22 posts categorized "author-Matt Sinclair"

Newsmakers: Laura Callanan, Founding Partner, UpStart Co-Lab

August 25, 2017

In its most recent Arts & Economic Prosperity report, Americans for the Arts found that the U.S. nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion in economic activity in 2015, prompting Robert Lynch, the organization's president and CEO, to comment, "Leaders who care about community and economic vitality, growing tourism, attracting an innovative workforce, and community engagement can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts."

But where were the impact investments? While the economic importance of the arts has long been recognized, arts-related organization and businesses often fly under the radar when it comes to comprehensive community development, and the relative lack of such investment in the creative economy was one of the things Laura Callanan was determined to explore when she established Upstart Co-Lab in 2016. What's more, Callanan — who majored in theater in college and began her professional career in the financial world, working as an investment banker on Wall Street after graduate school before serving as an endowment manager at the Rockefeller Foundation, a consultant to foundations at McKinsey & Company, and deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts — was well positioned to find out.

Earlier this year, Callanan and her colleagues at Upstart Co-Lab released Creative Places & Businesses: Catalyzing Growth in Communities (55 pages, PDF), which identified a $1.54 billion pipeline of more than two dozen projects administered by twenty-two creative places and businesses seeking impact capital. The findings came as a pleasant surprise to many in the arts community, and, according to Callanan, who was recently named to the NonProfit Times' Power & Influence Top 50 list, are a clear sign that the creative economy is ready for impact investment on a significant scale.

PND sat down with Callanan earlier this summer to discuss the findings of the report and the role philanthropy can play in catalyzing impact investments in the creative economy.

Headshot_laura callananPhilanthropy News Digest: The first thing that jumped out at me in the report was the almost complete lack of impact investment in the creative economy, despite the fact that the arts, in the most recent year of record, generated $704 billion in nonprofit and for-profit economic activity, or 4.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Laura Callanan: Actually, since we published the report in April, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Economic Analysis have updated their assessment of how much of the U.S. economy is driven by arts and cultural production. It's still 4.2 percent of GDP, but the dollar total is $730 billion, $26 million more than the figure mentioned in the report.

That's the best number currently available on the size of the creative economy, of which the arts are a core part. The National Endowment for the Arts emphasizes music, literature, visual art, and activities related to artistic disciplines. That means it's light on things like fashion, food, furniture making, and some other areas that we at Upstart Co-Lab include in our definition of the creative economy.

PND: That only makes the lack of impact investing in the creative economy more surprising. Why hasn't impact capital been flowing to these areas?

LC: We don't yet have dedicated investment products, investment funds, or investment managers with strategies that make it easy for individuals who are impact investors — or for institu­tions like foundations doing mission-related investing — to target their capital to the creative economy. Yes, an individual investor can buy a share of stock in Etsy, which is a public company, and feel like they're supporting the creative economy. And a foundation can make a program-related investment with a nonprofit arts organization or creativity-based social enterprise. But these one-off investments don't equal scale.

Let me give you an example of why that's a problem. Stockade Works and Stockade Studios in Kingston, New York, were started by the actress Mary Stuart Masterson and her business partner Beth Davenport. Stockade Works is structured as a nonprofit. Stockade Studios is structured as a for-profit social-purpose business. They've been approaching foundations about supporting their efforts to create a film/TV/media hub in the Hudson River Valley. This could be through a grant to the nonprofit, or a program-related investment, or a mission-related investment in the social-purpose business. But a foundation has to know that Stockade Studios exists, so it needs to have an active deal-sourcing process. And then the foundation has to do its own due diligence, its own risk assessment of the oppor­tunity. Plus track performance on the investment once it's made. These are things that an investment manager could do once, and then make the information available to any number of potential investors. Not being able to get information easily is a disincentive to investment.

Today, there are products, funds, and strategies that facilitate impact investment in education, in affordable housing, in support of women and girls, in support of the environment. Not surprisingly, those are all big areas where impact investors are directing their money. And it's not that we can't tweak and re-deploy existing investment products and funds and manager strategies for the creative economy. It's just that it hasn't happened yet.

PND: Looking out five or ten years, would you expect impact investing in the arts and the creative economy to be a focus only for larger foundations, or will foundations of any size have opportunities to participate?

LC: Everyone's able to pursue impact investing, from the individuals who invest $20 in a Calvert Foundation Community Investment Note to ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and from small foundations to some of the largest in the country, like the Ford and Gates foundations. Once we have the dots connected, and the products, funds, and strategies are in place, it won't matter whether you're an individual or an institution, or whether you have a modest amount of capital to deploy or a lot of capital to deploy. People and institutions today should be able to support the creative economy with impact investments just as they can support the environment, affordable housing, education, and other important priority areas.

PND: Do the politics of the moment help or hinder what you're trying to do with Upstart Co-Lab?

LC: To my mind, they shine a bright light on the gap we're trying to fill. There was a story in the Wall Street Journal recently that said: "No matter what the Trump administration does to the Environmental Pro­tection Agency, impact investing for the environment cannot be stopped." Of course, we can’t expect that to be the case if the administration pulls the plug on the National Endowment for the Arts, because impact investing for the creative economy hasn't gotten off the ground. But that just underscores the significance of the opportunity.

The NEA deploys $150 million a year for the arts. That's far less than the $17 billion annually that philanthropy puts into the arts. It's certainly a lot less than $8.8 trillion of impact investing assets under management in the United States today. If we can target a small portion of impact investing assets for creativity — as much, say, as currently flows through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo — it would be many times more than the budget of the NEA. As a country that cares about free speech, it's important that we support arts and crea­tivity at the federal level. But on a pure dollar basis, there are a lot of resources available in the impact marketplace that can be deployed in support of arts and creativity.

PND: What do you hope to accomplish with the Creative Places & Businesses report?

LC: I hope the report is the beginning of a robust conversation that intro­duces the concept of a "creativity lens" to impact investing and leads, sooner rather than later, to concrete action.

It is incredibly important that any definition of a creativity lens highlights creative places and creative businesses as an important long-time contributor to comprehensive community development. That's why we started the conversation where we did. There's a lot of discussion in the foundation arts community about cultural equity. If we want to shape a creative economy that is inclusive and equitable and sustainable, we have to back up our words with resources.

We know the future of the United States is the creative economy. We're no longer an agrarian economy; we're no longer a manufacturing economy. Today, what we really have is an innovation economy, an ideas economy. But what do we want that economy to look like in the decades to come? Do we want an economy where a few people get paid a lot of money to make apps, and the rest of us are driving for Uber and Lyft and don’t have a retirement plan or health benefits? Or do we want an economy that is inclusive, equitable, and sus­tainable; that is generating quality jobs at every level of the wage scale; and that fully celebrates the imagination and inno­vation that is present in every community in the United States?

PND: Where do you see things going with respect to impact investing and the creative sector?

LC: Upstart Co-Lab has had hundreds of conversations with impact investors and wealth managers over the last couple of years, and they all have clients who have been asking for impact investing opportunities related to arts, culture, and creativity. There's great potential here. Philanthropy did a lot to build the ecosystem of impact investing, social inno­vation, and social entrepreneurship. Arts philanthropy absolutely has a role to play in enabling this new creativity lens for impact investing. The work that philanthropy has done to build thought leadership, technical capacity, and awareness around creative placemaking has been an important early step.

PND: Has it been difficult to build on that early momentum?

LC: It's only just begun! What I'm excited about are the examples, those mentioned in the report and others that I learn about every day. In the last couple of weeks, for instance, I've had a chance to make site visits around New York City and visit Chicago. I see people who are ambitious and thinking big, who see the potential that can be unlocked by connecting impact capital with creative places and businesses. In Chicago, for example, there's an effort under way to redevelop the Avalon Regal Theater. Jerold Gary, an investor-entrepreneur has been actively working in the African-American community on the South Side, investing in residential housing. He had an opportunity to buy the theater — it's a landmarked 1920s property, amazingly detailed, with an ornately painted lobby. In its day, it was a large-capacity venue that drew A-list performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson, but it has been shuttered for quite some time. The good news is that they're on course to re-open the theater by the end of the year.

But it's not just about the theater. The Avalon is an anchor for a whole new cultural corridor on the South Side that's going to include retail space, incubator space where people can do creative work, and a museum of black music. The project is crucial to ensuring that the South Side has a stake in the emerging creative economy, because it's not just about nostalgia and the cultural expression of the past, it's about recognizing that creativity exists in every neighborhood, and that every neighborhood deserves places where people can develop and showcase their creativity.

PND: What role do you see for arts foundations in the development of an impact investing market linked to the creative economy?

LC: Philanthropy played a crucial role in establishing impact investing, social innovation, and social entrepreneurship. It was early philanthropic support that made it possible for people to explore these new ideas, build awareness and understanding, and establish standards, tools, and metrics that enabled the impact investing community to coordinate and grow. And now we see philanthropy taking the next step, bringing more endowment resources to bear on critical issues through mission-related investing. Foundations that support the arts, creativity, and innovation can follow this playbook for the creative economy.

For foundations that have been making traditional grants to the arts — but may not yet be ready to embrace impact investing as a tool to advance their mission — there's a lot to be done by supporting the growing ecosystem, investing in new ideas, investing in thought leader­ship and convening activities, in standards-setting and documentation of the types of projects we describe in the report. I wrote for Grantmakers in the Arts ;about what program officers can do, even if they don't have mission-related investing avail­able to them, and that includes things like making grants to build the ecosystem for impact investing in the creative economy and using their bully pulpit and convening power to spotlight what's happening in creative communities around the country.

One key thing program officers can do is bring to the attention of their fellow grantmakers the artists who are social entre­preneurs who are doing great work. They could be artists focused on the environment and climate change, artists who are focused on reforming the criminal justice system, artists who are focused on immigra­tion. You name it. Folks handing out social entrepreneurship awards always overlook the artist social entrepreneurs.

In short, philanthropy can play an important role in jump-starting the new idea of a creativity lens for impact investing and getting it to a place where the market can take it to scale.

PND: Have we reached a tipping point with respect to how philanthropy views impact investments in the creative economy?

LC: I certainly hope so. And we think there are three reasons why. One: creativity is cool. The excitement around creativity is palpable. You have mayors and governors commissioning creative economy reports and plans. They recognize that creative activity is going to be crucial to building wealth, ensuring social cohesion, and creating quality jobs in their com­mun­ities. When you look at surveys that ask corporate CEOs what will drive business success in the future, creativity in their workforce is top of the list. Just look at how many billions of dollars people have put through platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo — in small increments — to fund creative projects. Even people who don’t think they are particularly creative themselves are happy to invest $25 in someone else’s creativity, whether that's making a film, starting a band, painting a mural, you name it. Creativity is having a moment.

Two: at the same time, impact investing is having a moment. McKinsey & Company, the World Economic Forum, Forbes — all are telling us that impact investing is going mainstream. And as they launch first-time impact investing portfolios, there's no better time to encourage new impact investors to focus on an area that we know they care about: arts, culture, and creativity. As the field of impact investing becomes more devel­oped, there are more targeted opportunities for impact investors to put their money to work: for women and girls, organic food, education, housing, aging in place, sustainable fisheries. These are things that impact investors can support right now. The creative economy is simply too big to be left out of the picture.

The third reason this is a great oppor­tunity is because creative people gravitate toward solving problems, whether that means bringing jobs to the Hudson River Valley or launching an innovation district on the South Side of Chicago. In our research, we identified $1.5 billion in demand for impact capital over the next five years from creative places and businesses catalyzing growth in communities across the U.S. There are investable opportunities searching for values-aligned capital.

At Upstart Co-Lab, we think this is the right moment to apply a creativity lens to impact investing, and we're trying to bring as much energy, intelligence, and workable solutions to the challenge as we can.

— Matt Sinclair

5 Questions for...Alma Powell, Chair, America’s Promise Alliance

April 24, 2017

America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, is marking its twentieth anniversary on April 18 with a Recommit to Kids Summit and Promise Night Gala in New York City. PND spoke via email with Alma Powell, the network's chairwoman, about its work, the progress it has made toward its goals over the last twenty years, and what every American can do to help.

Headshot_alma_powellPhilanthropy News Digest: A lot has changed since America's Promise was founded twenty years ago. Are the Five Promises to America's children and youth announced at the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia in April 1997 — caring adults, safe places to learn and play, a healthy start, an effective education, and an opportunity to serve — as relevant today as they were twenty years ago? And what, if anything, would you add to those five promises?

Alma Powell: The Five Promises are just as relevant and necessary today as they were twenty years ago. I can't imagine that ever changing. They are rooted in both sound social science and common sense and represent the minimal conditions that every child, in every neighborhood, has a right to expect. If these objectives aren't met, it is not the fault of children; it is a collective failure of adults in this country.

I wouldn't add another promise to the five. When it comes to young people, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to summon the will.

PND: Of the five commitments that form the core of the organization's mission, which has been kept most successfully, and where has progress been unexpectedly difficult?

AP: Thanks to the work of researchers and youth development experts, we know a lot more about what young people need to thrive. Better data helps us pinpoint educational problems by school district, school, and student, enabling us to focus help exactly where it is most needed. At the same time, more nonprofits and other organizations are involved in this work than ever before; advances in neuroscience have opened new windows into how children learn and have underscored the importance of the early childhood years; and scientific breakthroughs on the impact of adversity, high levels of stress, and trauma have taught us a lot about why some students struggle and how they might be helped.

All that has led to progress. Today, infant and child mortality rates are lower, rates of smoking and alcohol use among teens are lower, and high school graduation rates are up. More young people are living in homes with parents who graduated high school, and more students are attending college.

But there's more work to do. The child poverty rate is about the same as it was twenty years ago, snd social and economic mobility has stagnated. If we're to help more young people get on a more sustainable path to the middle class, we need to address the issues behind generational poverty and its long-term effects on young people. 

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Craig Barrett, former CEO and Chair, Intel Corp.

March 31, 2017

When Craig Barrett headed Intel Corp., the multinational technology company founded by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, no one was surprised that the lion's share of its philanthropic investments focused on support for science education. And perhaps no initiative within that broad portfolio was as popular as the Intel Science Talent Search, the prestigious national pre-college science competition known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search for the first fifty-seven years of its existence that Intel started sponsoring in 1998. Last year, however, the company announced it would be discontinuing its sponsorship of the competition and followed that, more recently, with an announcement that it would be discontinuing its sponsorship of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, like the Science Talent Search a program of the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public, which Barrett has served as a board member since 2010.

Recently, PND spoke with Barrett about the company's decision to discontinue its support for the competitions, the transformation of science and engineering education more broadly, and the continued value, for students and society, of basic science.

Headshot_craig_barrettPhilanthropy News Digest: Intel was the lead sponsor of the Science Talent Search until last year. Were you surprised by the company's decision to discontinue its sponsorship of the contest and of the International Science and Engineering Fair, which it will no longer sponsor after this year?

Craig Barrett: Not terribly surprised; the warning signs were there. It should be said that Intel hasn’t pulled back from its overall funding for STEM projects and initiatives. As far back as I can remember, education and STEM education have been the number-one priority of the company's philanthropic support. But current leadership is probably not as science-oriented as prior leadership, so they’ve chosen to fund some projects that are a bit more engineering-oriented.

PND: When you were the CEO of Intel, did you have a difficult time explaining or justifying to your board and shareholders the cost of these types of sponsorships?

CB: I don't know of a CEO at Intel who has ever had a difficult time explaining or justifying philanthropic support for education, especially math and science education. Over the last couple of decades, the company has devoted roughly $100 million a year to philanthropic support for education. And not once have shareholders or the board raised concerns about those expenditures. Everyone seemed to accept that science, technology, engineering, and math were important to the company, and whatever the company did to feed and improve the pipeline for students interested in those topics, to support research and programs associated with those topics, was accepted as what Intel was all about.

Continue reading »

Marc Morial, President/CEO, National Urban League: Inner Cities and Advocacy in Trump-Era America

February 22, 2017

Marc Morial was raised in a family that understands the importance of education and public service. His father, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, was the first African-American mayor of New Orleans and served two four-year terms; his mother was a teacher. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1990, Morial was elected to the Louisiana state senate in 1992 and, two years later, was elected mayor of the Crescent City. In 2003, he was named president and CEO of the National Urban League, one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. Under his leadership, the organization has worked to to provide economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and the guarantee of civil rights for the underserved in America. In 2010, to mark its centennial anniversary, the organization launched a call to action focused on achieving aspirational goals in education ("Every American child is ready for college, work and life”), employment ( "Every American has access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits”), housing ("Every American lives in safe, decent, affordable and energy efficient housing on fair terms”), and healthcare ("Every American has access to quality and affordable health care solutions”).

A week or so after the inauguration of Donald Trump as forty-fifth president of the United States, PND spoke with Morial about Trump’s frequent characterization of the nation’s inner cities as urban wastelands and how the new administration might partner with African Americans, the majority of whom did not vote for the president. Morial also addressed the importance of improving educational opportunities for people of color and what it will take to help minority-owned businesses thrive in the Trump era. .

Philanthropy News Digest: Both during his campaign and now as president, Donald Trump has characterized inner cities as urban wastelands plagued by drugs, crime, and social dysfunction. What do you think the president is trying to accomplish when he uses rhetoric like that?

Mark_morial_for_PhilanTopicMarc Morial: Well, when he said those things in the campaign, he was appealing to his base. But his characterization of inner cities was narrow, stereotypic, and disparaging. Urban communities are not wastelands, and they're not plagued by drugs, crime, and social dysfunction. They are places with the challenges of drugs, and crime, and other issues, but those challenges are also prevalent in suburban and rural communities. Cities are also places of tremendous human energy, creativity, and assets. They are the economic nerve centers of America. So I found his language to be pejorative, jarring, and I suspect, indicative of his not having spent a lot of time in urban communities. His perspective is probably pretty much informed by stereotypes he sees in the media.

PND: The president has proven adept at using Twitter as a bully pulpit. Is the Urban League doing anything to counter the messages the president puts out via Twitter?

MM: We're very active on social media, and when we encounter messages of public policy we disagree with, we use our social media platform to promote our own message. Of course, the Office of the President is a bully pulpit as well, and this president has chosen to use Twitter versus making frequent public statements or having frequent press conferences, which I think is a new normal. And, of course, his Twitter messages are amplified because they're covered so avidly by the mainstream media. So anything the president puts out there via Twitter is going to be on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, and in newspapers around the country. By the same token, if the president decided to release a handwritten letter on a daily basis, that would be covered by every media outlet. Given that reality, what I would like to see is the mainstream media provide a platform for those whose messages might be in opposition to the president's stated public policy positions.

PND: What do you think a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions will mean for the work of your organization and other advocacy organizations?

MM: I think all of us are concerned about what a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department will mean. It's important to recognize that Loretta Lynch — and Eric Holder before her — were very assertive in enforcing civil rights law. That is exactly what we expect any and every attorney general to do. And we're going to hold Jeff Sessions accountable to the kind of enforcement of civil rights laws that Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder championed.

It's important to recognize that the Justice Department not only pursues terrorists and has a role in pursuing "violent crime," it is also is the chief civil rights enforcer in the country and has been that since the 1950s. Jeff Sessions' record in that area concerns us, some of his statements concern us, and so we're going to hold him and his team accountable when it comes to enforcing civil rights law. It is our responsibility to do that.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

[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.

Continue reading »

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."

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "My favorite Civil War era monuments are the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments...."

    — David Tenenhaus, professor of history and law, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Other Blogs

Tags