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18 posts categorized "author-Matt Sinclair"

Sprinting in 2017

January 23, 2017

Sprint-technique2Come the New Year, the team here at Philanthropy News Digest tries to hit the ground running. This year we're gearing up for a sprint.

Not to get weedy about it, but for us that means we'll be dedicating more time than usual this month and next to making improvements to our website and workflow processes. In addition to posting lots of cool content on the blog, we'll continue to write up abstracts of the day's philanthropic news, post RFPs and jobs, conduct Q&As with sector leaders, and publish original commentary, book reviews, and articles from our many content partners. But during the sprint, we'll also be talking with our tech team about changes we'd like to make to the site.

That's where you come in. We need your input. We know what we like about the site, but we really want to know what you like — and don't — about it. Should we be doing more of something? Less of something? Is there something we're not doing that we should be doing? Features we used to publish that you miss? Has anything on the site outlived its usefulness?

Here are some other things we're curious about:

Do you open the newsletters and e-alerts we send you? If not, why not? When's the last time you visited the PND home page? Did you know the PND website has a searchable archive of more than twenty thousand news items dating back to the year 2000?

It's a big site with a lot of moving parts. We want to make it better. For you.

Leave your suggestions/feedback in the comments section below. Or email me, Matt Sinclair, at mws@foundationcenter.org.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

5 Questions for...Zoë Baird, CEO/President, Markle Foundation

September 12, 2016

We've all heard that necessity is the mother of invention. And like most clichés, there is plenty of truth to it. But for every other UpWork professional using Uber to a get to a client meeting, there's a CEO who would prefer to convert that freelancer into a full-time employee. Or so shows a recent survey conducted by the Markle Foundation, the Aspen Institute's Future of Work Initiative, Burson-Marsteller, and TIME magazine. While employers recognize the benefits of hiring "contingent workers" and embrace the principles of the "on-demand economy," the survey found, among other things, that 56 percent of employers believe full-time employees provide more long-term value to their businesses and are more invested in the company.

Recently, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Zoë Baird, who has led the Markle Foundation since 1998, about the results of the survey, the foundation's Skillful initiative, and how the job market in the U.S. is changing.

Headshot_Zoe Baird_MarklePhilanthropy News Digest: Markle recently released the results of a Workforce of the Future Survey, which examined new employment models in what many people have taken to calling the "gig economy." What, if anything, surprised you about the findings?

Zoë Baird: What really surprised us was the extent to which employers preferred to have full-time employees. It's clear that employers are using independent contractors, but over 60 percent of them really prefer full-time employees, which we view as a very positive finding. The concern that twenty-first century employers have no loyalty to their employees did not come through in the survey. Employers want full-time employees, and the main reason they hire independent contractors seems to be that they need specific skills or have a surge in work and need to hire people faster than the people they already have can acquire new skills.

PND: Did respondents say why they prefer full-time employees to part-time or contract employees?

ZB: Loss of productivity and the cost of replacing a skilled employee are factors, but the main reason seems to be that full-time employees are more loyal and committed than part-time employees. And that fits well with the work we are doing with Skillful, which is designed to get people who have a high school diploma but no college degree on a path to attain the skills they need to thrive in the twenty-first century economy.

PND: You don't have to look far these days to find someone willing to talk about the lack of skilled employees in the marketplace. Have we made progress in closing the so-called skills gap?

ZB: What we’re finding, both in the work we’re doing and in the research, is that jobs and the nature of work are changing, but people aren't getting retrained fast enough to keep up with those changes. Increasingly, employers are eager and willing to re-train workers, whether or not those workers have a college degree. And what we're trying to do is to work with employers to define the skills they need and then help job seekers demonstrate to potential employers that they have those skills.

With Skillful, we've created a platform that lets everyone, employers and job candidates, see what they need to see. Individuals who are interested in a career path can see what a particular job pays and watch videos showing them what it looks like to do a particular job. We also have videos of people talking about what a job in, say, advanced manufacturing is all about. People often end up doing the same kind of job a parent did, in part because it's often the path of least resistance. Skillful enables you to see what different jobs look like and what they pay. Then you can sit with a career counselor at a workforce center, or at Goodwill, which is partner­ing with us on the initiative, and talk with them about how to get the training you need to get onto a career path that leads to a brighter future. It's designed to be a "begin-again" system and remove the mystery of how you go about switching gears.

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A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

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5 Questions for...Katherine Lorenz, President, Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation

February 24, 2016

Not yet forty, Katherine Lorenz has been active in the social sector since her early twenties, notably as co-founder of Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, a nonprofit organization working to advance food sovereignty in rural Mexico. For most of her career, Lorenz thought of herself as a grantseeker rather than as the person who would end up heading the family foundation established by her grandfather, George Mitchell, a Texas wildcatter who amassed a fortune in the natural gas industry and pioneered the cost-effective use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to extract gas from shale. However, a stint as deputy director of the Institute for Philanthropy — which later merged with the Philanthropy Workshop, where she serves as chair — convinced her that her nonprofit experience could be valuable to the Texas-based foundation. Elected president of the foundation in 2011 and named "One to Watch" by Forbes in 2012, Lorenz has become a respected speaker on topics related to environmental sustainability, NextGen philanthropy, and nonprofit leadership and has helped guide the foundation's emergence on the national stage as it waits for a final, significant infusion of funds from her grandfather's estate.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke recently with Lorenz about the difference between "good" and "responsible" donors, the foundation's strategic planning process, and its efforts to support sustainable land-use practices in Texas and the Southwest.

Headshot_katherine_lorenzPhilanthropy News Digest: You've carved out an interesting career in the social sector. Are you at all surprised to find yourself leading your late grandfather's foundation?

Katherine Lorenz: Yes and no. I never really envisioned that I would work on the grantmaking side. Working in the field, in rural communities in Latin America, was my first pro­fessional love. I really enjoyed the work I did with a group called Amigos de las Americas and then in founding Puente a la Salud Comunitaria and leading that organization for six years in Oaxaca, Mexico. I really believed that was my passion and that I would always stay connected to the grantseeking, imple­mentation side. A few people asked if I saw myself going on to work in the foundation at some point; my answer was always no.

But several things happened: the primary one was that I went through the Philanthropy Workshop and had an "a-ha" moment, thinking about where can I have the most impact with my time and the work I do. It became clear while I was working on the grantseeking side how good donors who are well-informed can have a much bigger impact than people who are just writing checks. There's nothing wrong with providing funding, but I learned to recognize how great it was to work with good donors and how difficult it was to work with not-as-good donors, which helped me recognize the power of being a really smart, thoughtful, informed donor.

PND: How would you distinguish a good donor from a bad donor?

KL: I hate to use the term "bad donor" because I think all donors are really driven to have an impact, and for the most part they're not doing harm. There are some cases where, completely inadvertently, good intentions lead to significant problems. Something that might seem like a simple solution could have much larger — and negative — implications. For example, disaster relief that ends up destroying local markets. Then there are donors who are difficult to work with.

I think a lot of donors feel that, to be a "responsible" donor, they need to be strict with their grantees, making sure that only a certain amount goes to overhead. Or maybe they won't fund administrative costs or salaries and will only fund direct program costs, or require some additional type of reporting that's unique to them to make sure they're getting the impact they want to see. What I've found is that by trying to be a responsible donor, you can sometimes make it more difficult for the organization receiving the grant. I told one donor that we would rather not take their money than have to do what they were asking, because what they were asking would cost more than what they were willing to give us.

One of my pet peeves is the overhead conversation. When I was applying for and receiving grants, I felt it was very clear to me, as the organization's executive director, where we needed support and where we didn't. We did everything on a shoestring. We couldn't have a computer for all our employees, or our computers were so old they didn't work, or we couldn't pay to have the right software to run the accounting systems we needed. Even office space or an additional car — really basic things — all count as overhead. But none of it was wasteful, it was necessary. We couldn't do our work in the field without those things.

One area I felt was particularly important that no one wanted to fund was strategic planning. To achieve the most impact it can, an organization needs a strategic plan. But that's investing in the institu­tion and overhead, which many of our donors were not interested in funding. So, when a donor would come to me and ask, "What do you want to do that no one will fund?" — which wasn't often — that was incredibly helpful. Whereas, a different donor might say, "In addition to tracking that annually, we want you to track this other thing over here every six months, and money should only go to programs." Both would think they were doing a good job, but the difference in dealing with those types of donors, in terms of pursuing our mission, was night and day.

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[Review] Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works

February 12, 2016

Changing the world is a lot like writing a novel: many people say they want to, but only a few actually accomplish their goal, and fewer still succeed in creating something that gets noticed.

Cover_getting beyond betterIn Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, business strategist Roger L. Martin and Sally R. Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, provide an overview of the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship and share the stories of several social entrepreneurs who have changed — and are changing — the world for the better. And, like the entrepreneurs they highlight — nearly all of whom have been recognized by the Skoll Foundation for their efforts — Martin and Osberg mostly succeed in their objectives, providing a definitional framework for the field, explaining the joys and challenges of the work, and finding compelling examples of people who have overcome those challenges.

Martin and Osberg define social entrepreneurship as direct action aimed at transforming, rather than incrementally improving, an existing system; in the process, a new equilibrium is created. Moreover, social entrepreneurs work in "ways that do not fit neatly into the traditional modes of government and business." Whereas businesses are constrained by a need to earn profits, and government-led change efforts are designed to provide services to citizens rather than cultivate new customers, social entrepreneurs are able to "[negotiate] these constraints. The creative combination of elements from both poles...is what enables [them] to build models designed for a particular context."

Through their work at the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll World Forum, Osberg and Martin have observed that transformative change involves four key stages: first, the social entrepreneur must understand the system she is trying to change; then, she must envision a future in which that system has been changed, build a model for achieving the change, and, finally, scale a solution.

It is not enough, for example, to be repulsed by a tradition such as foot binding or female genital cutting that has been standard practice in certain societies for centuries. Rather, the social entrepreneur "sets out to make sense of the problematic equilibrium itself: how did it come to be and why does it persist?" To do that, Martin and Osberg write, the social entrepreneur must "navigate three powerful tensions" with respect to the world they wish to change: abhorrence and appreciation; expertise and apprenticeship; and experimentation and commitment.

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5 Questions for…Judith Rodin, President, Rockefeller Foundation

October 12, 2015

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was a poignant reminder of the power of nature and our often ineffective efforts to control and contain it. As we have come to understand more fully in the decade since, Katrina also exposed a number of troubling truths about America that many had chosen to ignore or deny. Growing inequality. The persistence of institutional racism and racist attitudes. The social and economic costs of de-industrialization. The interconnectedness of the built and natural environments.

The New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation was one of the first philanthropic organizations to respond to the devastation caused by Katrina, and within months the foundation had been enlisted by the Louisiana Recovery Authority to assume a leading role in the recovery planning process for New Orleans. Recently, PND caught up with a busy Judith Rodin, Rockefeller's president, to talk about the foundation's role in the recovery process and what it learned from its efforts about urban resilience in an age of climate change.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Rockefeller Foundation was instrumental, post-Katrina, in the formation of the Unified New Orleans Plan. What was the foundation looking to accomplish by supporting the UNOP effort?

Headshot_judith_rodinJudith Rodin: I stepped into the presidency at the Rockefeller Foundation in March 2005, and Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Like many others, we responded to the immediate need, in our case funding Enterprise Community Partners and Habitat for Humanity to work on rebuilding the city's devastated housing stock. But then, in early 2006, I got a call from Walter Isaacson, who at the time was co-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and wanted to gauge our interest in restarting the recovery planning process, which, six months after the storm, had stalled. Walter knew that my then-colleague Darren Walker [now president of the Ford Foundation] and I both had experience with collaborative community development efforts involving stressed, often fractious, and impoverished communities. We also knew that without a plan, the bulk of the federally authorized recovery money could not flow to the city. People were desperate, and our board authorized us to jump in. It was the first big test of the approach that would come to define the Rockefeller Foundation as it turned one hundred.

The goal in New Orleans was to use a deeply consultative, inclusive process to create a single unified plan that would go beyond recovery and rebuilding to expand the capacity of local institutions such as the Greater New Orleans Foundation and promote interventions that would build greater resilience in the city and the region.

From day one, we focused on community empowerment. The storm had exposed longstanding issues of race and class that contributed to the city's inadequate response; we wanted to work with all stakeholders — community leaders and elected officials, NGOs and the private sector, and, most importantly, the people who had been displaced, whether they had returned to their neighborhoods or not. Creating a shared vision was crucial if the recovery was to proceed more effectively and New Orleans was to become more resilient and better able to handle whatever the next shock might be, which, as it turned out, was the BP oil spill a few years later.

The funding we provided to support the creation of the Unified New Orleans Plan helped the city recover and rebuild. As New Orleans looks forward, we have been proud to partner with the city on its just released resilience strategy, which includes the city's priorities for long-term resilience building. Supported by 100 Resilient Cities, the global organization we founded to celebrate our centennial in 2013, it is one of the first strategies of its kind and will serve as an example to other cities around the world that are currently developing their own resilience strategies.

PND: If you had known then what you know today, what might the foundation have done differently to respond to Katrina?

JR: While it is tempting to look back and speculate about what everyone could have done differently, I think it is more constructive to look forward. New Orleans has come a long way over the past ten years, but there is obviously still much to do over the next ten.

Moving forward, it will be important to ensure that investments in building resilience benefit everyone in the city. Not everyone has gained equally over the last ten years as things in the city began to improve. Crime and unemployment among black males are still far too high. Resilience planning is being more intentionally designed to respond to and integrate physical infrastructure solutions with economic and social ones. For example, as the city continues rebuilding its water management system, it has done so in a way that responds to the threat of flooding and clears sewage more effectively for conversion into usable water. The new system will better manage water through an improved canal-and-pond system as well as bio-swales and rain gardens, keeping water inside the levees where it belongs. Importantly, this water management project is designed to provide job training and new, good jobs for two hundred and fifty currently unemployed African American men, with many more to come. This type of resilience planning is designed to respond not just to the physical needs of the city but also its social and economic needs. By preparing the city for future shocks, and also creating opportunity today, the city is realizing what we call the "resilience dividend."

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5 Questions for...Kevin Washington, President/CEO, YMCA of the USA

August 26, 2015

When Kevin Washington talks about how the YMCA shapes children's lives, he speaks from experience. Growing up in a tough section of South Philadelphia, the Christian Street Y was Washington's refuge from the gangs that roamed the streets of his neighborhood. At the same time, the Y helped foster in him a love for learning and basketball, which in turn enabled him earn a scholarship to Temple University.

In February, Washington became president and CEO of YMCA of the USA. A thirty-six-year veteran of the organization, Washington served as president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston from 2010 to 2014 and was credited with doubling that organization's membership to more than forty thousand households and forging a common identity for the region’s thirteen different branches. He also has served as a member of the Y-USA board of directors (2004-09) and chaired an advisory committee that guided the development of the national organization's new strategic plan.

Earlier this summer, Washington, the first African-American president and CEO of the national organization, sat down with PND to discuss the organization's Hop the Gap campaign and the ways in which the organization has changed its approach to donor cultivation and partnerships.

Headshot_kevin_washingtonPhilanthropy News Digest: We're both reading Robert Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, in which Putnam examines the class-based opportunity gap that has emerged in America over the past forty or fifty years. What role does an organization like the Y play in helping to address opportunity gaps of the kind Putnam describes?

Kevin Washington: Well, our Hop the Gap campaign is expressly designed to fill gaps for kids during out-of-school time related to hunger, health, learning, water safety, and access to safe spaces. It's part of our larger commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of income or background, have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

For example, many of the more than one million kids in the U.S. who attend the Y's resident and summer day camps are from low-income communities. During the school year, kids learn things at a certain age and at a certain rate. But the summer months, and summer learning loss, are a problem. We know, however, and statistics show, that kids who engage in the Y's summer learning loss prevention programs gain on average two to three  months of reading and math skills over a six-week period.

Looking at nutrition, kids who receive breakfast and lunch at school lose the benefit of that program during the summer months. The Y, with support from the Walmart Foundation, is focused on making sure that the food-insecurity gap is addressed by providing four and a half million healthy meals and snacks to nearly two hundred thousand kids this summer.

Last but not least, all kids need to know how to swim. The CDC has found, however, that African-American kids are three times more likely to drown than white kids. So our water-safety initiative is vitally important.

PND: Wow, I had no idea the disparity was so great. What's behind it?

KW: In many low-income communities, there are no pools where kids can learn how to swim. It's also a family thing -- if your mother or father never learned how to swim, chances are you won't, either. We know that if kids haven't learned to swim by third or fourth grade, they likely never will.

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5 Questions for...Judith Shapiro, President, Teagle Foundation

April 24, 2015

Judith Shapiro has spent decades in and around higher education in the United States. The first female professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she taught from 1970 to 1975, Shapiro joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College in 1975 as a member of the department of anthropology and later served as acting dean (1985-86) and provost (1986-94) of the college. She went on to serve as president of Barnard College — the first person to come through the New York City school system to do so — from 1994 to 2008 and was named president of the New York City-based Teagle Foundation in 2013. Shapiro has researched and written widely about gender differences, social organization, cultural theory, and missionization, and throughout her career has spoken out on a broad range of topics.

Headshot_judith_shapiroPhilanthropy News Digest: You spent most of your career in academia, including fourteen years as president of Barnard College. Is being a foundation president a lot different than being a college president?

Judith Shapiro: I loved being president of Barnard. But the job was unremitting, whereas my job here doesn't feel as if it consumes my entire life. Being a college president is really strenuous, but having that in my background is espec­ially useful to this particular foundation. One interesting difference in my situation is that, for the most part, I spent my academic career in elite institutions: Brandeis, Columbia, University of Chicago, Bryn Mawr, Barnard. But since coming to Teagle, I've been exposed to a much wider variety of institutions and learned that there are truly interesting things going on in all kinds of institutions.

It's good that there's diversity in our educational sector, not only among institutions of higher education, but also among foundations, and among foundations that are involved in higher education. Lumina, for example, can focus on policy-related issues in higher education, Mellon can dig into the arts and digital humanities, and Sloan has a nice focus on undergraduate STEM, whereas Teagle doesn't specialize in any of those areas. So there's a nice division of labor among foundations, but also opportunities for them to coordinate and cooperate. You know that foundations often like their grantees to collaborate, and it's a good thing for foundations to work with each other as well.

PND: That type of collaboration often comes with challenges. As an anthropologist, how would you recommend that some of the cultural challenges be addressed?

JS: Some of the challenges are very real. The Center for Effective Philanthropy examined how foundations can and do work together and found that, in some cases, the cost of the collaboration in terms of coordinating activities was so great that the foundations collaborating really had to step back and decide whether the partnership made sense. In general, I think the pooling of funding is a good idea, but you have to find a way to combine the distinctive focus and identity of the various partners and avoid getting carried away by the kind of institutional narcissism that results in organizations competing with or not paying attention to each other.

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5 Questions for...David Barash, Chief Medical Officer, GE Foundation

March 05, 2015

David Barash, an emergency room physician, joined the GE family in 2010 as chief medical officer of the Life Care Solutions business, a division of GE Healthcare known for its technological innovation, and moved to the GE Foundation, which he serves as the chief medical officer and executive director of the health portfolio, in 2013.

Philanthropy News Digest recently recently spoke with Barash about the foundation’s global initiatives and plans for 2015.

Headshot_david-barashPhilanthropy News Digest: Over the past few years, the GE Foundation has earmarked a significant portion of its resources for Africa, with a focus on children and mothers. How did that programmatic focus come about?

David Barash: We started thinking about what we could do programmatically in Africa about ten years ago. Initially, the Africa Project was limited to in-kind donations of equipment. We soon realized, however, that simply donating equipment is a flawed strategy if you don't have people on the ground who can use and maintain that equipment. So we re-evaluated what we were doing and determined that our goals were really to help drive capacity building and strengthening public health systems in the region.

With that in mind, the two pillars of our grantmaking in Africa today are Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, Reducing Child Mortality and Improving Maternal Health, and Safe Surgery in low resource settings — seeing what can we do to help provide safe surgical environments, primarily for pregnant mothers, but also for accident and trauma victims.

GE is known for is its lean Six Sigma approach and change acceleration process, what we call our CAP program. In working with health clinics here in the United States, for example, our teams are invited in to work with the clinic leaders, look at what is needed, ask clinic staff what they need, and provide the type of training GE leaders and executives get. In most cases, it's about the change process: here's what you can change, here's how we would suggest doing it, here are the things you need to look out for. We work alongside clinical staff to help them get where they want to go.

We use the same principles in sub-Saharan Africa, where hundreds of women die every day as a result of complications from pregnancy. A lot of those mothers are dying because there is limited access to safe anesthesia, which reduces the availability and increases the risk of C-section. One of our communities is Kisumu, in western Kenya, which before we got there had no anesthesiologists for a population of five hundred thousand people. We saw that and thought, "What if we can offer a simple intervention? What if we train nurses to deliver anesthesia independently of a physician or anesthesiologist?" If we trained X number of nurses, they could handle Y number of cases a day. Of course, there are other issues: you need to have operating rooms, you need to have clean water, oxygen — some of which we're delivering. But right now, without anesthesia, women are dying.

We had heard about Dr. Mark Newton, a physician from the U.S. who has been working at Kijabe Hospital, north of Nairobi, for fifteen years, training nurses to be nurse-anesthetists. He's been very successful and has been able to deliver extraordinary services and safe surgery in a very resource-poor setting. In a partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Health, Dr. Newton and Kijabe Hospital, our local partner the Center for Public Health and Development, Assist International, and Vanderbilt University, we have established a robust program to train forty nurse anesthetists for Kisumu County.

PND: Jumping to the other side of the continent, the foundation provided $2 million to Partners In Health to address needs related to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Had you been active in West Africa prior to the outbreak?

DB: We have a significant presence in Nigeria and some in Ghana, but we have limited programs in the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. However, as the news from the region grew dire, we started thinking about what we might do, and I asked our board to look carefully at the potential impact Ebola could have — not just on Africa, but on the global economy. Quite frankly, looking at what we could do to help those underresourced countries was the right thing to do and led directly to our commitment to Partners In Health.

We also looked at other ways we could help. For example, we established what we call the Ebola Business Response Team, which is looking at how GE businesses can have impact beyond just the cash contribution we’re making to Partners In Health. GE Healthcare is looking at what equipment might be useful, not only in the response to the current outbreak but in terms of strengthening public health infrastructure in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. And we're talking to GE Water about some of the filtration systems they make and what we might be able do to strengthen water systems and infrastructure in all three countries, as well as GE Power and our healthcare software and global software businesses.

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Whither Education? A Q&A With Michael McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation

July 03, 2014

Differing opinions about how best to educate children have been a feature of polite (and not-so-polite) conversation since the time of Plato, so it’s not surprising that such concerns continue to boil. Indeed, in recent decades it has become common for critics and reports to link the troubled state of public education in America with the decline of the republic and to insist that only a complete overhaul of the system, with a focus on those growing up in disadvantaged situations, can save us.

One of the earliest of those reports, 1983's A Nation at Risk, famously claimed that American schools were failing and called for dramatic action to remedy the situation, including the introduction of a seven-hour school day, a longer school year, and teachers' salaries that were "professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance-based." More than thirty years after its publication, however, few of the report's recommendations have been adopted, and the public education system in the U.S. remains an archipelago of local school districts that, some would argue, have little in common with each other.

Established in 1962, the Spencer Foundation received the majority of its endowment after the death in 1968 of its founder Lyle M. Spencer, who made his fortune from Science Research Associates, an educational publishing firm. In the years since its establishment, the foundation has continued to champion education research and today is led by Michael McPherson, a nationally known economist who became the foundation's fifth president in 2003 after serving as president of Macalester College in Minnesota for seven years and in a variety of roles at Williams College in Massachusetts for twenty-two years.

PND recently spoke with McPherson about the state of public education in the United States, the Common Core and its critics, and where the U.S. educational system is headed.

Headshot_michael_mcphersonPhilanthropy News Digest: As a college student in the 1980s, I minored in education, and one of the things we discussed a lot was A Nation At Risk, the 1983 report issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. More than thirty years after publication of that report, many people would say nothing has changed, that the education system in the United States continues to fail millions of children. What does the latest research tell us about what works and what doesn't in public education?

Michael McPherson: Well, it's impor­tant to supply some context. It's certainly true that there are large, important, and disturbing problems in American education, especially for students from low-income families or facing other forms of disadvantage. At the same time, our public schools perform better, on average, than they did thirty years ago. High school grad­uation rates are up over that period of time and test scores are higher, though not as high as people would like. I think some of the criticism is grounded in what I call Golden Age thinking. The fact is that people who are complaining about the performance of our public schools are complaining about schools that are producing kids who, on average, score better on tests than they and their peers did, which is rather ironic. It helps when discussing these things to keep a little perspective.

That said, a bigger problem is the fact that we haven't exhibited any persistence or consistency in our reform efforts, which have been sporadic and characterized by a sort of magic-bullet approach. People try things, give up on them, and go on to something else. Nor have we invested in a consistent fashion in the preparation and quality of teachers. It's as if we're hoping for better schools rather than actually coming up with a long-term plan to create better schools.

PND: When you say "long-term," how long do you mean?

MM: It depends on your goals. So far, nobody's been able to avoid the fact that it takes eighteen years or so for a child to become an adult. We haven't managed to speed up the human development process, and so if we want all children to be successful in school, we have to expose them to quality early childhood education by the age of three. The ultimate effects of such a policy, whether you're talking about high school graduation rates or college readiness, aren't going to be noticed for another fifteen years or so. But we should be able to make some judgments about whether a particular reform is working or not. Take Success for All, which is one of the most successful whole-school reform strategies to be introduced in the United States in decades. The program was introduced back in the 1990s, and today there are roughly a thousand Success for All schools in the U.S. These days, the organization attracts a lot of federal money, but it took them well over a decade to establish their bona fides. The point is, Americans are a pretty impatient people, and that doesn't always work to our advantage.

PND: What is the most important element in student success? Is it teachers? Parents? Something else?

MM: In many ways, the most important factor in student success is the consistency of attention paid to the development of the individual student. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that an exceptionally good teacher can produce a jump in test scores in his or her students but that that effect invariably fades after three or four years. That's not to say that every student needs at least one great teacher in every grade. But being able to provide kids with consistently good teachers throughout their school-age years is a lot better than an alternating pattern of spectacular and terrible teachers. Consistency is important, and that applies as well to what parents do and what happens early in kids' lives.

Let me also say that it's one thing to ask how important a factor is and another to ask how much we can influence that factor. It's one thing, for example, for a child to have "chosen" the right parents in terms of their interest in his or her schooling and development as a person, and to appreciate the importance of that "choice" in the bigger scheme of things. But there's not much evidence to suggest that public policy can have much of an effect on who your parents are. Your parents are your parents, and we have yet to identify or develop programs that change that basic equation in a consistent or reliable way. I don't mean to be negative or to dismiss the possibility of success for every child, regardless of circumstance, but I do think it's important, in terms of a policy framework, to ask both what matters and what can we affect?

PND: Well, are we asking the right questions about what works and what doesn't in public education?

MM: I think we spend too much time asking whether something does or doesn't work and not enough time asking how things work and why things work and for whom things work. The "what works" framework is a little binary in its way of operating. We all know from our personal lives that something that works well for one person, whether you're talking about their tennis game or their personal work style, doesn't necessarily work well for another person. Why should we assume that education is so simple that the same thing works for everybody?

You can see the same kind of problem in other areas of life. The pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of time and money on the trial-and-error discovery and development of different compounds, and then they go through a long experimental clinical trial phase to determine whether the compound works as intended and what its negative side effects might be. Increasingly, however, because of advances in our understanding of the human genome, we are developing better ex­plan­ations for how drugs work. And that is opening up the possibility we'll be able to design drugs that work for particular conditions and diseases, instead of marching around the jungle looking for exotic plants that might yield a new compound or two. In other words, trying out stuff with the aim of determining whether it works is not a particularly sophisticated research strategy.

PND: What else should we be questioning about our current approach to education reform?

MM: We should be worrying about the quality of our success measures. By that I mean we have allowed ourselves to slide, somewhat unreflectively, into equating test scores with academic achievement or educational success. But even within the realm of academic achievement, there are a lot of things these tests don't capture very well. The ability to write a good essay, for example, which is difficult to assess through standardized tests; it's not impossible, but it's almost impossible to do it cheaply and at scale. There's also a lot of evidence to suggest that factors ostensibly influenced by one's schooling include things we don't usually think of as "academic," such as perseverance, resilience, conscientiousness, the ability to handle disappointment, et cetera. All these things seem to matter quite a bit, but they tend to disappear from view when the focus is on test performance.

Finally, I'd say we need to spend more time thinking about measures in general and what we're really trying to achieve with the schooling we provide our children. Presumably test scores are a means to an end, right? Well, what is the end? We're not having that conversation, which is too bad, because I believe thinking more about the ends would be a con­structive thing to do.

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5 Questions for...Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO, Citizen Schools

March 26, 2014

Established in 1995, Citizen Schools works to help children, especially those from low-income backgrounds, discover and achieve their dreams. To that end, the Citizen Schools model is focused on partnering with middle schools to extend the traditional school day by a few hours and augmenting traditional classroom instruction with a combination of intensive academic support and a range of enrichment and youth development activities. Currently active in seven states, the organization also offers project-based courses led by volunteer "Citizen Teachers" who, outside of school, are scientists, engineers, artists, lawyers, and business leaders.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with the organization's co-founder and CEO, Eric Schwarz, about the Citizen Teacher concept and the scalability of the Citizens Schools model.

Headshot_eric_schwarzPhilanthropy News Digest: When and where did the "Citizen Teacher" concept emerge? Is it something you and your colleagues developed, or is it something you kind of grabbed hold of and made your own?

Eric Schwarz: Well, men­tor­ing and volunteering and apprenticeships have been around for thousands of years. If you think about law and medicine, it's how much of the training happens to this day: you get young professionals training under older professionals in a kind of apprentice­ship model.

The insight we came to almost twenty years ago was that for most low-income kids enrolled in a K-12 school in the United States, the school experience had become disconnected from the real world. Many of these kids had never met someone from a fast-growing profession like engin­eering, and so their chances of growing up and becoming an engineer was close to zero. So we developed a model that made it easier for engineers and lawyers and others to connect with kids directly and do hands-on experien­tial projects with them.

I'm happy to say, the results have been terrific. We've found that Citizen Schools narrows, in most cases eliminates, and sometimes even reverses the achievement gap between middle-income and low-income kids. We're also seeing significantly higher high school and college graduation rates, which means we’re putting kids on a path to success. That's very exciting.

We've also learned that we’re actually making a big difference in the lives of our volunteers. In fact, we commissioned a business school professor from the University of Vermont, David Jones, to do a study of the program's impact on volunteers. And what he found is that there's a significant impact in terms of volunteers feeling better about their companies. They’re happy their company has sponsored or approached them about taking some flex time to give back to the community, and they're usually delighted that they have a chance to build their dele­gation skills, teamwork skills, and coaching skills.

PND: Do you see citizen-teachers as filling a gap in public education, as complementing classroom instruc­tion, or doing a little of both?

ES: The Citizen Schools model is designed to support teachers and public schools by adding three hours to the learning day, every day of the week, all year long. It's a significant extension of the learning day from a six- or seven-hour day to a nine- to ten-hour day. And bringing real-world experiential activities to kids in school is an important complement to the learning that goes on. Think of it this way: if math instruction is limited to a teacher at a blackboard — these days, maybe it's a whiteboard — explaining and talking about concepts, but you, the student, don't have a sense of how those concepts connect to the real world, it's much more likely you're going to tune out and disengage from that class and maybe even from school. Citizen Schools gives kids a sense of how to actually use algebraic concepts in designing a video game, or how, when you're presenting the opening argument in a trial, you want to lead with a topic sentence and then back it up with specific examples. Those kinds of things reinforce what teachers teach, and at the same they tend to motivate students to care more about doing well. It's a terrific comple­ment to what already is happening in public schools across the country.

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5 Questions for...Marissa Sackler, Founder and President, Beespace

January 16, 2014

Marissa Sackler established Beespace in New York City in 2013 to provide social entrepreneurs with experienced mentorship; in-house PR, tech, development, fundraising, and design assistance; and the support of an innovative entrepreneurial community. Beespace does not accept payment from its "Incubees" and requires that they secure at least four months of operational income before they head out on their own.

PND spoke with Sackler, founder and president of Beespace and a founding sponsor and activist for charity: water, in November about the incubator concept, how Beespace works for and with its Incubees, and her ambitions for the organization over the next few years.

Headshot_marissa_sacklerPhilanthropy News Digest: Although the concept of accelerators and incubators is fairly well established in the for-profit world, it's still relatively new in the nonprofit space. Why have nonprofits and funders been slow to embrace the concept?

Marissa Sackler: There are nonprofit incubators out there doing good work, but we think we've developed a more comprehensive model that's going to help organizations grow and achieve their potential. We use a three-pronged approach. The first prong is what we call our co-working space. It's important that we have a diversity of organizations learning and working side by side. The second prong is the internal agency we provide — our executive director, PR, tech, design, development, and fundraising experts — all of whom work to help the organizations grow and reach their potential. We also have people from social media, marketing, and accounting backgrounds visiting for weekly office hours with each organization. Finally, the third prong is the broader Beespace community within the nonprofit world. Beespace connects each Incubee with a nonprofit and for-profit mentor who then works with the organization to guide and support its growth.

PND: You’re currently working with three nonprofits -- the Malala Fund, the Adventure Project, and Practice Makes Perfect -- and you're planning to add three more. What do you look for in an Incubee?

MS: We look very closely at the leader, at the issue they're working to address, and at the nonprofit's overall organizational structure. We’re geography- and issue-neutral — we take organizations that are working both domestically and internationally. They can be working on any issue, but we want to identify groups with a strong organizational vision and an innovative strategy that have the ability to create real change and that are attempting to solve issues at scale. We look at scale in two ways: horizontally, in terms of expanding programs to effectively help solve an issue in multiple communities or even countries, but also vertically, making sure an organization is always maintaining the strongest quality and depth of programming while expanding.

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5 Questions for...Charles Bailey, Director, Agent Orange in Vietnam Program

August 19, 2013

Headshot_charles_baileyFrom 1997 to 2007, Charles Bailey was the Ford Foundation representative in Vietnam. At the start of his posting, the war in Vietnam had been over for more than twenty years, but one of its legacies, environmental contamination caused by the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange, was an under-addressed concern. Bailey looked into the facts of Agent Orange use in the Southeast Asian country and began to develop a vocabulary that American and Vietnamese officials could use to discuss the issue. After a few years, Ford invited the Aspen Institute, which has expertise in facilitating difficult conversations, to initiate a dialogue around the issue, and the two governments began to talk. Eventually, the United Nations, other NGOs and foundations, and several European governments joined the conversation.

But one thing was missing, says Bailey, and that was a way to connect the American public to the effort. With his encouragement, Active Voice, a social documentary shop in San Francisco, put together a three-minute public-service video, "Make Agent Orange History," while San Francisco State University contributed fresh reporting to the discussion through its Vietnam Reporting Project. In 2011, Bailey moved to the Aspen Institute, where he continues to support dialogue, advocacy, and public education around the issue.

Recently, PND spoke with Bailey about the Agent Orange program and what remains to be done.

Philanthropy News Digest: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently met with President Obama in Washington, D.C. Why was the meeting significant?

Charles Bailey: President Sang is the second Vietnamese head-of-state to visit the U.S. since the two countries normalized relations in 1995, and his visit was an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable progress made since 2007 in at last addressing the legacy of Agent Orange. Over the last six years, our Agent Orange in Vietnam Program has had a hand in raising over $100 million to assist Vietnam to begin to deal with this legacy from the U.S.-Vietnam War. Even more important for the future, President Obama and President Sang issued a joint statement at the end of their talks on July 26 that contained a key statement: "The president reaffirmed the United States' commitment to providing further medical and other care and assistance for people with disabilities, regardless of cause."

I published an op-ed in the Huffington Post on the occasion urging both presidents to take advantage of this breakthrough and include language on disability services and rights as part of a new comprehensive partnership agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.

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Foundations and Climate Change: 5 Questions for…Robert Searle, Partner, Bridgespan Group

June 13, 2013

Headshot_robt_searleIn recent years, the debate over climate change has centered on greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked by scientists to rising global temperatures. But after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, underscoring the importance -- and vulnerability -- of critical infrastructure systems, many policy makers and environmentalists began to shift their attention to climate change adaptation strategies.

To help advance the debate, the Bridgespan Group has released a report, How Philanthropy Can Help Communities Advance Climate Change Adaptation (12 pages, PDF), that examines the funding environment for these strategies and offers a number of suggestions for foundations looking to support adaptation efforts in a post-Sandy context. Recently, PND spoke with Bob Searle, a partner in Bridgespan's Boston office and co-author of the report, about the impact of Sandy on the climate change debate, the tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation, and some of the things foundations can do to advance the debate.

Philanthropy News Digest: The climate effects of a warming planet had been predicted long before An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006. Why has it taken so long for the discussion about climate change to get serious?

Robert Searle: I think there are two primary reasons, and they are interconnected. The first is that all science involves an element of uncertainty, and climate science is no exception. There are elements of the climate situation that are quite certain. For example, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing, and that increase has led to a general warming of the planet. There are other aspects that are less certain and open to interpretation and judgment; for example, whether human activity is the major cause of these changes, and what the environmental and social impact of climate change will be.

And this is where the second reason comes in: The biggest source of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuel, and the global economy is based on fossil fuels. In other words, there are incredibly strong vested interests in not making the explicit connection between man-made greenhouse gases and the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Those vested interests will naturally seize on any element of uncertainty to argue against change that will threaten economic development, especially when the economy is already shaky.

One mistake that the environmental community has made is to allow itself to be painted as anti-people and anti-economic development on the climate issue. There was a great article in the Fall 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled "Climate Science as Culture War," by Andrew Hoffman, that speaks to some of these points.

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5 Questions for...Katie Everett, Executive Director, Lynch Foundation

May 10, 2013

Headshot_katie_everettToday, as in the past, education reform tends to be politically charged and fraught with controversy. And while the needs of students often figure prominently in the debate, the devil is always in the details.

In the Boston area, the Lynch Foundation has worked to engage administrators, educators, and parents to think outside the box about how to improve the educational experience for all. In that spirit, the foundation has begun to work with educational innovator Salman Khan and Khan Academy to provide free educational materials to schools in the metro Boston area.

Recently, PND spoke with the foundation's executive director, Katie Everett, about its partnership with Khan and how new approaches to classroom instruction are making a difference in Boston-area schools.

Philanthropy News Digest: What areas of education does the Lynch Foundation fund?

Katie Everett: We fund in all areas, from early education to higher ed. We've been around for twenty-five years and have funded everything from targeted early literacy programs to comprehensive projects at Harvard, Boston College, and the University of Pennsylvania. We fund teacher training, we fund charter schools, we fund in the Catholic school sector, we fund public schools, and we fund principal leadership programs. If there's one area in which we have stopped investing, it is job training. We found it was really hard to measure the impact of those programs.

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