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20 posts from March 2016

What We Learned About Collective Impact Through Raising the Blended Catalyst Fund

March 31, 2016

Community_building3At Living Cities we are looking beyond grants to focus on blending all types of capital to get better outcomes for low-income people, faster. One of the primary tools we have is the Catalyst Fund, a pool of philanthropic capital that we have used to fund the acceleration, scaling, and replication of promising practices. Based on what we learned from the Catalyst Fund, we recently raised our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund, which blends grants, philanthropic debt, and commercial lending from ten different investors. It's exciting to be able to bring together a diverse set of investors for a common purpose. But the diverseness of our investors also meant they each came to us with a different set of goals and restrictions, and as a result we had to overcome some challenges before we could close our fund. The challenges were similar to those faced by many organizations leading a cross-sector partnership.

Here are four things we learned about collective impact through raising our newest fund:

1. Be clear about the "why." What are you hoping to do collectively that participants can't do on their own? In our case, we assumed that because of our investors’ involvement in Living Cities, they already intuited our why. It wasn't until we were able to articulate what we wanted to do together that our investors fully bought into the idea of a new fund. We realized that you're never really past the why. The why is the shared end-game that we all want to achieve, so articulating it is the most crucial component to getting everyone on the same page and the key to keeping all your participants engaged. When we bring potential investments for the Blended Catalyst Fund to our investors now, we are purposeful about emphasizing the impact and innovation, because that is our why.

2. Allow and expect your partners to articulate their own positions and concerns. When we first started building our fund, we — like many "backbone" or intermediary organizations at the center of cross-sector partnerships — believed we had to be the main interpreters and speak for our investors. We were operating in a hub-and-spoke manner. Instead of acting as a network, we were having one-on-one conversations to understand individual investor concerns. As we saw two groups of investor interests emerging, we continued the individual relationships and acted as a messenger between the groups, negotiating with each party, controlling the conversation and what was happening. When we opened up the process and asked our investors to voice their own opinions and concerns, it not only helped build trust within the group, but it also built our investors' trust in us. After the change in our approach, we had valuable discussions with investors setting expectations for what each wanted out of the fund, discussing how much risk each was comfortable taking on, and pushing each other to stretch.

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A Cure for HIV: Cracking the Code

March 30, 2016

Crack-the-codeIt is rare in the field of biomedical research that a complex scientific challenge can be reduced to a quartet of deceptively simple sounding steps. After thirty years of incremental progress and steady accumulation of knowledge — and close to half a billion dollars expended by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research alone — we've reached such a juncture in our quest to find a cure for one of the most deadly viruses of our time — HIV.

The principal barrier to a cure is the reservoirs of persistent virus that remain in a person even after they have reached a so-called "undetectable" level of HIV as a result of antiretroviral therapy (ART). The four key questions that need to be answered all relate to these reservoirs: Where exactly in the body and in which types of cells are they located? How do they become established and how do they maintain themselves? How much virus do they contain? And, finally, how can we safely get rid of them?

HIV cure research has largely evolved from a process of discovery to a technological challenge. We need to develop the tools and agents to answer these key questions. Once we have answers, we can begin to cure some of the people some of the time, then most of the people most of the time. Ultimately, we hope, we'll have a safe and effective cure that can be made available to all who need it.

At the outset of World War II, the United States and its allies found themselves in a race against time and a Nazi war machine that was making alarming progress toward the development of an atomic bomb. And so the Manhattan Project was born. President Roosevelt marshaled the best scientific minds in the nation and provided them with the resources necessary to mount a massive collaborative effort and be first to the finish line.

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Evidence at the Crossroads: The Next Generation of Evidence-Based Policy

March 28, 2016

US CapitolWhen we began our "Evidence at the Crossroads" blog series, we posited that evidence-based policy making was at a crossroads. In the past six months — despite rancorous partisan debates and a fierce presidential primary season — Congress surprised everyone and passed the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with strong support from both parties.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes over eighty mentions of "evidence" and "evidence-based," and a devolution of power to states and districts to implement those provisions. And earlier this month, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), was approved by the Senate and the House in another display of cooperation.

It is promising that at a time of heightened political rancor, evidence-based policy is finding bipartisan support. But the road ahead is still tenuous, and much will depend on whether the evidence movement can evolve. Here, I draw on the terrific ideas and insights from the authors of the series to suggest three steps for moving forward: focus on improvement, attend to bodies of evidence, and build state and local capacity for evidence use.

Focus on improvement

It's time to position evidence-based policy as a learning endeavor. Implementing and scaling interventions in different contexts with diverse groups is notoriously challenging. Promising results are emerging, but not all are home runs. The history of evaluation research shows that most evaluations yield mixed or null results, and this generation of studies will produce the same. Interventions work in some places for some people, but not others. Even new studies of established interventions turn up findings that are inconsistent with prior studies. What should we make of these results?

One direction we should not take is to obscure these findings or pretend they don't exist. I fear that already happens too often. The rhetoric of the What Works agenda — funding more of what works and less of what doesn't — has created an environment that pressures program developers to portray home run results, communications engines to spin findings, and evaluation reports to become more convoluted and harder to interpret.

Improvement could be the North Star for the next generation of the evidence movement. The idea of building and using evidence simply to sift through what works and what doesn’t is wasteful and leaves us disappointed. We need to find ways to improve programs, practices, and systems in order to achieve better outcomes at scale. Let's not be too hasty in abandoning approaches that do not instantly pay off and instead learn from the investments that have been made. After all, many established interventions had years to gestate, learn from evidence, and improve. Let's not cut short this process for new innovations that are just starting out.

This is not to say that anything goes. Patrick McCarthy reminds us that when research evidence consistently shows that a policy or program doesn't work — or even produces harm — it should be discontinued. Indeed, the next generation of evidence-based policy will need to aim toward improvement while keeping an eye on whether progress is being made.

Attend to bodies of evidence

If evidence-based policy is to realize its potential to improve the systems in which young people learn, grow, and receive care, we need to rely on bodies of research evidence. Too often, public systems are pressured to seek silver bullet solutions. A focus on single studies of program effectiveness encourages this way of thinking. But, as Mark Lipsey writes, "multiple studies are needed to support generalization beyond the idiosyncrasies of a single study." Just as a narrow aperture can exclude the important context of an image, so too does focusing on a narrow set of findings exclude the larger body of knowledge that can inform efforts to improve outcomes at scale.

State and local leaders need to draw on bodies of research evidence. This includes not only studies of what works, but of what works for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost. What Works evidence typically reflects the average impact of an intervention in the places where it was evaluated. For decision makers in other localities, that evidence is only somewhat useful. States and localities ultimately need to know whether the intervention will work in their communities, under their operating conditions, and given their resources. Evidence-based policy needs to address those questions.

To meet decision makers' varied evidence needs, the evidence movement also needs to focus greater and more nuanced attention to implementation research. Real-world implementation creates tension between strict adherence to program models and the need to adapt them to local systems. To address this tension, we need to build a more robust evidence base on key implementation issues, such as how much staffing or training is required, how resources should be allocated, and how to align new interventions with existing programs and systems. As Barbara Goodson and Don Peurach argue, we have built a powerful infrastructure for building evidence of program impacts, but we need to match it with equally robust structures for implementation evidence.

And finally, the evidence-based policy movement needs to recognize the importance of descriptive and measurement research that helps local decision makers better understand the particular challenges they are facing and better judge whether existing interventions are well suited to address those problems. For those needs assessments, descriptive and measurement studies can be critical.

Build state and local capacity

As decision making devolves to states and localities, the way the federal government defines its role will also change. In the wake of ESSA, officials in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are aiming to move beyond top-down compliance. But to do so they will need to identify new means to support states, districts, and practitioners in the evidence agenda. States and localities are not mere implementers of federal policies, nor are they simply sites of experimentation. A key way to foster the success of the evidence movement is to support the capacity of state and local decision makers to build and use evidence to improve their systems and outcomes.

Technical assistance is one way that the federal government can support capacity, and it'll be important to direct technical assistance to state and local decision makers and grantees in productive ways. While tiered evidence initiatives such as i3 have provided grantees with technical assistance to conduct rigorous impact evaluations, assistance has focused less on other key issues: helping grantees apply continuous improvement principles and practices, vet and partner with external evaluators, and build productive collaborations with districts and other local agencies to implement programs.

Providing technical assistance in these areas would increase the ultimate success of these evidence-based initiatives.

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are another way to support state and local agencies. In education, these long-terms partnerships can provide the research infrastructure that is lacking in many states and districts as they seek to implement the evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act. RPPs can help districts and schools interpret the existing evidence base and discern which interventions are best aligned with their needs. In instances where the evidence base is lacking, RPPs are poised to conduct ongoing research to evaluate the interventions that are put into place. Similarly, in child welfare, research-practice partnerships could provide states with additional capacity as they develop Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects to test new approaches for delivering and financing services in order to improve child and family outcomes.

The federal government is perhaps uniquely situated to build and harness research evidence, so that what is learned in one place need not be reinvented in another and the lessons accumulate. Mark Lipsey suggests that federally funded research require the collection and reporting of common data elements so that individual studies can be synthesized. Don Peurach imagines ways the federal government can support an "improvement infrastructure." We should consider these ideas and others as we move forward.

Foundations also have a role. Private funders are able to support learning in ways that are harder for the federal government to do. The William T. Grant and Spencer foundations' i3 learning community, for example, provided a venue for program developers to share the challenges they faced in scaling their programs and to problem solve with one another. In another learning community, our foundation supported a network of federal research and evaluation staff across various agencies and offices to learn from each other. A learning community requires candor and can provide a safe and open environment to identify challenges and generate solutions. Foundations can also produce tools and share models that states and localities can draw upon in using evidence. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, we can often do this with greater speed than the federal government.

Realizing the potential of evidence in policymaking

The ascendance of research evidence in policy in the past two decades gave way to investments in innovation, experimentation, and evaluation that signaled great progress in the way our nation responds to its challenges. But for all the progress we've made in building and using evidence of What Works, we've also been left with blind spots. As a researcher, I did not enter my line of work expecting simple answers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners know that there is always more to learn than yes or no; more at stake than thumbs up or thumbs down. We build and use research evidence not just to identify what works, but to strengthen and improve programs and systems — to build knowledge that can improve kids' lives and better their chances to get ahead.

As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it's essential we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.

Headshot_vivian_tsengThe above post by Vivian Tseng, vice president, program, at the William T. Grant Foundation, is the eleventh and final post in the foundation's "Evidence at the Crossroads" series, in which it sought to provoke discussion and debate about the state of evidence use in policy, with a focus on federal efforts  to build and use evidence of What Works. It is reprinted here with permission of the foundation. You can read other posts in the series here and/or register for a free event co-sponsored by the foundation, "Building State and Local Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking," in Washington, D.C., on March 30.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 26-27, 2016)

March 27, 2016

CherryblossomOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Forty-one percent of Americans — a record number — believe global warming poses "a serious threat to them or their way of life." Aamna Mohdin reports for Quartz.

Another sign of the times: The Rockefeller Family Fund, a family philanthropy created by Martha, John, Laurance, Nelson, and David Rockefeller in 1967 with money "borne of the fortune of John D. Rockefeller," America's original oil baron, has announced its intent to divest from fossil fuels, a process that "will be completed as quickly as possible." You can read the complete statement here

And the New York Times' coverage of new findings warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unchecked global warming, in a much more compressed time frame than previously thought, should get everyone's attention.

Conservation

What is the most effective way to protect wild lands? Traditional place-based conservation? Or through efforts to reshape markets and reduce demand for the development of those lands? Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther explores that question with Aileen Lee, chief program officer for environmental conservation at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the largest private funders of environmental conservation efforts in the world.

Corporate Social Responsibility

"What we are seeing," write Brigit Helms and Oscar Farfán on the Huffington Post Impact blog, "is not just a passing trend, but the beginning of a new form of business — a business that looks beyond profits to generate social value, the business of the future. Tectonic forces are accelerating this movement. At the global level, the most important one involves a cultural shift driven mainly by millennials. The new generation sees the main role of business as that of 'improving society', and not just generating profits...."

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6 Charitable Solicitation Facts to Know Before Applying for a Grant

March 25, 2016

Keyboard_registerFor many nonprofits, foundation grants represent a significant part of their annual income. The Internet, of course, has made finding grant opportunities easier and has streamlined the grants application process to a degree. As organizations seek grant funds outside their locality or state, however, certain charitable solicitation requirements come into play.

1. Most states include grants as a form of charitable solicitation. It might seem odd, but grants and grant writing are considered forms of charitable solicitation in most states, just like direct mail or phone solicitation. What does that mean? If applying for foundation grants is a significant part of your nonprofit’s fundraising activity, it has to comply with regulations in the forty-one states that require charitable solicitation registration.

2. Charitable solicitation registration is expected when you apply for a grant. Foundations almost always insist that grant applicants be exempt from federal income tax, which usually means they've been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt, charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and are able to provide a determination letter to that effect. It is becoming increasingly common that applicants also be able to show proof they are registered with the state charity official in states where they plan to solicit grants or donations. These documents are evidence that your nonprofit is legitimate, and they contribute to the overall transparency of the sector.

At a minimum, you should make sure your nonprofit is registered in its state of incorporation, especially if you plan to apply for locally-based grants. This also means that if you plan to apply for a grant from an out-of-state foundation, you might have to register in that state.

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The Importance of ‘Opportunity’ When Appealing to Donors

March 24, 2016

Opportunity_nametagRecently, I received the following in a direct-mail solicitation from an organization seeking my support:

In the past year, we have paired 300 kids with the mentors they need to be successful. Now we are calling on you to help us make sure it happens again....

Almost immediately, I asked myself, Is this the best way to start a solicitation? Does it convey anything remarkable? Am I really crucial to the organization’s impact equation? And what is the real "ask" here?

Clearly, what the organization wants is my support. It says so right there in the second sentence. But is it something I'm likely to give?

Beyond the appeal to emotions, whether someone gives or not tends to be driven by the simplest of equations: Is this worth stopping what I'm doing, grabbing my credit card, filling out the pledge form, putting a stamp on the envelope, and making a trip to the mailbox?

In too many instances, the answer to that question is "no." While the typical solicitation often includes language from an organization's mission and values statements, it rarely appeals to potential supporters with a unique and compelling proposition.

The solicitation is your opportunity to motivate potential supporters to make a difference. And it's their opportunity to do something to contribute to a cause they believe in. Through a combination of the right words and a well-calibrated appeal to the emotions, it should move them from indifference to action and beyond.

Here are a few examples of the kind of language that works well when presenting your "ask":

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Measuring Outcomes Across Grantees and Over Time

March 22, 2016

Results1When the Jim Joseph Foundation's evaluators’ consortium met last November, the overall focus was on the long road ahead toward developing a common set of measures — survey items, interview schedules, frameworks for documenting distinctive features of programs — to be used as outcomes and indicators of Jewish learning and growth for teens and young adults. Consortium members and the foundation were especially excited to learn about the work led by George Washington University to develop a common set of long-term outcomes and shared metrics to improve the foundation's ability to look at programs and outcomes across grantees and over time. A key part of this endeavor will be an online menu — developed in consultation with evaluation experts and practitioners — from which grantees can choose to measure their program outcomes.

Already, the GW team is making significant progress toward this end. As part of foundation efforts to inform and advance the field, we think the process and lessons related to these efforts are important to share.

To begin, the GW team reviewed the desired outcomes and evaluation reports from a dozen past foundation grants representing a variety of programs. Six grants address the foundation's strategic priority of providing immersive and ongoing Jewish experiences for teens and young adults. Six others address the strategic priority of educating Jewish educators and leaders.

For this latter strategic priority, the GW team offers a welcome "outsider" perspective, bringing strong expertise on outcomes in secular education and teacher training to the development of common outcomes for the foundation's Jewish educator grants. How, for example, do other programs measure quality and teacher retention? Both of these qualities are desired outcomes for the foundation's grants. Yet, if these qualities are not measured with common metrics, the foundation will never be able to properly determine whether its grantmaking in this area is successful. GW's expertise and strong relationship with the foundation are beginning to provide important answers to these challenges.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 19-20, 2016)

March 20, 2016

EggOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb considers the ongoing debate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Data

With its combination of "engaging" visuals and "data-driven interactivity," data visualization could be the answer to opaque spreadsheets and dry, little-noticed statistics. Or not. The challenge, writes Jake Porway on the Markets for Good site, "is that data visualization is not an end-goal...[i]t is often the final step in a long manufacturing chain along which data is poked, prodded, and molded to get to that pretty graph.  Ignoring that process is at best misinformed, and at worst destructive."  

What makes data "clean" and why does it matter? Jenny Walton, a customer advocate at donor relationship software company Bloomerang, explains.

Education

It's a familiar story. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, moves into a small town or suburban community and "disrupts" its local competitors out of business. Less familiar is the story about Walmart, increasingly under threat from online competitors, leaving a town or community -- and taking its low-paying jobs along with it. A business story, yes. But as Jeff Bryant, director of the Education Opportunity Network, explains on Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet blog, it's also a story about closed or underfunded public schools.

Can privately funded charter schools and district schools co-located in the same building learn to live together in a way that benefits kids and teachers from both schools equally? The folks at the Walmart Foundation, a major funder of charter schools, highlight one promising example from Los Angeles.

Inequality

Not New York. Not San Francisco. The U.S. city with the widest income disparity is Boston, where nearly half of residents make less than $35,000 a year and, for most folks,  inflation-adjusted incomes haven't risen in three decades. That stark reality is one of the findings contained in a new study by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a report that "portrays a local economy sharply divided by race, class, and education, with shrinking opportunities for those trying to climb the economic ladder." The Boston Globe's Katie Johnston reports.

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[Infographic] Charitable Solicitation Registration

March 19, 2016

Did you know that before before your nonprofit seeks and accepts donations, it must register in each state where it will be fundraising? You probably did. Did you know that forty-four states and the District of Columbia have charitable solicitation laws? I'm betting most of you didn't. Okay, so this is one of the weedier areas of the charitable sector, but as this excellent infographic from the folks at Harbor Compliance reminds us, ignore those laws at your own peril....

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A Conversation With Fred Ali, President/CEO, Weingart Foundation

March 18, 2016

Fred Ali is president and CEO of the Southern California-focused Weingart Foundation, where he is drawing on past experience as a nonprofit executive to recast the relationship between a foundation and its grantees and has become a champion of the movement to cover full costs and provide nonprofits with unrestricted flexible funding. In this latest installment in a series of conversations with foundation leaders, Ali and Nonprofit Finance Fund CEO Antony Bugg-Levine discuss money, power, influence, and outcomes.

Antony Bugg-Levine: The Weingart Foundation is known for providing unrestricted support — a rarity in the world of philanthropy. What led you down this path?

Headshot_fred_aliFred Ali: My own experience as a nonprofit executive has always guided my thinking. When the financial crisis hit, I remember the board meeting where I was asked, "What do we do now?" I made the argument for unrestricted support, and it really made sense to the board. We brought in some of our grantees, as well, to help design our approach. Our board has always appreciated when they hear from the field.

A lot of people said that nonprofits would just take the unrestricted money and invest it in programs, because demand was growing exponentially and it is in nonprofits' DNA to put programmatic needs first. And in our first round of unrestricted grantmaking, that's exactly what we saw. Then we started to see a shift. Based on the questions our program officers were asking, what we started to see — and what we continue to see — is that nonprofits recognized that these were very special dollars. We started seeing organizations use these dollars to invest in their infrastructure, to bring back the financial management position that was lost or the development person they needed, and it was heartening.

ABL: How do you balance the philosophy behind giving grantees the autonomy to do what they know how to do best while at the same time meeting your own need — and your board's need — to know the impact of those dollars?

FA: When we made our decision to devote the bulk of our funding — now over 60 percent — to unrestricted funding, it immediately raised the question of impact measurement. After a few years of hard work, we recently announced a new assessment framework for our grantees that evaluates organizations on nine functional areas, including board governance, financial operations, fund development, staff and infrastructure, client and constituent engagement, diversity, cultural competence, organizational strategy and adaptability, and executive leadership. With the assistance of Paul Harder and Company, we co-created the framework with our grantees. We wanted a framework aligned with our core values as a responsive grantmaker. We wanted a process that maintained a commitment to transparency and practical, actionable learning. And we wanted something that would not create undue burdens on grantees or on our own staff but that would provide us with useful information. Our theory of change is that if you give a reasonably managed, well-governed, strategically focused nonprofit organization flexible, unrestricted dollars, good outcomes will follow.

ABL: The framework gives you a way to determine whether an organization is more effective over time, but how do you measure the contribution your grant made to that effectiveness? Many funders are concerned about attribution versus contribution if they were to move to more general support. How do you and your board approach that issue?

FA: The system we have designed understands the complex nature of assessing contribution to impact. We've developed a process to understand the growth in organizational effectiveness over time. And it starts with the questions we ask in the application process. Then, when a program officer makes a funding recommendation, they complete a detailed assessment based on their perception of where the grantee is against the nine functional areas of our framework. That provides a baseline. At the conclusion of the grant period, we ask the grantee to complete an online assessment, which gives them the opportunity to talk about where they are on those nine areas, and about big-picture organizational goals, and whether or not they are able to attribute the use of our unrestricted funds to any movement in those areas. The program officer receives that information, compares it with his or her initial perception, and then has a discussion with the grantee around the growth that has been achieved and areas of continued need. Last but not least, the program officer completes a closeout report that serves as the application for a new grant. Although it’s still early in the process, things seem to be going well for both grantee and program staff.

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[Review] The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World

March 16, 2016

The story Steven Radelet tells in The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of 1989. Marking the end of the Cold War, the wall's fall ushered in an era of unprecedented development progress across much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But as the event itself faded into history, many viewed the breakdown of global order into ethnic cleansing, economic instability, the emergence of Islamist terrorism, and an upswing in refugee crises with growing alarm — a pessimistic view that, Radelet argues, was and is misplaced.

Cover_the_great_surgeIn his book, Radelet, who chairs the Global Human Development Program at Georgetown University and serves as economic advisor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, highlights progress in more than a hundred developing countries across "four critical dimensions" of development: poverty, income, health and education, and democracy and governance. Between 1993 and 2011, Radelet notes, the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) fell from nearly two billion, or 42 percent of the global population, to just over one billion, or 17 percent. Meanwhile, GDP per capita in developing countries grew more than 70 percent on average, with population-weighted real incomes rising some 90 percent since 1994.

Over roughly the same period, the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 fell from 10 percent to 4.7 percent. With maternal mortality and fertility rates also down significantly, children in developing countries today are far healthier and better educated than they have been at any time in memory, while the percentage of girls finishing primary school has risen from 50 percent to 80 percent and the percentage of girls completing secondary school has doubled, from 30 percent to 60 percent. Whether as cause or product of these trends, it is no coincidence that the number of democracies globally has jumped from seventeen in 1983 to fifty-six in 2013 (not counting countries that claim to be democracies but merely pay lip service to fair and open elections).

To be sure, some of this progress occurred before the late 1980s. But burdened by the legacy of colonialism and factors such as unfavorable geography, inadequate resources, and endemic disease, many developing countries found themselves struggling to break free of the "poverty trap." What made their "sudden" ascent possible, Radelet argues, was the convergence of three post-Cold War factors: global geopolitical conditions becoming more conducive to development; increased opportunities provided by a new wave of globalization and the spread of new technologies; and the rapid development of the skills and capabilities needed to take advantage of those opportunities.  

Take the first. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and a rump Russia lost their appetite (at least temporarily) for proxy wars in the developing world as well as their costly habit of propping up Communist and right-wing dictatorships in countries like Bangladesh, Benin, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Panama. Moreover, as Communist and authoritarian ideologies lost their credibility among much of the world's population, a consensus began to form around the efficacy of market-based approaches to economic growth and development, an emphasis on individual freedoms, and respect for basic human rights. In time, "[d]eveloping countries around the world began to build institutions more conducive to growth and social progress," Radelet writes. "The doors opened to new possibilities."

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Expanding the Social Impact Toolbox

March 15, 2016

Hammer-and-nailsIn 1964, the Beatles famously sang, "Money can't buy me love." In philanthropy, the refrain frequently goes: "Money can't buy me impact." Like love, impact — the tangible (and sometimes intangible) outcomes we seek as philanthropists — isn't something that can be bought; it's created. And while money can buy a lot of things, it actually does very little. As such, money isn't the solution that grantmakers often imagine it to be. At Open Road Alliance, we are learning to think about money not as the solution to problems but as a fungible resource that can be shaped into tools and used to help solve problems.

It's easy to see how philanthropists have (mistakenly) come to view money as the solution to most problems. Let's try a little thought experiment. Ask yourself: What would it take to vaccinate every child in a rural area of a developing country? Your answer might be $10 million. Or ask: What would it take to scale a successful afterschool program to three adjacent counties? Your answer might be $750,000. Neither is the correct answer. The correct answers are fifty thousand doses of the vaccine, and fifty trained nurses employed for twelve months (plus a long list of supplies and other inputs required to secure the success of the effort). Yes, all that costs money, but money is just the middleman. It can buy, but it can't do.

If we accept that premise, then it is incumbent on us to fashion different financial instruments — tools — to accomplish different tasks. Unlike the examples above, successfully deploying money to create impact rarely is a one-dimensional transaction. Take, for example, a donor who wants to boost access to high-quality education by paying for a new charter school. The simplistic calculation puts the cost of the building at X dollars, so X dollars donated will lead to Y outcome, with Y being the new school building. The reality is a little messier. Funds need to be allocated for permits and raw materials, for labor, and, eventually, for faculty, supplies, and other administrative costs. Even within this simplified example, the types of capital needed fall into multiple categories: permits and raw materials are a one-time cost, labor is a contractual cost (and subject to change as construction progresses), and hiring staff, purchasing supplies, and administrative expenses are recurring expenses. Understanding the nature and duration of each of these costs is essential to the success of the project. When money is viewed as a tool, you start with the ultimate objective — a new charter school building — and work backward to see what type of funding will work best for each cost category.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 12-13, 2016)

March 13, 2016

The-Round-UpOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

Looking for a good collection of juvenile justice resources? The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leader in the field, has published this on its blog.

Climate Change

On the Humanosphere site, Tom Murphy asks the question: Will the Global Climate Fund falter before it gets off the ground?

Education

In the New York Review Books, historian of education and author Diane Ravitch reviews Dale Russakoff's The Prize: Who's In Charge of America's Schools? and Kristina Rizga's Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail it, and the Students and Teachers Who Made it Triumph and finds both to be "excellent." Together, Ravitch adds, the two books also "demonstrate that grand ideas cannot be imposed on people without their assent. Money and power are not sufficient to improve schools. [And genuine] improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children...."

Environment

Nonprofit Chronicles' Marc Gunther has written a must-read post about the recent assassination of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres -- and what U.S. funders can do to combat the organized campaign of terror and intimidation being waged against environmental activists in Honduras: 1) Demand that Berta Cáceres' killers be brought to justice; 2) provide more support for grassroots activism; and 3) recognize/acknowledge the connections between the environment and human rights.

Fundraising

In Forbes, Russ Alan Prince recaps the seven wealthy charitable donor types.

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A New Generation of Girl Philanthropists Inspires

March 11, 2016

Violet_giving_circle_for_PhilanTopicAs seniors at the elite Marlborough School for girls in Los Angeles, Olivia Goodman and Alana Adams are getting a top-notch education, preparing to attend renowned universities, and looking forward to long and rewarding careers.

They know they are fortunate. But they're also painfully aware of what lies beyond their private school campus. They know that, just a few miles away, there are schools that lack basic supplies and where teenagers try to focus while the sound of gunshots can be heard outside.

That's why, in 2014, Goodman and Adams joined the student-run Violets' Giving Circle, part of the Women's Foundation of California's network of six collaborative giving circles. Recently, Goodman, Adams, and nineteen of their schoolmates announced they will award a total of $40,000 in grants to four Los Angeles-based organizations that support educational access and opportunities for women and girls. The organizations are Homeboy Industries, New Village Girls Academy, Women in Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), and WriteGirl.

The Violets not only are inspiring, they are emblematic of a rather startling development in giving. At all income levels and ages, women in 2016 are more likely than men to give to charity — a dynamic that researchers refer to as the gender gap in charitable giving. Indeed, in one study, baby boomer and older women gave 89 percent more to social causes than men their age, while women in the top quartile of income gave 156 percent more than men in that cohort.

Researchers have a few hypotheses as to why this is the case. One is that women tend to be more altruistic and empathetic than men because of the way they are socialized with respect to "caring, self-sacrifice and the well-being of others." The Violets, who are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the group this year, are just one example of how the gender gap in charitable giving applies to girls as well.

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The Three Sources of Foundation Influence

March 09, 2016

Infleunce_magnetMoney, convening power, and knowledge give philanthropic foundations enormous influence and underlie their unique position in our socioeconomic ecosystem. Endowed by a wealthy family or individual, foundations are blissfully free from the kinds of pressures that drive short-term behavior in other sectors. They don't have to raise money from venture capitalists, the financial markets, or other foundations. They never awake to the terrifying news that that their business is threatened by a new competitor. And they don't have to kiss babies in order to garner votes.

Like grizzly bears, lions and tigers, foundations have no natural predators.

Despite this enormous freedom, many foundations traditionally have professed humility and maintained a low profile — either because of their donor's wishes, a belief that it's their grantees that do the real work, or because of the personality of their leader. Increasingly, however, foundations are waking to the enormous potential they have to wield influence in their home cities, countries, and around the world. And encouraging others to adopt their causes, strategies, and ways of working is coming to be seen as the way foundations can increase their impact many-fold.

Let's look more closely at the three sources of foundation influence.

Flexible money

First and foremost is money. Foundations have an abundance of what nonprofit organizations, social entrepreneurs, and the social sector writ large chronically lack. Nonetheless, they tend to be conflicted about their wealth: foundations will tell you without much prompting how many millions or billions in assets they have, only to claim in the next sentence that their resources are small in relation to the world's problems. Collectively, the nearly $800 billion held by American foundations pales in significance to the hundreds of trillions coursing through the international capital markets. But that misses the point.

Foundation money is one of the last remaining sources of capital on earth without a significant claim on it. As a result, the dollars granted, loaned, or invested in social and environmental causes have tremendous potential for leverage. Public institutions may have large budgets, but in most cases those funds are so thoroughly earmarked that they are left with virtually no "risk capital." Talk to any foundation professional who has answered a call to form a partnership with a government agency, the World Bank, or any other large multilateral institution and she inevitably will express surprise about being asked for a grant. Indeed, many of the private-public partnerships that are viewed as the key to impact and bringing an initiative to scale began with a small foundation grant that served to lever more significant public funding.

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Quote of the Week

  • "They were careless people. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...."

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

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