTreating meth as a consumer product with the aim of ‘unselling it’ was at the heart of an aggressive public education programme that led to a 45% reduction in meth use among teenagers in two years. This free case, written by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Victoria Chang, explores how a market-based approach can be successfully applied to solve a social problem. Here, Laura discusses the case and talks about the philanthropic organisation she founded, Giving 2.0.

Fantastic material

I wanted to profile a living donor who applied the same principles of innovation and business acumen to their philanthropy that I teach my students to apply to solve social problems. I met Tom Siebel, the driving force behind The Meth Project, by chance and was so captivated by his story and what he had accomplished that I immediately asked him if I could celebrate his work through this case. Tom’s unique approach was based on ‘unselling’ a product, and he applied the same business strategy and tactics that any company would apply to the creation of a high-impact, high-performance product or service.

Engaging students

To teach the case, I play the commercials, show the ads and play the radio announcements to bring the graphic, brutal reality of the story to life. Students may be far removed from what is happening in the field and from the people we aspire to help; multimedia elements can help promote understanding of the human element of the problem. The more you connect any giver to the real problems, the more likely they are to take action. It can also be interesting for students to study in tandem a marketing case for selling a product as this would highlight how The Meth Project embraced the same process.

Teaching objectives

The case can be used to achieve a number of teaching objectives, particularly the importance of applying the same level of entrepreneurship, business acumen, strategic planning, and innovation to our social investments as we do to our financial investments; building and managing a foundation is the same as running a business. Also, if you want to achieve systems change, you have to involve the government. You have to align political incentives with the movement you are trying to create. A politician will not support a philanthropic initiative if it is not going to support his or her constituents.

A further key teaching objective is the power of the media to create social change.

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An example to follow

Many donors do not attempt to take this rigorous business approach to their philanthropy and prefer to invest in opportunities that they know are already strong, credible and impactful. In addition, many philanthropic organisations do not have the capacity, infrastructure and expertise to take Tom’s approach with The Meth Project. Therefore, I believe the best way for smaller foundations to engage in this level of rigorous planning and evaluation is not to reinvent the wheel, but to use the knowledge that is already created and shared by other well-respected philanthropic organisations, such as the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation.

The case could also be used by not-for-profit companies who are trying to sell products; foundations and individual donors who wish to embark on major social change initiatives; and not-for-profit organisations who want to create high-impact social programmes.

Wider relevance

Businesses can also learn from successful philanthropic projects such as this one. This would be a great case for a marketing, policy change, or strategy class. Its examples of strategic marketing, data analysis, advocacy and joint working highlight the power of cross-sector collaboration that would be relevant to a wide range of courses. It is also ideal for an entrepreneurship course as it traces the creation of a new and viable organisation.  

Sharing knowledge and expertise

My whole purpose is to make all the best practices and core principles of effective philanthropic individuals, institutions and corporations free and open for everyone to use. The Meth Project is just one of my many Stanford Graduate School of Business free cases available at Giving 2.0. In philanthropy, we are not competing with one another. Instead, we are competing with our world’s most wicked social problems. In philanthropy, we are all on the same team.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an educator preview copy.
Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation and The Meth Project

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Victoria Chang
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Teaching note

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About the authors

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is a Lecturer in Business Strategy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, USA. She is the founder and CEO of Giving 2.0 and has also written a best-selling book, Giving 2.0, which aims to help individuals find innovative and powerful ways to give their time, money, and expertise. All profits from the book go to philanthropic projects.

Victoria Chang is a marketing and communications professional based in Orange County, California.

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