21 posts categorized "Insights"

Facebook, Foundations, and Democracy: Putting the 'R-word' Back Into Philanthropy

April 11, 2018

Risk is back in philanthropy. As populist rage and technological omnipotence sweep the globe, seven American foundations have stepped up in a way that only private philanthropy can.

Early this week, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan, Charles Koch, John S. and James L. Knight, and Laura and John Arnold foundations; the Democracy Fund; and Omidyar Network, announced the launch of a research initiative aimed at increasing public understanding of Facebook's role in elections and democracy. The funder consortium will pay for an "independent and diverse" committee of scholars that invites researchers to conduct research using proprietary Facebook data that “meets the company's new, heightened focus on user privacy.” To ensure an added layer of objectivity, the venerable Social Science Research Council (founded in 1923) will oversee the selection of research proposals and the peer-review process.

Slowing the game down

This is a perfect of example of how private foundations can contribute to the public good. In a volatile, contentious, and partisan time where dialogue (or lack thereof) can be measured in bots, posts, tweets, links, and likes, these foundations are using their resources and independence to declare a collective "time out." Foundations are not political parties, business, or lobbyists. Guided by mission, values, and donor intent, they have the distance and time horizon to be able to take a careful, deliberate look at what is really going on when it comes to media, elections, and democracy. Social science research, with its strict procedures for requesting proposals and conducting peer review of research, is built for methodological rigor, not for speed. In basketball, they teach you that the best way to deal with a running offense is to slow the game down. These seven foundations are doing just that.

Strength in numbers

Were any one foundation to try to do this alone, it would most likely be criticized for some kind of political or partisan bias. But the seven that have banded together on this initiative are a pretty interesting cross-section of the field. Collectively, they hold over $20 billion in assets originating in fortunes derived from technology (Hewlett, Omidyar, and the Democracy Fund), journalism (Knight), energy/finance (Arnold), the automotive industry (Sloan), and oil and manufacturing (Koch). They represent family foundations, independent foundations, and living donor foundations. They all have solid track records of grantmaking focused on improving the functioning of American democracy. But they do that in different ways. See for yourself in the network map below. Click the link and you’ll go straight to an interactive page on the Foundation Funding for American Democracy site where you can explore each and every grant made by these foundations. All these foundations are proud of their work and, unlike Cambridge Analytica, have nothing to hide.

Democracy-maps-constellation

Man the battle stations

Risk is dangerous, which is precisely why it is relatively rare in our field. It is particularly dangerous in the current environment in which even a reasonably broad-based coalition of foundations could be labeled as "partisan," "politically-motivated," "globalist," "deep state," or anything else in the growing lexicon of epithets used to discredit purveyors of information. As venerable as it is, the Social Science Research Council might also come under attack for its very commitment to social science, which some see as being dominated by a "leftist" agenda. Earlier in my career, I worked as a “social science analyst” for a government-sponsored foundation and had to survive an ideologically-motivated attempt to re-classify our positions as "small-business specialist" because social science was presumed to be dangerous. To the extent it reveals truth that people do not want to hear, maybe it is. Nevertheless, SSRC will need to be careful that none of the research funded under the initiative is obviously influenced by the political concerns or bias of the researchers.

The Icarus effect

Working on such an innovative initiative with one of the most successful technology companies on the planet has got to be heady stuff for these foundations. However, in flying close to the sun, they need to be careful not to get their wings burned. Individually, these foundations are all recognized as leaders in our sector, and collectively they constitute an impressive coalition. But their combined resources pale in significance to Facebook's, with its $484 billion market cap and 2.2 billion monthly users. Eventually, this very asymmetry could lead to the charge that the foundations are being used by Facebook as part of a multi-faceted PR campaign to polish its image as it goes through the gauntlet of congressional scrutiny, press attacks, and the regulation likely to follow.

Different concepts of time

Facebook and its fellow tech giants live in a very different world than the one inhabited by foundations and social science researchers. Exposed by the minute to competition and disruption, they are constantly evolving — adding new features, adjusting algorithms, and trying to solve the mysteries of user behavior on their platforms. They voraciously acquire patents that often provide the only reliable clue to where they are headed in the future and lock them away under layers of intellectual property protection. There is a real risk that the research supported by this initiative will turn out to be largely historical, lending deep understanding to what happened, after the fact, at a particular moment in American political history. By the time the research is approved, carried out, peer-reviewed, and published — all of them essential steps in guaranteeing fairness and objectivity — Facebook and the tech world will have mutated several times over. In other words, the challenges that this research is intended to address will have long since been superseded by challenges we can't even imagine today. Perhaps the best of the research can transcend the temporal nature of technological change and explore the underlying issues of privacy, algorithmical bias, and the hacking of public opinion that are at stake here.

Undoubtedly, the seven foundations spearheading this effort thought of all of the above —  and more — as they carefully weighed the pros and cons of taking on this important work. This is philanthropy at its best — exercising independence, applying flexible resources, collaborating across sectors, and striving to shed light on a crucial societal issue where, at the moment, there is only heat. Is it just a courageous one-off initiative by seven foundations? Or is it a sign that risk is back in philanthropy? Only time will tell.

Headshot_brad_smith_for_PhilanTopicBradford K. Smith is president of Foundation Center.

The Changing Landscape of Russian Philanthropy: Growth Spurts and Growing Pains

April 02, 2018

Philanthropy-in-Russia-cover-1-724x1024Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, in association with Alliance magazine and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), recently launched the second report in its Philanthropy Bridge Series — this time in partnership with CAF Russia — on the world's largest country. Russia isn't just large in geographical size, it's also large in terms of complexity. It's a country about which many of us know little yet find ourselves reading about on an almost daily basis, in turn creating curiosity and intrigue. So, what does the end of the Iron Curtain mean for philanthropy in Russia?

Russia to me is challenging to understand despite having traveled to its major cities and enjoyed its delightful culture and hospitality. This is true for understanding philanthropy there as well. Philanthropy in Russia is a working paper rather than an attempt to describe the sector in its entirety; it begins to distill what is known to create meaning. Here are some of my takeaways:

You can't understand Russian philanthropy without understanding its context. Despite the country's long and chequered history, philanthropy in Russia is relatively young, both the sector itself and even the notion of giving. Whereas philanthropy is embedded in the cultural context of many other countries, its emergence in Russia over the last three decades creates a distinction between a time in which philanthropy existed there and a time in which it did not. CAF's 2017 World Giving Index, which measures individual giving in terms of money, time, and helping a stranger (an awesome measure, by the way), ranks the Russian Federation 124th out of 139 countries surveyed. In terms of giving money, Russia ranks 104th. As the report describes it, "Russia does not appear to be a nation of givers." There are cultural and historical reasons for this. During the Communist era, public well-being was considered the responsibility of the state alone. This reinforced the notion that private charitable work should be considered a private affair and was not to be talked openly about. This may be a difficult notion for many Western philanthropists to understand, given the often default position of self and organizational promotion. Think, for example, about the purpose of a "top funders list" or the Giving Pledge page. Neither approach is right, good, or bad — just different. Twenty-seven years later, though, this does appear to be changing in Russia.

Who's giving, and how, are changing. Once thought of as a "demeaning, manipulative capitalist practice" that was forbidden (Jamie Gambrell), attitudes to philanthropy seem to be becoming more positive. Oksana Oracheva, general director of the Vladmir Potanin Foundation, believes that people are more supportive of philanthropy now, particularly as they become more involved themselves through corporate volunteerism, community philanthropy, and small individual donations. As was also the case with the Philanthropy in India report, small donations by the middle class have led to significant increases in giving in both countries. Although members of the middle class often don't give large sums, they can give smaller amounts more often (especially due to technology).

When did you last give by way of an SMS donation, particularly one that you were encouraged to make by an advertisement on television? For many of us, probably never. For a Russian, it may have been today. Numerous causes invest in storytelling through the media with a call to action to give any amount, which culturally makes philanthropy quite visible. Pretty cool.

Continue reading »

A Challenge to Philanthropy: Expand Health and Educational Opportunities for Native American Youth

March 30, 2018

Native_american_youth_standing_rockThese days, everyone is looking for new thinking about the tough challenges we face as a country. But perhaps what we need is not new thinking but the wisdom to revisit older approaches that have stood the test of time.

A value shared by many Native Americans is that all suffering is reciprocal, as is all healing. Each of us can only thrive when everyone does well.

The power of this wisdom is enormous. And it has endured despite a long history of genocide and racism toward Native Americans, helping our communities remain resilient in the face of tragedy, discrimination, and neglect.

For instance, Native American activists recently led one of the most galvanizing environmental justice campaigns in years — and it all began with a group of Native American youth leaders. Images of young people chanting "Mni wiconi — Water is life" showed up in mainstream news for the better part of 2016 in what became popularly known as the Movement at Standing Rock.

The leadership, conviction, and voices of these young people spoke to the hearts of millions of people around the globe. And their message was profound: We are protecting the most precious source of life — water. Not just for Native people, but for all humans and living beings. By having the guts to challenge the power and prerogatives of the oil industry, these youth — alongside an intergenerational community of "water protectors" — stood up for the inherent right of Native peoples to exist and determine their future.

Standing Rock showcased the power and potential Native American youth have as drivers of social change — both in their communities and across the nation.

Continue reading »

'100&Change' Solutions Bank: A Unique Resource for Funders

March 28, 2018

100&Change_Solutions_BankOur original goal for 100&Change, an open competition for a single $100 million grant, was fairly simple: identify a project outside our usual networks that with substantial resources disbursed over a compressed time period (three to five years) could make significant progress in addressing a critical problem. And we succeeded. In December 2017, MacArthur's board of directors selected an early childhood intervention project, a collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee, as the recipient of the $100 million grant. The other three finalists — Catholic Relief Services, HarvestPlus, and the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health (Rice University) — were each awarded grants of $15 million and a commitment from MacArthur to help identify additional sources of funding.

After we launched the competition, however, we realized that 100&Change's open call had an important side benefit: the surfacing of a wealth of ideas for solving problems around the globe, ideas at various stages of development but good ideas nonetheless. We were logging those ideas into a database here at the foundation but soon recognized the database could be a public resource serving other funders who might find interesting projects to support, communities looking for innovative solutions to their challenges, and problem-solvers and researchers looking for others with similar interests. So, after a number of conversations and phone calls, we found ourselves collaborating with Foundation Center on the 100&Change Solutions Bank, a searchable (by geography, subject area, keyword, and Sustainable Development Goal) repository of submissions to the 100&Change competition.

Interesting, right? But maybe you're not sure how the Solutions Bank can help you. No problem. Here are four sample use cases:

Continue reading »

Is Your Nonprofit Leery of Lobbying? Now’s the Time to Get Over It

March 26, 2018

Advocacy-button-770-RSWhoever said "Good things come to those who wait" has never advocated for a cause, shepherded a policy through the legislative process, or run a nonprofit organization. That's especially true if your nonprofit's mission is issue-driven, and it's even more true now, when political upheaval in the Trump era and a looming election put the future of many organizations' missions in question — whether those missions are related to the arts, science and technology, feeding the homeless, fighting for workers’ rights, or another worthy cause. This year, sitting out legislative policy fights is just not an option.

Enter the question of lobbying and some timely new research from academics at George Mason University and the University of Miami. Lobbying is an uncomfortable topic for many nonprofits, but the study's authors challenge the pervasive view that the often-maligned practice is nothing more than a quid pro quo exchange of money for votes. In a piece describing the research, study co-author Jennifer Victor maintains that lobbying is about relationships and is in fact an essential part of our democracy. "[L]obbyists," she writes, "provide an efficient, effective, and knowledgeable source of high quality information that gets injected into the policy making process at all stages. This is generally a good thing, because it can significantly help lawmakers fill gaps in their knowledge base."

By now you can guess where we're going with this: not only should nonprofits revisit their thoughts on lobbying, they should also seriously consider getting in the game. Lobbying is entirely consistent with public charities' charitable and educational missions because it deals directly with the regulatory and statutory context in which groups function. And if nonprofits won't speak for the people they serve when fundamental decisions are being made, who will?

So if it's clear nonprofit groups have every incentive to lobby, we then need to ask: Can they? The good news is that there's no reason why any charitable organization should not have a robust lobbying and advocacy strategy in place.

Continue reading »

[Review] Pragmatic Philanthropy: Asian Charity Explained

March 22, 2018

Recent years have seen growing interest in and media coverage of Asian philanthropy. But the phenomenon remains under-analyzed and not well understood. In Pragmatic Philanthropy: Asian Charity Explained, authors Ruth A. Shapiro, Manisha Mirchandani, and Heesu Jang set out to examine how Asian philanthropy works, how it differs from philanthropy in the West, and what we are likely to see in the way of trends and developments in the coming years.

Book_pragmatic_philanthropyThe book, which is available as a free download and is based on thirty case studies of successful service delivery organizations (SDOs) and social enterprises as well as interviews with high-net-worth individuals, consists of nine chapters — the majority written by Shapiro. Each is devoted to a specific topic, from the laws governing philanthropy in different countries, to the strategies employed by Asian philanthropists, to the role of impact investing. Together, they present a much-needed overview of the state of Asian philanthropy in the twenty-first century.

The book opens with a brief historical survey of how charity — the act of doing good — and philanthropy — the formalized and systematic process of doing good — have evolved in various Asian countries. Differences notwithstanding, the authors make clear that there's a long history of charitable giving in Asia that is rooted in a cultural predilection to help one's family and clan and a tradition of giving to service delivery organizations (SDOs) rather than public advocacy groups.

It makes sense, therefore, that the book would focus on SDOs. They may or may not be connected to government and may or may not be social enterprises, but, as the authors emphasize, they are distinct from public advocacy organizations whose aim is to influence public policy. It's a distinction that is reinforced in the United States by the tax code — 501(c)(3)s versus (c)(4)s, for example — but which no country in Asia has codified into law. Nevertheless, it's an important distinction in Asian countries, "where donors rarely wish to cross officials at odds with challenging advocacy."

What's more, the desire to support one's kin-related networks persists, says Shapiro, because of what she calls a nonprofit "trust deficit." As she explains: "For [Asian] philanthropists, relationships are often the only means by which one can conduct due diligence." In some countries, the low levels of trust may be due to changing regulations that are ambiguous and confusing for donors; to the absence of accountability mechanisms for nonprofits when it comes to spending; to a general confusion around the goals of many nonprofits; and, finally, to a perception that a country's "best and brightest" gravitate to the for-profit sector and that nonprofits are run by less qualified individuals.

Continue reading »

Thoughts on ‘As the South Grows’

December 27, 2017

As-the-South-Grows-cover-232x300As someone who has shed plenty of blood and tears after almost twenty years living and breathing Southern philanthropy, I am thrilled with the deep and committed work of Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) on the As the South Grows series of publications. The writers — Ryan Schlegel and Stephanie Peng — spent a great deal of time outside the walls of their offices to capture the authentic voice of residents of six Southern sub-regions that have had small to middling philanthropic investment over the years.

My experience as a locally embedded Southern funder — first with the Rapides Foundation and then the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust — over the past couple decades prompted a reaction to both what is presented and what I hope will be addressed in future reports. The following observations come from a same church/different pew perspective of someone who has spent the bulk of his professional career trying to get philanthropic activity connected to local champions in a way that makes sense to funders and communities alike.

1. Large regional or national funders increasingly want long-haul relationships. For decades, I have observed the lack of large funder investment in the South. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some particularly underresourced and isolated places in the region have never had any formal funder investment — ever.

Southern communities can certainly use financial resources focused on locally produced efforts to drive community development and improvement. But it is just as, if not more, important that large funder involvement focus on: 1) the inclusion of these places as part of national learning platforms; and 2) enabling these communities to tap into the wealth of intellectual and social capital that national funders can access on their behalf.

For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health prize recognized the small town of Williamson, West Virginia (population 3,100), in 2014 with a $25,000 award. The award paved the way for government funders to support new work around built environment, healthy foods, economic development, and other initiatives designed to benefit this coal-country town.

Continue reading »

The Role of Philanthropy in Conflict Prevention: 15 Takeaways

December 15, 2017

Number15In early November, Foundation Center hosted an event with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) that drew more than forty-five people from ten countries to discuss the role of philanthropy in conflict prevention and resolution. The energy around the topic was palpable and there was no shortage of knowledge shared. Here are my top 15 takeaways from the meeting:

1. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic funding is going to peace and security. It's true; take a look at the data. Given the currency and the social and economic costs associated with conflicts worldwide, this is a worrying figure. According to former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, "The economic and financial cost of conflict and violence in 2014 has been estimated to be US$14.3 trillion, or 13.4 percent of the global economy." So why is this area of work underfunded? Is it because foundations are more risk averse than they like to believe?

2. Philanthropy has the ability to be adaptable, flexible, and take risks. It can play a research and development role in the field of peace and security, but it must respect that this work is high stakes and requires a great deal of flexibility; it is not philanthropy as usual and there are rules to be followed when operating in a sensitive environment. Funders must carefully consider relevant contextual and cultural information when funding and working in conflict-affected environments.

3. Without peaceful and secure communities, the climate, humanitarian, and development agendas will not be realized. Conflict, humanitarian disasters, and climate change are interlinked and their effects are unevenly distributed and primarily impact economically disadvantaged communities. These different agendas can’t be realized in isolation, and we won’t make progress without expanding our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict.

4. There are roles for both large and small funders. Some smaller funders feel that the situation is just too complex for them to get involved. However, increasing the availability of small, unrestricted grants can make a critical difference in conflict-affected environments, where the context is constantly shifting and flexible funding is key. Larger grants and long-term funding are also crucial to ensure the continuity and long-term relationships necessary for effective peacebuilding programs. Regardless of size, funders large or small, can support indigenous locally led efforts, provide core support, and commit to the long term.

Continue reading »

There’s More Than One Needle in This Haystack: The 100&Change Solutions Bank

December 05, 2017

100Change-logo_padded15Earlier today, Foundation Center launched something new and still unusual in the field of philanthropy: a site that provides access to nearly nineteen hundred proposals submitted to a foundation by organizations with ideas for solving some of society's most pressing challenges. The site, the 100&Change Solutions Bank, features submissions to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change competition, which the foundation launched in June 2016 and which will soon announce a winner. Recognizing that it had received many more viable ideas worth funding, the foundation decided to partner with Foundation Center to bring greater visibility to those ideas, with three goals in mind: to drive investment in proposals that merit it; to facilitate collaboration and learning between organizations working on similar problems; and to inspire funders and organizations working for change to do things differently.

Invest

The 100&Change competition will end with a single winner being awarded a $100 million grant. But the competition itself generated a great many solutions worth investing in — and the number of inquiries fielded by MacArthur staff suggests that other funders know this. Rather than force 100&Change applicants to spend more time tailoring their proposals to meet the requirements of their own application processes, funders should take advantage of the work MacArthur has done to surface good ideas in a variety of fields. With the launch of the 100&Change Solutions Bank, funders now have a lot to gain by spending just a few minutes exploring the proposals they’ll find there.

Collaborate

Whether it's a big, global challenge like climate change or a local (yet widespread) problem like homelessness, there is more than one organization working on a solution. This diversity of actors represents a golden opportunity to learn from others' approaches — even when they are implemented in a different context — and, potentially, to collaborate. Yes, this type of learning does happen through existing networks, listservs, and working groups. But what the Solutions Bank offers is the chance to learn from organizations you may not have a connection to.

Continue reading »

Finally! A Global (Data) Language!

October 25, 2017

Trying to get global consensus on anything is nearly impossible. But in collaboration with a dynamic cohort of individuals and organizations, we've managed to develop a new manifesto with respect to the structure and sharing of data about global philanthropy that is valued across contexts. Meet the new Global Philanthropy Data Charter.

GDC_infographic
Philanthropy, and more broadly, civil society, play a large and increasingly visible role in solving complex societal issues around the globe. Over the last twenty years, as private wealth in countries around the world has exploded, we've seen a significant increase in giving by institutions and individuals. At the same time, technology adoption and economic populism have emerged from the shadows while foreign aid to the least developed countries has declined. Established in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals paved the way, in 2015, for the multi-stakeholder Sustainable Development Goals. Each step in this evolution was guided by data. Good data? Not always. But in our rapidly changing world, everyone must tell their own story — or risk having it told for them. The good news? Philanthropy has had to become more transparent, more accountable, and more effective. Rather than siloed efforts, maximizing impact based on smart giving and shared learning has become a collective world-wide aspiration.

Continue reading »

Two New Data Tools for the Open Ag Sector

August 14, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

You work at a foundation, government agency, or nonprofit committed to reducing poverty and hunger. Recognizing the importance of agriculture for achieving this goal, you've decided to focus on improving the lives of smallholder farmers, who represent a significant portion of those living on less than $2 a day. You know which regions you want to work in, and now you're trying to determine which value chains you should invest in to create the greatest impact. As part of the Initiative for Open Ag Funding, Foundation Center has two new tools to help you answer that question.

First, an acknowledgment: such a decision requires an analysis of many, many data points. Among the factors to consider are: Which crops are produced by smallholder farmers? Which of those crops have the most potential to increase farmers' income? What does the market for these crops look like? What is the potential for significant productivity gains? Is there the infrastructure needed to get these goods to market? Who else is investing in these particular value chains?

The Initiative for Open Ag Funding focuses on this last question: Who is doing what, where, with whom, and to what effect? And rather than reinvent the wheel, the initiative uses the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data standard as its starting point. IATI aims to improve the transparency of international development and humanitarian resources and activities and has been widely adopted by bilateral and multilateral donors as well as many other organizations. To date, two of Foundation Center's major contributions have been: 1) filling a gap in IATI data; and 2) developing a tool to enrich that data so it better meets the needs of the agriculture sector.

Shedding Light on Foundation Funding for Agriculture

Foundation Center has been collecting and sharing data on foundations' grantmaking for decades. This data has been used to ground philanthropy research, inform grant prospecting, and foster collaboration. Given our comprehensive data on foundation grants and the fact that few foundations have published their data to IATI, we have opened our data on funding for international agriculture and food security activities. This data represents $4.3 billion worth of grants from nearly 1,900 funders to more than 3,000 organizations around the world. In addition to posting the data on the IATI Registry,* we've also made it accessible through a new and publicly available Open Agriculture Data map.

OpenAg_tools_grino

Making IATI Data More Relevant for Agriculture

At the moment, most data published to IATI is coded with OECD DAC purpose codes or the organization's own subject taxonomy. Early conversations with agricultural practitioners revealed, however, that these categories are not granular enough. In response, we developed an open source agriculture autocoder for the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) AGROVOC thesaurus. Enter a project title, description, or any other text and, using machine learning, the OpenAgClassifier will return codes for terms such as rice or bananas or goats. (You can learn more about our approach to open source in this blog post by my colleague, Dave Hollander.) As a result, what would have been a time-consuming and probably manual process of identifying who is working in, say, the rice value chain is now much faster and easier.

Foundation Center and the Open Ag Funding team know that data and tools alone won't lead to smarter investments or more collaboration. Our goal is simply to give organizations a better starting point for making decisions about where and how to direct their resources. Given the progress of the open data movement, a lack of data or good tools shouldn't be a major reason why organizations duplicate efforts, why Organization A didn't know to go to Organization B to learn more about their approach, or why an organization really making a difference is invisible to those that have the means to support it. Our hope is that by putting the right data and tools at their disposal, we can make it easier for organizations to focus on the harder things about getting development right.

Headshot_laia-grino(*Note: To avoid duplication of data on the IATI Registry, we have removed funders already publishing to IATI from our IATI data.)

Laia Griñó is director of data discovery at Foundation Center. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

'Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy': What Does the Data Say?

July 27, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

It's no secret that many Americans are wondering whether our democracy is still working. The signs of dysfunction are everywhere — allegations of election tampering, voter suppression, and "fake news" comprise a continuous soundtrack accompanying distressingly low levels of electoral turnout, ever more bizarre examples of gerrymandering, and perpetual government gridlock.

Concerns about U.S. democracy are on the minds of America's philanthropic institutions as well. We know, of course, about the "dark money" that is being pumped into the electoral process in an attempt to influence the outcomes of U.S. elections. But what about the efforts of U.S. foundations who see the task of improving U.S. democracy as an important part of their philanthropic missions? (And which, unlike dark money vehicles, are required to disclose information about their giving in publicly available tax documents.)

In partnership with eight foundations, Foundation Center, in 2014, developed Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a free online portal that tracks the efforts of foundations to improve American democracy. The tool provides detail on more than 35,000 relevant grants, with additional data added regularly. (Next week, I'll be providing a tour of this mapping platform via a free webinar. Register here.)

Since 2011, U.S. foundations have spent more than $3.7 billion on efforts to improve our democracy. Our data show that foundations are almost equally focused on the areas of encouraging civic participationimproving how government functions at the national, state, and local levels; and supporting an accountable and democratic media, with about  a third of their democracy-focused grant dollars going to each area. Campaigns and elections, the fourth major area of foundation funding for democracy, received about 10 percent of democracy-focused grant dollars. (This adds up to more than 100 percent, because some grants address multiple issues.)

US Democracy_funding by category_fb

These findings suggest that important issues need to be addressed in all four areas — civic participation, government, media, and campaigns and elections — and that focusing on any single area isn't sufficient to ensure a well-functioning democracy. Civic participation funders are focused, in particular, on encouraging issue-based participation by the public; government-focused funders prioritize grantmaking in the area of civil liberties and the rule of law; media-focused funders split their grantmaking almost equally on strengthening journalism and improving media access and policy; and those focused on campaigns and elections are primarily funding activities to educate voters and increase voter turnout.

Continue reading »

Colombia’s Peace Accord: Philanthropy Must Not Miss the Boat

July 20, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

COLOMBIA-PEACE-TREATYThe peace deal and disarmament of FARC in Colombia is a remarkable milestone, but it is still not clear to what extent Colombians are ready to effectively transition from peacemaking to peace building. If it is to be successful, that process must result in full implementation of the accord and the enabling of environments conducive to sustainable peace over the long term.

The historic accord itself does not guarantee peace. While the end of the conflict has created the necessary conditions for peace building and reconciliation, a successful conclusion to the process will require creativity, long-term thinking, and all sectors of society to work together. The good news is that the end of violence means other sectors of society are now able to take part in creating a fairer and more equal Colombia.

In an attempt to engage the philanthropic sector in Colombia in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16 (promote peace, justice and strong institutions), AFE Colombia and the SDG Philanthropy Platform have issued a report, Peace and Sustainable Development in Colombia: The Role of Philanthropy in Building a Shared Future, that aims to serve as a catalyst for new thinking by and dialogue between key stakeholders in the peace process. The report also provides concrete recommendations that local and international philanthropic organizations can act on to support Colombia's transition toward peace.

The current landscape

Colombia is a deeply unequal country. As such, it needs philanthropic organizations and actors to bring their resources and expertise to conflict-affected regions. More often than not, these are underdeveloped rural areas in dire need of social investment. To make the peace deal a reality on the ground will require stakeholders to come together and rethink the ways in which different actors and sectors in these areas interact and cooperate with each other.

Continue reading »

Because What You Know Shouldn't Just Be About Who You Know

July 11, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

"Knowledge is obsolete." As a librarian, my ears perked up when someone shared the title of this TEDxFoggyBottom talk. It's plausible. Why memorize obscure, hard-to-remember facts when anything you could possibly want to know can be looked up, on the go, via a smartphone? As a mom, I imagine my kids sitting down to prepare for rich, thought-provoking classroom discussions instead of laboring over endless multiple-choice tests. What an exciting time to be alive — a time when all of humanity's knowledge is at our fingertips, leading experts are just a swipe away, the answer always literally close at hand, and we've been released from the drudgery of memorization and graduated to a life of active, informed debate! And how lucky are we to be working in philanthropy and able to leverage all this knowledge for good, right?

Open-for-good_featureforeground

Though the active debate part may sound familiar, sadly, for too many of us working in philanthropy, the knowledge utopia described above is more sci-fi mirage than a TED Talk snapshot of present-day reality. As Foundation Center's Glasspockets team revealed in its "Foundation Transparency Challenge" infographic last November, only 10 percent of foundations today have a website, and not even our smartphones are  smart enough to connect you to the 90 percent of those that don't.

The Foundation Transparency Challenge reveals other areas of potential improvement for institutional philanthropy, including a number of transparency practices not widely embraced by the majority of funders. Indeed, the data we've collected demonstrates that philanthropy is weakest when it comes to creating communities of shared learning, with fewer than half the foundations with a Glasspockets profile using their websites to share what they are learning, only 22 percent sharing how they assess their own performance, and only 12 percent revealing details about their strategic plan.

Foundation Center data also tells us that foundations annually make an average of $5.4 billion in grants for knowledge-production activities such as evaluations, white papers, and case studies. Yet only a small fraction of foundations actively share the knowledge assets that result from those grants — and far fewer share them under an open license or through an open repository. For a field that is focused on investing in ideas — and not shy about asking grantees to report on the progress of these ideas — there is much potential here to open up our knowledge to peers and practitioners who, like so many of us, are looking for new ideas and new approaches to urgent, persistent problems.

Continue reading »

Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

At the annual summit of the Family Business Council-Gulf (FBCG) in Dubai, Foundation Center's Lisa Philp led a plenary session on philanthropy in action in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. She was joined by Hassan Jameel, deputy president and vice chair, Abdul Latif Jameel Domestic Operations, and Caroline Seow, director of sustainability, Family Business Network International. Philp is working with FBCG and FBN International to shine a light on thoughtful and sustainable philanthropy in the GCC. This post — part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work — is an adaptation of a case study she wrote on lessons learned from Community Jameel.

Jameel_philpAbdul Latif Jameel is an international diversified business with operations in seven major industries — transportation, engineering and manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, land and real estate, advertising and media, and energy and environmental services. Founded in 1945 as a small trading business that later evolved into a Toyota distributorship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the company has achieved this scale and market success in just over seven decades.

The company's entrepreneurial founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel, saw that better personal transportation could empower businesses and individuals and, in turn, advance the economic development of his nation. With that vision to guide him, he established an extensive operations infrastructure and over time built the largest vehicle distribution network in Saudi Arabia. Along the way, the company developed comprehensive expertise across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (or "MENAT"), the region in which it operates, fashioning a reputation for building the "infrastructure of life." Today, Abdul Latif Jameel has a presence in more than 30 countries and employs 17,000 people from over 40 nationalities.

Jameel was a visionary and dynamic entrepreneur who dedicated his family and company to meeting the needs of his fellow Saudis. In 2003, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who had been named chair and CEO of the company a decade earlier, created Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services, or "Community Jameel," as it is known today. Community Jameel has evolved into a sustainable social enterprise organization focused on six priority areas: job creation, global poverty alleviation, food and water security, arts and culture, education and training, and health and social. From its headquarters in Jeddah, the organization coordinates a rage of programs focused on the development of individuals and communities in the MENAT region and beyond.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

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

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Other Blogs

Tags