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105 posts categorized "Community Improvement/Development"

5 Questions for...Cecilia Clarke, President and CEO, Brooklyn Community Foundation

December 01, 2016

As grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter have emerged in recent years, the issue of racial equity has come into sharper focus.

In 2014, the Brooklyn Community Foundation launched an effort to engage more than a thousand Brooklyn residents and leaders in envisioning the foundation's role in realizing "a fair and just Brooklyn" — an effort that in 2015 earned BCF the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Impact Award for its community-led approach. Earlier this month, the foundation announced that, in alignment with its commitment to advancing racial equity across all aspects of its work, it would divest from industries that disproportionately harm people of color.

PND spoke with Cecilia Clarke, the foundation's president and CEO, about BCF's focus on racial justice, its decision to divest its portfolio of industries that disproportionately harm people of color, and the post-election role of philanthropy in advancing racial equity.

Cecilia_clarke_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: Before joining BCF, you founded and led the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. Tell us a little about the project and what it sought to accomplish.

Cecilia Clarke: Sadie Nash Leadership Project is a feminist social justice organization for low-income young women in all five boroughs of New York City and Newark, New Jersey. I founded it in 2001 in my dining room here in Brooklyn, and today it's a nonprofit with a $2 million annual budget serving over two thousand young women annually. One of the organization's working assumptions is that young women are ready to be leaders in their communities right now, and Sadie Nash is there to help shape that leadership through what it calls its "sisterhood model" — providing a safe space, active leadership opportunities, education, and hands-on mentorship and role modeling by leaders who look like the young women themselves.

At Sadie Nash, young women serve on staff and on the board as real voting members, and — in addition to the organization's flagship summer institute program — participate in afterschool programs, fellowships, and internships. And in everything they do for and through the organization, they are paid for their leadership, because it underscores the concept that they are leaders today. Sadie Nash is not training these young women for some hoped-for future; it's important that, given their identity and their experience, we all understand that they can be a force for social change in their communities right now.

PND: In announcing its intention to divest from industries that disproportionately harm people of color, BCF specifically mentioned private prisons, gun manufacturers, and predatory lenders. What kind of impact have these industries had on communities of color and low-income communities in Brooklyn and beyond? And how do you see the divestment process playing out?

CC: To back up a bit, when I first came to BCF, it was a foundation that had only recently transitioned from being a private bank foundation to a community foundation, and it hadn't done a lot of community engagement work. Sadie Nash was very committed to engaging its constituency, and I brought that experience with me to the foundation. So, pretty early on we launched a community engagement initiative called Brooklyn Insights through which we spoke with more than a thousand Brooklynites. And what came out of that process was that there were very clear racially biased policies and practices and traditions in the community that the people who spoke with us believed had helped create and reinforce many of the other issues we were discussing, particularly around young people and criminal justice. As a community foundation, we felt we had to be responsive to what we were hearing and to look at the issues that oppress communities of color — which make up 70 percent of Brooklyn's population.

To that end, we created a Racial Justice Lens as an overarching focus for every aspect of the foundation's work and management, not just our programming or grantmaking. And that meant we needed to look at our investments. We decided on the three areas of divestment you mentioned after multiple conversations, but I want to make clear that we are at the beginning of the process, not at the end. We chose those three areas to begin with because they were very closely related to our program areas and our mission, especially our focus on young people and racial justice. Given our commitment to youth justice, the private prison industry was an obvious area of divestment. Gun violence is still an enormous problem in Brooklyn, with a huge number of guns being trafficked into the borough, so we felt very strongly about gun manufacturers. And looking at the significant economic inequity and lack of opportunity in our neighborhoods, we saw that check cashing and other predatory financial services were making a profit off of inequity. All three of these industries profit from racial injustice and racial inequity, and we felt very strongly that we cannot be a foundation that stands for racial justice and allow these industries to remain in our financial portfolio.

The foundation doesn't invest in individual stocks, so it isn't as if we remove private prisons and replace it with X. Our investments are managed by Goldman Sachs, and Goldman chooses different fund managers with various portfolios of stocks and different investments. So what our divestment means is that we've signaled to our fund managers that these three industries cannot be included in our portfolio, and our finance committee is working very closely with the team over there to make sure that happens. The restrictions we've communicated to them work like proactive insurance to ensure that, going forward, our portfolio will be "clean" of these investments. In a way, the stars sort of lined up for us, because Goldman is getting more and more requests for socially responsible investment choices and has created a new department to do just that. So that's an instrument we can take advantage of while further promoting conversations about aligning our investments with our mission.

PND: Since joining BCF in 2013, you've led efforts to engage local residents through the Brooklyn Insights initiative, you've spearheaded the adoption of a Racial Justice Lens, and you've overseen the launch of initiatives focused on low-income communities and communities of color, including the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, a Racial Equity Fund, and the Brooklyn Girls of Color Fund. Are you beginning to see results from those projects and initiatives?

CC: We've certainly seen the impact of the Racial Justice Lens, in that racial justice is now very much at the center and core of our work. We've held ongoing trainings for staff and board members, we've become much better educated about the issue involved, and we've created a Racial Justice Advisory Council comprised of local and national leaders who have been very helpful in helping us define racial justice, think about racial justice advocacy, and shape the process.

The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project also has been successful. BCF was a catalyst in getting the city's Department of Education to roll out restorative justice programs, which have been shown to be successful in reducing suspensions and disparities in suspensions for students of color and students with special needs. We have four nonprofit grantees working in three high schools and one middle school, and we've already seen a positive impact, not only on the lives of individual students but also in terms of the leadership at these schools and in their communities. We're working with Professor Anne Gregory at Rutgers University-Newark on a four-year evaluation that will gauge the program's efficacy in real time and generate best practices for models of restorative justice. She can already point to reductions in the number of suspensions, but there also are more nuanced results around how people are starting to think about restorative justice that isn't just incident- or reduction-based. For example, lessons learned from the implementation process include the importance of a comprehensive vision of restorative justice that recognizes the humanity and individuality of students and educators; "all in" support from every segment of the school community; prioritizing community-building aspects of the programming; and investment in capacity building and long-term sustainability. At the same time, the DOE, the schools, and our grantees are in constant communication and learning from one another about what works best.

The other two initiatives are brand new. The Racial Equity Fund was launched as a way to engage and educate donors, with the hope of building a significant resource in the form of a permanent or perpetual fund, as opposed to an endowment. And the Brooklyn Girls of Color Fund is still in the research and planning stage. Our thinking before the election was to address the increase in the rate of young women who are incarcerated or confined in alternative or community facilities, although it's now possible that we'll explore other areas of support. We hope to have a plan by mid-2017.

PND: Advancing equity has become a major grantmaking focus for a number of large private foundations, including the Ford, Kellogg, and Weingart foundations. As a community foundation, do you have to take a different approach to that kind of work than a large national foundation?

CC: As a community foundation, we're placed-based by definition, and so we have more flexibility in that we can directly engage and educate donors and do more around advocacy. At the same time, having been created from the legacy of a private foundation, we're not a typical community foundation that's focused on donor services, and because we're young, we're not as tied to a long list of grantees, which gives us a lot of  flexibility. That said, we see ourselves very much aligned with a growing movement among community foundations to rethink what they can be for their communities and to refocus on strategic work, including by engaging local residents directly. Community foundations offer a valuable perspective because they really are the experts on their local communities, and they can bring the voices and points of view of the people who are most in need to the table as the foundation works to develop solutions to various problems. I was inspired by what I learned about the concept of community leadership when I first came to BCF, and that led directly to Brooklyn Insights, which has led to further work with community engagement through our neighborhood strength programs and by directly engaging with our grantees.

We believe deeply in a bottom-up approach. At Sadie Nash, having the young women serve in the leadership of the organization itself taught me that the first-hand experience and expertise on the part of the constituencies you serve is what can and should guide an organization if it hopes to be effective. So when I got to BCF, I said, "Let's open our doors and speak to people in the community and gain expertise that way."

PND: How do you think the 2016 election changes the role of philanthropy in terms of advancing racial justice and equity?

CC: We just had our quarterly board meeting, and there certainly was a marked increase in the sense of urgency and in the board's support for advocacy. We were already planning to create a strategy around advocacy in 2017, and after the election results came in we knew we had to work even harder and invest even more. We already were looking at immigration as an area of focus — Brooklyn's population is 40 percent foreign-born, and it was very much aligned with our racial equity lens — so the board and staff worked together to launch an Immigration Rights Fund right away. The nice thing about community foundations is that they can galvanize the power of the collective. Donors are really looking for ways to be generous and take action in the face of what might happen under a Trump administration, and we can be a resource for them, engaging with and learning from them, and vice versa.

Since the election, we've been gratified to see an increase in support for many community organizations in Brooklyn. It also happens to coincide with our annual appeal, and we've updated our appeal letter because everyone kept asking, "What can I do?" We've also seen a surge in inquiries about volunteering, and we encourage people to look at our list of grantees, all of whom have been vetted through a pretty rigorous system here. We've also begun thinking about special grants in addition to our regular grantmaking; we've already put two in for board approval — one to an immigrant rights organization that works with Muslim communities, and one to an anti-violence organization that is getting many, many calls from Muslims who are being harassed. So we plan to increase our grantmaking to immigrant rights organizations both on an emergency basis and over the long term.

Across the philanthropic sector more broadly, I think we're going to see increased attention to advocacy and policy. Advocacy is work that philanthropy hasn't always been very comfortable with — it's a long-term game, and the results aren't always clear — but I think we're going to see a shift toward increased support for advocacy work. I also think there will be a lot of thinking around immigration and racial justice. One of the very first things BCF is going to do is to gather immigrant rights leaders who are immigrants themselves to learn from them, with the assumption that those who are on the ground and closest to the issue will be able to help us not only to identify problems but also solutions.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...George Abbott, Community & National Initiatives, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

October 21, 2016

Headquartered in Miami, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation long has been regarded as one of the most interesting and innovative foundations operating in the United States. Led by Alberto Ibargüen, a former publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Knight bills itself as a national foundation with strong local roots an orientation informed by the Knight brothers' high regard for the more than two dozen communities where they once published newspapers. Today, Knight's stated goal is "to foster informed and engaged communities," which it believes are "essential for a healthy democracy." To help advance that goal, in 2015 the foundation launched the Knight Cities Challenge, a competition designed to surface innovative ideas that can make cities more interesting and vibrant places to live and work.

Earlier this week, PND chatted via email with Knight's George Abbott about the 2017 Cities Challenge, the kinds of ideas the foundation is looking for, and Knight's unique approach to grantmaking. The challenge will be accepting applications through noon on November 3.

Philanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues have opened the application period for the third annual Knight Cities Challenge and have announced that, in 2017, you'll be awarding $5 million in grants through the competition. Without prescribing in too much detail what kind of ideas you're looking for, what kind of ideas are you looking for?

Headshot_George_AbbottGeorge Abbott: We're looking for ideas with the potential to create impact in one or more of our three focus areas: keeping and attracting talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement. The challenge is designed to fund innovation and to provide "risk capital." We're not looking to do maintenance funding — to give money to fund year three of a four-year program. Instead, we're looking to fund new things and ideas and help cities add to their success, with those three focus areas in mind.

PND: The 2016 challenge attracted forty-five hundred applications and awarded grants ranging from $4,400 to $334,000 to thirty-seven entries. Any personal favorites among the winning entries?

GA: I couldn't single any one out as a favorite, but I'm happy to mention a couple of projects that stood out.

There's the Sunset Rises Again project in West Palm Beach, Florida, which will engage residents of that community around the renovation of the Sunset Lounge Jazz Club in that city's Historic Northwest neighborhood. While the community engagement aspect of the project is still in its early stages, the head of the Community Redevelopment Agency there told me the project has already redefined the way the city thinks about public civic engagement.

The Innerbelt Bicycle Park in Akron, Ohio, is another project that stood out. Our grant is helping to kick-start a process to turn what will soon be a non-operating freeway in downtown Akron into a new amenity for the community: a mountain bike park. The highway isn't even closed yet, but the project has developed tremendous momentum, with the city already having identified which section of the highway can be used for this project, calls coming in from around the country offering pro-bono support, and the project garnering widespread media attention in national outlets such as Fast Company and CityLab.

And the third project I'd mention is Pedal to Porch in Detroit. The organizers of that project are going to use their grant to fund monthly bike tours of Detroit's various neighborhoods that enable riders to meet and interact with longtime residents of those neighborhoods. Actually, this was a project that was launched through our Emerging City Champion program last year, and its success there led to a Knight Cities Challenge application and the project lead, Cornetta Lane, being asked to expand the program in other cities, including Charlotte.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 20-21, 2016)

August 21, 2016

Rain-south-la-9a-jpgOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

On the Carnegie Corporation website, the corporation's Geri Mannion and Jay Beckner of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation chat with Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow Gail Ablow about how foundations can support voting rights litigation.

Community Improvement/Development

The Rockefeller Foundation and Unreasonable Institute, which works to identify entrepreneurs with the potential to address social injustice at scale, have announced the launch of the Future Cities Accelerator, a $1 million urban innovation competition aimed at spurring next-generation leaders to develop solutions to complex urban problems. Though the competition, ten winners will receive $100,000 each and will participate in a nine-month intensive program giving them access to business leaders, investors, and technical support. Details here.

The Knight Foundation is bringing back its Knight Cities Challenge for a third iteration and will offer $5 million in grant funding for the best ideas in three areas that are crucial to building more successful cities – attracting and retaining talent, increasing economic opportunity, and promoting civic engagement. The competition, which is limited to the twenty-six Knight communities, opens Monday, October 10, at knightcities.org and will close on Thursday, November 3, with winners to be announced next spring.

As part of Generocity's "Leaders of Color" series, Tony Abraham profiles David Gould, a program office at the William Penn Foundation, who has a plan for leveling the playing field for people of color in Philadelphia. You can check out the rest of the series here.

What can we learn about creative placemaking from Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities)? As the Saint Luke's Foundation's Nelson Beckford reminds us, pretty much everything.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Think the concept of sustainability is a little too fuzzy to serve as a pillar of one's corporate strategy. Think again, argues the Environmental Defense Fund's Tom Murray.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 30-31, 2016)

July 31, 2016

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

Communications/Marketing

If you're like NWB's Vu Le, you've pretty much lost patience with colleagues and others who routinely make one of these mistakes in their written or verbal communications.

Community Improvement/Development

The League of Creative Interventionists, a global network of people working to build community through creativity, has posted a manifesto and is inviting people like you to join its movement.

Corporate Social Responsiblity

Can CEOs really drive their companies to be more sustainable? As Mary Barra's experience at GM would seem to suggest, it's harder than you think, writes Raz Godelnik, co-director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at the Parsons School of Design, on Triple Pundit.

Criminal Justice

Earlier this week, NBA great Michael Jordan announced gifts of $1 million each to two organizations working to build trust between African Americans and law enforcement. The organizations are the Institute for Community-Police Relations, which was launched in May by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And here is Jordan's statement.

Diversity

As one of the major-party political conventions demonstrated, there are lots of areas of American life where diversity is more vague notion than reality. Another is the tech scene in Silicon Valley, where "[t]alented people are left behind every day, many simply because they don't have the same kind of access as Ivy League brogrammer." In Fast Company, Cale Guthrie Weissman reports on what a few organizations are doing to change that equation.

Education

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a bold new plan to disrupt the city's school-to-prison pipeline. The key element? Keeping kids from misbehaving by not suspending them for misbehavior. Amy X. Wang reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 23-24, 2016)

July 24, 2016

Bulldog-on-ice1Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Community Improvement/Development

In the New America Weekly, Heron Foundation president Clara Miller explains how the foundation's recent work in Buffalo, the fourth poorest city in the nation, "started as a response to a Heron board member's referral of the local community foundation" and led to the foundation becoming a trusted neutral convener and connector "for a number of contingents in the community."

On the Knight blog, Lilly Weinberg Lilly Weinberg, program director for community foundations at the Knight Foundation, shares three takeaways from a recent convening of twenty civic innovators who've received grants of $5,000 to implement a project in a calenadr year that improve mobility, a public space, or civic engagement in their home cities.

Criminal Justice/Policing

Reflecting on the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in Minnesota, five police officers in Dallas, and three police officers in Baton Rouge, Open Society Foundations president Chris Stone suggests that the divide between black America and American policing is in part the "legacy of slavery, the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynching, of the repression of the civil rights and black power movements, the legacy of the war on drugs" -- and that efforts to close it must include solutions to racial disparities and the building of mutual trust between African Americans and local police departments.

Environment

Here on PhilanTopic, we featured a pair of great posts this week  -- one by Frank Smyth and the second by Maria Amália Souza -- on the noble, unheralded, and frequently dangerous work done by environmental activists in the global South.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 9-10, 2016)

July 10, 2016

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

Community Development

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, a staff writer at The Atlantic, looks at what one Rust Belt city is doing to keep blue-collar African-Americans from being displaced as it tries to attract immigrants and boost the local economy.

Environment

Thanks to global regulation of chlorine compounds, the ozone hole over the Antarctic is on the mend. Alexandra Witze reports for Nature magazine.

On a less upbeat note, the International Development Association of the World Bank Group reports that unchecked climate change could push 100 million people back into poverty by 2030,with the poorest regions of the world — sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — likely to be hardest hit.

Giving

For weeks, writes David A. Fahrenthold, the Washington Post has been trying — and failing — to find evidence that presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump is as charitable as he claims to be.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has introduced legislation that would prohibit foundations with ties to former public officials, as well as presidents and vice presidents, from accepting contributions from individuals connected to foreign governments. The Hill's Alan K. Ota reports

On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, our colleague Melissa Moy takes a closer look at the philanthropy of recent Giving Pledge signatories Marc and Lynne Benioff.

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A New Power Grid: Reflections on 'Building Healthy Communities' at Year 5

May 19, 2016

Health_exercise_for_PhilanTopicSystems change, policy change, narrative change, and people power are terms we use often at the California Endowment.

Together, they represent what's happening in fourteen geographically diverse communities across the state thanks to our Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative. Just as important is the state-level systems and policy change work we've supported to help strengthen local efforts. Taken together, they represent the comprehensive vision behind BHC, a ten-year, $1 billion initiative launched in 2010 to advance statewide policy, change the narrative, and transform communities in California that have been devastated by health inequities into places where all people have an opportunity to thrive.

As 2015 came to a close and we reached the halfway point of BHC, we thought it important to look back at the first five years of the initiative and document what we've learned to date. And because transparency in philanthropy is critical to the growth and effectiveness of the field, we want to share those insights with others.

A significant portion of the BHC plan involves a "place-based" focus on fourteen communities. Of equal importance is how the collective learning and energy generated by those communities help promote health, health equity, and health justice for all Californians. In other words, BHC is a place-based strategy with a broader goal of effecting statewide change.

So, what we have learned? It starts with this: BHC will be successful when three things happen to benefit the health of young people in lower-income communities:

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5 Questions for...José García, Program Officer, Strong Local Economies, Surdna Foundation

May 12, 2016

You don't need a political scientist to tell you something is amiss in America. It's there, lurking, in the presidential primary campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in our social media feeds, in between the lines of recent reports detailing falling mortality rates and rising rates of opioid addiction among working-class Americans. It's part frustration, part anger, but mostly anxiety about the economy and our economic future. Where have good jobs for average Americans gone? Are technology and globalization benefiting or hurting the economy? And where will new good jobs — the kind that make it possible for young Americans to pay off their student loans, buy a home, raise a family — come from?

Through its Strong Local Economies program, the New York City-based Surdna Foundation supports the development of a robust and sustainable economy in three ways: encouraging business development and acceleration, fostering equitable economic development, and working to improve job quality and career pathways. Recently, PND spoke with Surdna's José García about Ours to Share: How Worker Ownership Can Change the American Economy (50 pages, PDF), a new report published by the foundation that examines the potential of worker-owned firms and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) to create a more productive, stable, and equitable economy.

Headshot_jose_garcia_blogPhilanthropy News Digest: What big macro trends is the Ours to Share report responding to? And how does it fit into the broader Strong Local Economies portfolio at Surdna?

José García: Our interest in fostering a strong local economy is one of the reasons we released the report. It responds in part to the growing number of low-quality jobs generated by the U.S. economy. We recognize that it's important for the economy, for workers, and for our shared prosperity to increase the number of well-paying jobs. These are good jobs, jobs that give people a chance to move into the middle class and a chance at a better future. We're in a period in which wages have stagnated while at the same time debt levels, for most Americans, have increased. Meanwhile, the top fraction of a percent has seen its wealth soar, resulting in a significant increase in inequality. Of course, growing inequality has an impact on economic growth, in that it leads to a decline in the number of people with discretionary income to spend. Here at Surdna, we believe the creation of good jobs is a critical factor in wealth creation and a key component of any agenda aimed at strengthening local economies. It's not a panacea, but we do see it as essential.

PND: It's a coincidence that the report is being released in the middle of a presidential primary season that has seen a self-proclaimed democratic socialist on the Democratic side make a serious run at his party's nomination. But the timing is kind of perfect, isn't it?

JG: I would love to say we planned to release the report during primary season, because you're right, the timing couldn't be better. And one of the reasons is because worker co-ops are a bipartisan idea. From the bipartisan passage of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), legislation that created employee stock ownership options for workers, to the more recent creation of a bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, both sides of the aisle have favored and continue to support actions to increase the levels of ownership in society. And that is what worker co-ops and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) do — they create good jobs for workers and, at the same time, they give workers a piece of the ownership pie.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 7-8, 2016)

May 08, 2016

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

Civil Society

"Digital data are different enough from time and money — the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed — that it's time to redesign those institutions."  In a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why and how.

Community Improvement/Development

We didn't catch it in time for last week's roundup, but Forbes contributor Ruchika Tulshyan's profile of the Detroit-based New Economy Initiative, a startup entrepreneurship fund focused on inclusive economic development, is well worth a read.

Also in Forbes, the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock argues that "a Detroit-style 'grand bargain' approach could — with the same level of financial contributions from both big philanthropy and organized labor — break stalemates and allow [other Rust Belt] cities to restore funding for the city services on which their economies depend."

Education

In Inside Philanthropy, Mike Scutari shares highlights of a new case study, Dancing to the Top: How Collective Action Revitalized Arts Education in Boston (48 pages, PDF), written by sector veteran Cindy Gibson for Boston Public Schools Art Expansion (BPS-AE), a multiyear effort to expand arts education in schools across the district. Gibson calls the initiative described in the study "one of the most strategic initiatives" she's ever seen and praises the funding collaborative behind the efforts as "really collaborative." Definitely worth a read.

Environment

Long considered a disaster when it comes to pollution and environmental degradation, China is beginning to appreciate the seriousness of the situation -- and its responsibilities as the second-largest economy in the world -- and is pursuing a number of solutions to environmental challenges at home and beyond. The Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek reports.

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Philanthropy as a Platform for Civic Leadership

May 04, 2016

Civic-Engagement-Green-ShootsPhilanthropy often is the tie that binds communities together. From city to city, state to state, country to country, the vast majority of people benefit from andor participate in philanthropy. The true power of philanthropy, however, lies beyond the art and practice of grantmaking and is tied up with its ability — and responsibility — to equip and empower communities to move forward on their own.

As an institution, philanthropy is uniquely positioned to meet the ever-changing needs of communities, empowering them to drive a variety of projects, programs, organizations, and campaigns that serve hundreds and, at times, thousands. The work we do is, in many ways, the secret sauce — although the recipe for change doesn't always come in the form of a check. Indeed, while our financial capital is important, equally as important is the reputational, social, and intellectual capital we bring to the table. Just as communities are powered by the residents that live and work in them, foundations are powered by the people within them. And, in many cases, those people are very much a part of the fabric of the communities they are working to improve.

When I'm not meeting with grant partners, much of my time is spent with business and government leaders trying to identify collaborative approaches we can take to tackle the complex issues facing our communities. In early April, for instance, I met with Dave Bing (the former mayor of Detroit, retired Hall of Fame basketball player, and respected businessman) to brainstorm strategies focused on addressing the summer employment crisis that affects many teenagers and young adults in the region.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 30-May 1, 2016)

May 01, 2016

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

Arts and Culture

On the Americans for the Arts blog, Sharbreon Plummer offers some "suggestions for ways that employers can support emerging leaders...of color, along with ways that individuals can begin to explore self-care and agency within their institutional structures and everyday lives."

Climate Change

The Paris Agreement to limit emissions of global greenhouse gases will go into effect when 55 countries  —  comprising at least 55 percent of annual global emissions — ratify it domestically. Making sure individual countries live up to their commitments is going to be a challenge. Pacific Standard's John Wihbey explains.

Community Improvement/Development

"In the wake of Freddie Gray's fatal encounter with the police, subsequent tumultuous protests, a mistrial for one of the officers charged in connection with [his] death, and a crime spike, Baltimore, for better or worse, has become a poster child for government failure," writes Clare Foran in The Atlantic. With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake having announced she will not run for reelection, what happens in the city's Democratic primary "could shed light on the complex challenge of how to rebuild a fractured city — or how not to."

Corporate Philanthropy

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther considers the growth of global pro bono programs and argues that, as well intentioned as they may be, "without independent evaluations, feedback from clients and transparency about results, [such] practices won't do nearly as much good as they could."

Education

On the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, Frederick James Frelow, a senior program officer in the foundation's Youth Opportunity and Learning program, looks at some of the restorative justice practices the New York City Board of Education has implemented to help address "the root causes of the conflicts and misunderstandings that undermine trust and respect between youth and adults in school as well as in the world at large."

Environment

A massive 40,000-acre seagrass die off in the waters of Florida Bay is raising alarms about a serious environmental breakdown. The Washington Post's Chris Mooney reports.

In the first post of a four-part series, Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world's biggest conservation groups have embraced an approach known as "new conservation" that is roiling the field.

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Flint’s Crisis Raises Questions — and Cautions — About the Role of Philanthropy

April 08, 2016

Dirty-bottled-waterThe public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, continues to unfold before the eyes of the world. For nearly eighteen months, water drawn from the Flint River was sent without proper treatment into the city's infrastructure, corroding aging pipes and fixtures. Lead leached into the water supply and flowed to local homes, schools, and businesses. The results: a near doubling in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood, a wave of other health concerns throughout the community, severely damaged infrastructure, and despair regarding the city's prospects for economic recovery.

This terrible situation in the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation's hometown has sparked numerous questions, including one that should be of interest to every foundation: What is the role of philanthropy in responding to a community in crisis? At Mott, we've felt the need to act immediately on some issues and with great deliberation on others. We've also been called upon to discuss the role of philanthropy in funding infrastructure projects. It's my hope that our experiences thus far might be helpful to other philanthropies that could face similar challenges in the future.

When the high levels of lead exposure among Flint children were revealed in September of 2015, Mott acted quickly to begin the long process of bringing safe drinking water back to our hometown. In addition to a grant of $100,000 to provide residents with home water filters, we pledged $4 million to help reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system. With an additional $6 million from the state of Michigan and $2 million from the city of Flint, that switch took place on October 16.

Our decision to help pay for the switch was a no-brainer. Since our founding ninety years ago, we've had a deep and unwavering commitment to our home community. We couldn't sit on the sidelines while the children of Flint were being harmed. Our role as a catalyst for the return to safer water speaks to one of philanthropy's most valuable attributes: the ability to respond swiftly when disaster strikes to help people meet their basic needs.

But after taking swift action, the question then becomes "What next?"

As important as it was to act quickly to reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system, we also realized that it sometimes makes sense for philanthropies to fight the impulse to make major commitments while a disaster is still unfolding. Two aspects of Flint's water crisis show us why.

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

March 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s New Paradigm for Community Philanthropy

February 18, 2016

Fairfield_county_cf_for_PhilanTopicHistorically, community foundations have worked to create change by making grants to local nonprofits, advocacy groups, and other organizations.

But a new breed of funders is showing how, by serving in a different role, community foundations can foster change that is more comprehensive, more responsive to residents' needs, and, hopefully, more enduring. This new role involves reaching into the very roots of the community and engaging and empowering the people who call it home.

That's the approach Fairfield County's Community Foundation (FCCF), based in southwestern Connecticut, is taking with its PT Partners initiative. Our goal is nothing less than to create a national model for engaging and training public housing residents to lead change in their neighborhoods.

Jointly funded by the Citi Foundation, the Low Income Investment Fund, and FCCF, PT Partners is housed at PT Barnum Apartments, a 360-unit public housing development in Bridgeport situated next to a notorious brownfield and, incongruously, not far from a yacht club. Long known for unacceptable levels of crime and poverty, PT Barnum is home to more than eleven hundred children and adults. The goal of the initiative is to make the complex a safer, healthier, and overall better place for its residents — or, as we like to say, to transform it into a community of equity and opportunity. And as part of that process, we are working to turn PT Barnum residents into majority stakeholders of the effort and hold them responsible for driving change; after all, they're the experts on the needs and hopes of their community.

But in order to have a chance to succeed, PT Barnum residents first needed two things: to understand their own power — and to learn how to use it.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 23-24, 2016)

January 24, 2016

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

African Americans

Are the residents of Flint, the majority of whom are black and many of whom are poor, the victims of environmental racism? Would Michigan's state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water if the majority of the city's residents were white and affluent? The New York Times' John Eligon reports.

"Recent events have shone a light on the black experience in dozens of U.S. cities. Behind the riots and the rage, the statistics tell a simple, damning story," writes Richard V. Reeves on the Brookings Institute blog. "Progress toward equality for black Americans has essentially halted." 

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Tamara Copeland, president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, writes that, despite the election and re-election of Barack Obama, America is not a post-racial society, and that until the public — and philanthropy — acknowledge that the "negative treatment of a group of people based solely on race is a major contributor to poverty and inequality,...we won't be able to take the steps needed to end racial inequities."

How can America narrow its racial wealth gap? the Annie E. Casey Foundations shares four policy recommendations designed to help low-income families boost their savings and assets, "the currency of the future."

Children and Youth

On First Focus' Voices for Kids blog, Karen Howard shares the five things every presidential candidate needs to know about poverty among America's youngest children.

On the Chronicle of Social Change site, Inside Philanthropy's Kiersten Marek takes a closer look at what new leadership at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation — Peter Laugharn is the first non-Hilton family member to lead the foundation — and a doubling of assets is likely to mean for the foundation's future support of child welfare initiatives.

Community Improvement/Development

Returning to the subject of the most popular post on his blog in 2015, "trickle-down" community engagement, Vu Le argues that communities of color and other marginalized communities too often are "infantalized" by funders, a dynamic that plays out in a number of ways: a lack of trust that communities have solutions to their own problems; unrealistic expectations for communities to "get along"; and demands for communities to prove themselves with little initial support. Instead, writes Le, "[w]hy don't we try the reverse for once, and invest significant amounts in organizations led by the people who know first-hand the inequity they are trying to address." We are tired, he adds,

[of] being asked to attend more forums, summits, focus groups, answer more surveys, rally our community members, only for our opinions to be dismissed. One funder told me, "Communities need to stop complaining and start proposing solutions."

We have been. We propose solutions all the time. But if there's no trust that we actually know what we're talking about, if there's no faith that the qualitative experiences and perspectives of people who have lived through decades of social injustice are just as valid as double-blind quantitative meta-studies written up in a glossy white paper or whatever, then what's the point? The investments will be token, oftentimes trickled-down, and then that will be used to say, "You know what, we invested in you, and it didn't lead to what we wanted," further perpetuating the cycle....

In his last blog post as president of the Vermont Community Foundation, Stuart Comstock-Gay, who is leaving VCF after seven years for the top job at the Delaware Community Foundation, reflects on four questions that all Vermonters — and many other Americans — should be asking themselves.

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