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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Wales’

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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Foundation officers often mistakenly seek to apply scientific principles to complex social problems. And, civil society is endangered by an increasing market mentality on the part of new nonprofit leaders, says Stanford University’s Bruce Sievers.

Sievers’ book, Civil Society, Philanthropy and the Fate of the Commons, offers specific steps for philanthropy to improve the way in which it tackles various social problems and enlivens civic life. Sievers argues that efforts to strengthen civil society deserve a central position on the philanthropic agenda since it’s a prerequisite for the achievement of most other philanthropic goals.

For many decades now, Sievers writes, foundations have attempted to apply scientific theory to such social problems as uneven access to public goods, including quality education, affordable health care, a clean environment and opportunities for robust civil engagement. Success has been elusive because of the random nature of human affairs, which runs “counter to the scientific vision of prediction and control.”

Sievers is quick to add that it is useful to employ data when seeking to make informed judgments about grantmaking. His key argument is that getting to a solution of a social problem is difficult, and expectations of perfect solutions or complete results should be tempered by the knowledge that “social problems…are not straightforwardly solvable through the direct application of the techniques of laboratory science”.

While seeking to demonstrate impact is a good thing, it cannot always be achieved. “While it is not unreasonable to expect that [charitable] contributions will yield some evidence of beneficial results,” writes Sievers, “the exaggerated emphasis on metrics in the form of substantive accountability is becoming a driving force in the field, creating unrealizable expectations and a distortion of organizational priorities.” Today’s most pervasive societal problems are those that philanthropy, of all the sectors, should be most adept at tackling. But Sievers says it has limited its ability to do just that by more narrowly focusing programs and promising market-like results.

The solution, Sievers contends, is for foundations to focus on inputs—processes— more than outputs, or results. Foundations should work in true partnership with others, especially those most affected by a problem or proposed solution. And they should guide their work based on practical, local knowledge, not top-down management based on abstract theories.

The Aspen Philanthropy Group, a gathering of foundation leaders, has identified the process of measurement and evaluation—both of foundation strategies and individual grants—as a topic for study by the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation. The program has convened a series of working groups of experts in various issue domains to identify broad principles and practices in the M&E space that can lead to the twin goals of continuous learning and informed decision-making. More on this later when the team reports out to the APG in late July.

— Jane Wales

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Life ain’t fair. Foundations pay full value to the for-profit consultants who advise them, but often fail to cover the true costs of the same services when offered by non-profits. How often have nonprofit leaders been tapped to provide advisory services to a foundation’s grantees or skills training for the foundation’s program officers, without thought of compensating the leader’s host organization for his or her time?  How many grants cover direct expenses but do not cover the true costs of a program or project by including indirect expenses? The Ford Foundation will pay 10% overhead. The Knight Foundation will pay none. Thus, each borrows from the grantee’s other sources of revenue, such as membership dues, registration fees or those increasingly rare general operating grants from other foundations or donors.

It turns out that governments do the same. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed nonprofits that receive federal grants and contracts and found that 88% are not reimbursed for their full costs. Some receive nothing at all for their indirect costs. Further, many of the federal grants managed by states are inconsistent in their treatment of indirect costs.

Federal agencies permit nonprofits to retain a share of contract funds for indirect costs, but when state and local governments administer the grants, each follows its own practices. The GAO offered the example of a US Department of Health and Human Services grant program, for which Wisconsin allows a reimbursement to nonprofits of up to 14% for indirect expenses, while Maryland provides no overhead at all.

In the meantime, for-profit contractors are usually able to recover true costs, while their non-profit colleagues may get as much as 20% less as a result of a government’s policy with respect to reimbursement to nonprofits.

Something is very wrong, especially given that many non-profits are often far leaner and more cost-conscious than their for-profit counterparts. Let us hope that the GAO report inspires a rethink at a time when governments are increasingly shifting their responsibilities to the social sector without the resources required to meet them.

—Jane Wales

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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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Today’s second hour of KQED FM’s Forum with Michael Krasny featured a conversation about women and Islam in the Middle East. The guests included Isobel Coleman, author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet, who is speaking tonight, Tuesday, May 18, at the Council; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, who will be with the Council on Wednesday, May 26 in conversation with Jane Wales.

For more information about the Forum program, click here. To register for either Council program, please visit our website.

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Many were thrilled to see that the Kellogg Foundation had made a $75-million commitment to attacking racial disparities in communities across the country. It brought to mind the superb work of Anne Kubisch and her colleagues at the Aspen Roundtable for Community Change— whose work on structural racism remains among the most thoughtful approaches to analyzing and acting on this insidious problem. And so I turned to Anne’s colleague Keith Lawrence— and this is what he had to say:

“Hats off to the Kellogg Foundation for publicly adopting racial equity as a central grant-making principle!

“This is a bold step by a major philanthropic sponsor of initiatives designed to eliminate racial disparities in communities across America. It’s bold because a racial equity perspective explicitly challenges a number of faulty ‘wisdoms’ about race and its connections to familiar socioeconomic outcome patterns, and about the appropriate posture for philanthropy in this arena.

“Kellogg’s recent decision to transform itself into an anti-racism organization sends an important message to those who would believe that President Obama’s election signaled the end of race in America. While that historic development is a great leap forward for our democracy, and a welcome reminder that large numbers of voters hunger for a politics of hope and connectedness, it should not cloud our recognition that we still have a long way to go in truly extending opportunity to all Americans. Thankfully, old-fashioned, in-your-face racism has receded and most of us now consciously embrace colorblind values. But we’re not yet a colorblind society, because our opportunity systems and institutions maintain racially patterned inequalities without, for the most part, intentionally setting out to do so. Kellogg understands that racial privilege and disadvantage have been deeply inscribed into the physical, cultural, economic, institutional, and psychological spaces we navigate daily. Racially inequitable norms and practices in the employment, housing, criminal justice, health and other key sectors still combine to keep far more individuals of color on the margins than can reasonably be explained by their individual shortcomings. Personal responsibility isn’t irrelevant, but its contribution to chronic racial group inequalities is dwarfed by the effects of public policies, institutional practices and unconscious biases that continue to perpetuate racial disparities.

“By stepping up and reframing its race work in this way, Kellogg also sends an important message about the niche philanthropy occupies in our democracy.  Americans have always relied on secondary institutions to extend democratic equality: public schools, trade unions, political parties, religious organizations and, among others, philanthropy. These “equalizing institutions” help create a common social fabric as well as additional opportunity pathways for those without social advantages. The extent to which philanthropic foundations have given a broader cross section of the public access to areas and opportunities once the exclusive preserve of elites—such as higher education, the arts, or specialized training—has been part of this equalizing stratum. This wholehearted embrace of a racial equity grant-making standard speaks loudly to others in this sector about what they can do to help our democracy achieve its full potential and substance”.

Keith could not have put it better. I am eager to hear the thoughts of others on Kellogg’s big bet, the work of the Aspen Roundtable on Community Change and the combination of research and action that is required.

—Jane Wales

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Last week, Time Magazine feted its 100 Most Influential people “who affect our world” at a gala that would be hard to match— with musical performances by Taylor Swift and Prince, a comic interlude by actor Neil Patrick Harris, a brief talk by Bill Clinton and toasts by Sarah Palin, scholar Elizabeth Warren and actor Ben Stiller. But what was striking about the evening were the less glitzy among the honorees: social entrepreneur Valentin Abe, who also gave a toast to Haitians struggling to restore their country; microfinance pioneer Michael Sherraden of the Global Assets Project; Avarind Eye Clinic’s Dr Naperumalsamy, and other remarkable leaders effecting change around the world.

Perhaps the powerful story is that of Chen Shu-chu, a market woman from Taiwan, who saves her meager salary so as to support orphans and to build a library in her school. Over the years, she has given the over $30,000, and now plans to establish a fund to provide education and health care for the poor.

Her first trip outside of this vegetable seller’s home village was this foray into New York’s worldly elite. Surrounded by those who had spent the equivalent of her annual earnings on their glittering attire, Chen wore a business suit selected by Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry (for which she insisted on paying). Such indulgences have no place in the life of Chen Shu-chu, who lives on three dollars a day, so that she can give the remainder to others.

How many of us with much larger earnings could be just a bit more frugal so as to put our funds to a larger purpose? I dare not count the ways I have expended my salary on unnecessary items with the full knowledge that others lack the basic necessities of life. It is one thing to know. It is another to act.

While my dinner invitation was the result of a small article I wrote, Ms Chen’s was the result of lives she had changed. That is true in her village in Taiwan. It was also true that night in New York City. For much as we all enjoyed the well-known speakers and the polished performances, Chen Shu-chu, my modest table companion, will remain the keynoter in my mind.

—Jane Wales

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Foundation leaders can no longer assume that policymakers share their view of the sector’s role—it is up to these leaders to tell philanthropy’s story in a way that can be appreciated and understood. This was among the conclusions of the members of the Aspen Philanthropy Group in their inaugural meeting last July. It was a key theme that emerged in a concurrent nonprofit sector-wide strategy session led by the Independent Sector in Colorado Springs. And it was a refrain at this year’s Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference.

At a time when state legislators are seeking to shift responsibility for financing social services from the public to the philanthropic sector, the Council legal team called attention instead to the US Congress, where some members have questioned the tax exemptions that foundations enjoy. The team reports that this Congressional sentiment is only shared by a few Members and that calls for change are at a “low simmer.” Nonetheless, according to the Council’s Kelly Shippe Simone and Chatrane Birbal, Congress is expected to consider tax reform measures, including tax exemption, next year.

While that gives nonprofit advocates time to make their case, APG would argue that the issue is not a matter of fending off legislation or of defensive moves more generally. Rather it is a matter of efficacy. Those who seek to advance the public good need to partner and to leverage one another so as to enhance their collective impact. Doing so first requires an understanding of their respective roles. Arguments between the public and philanthropic sectors are an indulgence we cannot afford, not at a time when the resources of both are reduced and public needs have expanded.

—Jane Wales

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Much as Haiti can serve as a test case for philanthropic efforts to rebuild a country destroyed by natural disaster, Detroit is emerging as a model for renewal domestically.

Carol Goss of the Skillman Foundation pointed out the promise in Motor City in a March 26 article in the Detroit News: “We can be a model of how to turn around a city and a region.” Skillman is just one of several foundations collaborating to rebuild and rethink all aspects of the city, from its residents’ educational needs to city planning to the arts.

Philanthropic efforts to revive the city’s arts—particularly in establishing a “creative corridor” downtown—are drawing extra attention. “If we could ever try out all these ideas we’ve been cooking up about the arts as an engine of urban renewal—and really do it—this is the place to do it,” said Andras Szanto of AEA Consulting in a March 29 airing of WNYC Radio’s Soundcheck. The show’s host, John Schaefer, compared Detroit to  New York some three and four decades ago, when first punk music and then hip hop culture emerged as vibrant art forms and breathed new life into the city before becoming global cultural forces

Detroit does indeed offer a promising case for foundations: The city was struggling more than most American urban centers before the recession. And its nonprofits have long been too dependent on the severely depressed automotive industry.

But the clock is ticking: The Kresge Foundation’s Rip Rapson told the News that the philanthropic effort has about 18 months to achieve its goals. And alarm bells are already sounding. The News quoted several community leaders skeptical of the efforts, seeing the work as a “takeover” from what appears to be an emerging, unaccountable “fourth branch of government.”

The ever-astute Bruce Trachtenberg wrote in a March 26 post to the Communications Network’s blog that such concerns testify to the still large gap between the public’s understanding of what foundations do and what motivates them—something the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative documents. Independent foundation consultant Bob Hughes wrote in an April 6 post to the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s blog that it’s not just that foundations need to be more open about their activities. A sustained conversation is also required so that the public and organized philanthropy can be aligned.

It will take the whole village of Detroit—as elsewhere—to bring about true social change.

—Jane Wales

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Despite popular perception, it’s not one single product, epiphany or “a-ha” moment that drives innovation. From Thomas Edison’s light bulb to Apple’s multi-functional personal devices, innovation happens when a network adapts and executes using a new approach or technology.

Those were key lessons imparted by Andrew Hargadon of the University of California-Davis, speaking on April 25 at a mini-plenary session on social innovation and philanthropy at the start of the Council on Foundations’ 2010 Annual Conference. This was the kickoff to the conference’s social innovation track, which also included sessions with Chip Heath, co-author of the book Switch, and Gabriel Kasper of the Monitor Institute.

Also at the conference Kasper, co-author of the 2008 Kellogg Foundation report Intentional Innovation: How Getting More Systematic about Innovation Could Improve Philanthropy and Increase Social Impact, noted that there are five steps to getting to innovation: from establishing a culture that embraces it, to identifying opportunities for focus, to diffusing and sharing with others in the field. Both Hargadon and Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation shared specific ideas for and examples of foundations advancing innovation. So did one audience member, who volunteered that philanthropy can be the driver to lead innovations in fields struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world, most notably K-12 education and print journalism.

More generally, though, Hargadon said foundations should take advantage of their already established networks and connections to look for and advance innovations. They should also invest in individuals and organizations with the potential to build or expand a network around new ideas, helping them to take root.

Rodin said that philanthropy, long a field focused on innovation, needs to re-imagine its approach in the 21st Century, focusing as much on innovations in organizations, markets and processes as on ideas or individuals. In this century, innovators don’t need a laboratory, according to Rodin: Everywhere is and can be a laboratory for innovation. She also noted that the best innovative ideas are to be found as a result of collaboration and partnership— in other words, networks of foundations, as well as partners in other sectors, working together.

—Jane Wales

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