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On Monday, September 27 the Council will host Philippe Cousteau, Jr. to discuss the health of the world’s oceans. The grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Philippe is carrying on the Cousteau family tradition as the CEO of the non-profit organization EarthEcho International and co-founder of Azure Worldwide, a strategic development company. He will address the effects of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the work he is doing to draw attention to the environmental consequences of this disaster. The program will be moderated by Julie Packard, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Cousteau’s appearance follows on the heels of the federal government announcement that BP’s blown-out well is officially dead. In a statement Sunday, Admiral Thad Allan said that the well “poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.” Even as the flow of oil slowed and finally stopped, the level of attention on the health of the Gulf and the world’s oceans has continued rise. National Geographic Magazine‘s October issue focuses on the future of Louisiana’s wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico and yesterday’s New York Times included a cover story about the threat of global warming to coral reefs and the world’s fisheries.

To join the dialogue about Gulf recovery efforts and the promotion of ocean health, register here.

A century ago, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, the precursor to the Rockefeller Foundation, helped eradicate hookworm in the American South. Today, the ClimateWorks Foundation, financed by a funding collaborative, is helping to catalyze measurable reductions in carbon emissions.

What these efforts have in common, according to venture philanthropist Mario Morino, is a focus on outcomes-based practices that produce “meaningful, measurable, sustainable benefit for those served.” Morino argues in a four-part series of online essays that too many in the sector focus on the how of measurement without enough thought as to what they are measuring and why. Keeping the end goal in sight is key: to help inform efforts  to achieve real social impact, using the right information to guide action.

The Aspen Philanthropy Group (APG), 25 leaders in philanthropy, has come to a similar conclusion. Having identified a lack of alignment around approaches to measurement and evaluation (M&E) among grant-makers and between grant-makers and grant-seekers, the group charged the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation with conducting a year long review. The Program found that grant-makers and their grantees tend to gather as much data as possible in search of evidence of impact. This approach has often resulted in expensive evaluations that are onerous for grantees and have often failed to yield the data needed in the time required for informed decision-making. As a result, the data have gone unused. The Aspen program recommended instead a “decision-based” approach to M&E, characterized by:

  • A shared purpose of informing decision-making and enabling continuous learning;
  • A shared expectation that data will be gathered in a timely fashion and in a manner that does not place an undue burden on grantees; and
  • A shared commitment to placing data gathered in the public domain so as to advance field-wide learning.

The Program plans to publish an edited e-volume on the topic, with chapters written by many of the foundation presidents who are Aspen Philanthropy Group members. It will list open source tools for grant-makers developed by expert organizations ranging from McKinsey & Company to Grant-makers for Effective Organizations (GEO), the Foundation Center to FSG Social Impact Advisors and Donor Edge. Most importantly, it will partner with likeminded organizations, donor advisors and donor educators who have relationships of trust with philanthropists who wish to apply M&E principles to their grant-making strategies. The purpose of this consensus-building effort is to move away from evaluations as audits to evaluations as sources of usable knowledge, thus enhancing the efficacy of the sector as a whole.

Morino, of Venture Philanthropy Partners, shares the goal of advancing a norm. His purpose: to take outcomes measurement “from being the nonprofit world’s most anxiety-provoking topic to one of its most powerful forces.” Large, private foundations are natural catalysts, he says. He’s also encouraged by the creation and work of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

His proposal is to create a high-profile, cross-sector coalition to offer the philanthropic equivalent of the technology industry’s “missionary sell” to push for change – “ferreting out, supporting and sharing the results of … early adopters.” He goes so far as to name names, recommending people like Rajat Gupta, formerly of McKinsey & Company; Bridgespan’s Tom Tierney; Michael Bailin, formerly of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; author/consultant Jim Collins; and the Corporation for National Service’s Steven Goldsmith. He would likely find many other leaders and converts including remarkable grass-roots collaboratives of grantees and their funders in various issue domains, such as Strive or the Cultural Data Project. Each has been successful in setting standards for their field and would add to any consensus building effort. Morino’s purposes, and those of the APG, will be well served by the combination of a bottom-up as well as a top-down effort.

Marino calls on this “Dream Team” to lead a “Doing Good Better” initiative to, among other things, build knowledge about managing to outcomes through an open-source repository of tools, best practices, profiles and the like; provide strategic and tactical help through better recruitment and identification of qualified consultants; and generate greater support from funders of general operating costs, which are needed to develop the necessary technology systems and human processes.

There is a remarkable array of open source tools for strategic philanthropist seeking to measure outcomes, for which a roadmap would be handy. And a normative shift is in the making. A long-time missionary for measuring outcomes, Marino’s voice is essential and his recommendations wise.

–Jane Wales

Tomorrow night the Council will host a preview screening from this year’s United Nations Association Film Festival. Climate Refugees features interviews with Al Gore, John Kerry, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and others, speaking about the impact climate-related migration has had on national security and other foreign policy issues.

Register for the program here. Watch the trailer for the film below:

The Good Soldiers

In 2007, Washington Post reporter David Finkel spent eight months embedded with the soldiers of the 2-16 infantry battalion in Iraq, some of the first to be sent as part of President Bush’s new strategy, dubbed “the surge.” The experience resulted in a book, The Good Soldiers, which he describes as, “a document of [the soldiers’] corner of this war… what happened to them. It tries to use the war to tell a larger story about what happens to a young man put in these circumstances.” While speaking at the Council last Thursday, Finkel focused on the stories of a few individual soldiers, including Lt. Col. Brent Cummings, with whom he was particularly impressed. “If I were to be a soldier, I guess Brent [Cummings] is the soldier I’d like to be, because to him, even though he was in this ridiculous situation, it was very important to him to fight this war morally.”

To listen to the entire program with David Finkel, visit our online audio archive. Cummings and fellow soldier Josh Bleill were interviewed later that evening on the Colbert Report. Watch that interview here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Think the debate over health care reform is over? Not a chance— and not just because Election Day is fast approaching. President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in late March after nearly a year of debate and deliberation. But the real work is only just beginning: Implementing the law at both the federal and state levels.

And so, Grantmakers in Health has called upon foundations to ramp up funding for public education about the legislation, as well as to build local capacity to implement it. Working to generate and sustain public support over the next few years will be critical if the law is to withstand efforts to repeal or undermine it before it has had a chance to take effect, according to Implementing Health Care Reform: Funders and Advocates Respond to the Challenge.

Moreover the Grantmakers alliance says that the issue should concern even those funders working outside of the health and heath care area. For starters, the report explains, the law touches on issues beyond health and health care, incorporating issues about workforce, income security and equity among racial and ethnic populations. But perhaps the most important reason the report argues that non-health funders should play a role in health care reform: the success— or failure— of the law could affect other public policy issues in the future. As the GIH publication puts it, the bill’s high profile and broad reach means that successful implementation could help restore public trust in government and demonstrate government’s positive role in improving lives. Wouldn’t that be something?

Although the focus—and controversy—has been on provisions expanding health insurance, the PPACA encompasses significant changes affecting virtually every aspect of the health system, from information technology to training to delivery system. The aim is to restructure the health care delivery system to make it more focused on prevention and primary care, reduce costs and improve quality. Indeed, it’s more complex and broader in scope than Medicare or Medicaid, and will be enacted in stages over the next four years, with many of its provisions requiring extensive planning and preparation.

Based on interviews with 43 funders and advocates, the GIH publication reports on foundations’ early implementation activities and plans. It also offers recommendations for further engagement and support. The organization will further discuss the report and hear from several funders engaged on the issue in a Sept. 8 conference call for members at 2:00 PM EST. (Email to register.) The report suggests that funders should work harder to coordinate and collaborate their efforts, within a state or on a regional level, learning about what their colleagues are doing. In particular, funders could work to create pooled funds for specific issues, activities or localities. And larger funders could seek out small, community and nonhealth funders, soliciting their expertise or advice on education, poverty or workforce issues as they relate to implementation.

More specifically, the report calls on philanthropists to fund efforts to explain the law in ways that people— including grantees— can understand, overcoming skepticism, as well as to target groups who might benefit from the early provisions, such as the uninsurable, seniors with prescription drug costs and small businesses. Another critical need is for philanthropists to help state government officials take on the local tasks of implementation. The latter will be a particular challenge, as states are constrained by budget deficits, staff reductions and anticipated turnover due to the fall elections. So foundations could identify ways to partner with local or state government, according to the report—if not direct funding for personnel or programs, then helping them apply for federal grants or support data collection and evaluation.

“Never before has there been such a national framework in place for major health systems change,” GIH reports.

The potential is certainly there—now, to make it real.

—Jane Wales

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.

In an article by Fred Kaplan for the September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Policy, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that he plans to retire in 2011. As the only person to serve as Defense Secretary under Republican and Democratic presidents, most never expected Gates to stay in the job so long; however, if Gates does indeed remain until 2011, he will have served longer than all but four of his predecessors.

Secretary Gates spoke last week at a program co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council and the Marines’ Memorial Association. That program can be heard tonight at 8 PM on KQED FM’s broadcast of It’s Your World, the Council’s weekly radio show. For more information, visit KQED’s website here.

Last night”s guest on the Colbert Report, author David Finkel, will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9. Finkel spent eight months embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad and his newest book, The Good Soldiers, details the successes, struggles and psychological traumas of those soldiers serving on the front lines. Register for the program here.

Watch his conversation with Stephen Colbert here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.
David Finkel, posted with vodpod

Just days after announcing a series of substantial budget cuts, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be speaking at an event co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council and Marines’ Memorial Association. The program will take place Thursday evening at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel. For more information, click here.

In a press conference yesterday, Secretary Gates said that he has ordered the closing of the Joint Forces Command; a 10 percent reduction in spending on defense department contractors; and a freeze on the number of employees at his office, defense agencies and combatant commands for three years. As an additional cost-reduction measure, he also proposed cutting 50 general and admiral posts and 150 senior civilian positions during the next two years. Read more about Secretary Gates’s budget cuts in this article from The New York Times.

As the war in Afghanistan approaches its tenth year, women and girls worry that the peace they want will come at the price of the few freedoms they have gained since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001. From school closures to increased threats against working women, the rights women want seem to be slipping away. Read more about the difficult situations women are facing in Afghanistan in this article from the New York Times.

This month the Council will present two programs about strong women who are working to empower women. On August 11, the Asia Foundation will co-sponsor a program with Samar Minallah, the Asia Foundation Chang Lin Tien Visiting Fellow at the Global Fund for Women and the founder of Ethnomedia. Minallah is an anthropologist, writer, human rights activist and one of Pakistan’s few documentary filmmakers. She will share excerpts from her documentaries and discuss using video as an advocacy tool for women’s rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Asha Hagi, the co-founder and chairperson of Save Somali Women and Children, will speak on August 27 in a co-sponsored program at the Commonwealth Club. Hagi will describe the innovative creation of a women’s network, The Sixth Clan, to facilitate full participation in national politics and the peace process.

To register for either program, please visit the Council’s online calendar.

The Council is pleased to host Ambassador Eric Goosby, United States Global AIDS Coordinator, tonight at 6 PM. His visit comes only days after the conclusion of the biennial International AIDS Conference, at which he led the US delegation. The biggest news at the conference was the announcement of the development of a successful, new microbicide for HIV/AIDS prevention. While this was heralded as a huge advance in the fight against HIV/AIDS, many are now wondering whether it can be produced inexpensively enough for it to gain wide use and whether or not it will even be approved by regulators.

Join us tonight to learn about the conference and what the Obama Administration is doing to fight HIV/AIDS around the world. Register for the program here.