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Posts Tagged ‘Philanthropy’

Over the past few days, the New York Times has offered a telling glimpse into the varied nature of the nonprofit sector and the ways in which it touches our lives—from day-to-day services to high policy. The Times coverage also offers insight into our shared instinct to preserve a sector that has the agility to help address market or policy failures.

Saturday’s paper reminded us that America’s increasing numbers of unemployed rely upon nonprofit food banks and other charitable services when their government benefits are exhausted. Another article reports on one of the most significant developments in nuclear non-proliferation policy—the establishment of a global nuclear fuel bank—enabled by a $50-million gift from philanthropist Warren Buffet to the UN’s resource-strapped and politically hampered International Atomic Energy Agency. The bank would provide low-enriched uranium to states seeking nuclear power, in exchange for their returning the spent fuel and foregoing the indigenous capacity to produce their own fuel, including that which is weapons grade. Thus, the nuclear fuel bank would control the cycle of nuclear production and its associated dangers.

It is against this backdrop that a debate erupted within the nonprofit sector over proposals to alter the tax treatment of the donations on which it relies. The Times covered that as well, treating it as more than an industry’s special pleading. The debate’s starting point is that deficit reduction will require the combination of reduced spending and increased revenues. The question is whether tax breaks for charitable gifts are off limits or on.

A range of organizations from think tanks, advocacy and service groups to churches, temples, universities and hospitals have long benefited from the tax write-off their benefactors enjoy. And, in the past decade there has been an explosion in the creation of new foundations, tax exempt endowments established to advance social causes. The introduction of these new philanthropic players with bold ambitions has created benefits not only for our society but also for others across the globe.

Our tax code reflects the importance we place on the freedom that these philanthropies and other nonprofits enjoy. Reducing charitable deductions could adversely impact a nonprofit’s ability to raise or grant the funds needed to fulfill its mission. The change would occur on the heels of a recession that has already reduced foundation endowments and individual givers’ accounts, forcing their grantees to make do with less. Moreover, as national, state and local coffers have shrunk, nonprofits have stretched to make up for the resulting reductions in government services, providing a safety net for America’s most vulnerable families.

But the impact on nonprofits of a changed tax treatment is likely to be as varied as the non-profits themselves—not to mention the philanthropists that support them. Donors are motivated by a range of factors. Tax relief is among them, but how much is not known. In order to judge whether it is right or wise to ask this sector to sacrifice further, policymakers would need to know the risks and benefits to society as a whole.

While that analysis is undertaken, it would be useful to come to a shared view of the reasons for the favorable tax treatment in the first place. Americans value the sector because it is unconstrained by the need to win elections or generate profits and can therefore take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular and unprofitable today but produce true societal benefit tomorrow. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems.

Among the hard problems the sector can help us address is the need to get our country on a sustainable course.

The sector has already contributed by sounding the alarm and offering specific options for financing the obligations we undertake as a country over time. The continued search for solutions will not only test our willingness as a citizenry to share in the sacrifice, but also our ability to think strategically, ask and answer knotty questions, explore novel solutions—and to imagine. These are the strengths of the nonprofit sector.

While the sector can and will continue to contribute in these ways, informing a larger process, it may also choose to shoulder a greater sacrifice. Whatever choices the sector and we make, let’s never sacrifice the sector’s independence from political and market constraints.

We must and they should preserve the sector’s freedom to help us solve society’s next hard problem.

—Jane Wales

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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

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Imagine if countries competed with each other to create the best environment in which social innovation can occur. And imagine if social entrepreneurs were actively encouraged and supported in countries around the world.

Two consultative bodies affiliated with the World Economic Forum (WEF) – its Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing and the Global Agenda Council on Social Entrepreneurship – are aiming to make those ambitions a reality. These bodies are just two of 60 interdisciplinary entities part of the forum’s Global Redesign Initiative, which is seeking ways in which international institutions or arrangements should be adapted to meet contemporary challenges.

“Particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis,” according to WEF’s Klaus Schwab, “we need to rethink our values, redesign our systems, and rebuild our institutions to make them more proactive and strategic, more inclusive, more reflective of the new geo-political and geo-economic circumstances, and more reflective of inter-generational accountability and responsibility.”

Everybody’s Business: Strengthening International Cooperation in a More Interdependent World summarizes and reports on proposals from the WEF’s global councils, focused on specific challenges, from health to economic growth to poverty to sustainability. The Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing, chaired by The Economist’s Matthew Bishop, proposes development of a Social Competitiveness Index that would inspire countries to become more socially innovative. More broadly, the goal is to help analysts and policymakers catch up with the revolution that has been taking place in the social sector for the past decade or so – to “chart its evolution going forward and show countries how to make the most of this opportunity.”

The Council on Social Entrepreneurship, chaired by J. Gregory Dees of Duke University, proposes development of a Global Alliance of Social Entrepreneurs, guided by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. This alliance, among other things, would establish a Consultative Group for Research to Advance Social Entrepreneurship (CGRASE) similar to the World Bank-hosted Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), which has become world-recognized for its role in advancing microfinance. CGRASE’s mission would be to conduct research on and promote policies supporting social entrepreneurship, including working to have the UN designate 2011 the “Year of the Social Entrepreneur.”

Beyond philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, other ideas proposed include: creation of a global financial risk watchdog; development of a strategy to improve the diet of the poor; establishment of a new business model for humanitarian assistance with better coordination among all sectors; and establishment of an Ocean Health Index to strengthen information available about marine life. The report authors are currently seeking public debate and refinement about the many ideas contained. And this fall they will convene meetings to further discuss and develop these proposals, culminating in the forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next January.

The report concludes that today’s global challenges require a more integrated and proactive approach, with new or upgraded international institutions and greater international cooperation: “No network exists that is sufficiently interdisciplinary, interactive and international to overcome these barriers to collective intelligence and action.”

— Jane Wales

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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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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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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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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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If Congress were to double or triple the private foundation excise tax, asks Joel Orosz of Grand Valley State University, “does anyone truly think that there will be a groundswell of support for foundations” that resist? In a March 10 guest post to the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog headlined “Déjà vu (or 1969) All over Again?”, Orosz suggests it’s too late for foundations to react effectively to stem a possible backlash against the sector. Still, the philanthropy professor counsels foundations to take steps on their own to improve practices, including training employees to be more professional and more accountable to nonprofits.

Orosz is just one of several commentators recently suggesting that a growing populist fervor in society isn’t just anti-government, but anti-institution—and a threat to philanthropy, one that can’t be summarily dismissed and should propel changes. For example, in Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save The World, Michael Edwards wrote that foundation leaders will vociferously resist and complain about the many suggestions he makes in the book calling on Congress to require more transparency and accountability from foundations. But Edwards, a senior fellow at the think tank Demos and the leading skeptic of philanthro-capitalism, says that public and political pressure will eventually build and force changes in the sector. Similarly, in a February 25 Chronicle of Philanthropy opinion piece, the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra argued that philanthropy’s increasingly business-minded approach is at odds with the populist mood of the American public on both ends of the political spectrum. He thinks the tide is turning against foundations.

To help improve the situation, Thomas David of the Community Clinics Initiative argues that foundations should show they’re making sacrifices in this economy along with everyone else. It should not be a time of hunkering down, cutting grantmaking, trimming staff and expenses or focusing on re-growing endowments. Instead, David writes in an essay published by Grantmakers in Health (GIH) that foundations should make some big bets, ease up on control of grantees and practice mission-related investing. In other words, take risks that put them on the line in ways that might tangibly, not just symbolically, benefit nonprofits in a time of need. More specifically, David advises foundations to increase their grantmaking this year—even if they’re one of those already exceeding 6 percent payout. He complains that over the past couple of decades, foundations have evolved to become more risk averse than ever; they’re so focused on assets that growth is their priority, not giving.

David’s hard-charging essay is just one of several included in Taking Risks at a Critical Time, released in March in tandem with GIH’s 2010 annual meeting. Foundations hesitate, according to this publication, in part because of an over-reliance on proven practices, unwarranted anxiety about engaging in public policy and avoidance of failure of any kind, despite the fact that a healthy proportion of failures in a grant portfolio is a sign that a foundation is successfully venturing in new territory. The lead essay includes examples of “risk taking in action,” efforts to improve health.

Tom David is not optimistic, however. He essentially calls foundations fair-weather friends to nonprofits: “It is at times like this that nonprofits, who like to think of foundations as allies in their struggles, have learned not to count on their friends when they need them most.” I wonder. It is not the role of foundations to support nonprofits based on need, but rather based on merit, because doing so fits a larger strategy—one that produces a social benefit. I have a good deal of faith that foundations will do their best to achieve that end. But the way in which they do it must take into account the public mood, and even distrust that these observers so powerfully describe. No institution is being given a pass, particularly one that is seen as opaque while claiming to advance the public good. “Trust us” has never been an adequate response to doubters.

—Jane Wales

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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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“Liberia is not a poor country. It is a country that has been managed poorly,” according Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president and Africa’s first female head of state.

Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of violent conflict, which decimates economies, destroys infrastructure, and undermines a state’s capacity to meet basic needs. Yet Sierra Leone and Rwanda have each demonstrated that with the right policies and the right partners, countries can emerge from conflict and achieve positive economic results for their publics. Liberia can be a third example—and wealthy countries, far-sighted investors, and strategic philanthropists alike are betting on the policies of its reform-minded leader.

Undaunted by the problems inherited from 14 years of civil war, Sirleaf’s government undertook a highly inclusive public process to develop its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). It encompasses policies aimed at integrating former combatants, promoting reconciliation, combating corruption, welcoming investment, and encouraging the growth of civil society. It is a blueprint that has persuaded wealthy countries to provide much-needed debt relief and both private philanthropists and investors to work in close coordination with one another—and with a government they feel they can trust.

I write from Liberia, where I am traveling with 19 philanthropists committed to Liberia’s success. The origins of this trip lie in a 2008 Clinton Global Initiative “commitment” undertaken by Pam Omidyar’s Humanity United, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), the Open Society Institute, the Daphne Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the McCall-MacBain Foundation, TrustAfrica, and the government of Liberia.

As part of the commitment, the grant-making foundations stepped forward to finance the establishment of a Philanthropy Secretariat within President Sirleaf’s offices, with the mandate to coordinate their investments so as to best support Liberia’s reform agenda. For our part, at the GPF, we agreed to expand the number of “new philanthropists” alert to Liberia’s potential and to test and refine this extraordinary model of partnership between a post-crisis government and a consortium of private donors and investors.

Ultimately, our hope is to be able to demonstrate—to our satisfaction and to other donors seeking to engage—that this model of highly disciplined and collaborative philanthropic engagement can be adapted and made portable to other post-crisis situations. Many of the GPF members who joined the trip are also leaders of The Philanthropy Workshop West or members of the Aspen Institute Society of Fellows. They are strategic philanthropists, discerning, intent on impact—and deeply respectful of local voices.

They recognize that many of the prescriptions contained in Liberia’s poverty reduction strategy would apply to most post-crisis states. At the same time, they are cognizant that Liberia’s history is unique.  Founded by freed American slaves in 1847, it became the first independent republic in Africa. It established a constitution that met the needs of those settlers, but excluded indigenous peoples. The inequities inherent in that formula helped lead to political instability and ultimately a brutal civil war, during which the GDP of the country dropped 90%, poverty rates rose 64%, the physical infrastructure was decimated, the management class was dispersed, 270,000 died, and many hundreds of thousands were displaced. Its young population, 75% of whom are under age 25, has spent more time in battle than in school.

As a group, we will explore whether and how private actors can contribute to the public goals that are designed not only to reverse the damage done, but to build a new Liberia that can be a model for others emerging from crisis.

In particular, we will report to you—and gain your views—on four hurdles ahead: improving security, promoting public health, rehabilitating infrastructure, and strengthening government capacity.

As we report out to you on the status of each of these areas, we will be eager to hear your views on the role that private actors can play and how they can best work in partnership with each other and with Liberia’s government. Barack Obama has often said that government alone cannot solve all of our country’s problems. If this is true for us, it can be no less true for Liberia, where philanthropy and investment have a significant role to play.

– Jane Wales

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