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Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

In a live address from the Oval Office last night President Barack Obama declared the end of the US combat mission in Iraq. The president thanked American military personnel for their dedicated service, while also restating his firm belief that the entering the conflict was a mistake. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Mr. Obama said. Watch the president’s entire speech here.

Some of those sacrifices are chronicled in The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. He will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9 about the eight months he was embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad. Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, will also discuss the cognitive dissonance between the violent reality of the ground war and the abstract policy debates back in Washington. Register for the program here.  While another perspective of the war will be provided by Georgetown professor Derek Leebaert on Thursday, September 16. Examining the missteps of wartime foreign policy,  Leebaert argues that the cause of many of America’s foreign policy mistakes lies in “magical thinking” – the idea that the US can manage the world through well-intentioned force. Register for the program here.

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Six months after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti, much attention has shifted to other needs and other crises elsewhere. But the Caribbean nation is still very much in crisis, and, as the Wall Street Journal reports, there’s still too much rubble and too little progress. With a new hurricane season now bearing down on the region, the situation may very well get worse before it gets any better.

In addition to helping to provide for continued relief and humanitarian assistance, philanthropy will be an essential player in long-term rebuilding. And the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy has conducted research and analysis to identify some of the most fruitful long-term philanthropic opportunities. Haiti: How Can I Help? Models for Donors Seeking Long-Term Impact outlines ways in which donors can help Haitians develop the capacity they need to build a brighter future for themselves, their communities and their nation.

The guide focuses in three interrelated “pillars of socioeconomic development” – health, livelihoods and education – and notes that promising nonprofit models already exist in these three areas.

In health, the guide emphasizes supporting community-based primary care systems because the chief causes of sickness and death in Haiti – from infectious diseases to injuries to complications during childbirth – continue to be mostly preventable and treatable.

With regard to livelihoods, the focus is on enabling households to provide for themselves by building assets and promoting environmentally sustainable ways to make a living. Finally, in education, the focus is on addressing the needs of children. More than one million Haitian children currently have no access to schools, in part because schools are physically or financially out of reach. The community schools model, focused on rural residents, helps overcome these barriers, and it also helps address the high teacher turnover by recruiting teachers from the local villages.

Working in these three key areas of development may not only provide long-term help, but short-term signs of progress as well. Haitians, and the global community at large, are in dire need of some good news.

–Jane Wales

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On Sunday, voters went to the polls in Mexico to decide state and local races across the country. Despite some election-day violence, voter turnout was relatively stable, and power changed hands in six of twelve states. To learn more about Mexico’s current state of affairs and the relationship between the United States and Mexico, join the Council on July 22 for a program and reception with His Excellency Arturo Sarukhan, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States. Register for the program here.

For analysis of this weekend’s elections, read the articles in today’s Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

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This Monday, June 28, the Council is honored to host His Excellency Batu Kutelia, Ambassador of Georgia to the United States, for a discussion of the state of bilateral relations and importance of Georgia as an ally in the Caucasus. The visit follows the Council of Europe’s Parliament overwhelming approval of a draft resolution condemning Russia’s policy in the North Caucasus, the same week that the Russian president is touring the United States. To register for the program with Ambassador Kutelia, visit the Council’s website.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, at the invitation of President Obama, traveled to the US on Tuesday to meet with business and political leaders in California and Washington, DC. Medvedev, who hopes to create a new technology mecca in Russia, made stops in San Francisco and Silicon Valley where he met with industry executives. Tomorrow he will travel to Washington to discuss the expansion of the economic relationship between Russia and the United States, which has largely been on hold since Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008. To learn more about Medvedev’s trip to Washington, read this article in the New York Times.

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In 2007, four men with distinguished careers in American diplomacy and national security wrote two op-eds in the Wall Street Journal promoting a world free of nuclear weapons and explaining the path to get there. The four, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn, discuss their views in more detail in the documentary film The Nuclear Tipping Point. The men continue to speak about nuclear non-proliferation.

Last week, Senator Nunn appeared on the Colbert Report and discussed the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the threat of nuclear terrorism and the necessity of global cooperation “to take the steps we need to protect American citizens.” Watch the interview here:

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Next week, on Monday, June 21 Secretary Shultz will be at the Council to host a members-only screening of the documentary film.

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School may be out for the summer, but there’s no break for ideas and debate about the best—and worst—ways for funders to help fix America’s education system. Certainly engaging with policymakers is critical. In a later post, I’ll discuss the issue of foundations’ increasing interest in and effort to influence education policy.

But one specific education idea that has gotten less attention than it deserves is the need to help those whose native language isn’t English.

It’s not just children of immigrants who are “English Language Learners,” but also those who live in linguistically homogenous communities. And it’s not just students in those states, including California, Texas and New York, with a history of immigration and multi-language environments. In fact, ELL populations are growing everywhere, and the fastest increase is occurring in states such as South Carolina, Indiana and Delaware, where school systems are less familiar and less equipped to help non-native English speakers. That’s according to 2009 data from the Migration Policy Institute as cited in a recent web seminar sponsored by Grantmakers for Education (GFE) and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR). The two organizations have teamed up for a two-day briefing to be held next week in New York, exploring how funders can address ELL needs at various stages of youth development, from pre-school to elementary and secondary education to out-of-school time.

The recent web seminar—from which presentation slides and an audio recording are available—specifically focused on a “two-generation” approach to literacy: working with parents as well as students. Parents are “their children’s first and life-long teachers,” and engaging them is the key to success. For example, Joanna Brown of Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association talked about how her association helped to develop lasting relationships between parents and teachers, through after-school workshops and evening meetings. Before such efforts, teachers were skeptical of how much parents could help them in their work. And many parents were suspicious that the teachers had ulterior motives, such as reporting on their immigration status.

Helping non-native English speakers become fluent both enhances their opportunities and enables them to contribute fully to society more broadly. Improved quality of life and enhanced social cohesion are among philanthropy’s most ambitious and important goals.

—Jane Wales

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Did foundations do enough in the economic recession? Clearly it is too early to say.

But the Philanthropic Collaborative has found reason to crow. Its new preliminary report offers analysis of a limited set of data—a sample of 2,672 grants totaling $472 million made by foundations in response to the crisis between 2008 and 2010.  A full report is due in December, but Responding in Crisis: An Early Analysis of Foundations’ Grantmaking During the Economic Crisis suggests that the majority of foundation grants went to states facing the severest mortgage delinquency problems as well as those encumbered by especially high unemployment rates. Foundation support was based on need: “Foundations responded in a targeted and timely manner, with grants appropriately directed toward communities with the most need,” the report boasts, calling the development “even more exemplary” in light of the fact that the foundations’ own assets took a beating in the recession.

The report’s lead author, Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, served on a May 7 panel discussion at the Hudson Institute, where the Collaborative’s report was officially released. Also on the panel was Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, who called the report too sweeping in claiming success based on a sample that Dorfman said amounted to less than 1 percent of all grants over the period. He also took umbrage with the report’s assertion that foundations have been timely in responding to the crisis. Rather, Dorfman noted that the general grant application process seems as slow and cumbersome as ever, and in a time of economic uncertainty, foundations seem to be taking longer to make grant decisions. He went on to identify five things philanthropy should have done—and ultimately, could still do—to adequately respond to the crisis, from being more flexible in grantmaking to offering more support for advocacy and community organizing.

Actually, all panelists—which also included Steven Lawrence of the Foundation Center—agreed with one audience member, a foundation representative, that foundations are likely to be more skittish about offering multi-year grants as a result of the crisis because such longer commitments limit flexibility. That’s not promising.

The Collaborative’s report indeed may be a case of being too sanguine at a time when society is just emerging from recession. But it does contain useful examples of important work undertaken in times of economic stress. And, from that we may draw lessons.

—Jane Wales

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