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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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Jonathan Alter, author of the new book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, will be at the Council on Wednesday, June 16. He will present  an inside account of President Obama and his administration in action, and provide an assessment of Obama’s foreign policy performance so far. Learn about other June programs on our online calendar and watch Alter’s June 7 appearance on the Colbert Report below.

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Baby boomers are hanging on, and next generation leaders are waiting—and waiting—their turn.

According to Trading Power, produced in partnership with the Council on Foundations, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies’ 21/64, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and Resource Generation, this is the first time in history that society is experiencing a delay in leadership transition, as people live longer and retire later. The economic recession has further delayed retirement plans, leaving baby boomers in positions that even they expected to have left by now. And some seasoned leaders are turning to a model of “leadership expansion” rather than “leadership transfer,” sharing leadership duties with younger employees. Some retain an executive emeritus role. Others take a sabbatical while potential successors serve in “acting” capacities.

In each instance the elder leader needs to respect new ideas coming from his or her younger partner, according to the report. If the philanthropic sector fails to tap the next generation’s skills and knowledge, the emerging leaders will simply move on to sectors that will.

But would younger workers stay put, even if they had a clear path toward a leadership position? The Pew Research Center’s ongoing study, The Millennials, contrasts the attitudes of Generation Xers and Millennials with that of aging Boomers. Pew finds that expectations about career advancement differ between younger and older workers; Millennials in particular are accustomed to the idea that they will – indeed, must – find their own path of career advancement. In other words, they may jump among organizations, and sectors, in any case.

And it turns out that the same demographic trends that are driving later retirement within the nonprofit sector are affecting movement of Boomers across sectors. On Friday, The New York Times ran a story that explores what boomers are doing with the “bonus decade or three added to the average life span.” The article quotes Stanford professor Laura Carstensen: “The culture hasn’t had time to catch up. All the added years of life have been put into leisure, and that’s crazy.” The Times story details an organization called Civic Ventures that is placing longtime managers and professionals from the for-profit world in nonprofit positions uniquely suited to their skills. Opportunities like this point to the positive effects that this “bonus decade or three” from Boomers could have on the nonprofit sector.

But to the extent that the nonprofit world is characterized by more leaders than leadership positions, the notion of offering sabbaticals for executives has gained salience. According to a recent report by Deborah S. Linnell of Third Sector New England and Tim Wolfred of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, sabbaticals allow the next rung of leaders to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities during the director’s absence. And they often continue to have enhanced responsibility and authority upon the director’s return, sharing leadership tasks. A sabbatical can serve as a dry run for a future transition, according to this report, Creative Disruption.

Jossey-Bass has also published a volume on the subject of nonprofit leadership, collecting previously published articles, research studies and essays from experts in the field—including Bridgespan’s study on the sector’s pending “leadership deficit”. Edited by Indiana University’s James L. Perry, The Jossey-Bass Reader on Nonprofit and Public Leadership stresses the importance of cultivating, sharing and delegating leadership throughout nonprofit organizations.

This is probably true now more than ever as the nonprofit sector grows bigger in size and importance. Part of increasing the sector’s impact has to include more investment in the development of its employees.

So, if you find yourself waiting, and waiting, apparently you are not alone. The question is, are the career development opportunities enriching your lives, and readying you for the moment when it finally comes.

—Jane Wales

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Americans have been donating in record numbers through new means—from phone texting to social media links—to provide relief to the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. The outpouring has been impressive, as revealed by the combination of on-line giving, the response to George Clooney’s global telethon (including iTunes sales) and the Council on Foundations’ list of its members’ grants.

Ultimately, Haiti’s recovery will be enabled by a similar mobilization of dollars and talent on behalf of Haiti’s long-term needs, for this is a country that has suffered from generations of mismanagement, endemic poverty, political instability, a weak civil society and autocratic governance. Its citizens deserve a better future. Perhaps new donors, inspired by this tragedy, will not only represent the “long tail” of philanthropy’s graph, but will have long memories as well and will be there ten years hence.

Our own country’s stance toward the small nation, which in 1804 produced the world’s first successful slave rebellion, has been wary and ineffectual, according to Mark Danner in a January 21 op-ed in The New York Times. A very different future for Haiti requires not only strategic philanthropy, but also sound U.S. policy, including the opening of our markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, and aid that translates into jobs for the Haitian people rather than patronage for its government.

Private philanthropy can complement good policy if the initial outpouring of support for relief efforts is matched by a longer-term commitment to sustainable development, a need most recently identified by Haiti’s Prime Minister. But re-imagining Haiti is more easily said than done. The U.S. is engaged in state-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each offers its own opportunities for public-private partnerships. And each offers is own best practices, and discouraging lessons. Philanthropists point to remarkable and courageous social entrepreneurs, especially among women, such as Afghanistan’s Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who secretly taught girls throughout the Taliban’s rule. But the enterprise of poppy growing continues to outpace that of schooling young girls. Corruption not only precedes crises. It often follows as well.

How to pivot from immediate disaster relief to a long-term plan for what Secretary of State Clinton refers to as a Haiti that has come back “stronger and better” than before will be on the minds of “new philanthropists” as they gather for their ninth annual Global Philanthropy Forum from April 19-21 in Silicon Valley. This year’s focus on global health, food security and access to safe drinking water and sanitation seems especially apt in the wake of the earthquake’s shocks. Each represents a particularly crying need in Haiti. The philanthropists’ focus on results will likely make them sympathetic in the near-term to the argument made in a post to the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy blog, which called for support of organizations offering impact, rather than low overhead, as their metric for success. As for the medium-term, the recommendations in Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors’ Haiti Emergency Update, stressing the importance of the later stages of disaster recovery may resonate. And the Inter-American Development Bank’s President, Luis Alberto Moreno, will surely make the case for investing in Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure, education system, housing and building stock, access to healthcare and other needs identified by the Bank over the years. Former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour of the Crisis Group, will speak to the linkages between civil conflict on the one hand, and state failure on the other. Peter Gleick will shed light on the role that water management or mismanagement can play. Actor Jim Carrey will speak to breakthroughs in sustainable agriculture. David Aylward of mHealth Alliance will speak to new ways to deliver heath care in stressful conditions where infrastructure is lacking. And former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor, will speak to the responsibility of neighbors and regional organizations to strengthen societies before crises occur, so that those societies are able to prepare for or rebound from inevitable shocks.

As they consider the opportunities available to them, the gathering’s new philanthropists and political office holders will consider ways to partner with more recent entrants into the world of giving—the on-line donors, cell phone texters, twitter followers, iTunes purchasers—who are now part of the world of philanthropy. If those who represent the long tail of the giving graph also have long memories, then the tragic past of Haiti, and countries that are similarly weak, need not be their future for generations to come. Instead they can be among those societies that have the resilience to absorb and overcome the shocks that nature has to offer.

—Jane Wales

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Acknowledging the diverse feelings Americans have about the United Nations, Dr. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, spoke to a large audience about the many ways the UN and the United States interact. Brimmer used examples relevant to California, such as aviation and shipping, intellectual property rights, and communications, to illustrate the support given to the UN by the US and the protection and oversight of US interests by various UN agencies. Brimmer also discussed President Obama’s call for an “Era of Engagement,” which is already bringing about changes in nuclear nonproliferation policy, climate change negotiations, and food security initiatives. While responding to audience questions, Brimmer devoted time to explaining the Obama administration’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council as well as the continued concerns about HRC members’ compliance with the organization’s mission. Brimmer was optimistic throughout the program and ended by expressing her joy at seeing the Islamic world’s positive reception of Obama’s June speech in Cairo.

To listen to the entire program, please visit our audio archive. Learn more about the United States’ involvement with the UNHRC here. Finally, you can watch a clip of the program below.

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Washington Post Associate Editor and Chief Foreign Correspondent Jim Hoagland joined the North American Forum again this year as a participant.  One of his most recent columns draws from this year’s discussions at the Forum in Ottawa and advises President Obama to work with Canada and Mexico to form a “more perfect economic union to deal with a lingering international financial crisis that drains the U.S. dollar of value and credibility and that fuels rising unemployment.”

Read the full piece here.

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