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'Under Construction': DENIM – Developing & Empowering New Images of Men

February 27, 2015

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

It doesn't necessarily look like a place where someone would find freedom. It is indeed a sanctuary, but not in a mystical, ethereal way. Instead, freedom exists in a small commercial suite in northwest Washington, D.C., its largest room hugged by three cornsilk-colored walls and a fourth that is such a brilliant shade of red it shocks the system to attention. Navy Berber carpet sprawls underfoot and an assembly of IKEA-inspired furniture, mostly folding chairs and tables, make up the functional decor. This is the community space at DENIM, where young black gay, bi- and same-gender-loving men are affirmed, understood and validated, celebrated, informed, and encouraged.

DENIM_Terrance PaytonDENIM stands for "developing and empowering new images of men." In practice, it is a place where young men between the ages of 18 and 29 find unconditional acceptance and connect to programming that addresses their unique needs. "We wanted to provide a center that accommodated the many subcultures of black gay life: college-educated, people affiliated with Greek-letter organizations, gamers, the ballroom community, people who don't identify as gay, people who are openly gay, people who are transgendered, and create this organic experience for all of them," says Terrance Payton, one of DENIM's founders.

Launched in 2012, the organization is relatively new, particularly compared to others in the city that have been serving the gay community for decades. Every group has another group inside of it, and when dissected along the lines of race, age, and socioeconomics, the black gay experience looks a lot different than others. DENIM lifts up a population that is sometimes underrepresented — or not represented at all — in broader conversations about gay issues in the metropolitan area.

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Why ‘Crowdfunding’ Government Is a Bad Idea

February 26, 2015

Crowdfunded_dollar_signGovernments at the local, state, and federal level increasingly are competing with charities for private-sector donations using crowdfunding and other individual donor-focused techniques. That's a problem not just for nonprofits, but for all who depend on government to address our shared needs.

Most people would agree that the more each of is willing to do to help those in need, whether with our time or money or both, the better off we all are. That kind of engagement makes for better neighbors and better citizens, both of which are key ingredients of a better society.

So why are we suddenly eager to substitute individual philanthropy for collective public responsibility? Do we really trust people's personal motivations and sometimes impulsive altruism to substitute for government in prioritizing problems and aggregating resources to address those problems over the long haul?

Consider the ALS Association's wildly successful Ice Bucket Challenge, which has raised more than $115 million since its debut in July for the organization's efforts to find a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) – about six times the association's total revenue from all other sources in 2014. The challenge, which encouraged participants to video themselves having a bucket of ice water poured over their heads and then nominating others to do the same within twenty-four hours or pay a "penalty" in the form of a contribution to the association, also drove worldwide donations for ALS of an additional $100-plus million. No wonder nonprofits and governments at all levels have become interested in crowdfunding and other social-media-driven techniques. Yet, for all its success, the Ice Bucket Challenge also highlights some real issues.

Few would begrudge the ALS Association a penny of those contributions. But one could be forgiven for wondering why the 2.4 million new donors to the organization (triple the number it could boast prior to the challenge) made the decision to contribute.

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Shifting the Discourse Around Black Men and Boys

February 24, 2015

"It is my hope that this report will motivate other philanthropists and foundations to invest in efforts to improve achievement by African-American boys and men and reverse the serious damage inflicted over many years of systemic injustice. This is a generational problem. It demands a long-term commitment."

— George Soros, Where Do We Go From Here: Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys

CBMA_homepageIn February 2015, the Open Society Foundations officially spun off the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) with a five-year seed grant aimed at making real the vision Soros described above a long-term commitment to addressing a multi-generational problem. Soros and his foundation's commitment to black men and boys is similar to many of his legacy efforts, including his investment in empowering the Roma of Europe.

While at OSF, I traveled to Budapest and visited with colleagues working to improve the conditions of Roma youth. After the trip, I wrote that "[f]or Roma and black male youth, changing negative perceptions and stereotypes could be one great leap forward to ensure their ultimate success and inclusion into the broader society."

In many ways, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's success emerged from the power of projects and programs committed to telling compelling stories and narratives that build a sense of empathy for black men and boys and in turn challenge negative perceptions. Since its launch in 2008, the story of CBMA has been one of evolution: in just seven years it has grown from a three-year campaign to the largest effort in the history of philanthropy focused on improving life outcomes for black men and boys.

The road to this game-changing moment involved many years of toil. In the mid- to late 1990s, efforts like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's African American Boys and Men Initiative, led by Dr. Bobby Austin, established the groundwork for what would become the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Like CBMA, the power of using stories to build empathy for black men and boys was — and remains — at the heart of Dr. Austin's effort.

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A Two-Step Exercise for Designing Your Best Board

February 23, 2015

Board-puzzle-piecesTry this exercise: Gather your board members around a white board or flip chart and ask the following question:

"If we could design the perfect board for our organization, what skills and qualities would we look for in prospective board members?"

Skills would include program knowledge and specific expertise in areas such as  marketing, fundraising, consensus-building, finance/accounting, legal, and so on.

Qualities would cover more intangible – but no less important – factors such as firsthand knowledge of the organization, sense of humor, ability to function as a member of a team, listening skills, experience on other boards, and diversity profile (i.e., race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.)

Of course, one of the most important criterion for a board member is passion for and commitment to the organization’s mission.

Brainstorm your list with the full board. Think as broadly as possible. With a bit of effort, most groups can generate twenty-five to thirty characteristics they would love to incorporate into their ideal board.

After you've created the list, you'll want to ask: How does our current board compare to our ideal? What key skills and qualities are already represented on the board? Where do we need help? And how do we recruit a different mix of board members to fill the gaps we've identified?

Next, review the list with key staff and board members and assign a collective grade to each item.

You can also use this exercise as a self-evaluation tool. Ask each board member to rate himself or herself against the criteria on the list, using the same scoring system. Doing so will help your board members think more creatively about what they bring (or don't bring) to the table, and will provide them with an opportunity to work with – or remove the less effective members of your board.

Andy Robinson is a Vermont-based trainer, consultant, and author. To hear more tips and techniques for building a better board, register for Andy's webinar series, "Build Your Best Board," March 4, 11, and 18, from 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET.

Foundation Strategy...the Enemy of Collaboration?

February 19, 2015

Chrysalis_imageIn today's world, it is almost obligatory for any self-respecting foundation to describe its work as "strategic." At the same time, a growing number of foundations are coming to the realization that, if they hope to scale their work and achieve lasting impact, they need to collaborate with each other and across sectors. I fear, however, that the way many foundations approach strategy is erecting barriers rather than building bridges to collaboration. This post is my attempt to explain why that is and to offer some practical solutions to the problem.

My thoughts on this matter were sparked by remarks originally made by Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation, and elaborated on by Heather Grady in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. For the record, I believe that foundation strategy is a critical element in achieving impact, but like so many things it is best practiced in moderation.

The fetishism of strategy

It used to be that people made a point of saying they practiced philanthropy rather than charity. That distinction gradually fell by the wayside as younger generations of philanthropists began to introduce ideas and practices from the business world related to impact and metrics, liberally peppering their discourse with phrases like "social return on investment." In their eyes, the way many practiced philanthropy was not much of an improvement over charity, which they saw as dealing largely with symptoms and driven by donors and staff who valued heart over head and had no clear way to articulate hoped-for outcomes — let alone measure them. The more the term philanthropy became devalued, the more it came to be modified by adjectives of choice. Suddenly, if your philanthropy wasn't tactical, effective, catalytic, high-impact, or, at a minimum, strategic, it wouldn't be taken seriously.

Many foundations, particularly the larger staffed ones, responded to this change by immersing themselves in protracted strategic review processes, frequently under the guidance of prestigious consulting firms. Often triggered by a change in foundation leadership, these exercises tend to follow a pattern, one aspect of which is well-known to nonprofits frustrated by the all-too-familiar refrain of program officers who cite "our deep internal review process" as the reason that "no new requests for funding can be entertained at this time" and who encourage you to get back in touch "when our new priorities have been defined."

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Five Ways to Improve Your Digital Strategy for Older Donors

February 17, 2015

Older-donors-with-computerSome of the biggest nonprofit campaigns of recent years were most notable for how well they mobilized the ever-elusive Gen Y demographic. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, and the It Gets Better Project's successful YouTube videos helped bring light to important issues affecting the LGBT community. But while these efforts certainly have helped to illuminate the future of fundraising, they haven’t been as successful in engaging older people, who consistently give the largest donations year after year. For those hoping to use technology to connect with their older donors, here are five important points to keep in mind as you create your digital plan of attack.

Older donors are much more tech-savvy than many give them credit for

  • Nearly 3 out of 5 donors age 66 and older currently make donations via the web.

With the rise of tablet computing and streamlined mobile UIs, mobile technology is more accessible to different age groups than ever before. Studies show that in recent years, older users have proven to be very adaptable when it comes to new technologies and are just as likely to donate online as their younger counterparts.

Even though older users need a bit of extra care when it comes to accessibility, it's important that you don't view your older donors as technologically illiterate. The tough part is catering to these older audiences while still creating a digital experience that appeals to younger constituents as well.

Making your site more accessible to older donors

When catering to an audience of older constituents, the ideal goal is to strike a happy balance between quality design and carefully considered user-friendliness.

A few design details in particular, like font size and page navigation, are critical for making a site accessible to older visitors. According to Nielsen's usability tests of users aged 65 and over, older citizens require larger typography, with 12-point fonts (and higher) working best. In addition, older users tend to be more frustrated by frequent site and design changes. While this is less of a design detail, it's a good point to note for web designers who like to make tweaks on a regular basis.

When it comes to driving conversions, make sure you're prominently featuring all of your most common actionable functions. If you have a "donate" button, make it clearly visible on every page. By minimizing the number of clicks between your users and the option to donate or volunteer, you create an online presence that is simultaneously accessible and streamlined. For examples of sites that do this well, visit the Sierra Club, New York Road Runners, or the American Cancer Society.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 14-15, 2015)

February 15, 2015

No-snow-signOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Advocacy

Foundations and philanthropists need to find new ways to advocate in the post-Citizens United world, write Shelley Whelpton and Andrew Schultz on the Arabella Advisors blog, "or risk ceding influence over national policy to those who are willing and eager to play by the new rules."

Arts and Culture

Nice post on the Dodge Foundation blog by ArtPride's Ann Marie Miller, who curates recent research and opinions on what she terms the "shifting paradigms" in the arts field. 

Education

The American Enterprise Institute's Jenn Hatfield shares three takeaways from a series of papers released last week at an AEI-hosted conference on education philanthropy:

  1. Education philanthropies have shifted their focus from trying to influence school systems to trying to influence policy.
  2. Education philanthropy is getting more attention, and a lot more criticism.
  3. Education philanthropies are evolving, and maybe even learning.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a heartfelt post that serves as a compelling counterpoint to a recent op-ed by Jennifer and Peter Buffett in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jed Emerson argues that, yes, "metrics matter." And while "too many of those in the impact investing community view an effective metrics reporting system as 'nice to have' as opposed to 'critical to our practice in advancing impact'...

the myth persists that we can attain our goal of effective and relevant metrics assessment and reporting. One must ask, after all the frustration and challenges, why do we bother? I submit we persist in our pursuit because we know at a deeply visceral level our goal of integrating meaningful metrics into the core of our efforts to create a changed world has value and is central to who we are....

International Development

Are insecticide-treated bed nets the most effective intervention against malaria in the global development toolkit? Maybe not, writes Robert Fortner in a special report on the Humanosphere site.

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[Infographic] The Millennial Wheel of Disengagement

February 14, 2015

It's been a slog, but the economy seems to be healing, with job creation returning to levels not seen since the final years of the Clinton administration. That's a good thing, for lots of reasons — not least of them the fact that every day between now and 2030, 10,000 boomers will retire and start receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits. Is that a problem for the economy? The Social Security Administration thinks so — and not just because 33 percent of its workforce and 48 percent of its supervisors will be eligible to retire this year.

But wait. Despite what you may have heard, millennials, 77 million strong and comprising a quarter of the U.S. population, are eager, ready, and -- we all should hope -- willing to save us.  As the infographic below from Virtuali, a leadership training firm suggests, they just need a little attention and opportunities to show their stuff. 

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Retaining an Engaged Staff to the End

February 12, 2015

Logo_atlanticAs with other limited-life foundations, management at the Atlantic Philanthropies has had few outside resources to turn to for guidance in planning the foundation's final trajectory. There have been many programmatic and operational issues to resolve, of course, but chief among our concerns have been issues related to our hard-working and capable staff.

Since joining the foundation, all Atlantic staff have known, at least in an abstract way, that at some point each of us would be moving on and the foundation itself would cease to exist. Still, as we entered our final phase – most staff will depart by the end of 2016, and we're set to conclude most operations by 2020 – this quickly became a more tangible realization, and one with the understandable potential for distraction.

Going into this final phase, we knew there was critical monitoring, evaluation, and dissemination work to do in order to maximize the influence of the foundation before its closure, and that fact raised an important question: How could we retain staff members who know they face limited tenure? More importantly, how could we keep them focused on their work, engaged and productive, while supporting them through what is certain to be a significant professional transition?

We soon realized that reducing distraction would require providing staff with as much clarity as possible around their own individual employment trajectories. So in 2013, we undertook an organization-wide staffing analysis to attempt to map out the staff structure that would be needed to accomplish our programmatic and communications goals through our final phase. Managers held individual consultations with their team members with the ultimate goal of trying to provide "as much clarity as possible to as many employees as possible." We tried to base the ultimate staffing decisions on organizational need while incorporating, where possible, personal staff preferences. The resultant staffing "roadmap" provided each employee with a projected end date: either a fixed date where proposed tenure was relatively certain, or in cases where it was too early to project specific functional needs, a provisional date subject to extension. 

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[Review] 'A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity'

February 10, 2015

Cover_A-Path-AppearsA recent survey conducted by World Vision found that, despite the growing list of humanitarian crises around the world, 80 percent of Americans did not plan to increase their charitable giving in 2014. Discouraging perhaps, but not surprising. Those without the means to fund large-scale interventions tend to feel helpless in the face of widespread suffering, with many believing that a modest donation cannot possibly make a difference in addressing seemingly intractable problems, while others worry that little of their money will ever reach the intended beneficiaries.

In their new book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, award-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, former journalist-turned-investment banker Sheryl WuDunn, beg to differ: You can make a difference. But to do so, you have to be thoughtful and intentional in your approach. That means: 1) doing research to ensure that your gift benefits the target population; 2) volunteering your time and expertise when possible; and 3) engaging in advocacy.

The authors, whose 2009 book Half the Sky examined ways to expand opportunity for women and girls in the developing world, here broaden their canvas to include efforts to expand opportunity for all marginalized populations, in the U.S. as well as abroad, with a particular focus on poverty alleviation. It's a formidable challenge, and Kristof and WuDunn do their best to make it comprehensible by breaking it down into parts: how effective interventions can make a lasting impact; how nonprofit organizations can maximize both their income and impact; how giving can benefit the giver.

According to Kristof and WuDunn, these days individual donors can be more confident about the effectiveness of their donations, for a number of reasons: anti-poverty interventions and development projects have become more evidence-based and cost-efficient in recent years; the Web makes it easier for donors to learn about the impact of their giving; and, increasingly, development projects are run more transparently and with greater buy-in and expertise from local communities. Indeed, the book, as much as anything, is a compilation of admiring portraits of nonprofit practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and activists working to remove barriers to opportunity. At the same time, it emphasizes the importance of (and increasing use of) rigorous randomized controlled trials to ensure that interventions are evidence-based and effective. And in highlighting organizations such as Evidence Action, MDRC, and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, organizations that do the un-sexy but essential work of research and evaluation, it aims to empower individuals to think critically about the programs and charities they choose to support.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 7-8, 2015)

February 08, 2015

Winter-wonderland-tumblr-3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

The Guardian's Damian Carrington reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets totaling more than $850 billion, dumped 32 coal-mining companies from its portfolio in 2014. "Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term," said Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for GPFG, which had had $40 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. "Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand."

Communications/Marketing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, argues that, in the age of the Internet, "communications is not just an opportunity for nonprofits; it's a necessity. Whether we're fundraising or trying to influence policy," he continues,

how we reach the right person with the right message has changed profoundly. Now it can take far more to figure out who the right people are, what channels to reach or influence them through, and how to hear them. It’s one thing to land a grant to open a new art space; it’s another to convince city hall that the community wants it, and still another to build a community to support it....

Education

It is troubling and a very big deal, writes Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, that a majority of U.S. public school children today live in poverty and are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. 

Grantmaking

On the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog, Jessica Bearman (aka "Dr. Streamline) shares six things foundations can do to improve the diversity and inclusion of their grantmaking.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a LinkedIn post, Peter York, founder and CEO at Algorhythm, a Philadelphia-based software company that is working to "democratize" impact measurement, asks: Who really has access to the power of impact measurement? And is there more we can do to make it available to everyone, including the beneficiary?

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Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty

February 07, 2015

Instead of posting an infographic, as we usually do on Saturdays, we decided to mix things up this week and share a compelling presentation put together by journalist and author Jeff Madrick (Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World; Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present), Clio Chang, and their colleagues at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank here in New York City.

Built with an online tool called Creatavist, Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty opens with a reminder that the official child poverty rate in the United States today stands at 20 percent, the second-highest among the world's developed countries. The presentation then segues into an articulation of  seven "lessons" about childhood poverty in the U.S. — lessons formulated at the Century Foundation's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June. They are:

  1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts
  2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally
  3. The Power of Parental Education
  4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement
  5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood
  6. Government Works 
  7. Cash Allowances Are Effective

The length of a substantial blog post, each lesson includes downloadable tables and charts, a short video, and links to related materials.

So grab a mug of your favorite warm beverage, pull up a seat, and start reading. We're pretty sure that by the end of the last lesson, you'll agree with Madrick, et al. that "investment in early childhood is the best way to create a better economic life for all Americans." 

Doing Good Is About to Get Better

February 05, 2015

Get On The MapAs the president of a regional association, I regularly need to know what funders in my region are supporting and where they are working. Usually, to get that information, my colleagues and I need to make a series of calls, send out emails and surveys, schedule meetings, and do some real sleuthing. And what we continue to end up with is representative of only a small portion of what is really happening around us. Sound familiar?

This lack of data to inform our work is even more problematic when coupled with all the questions and challenges raised by organizations that want to force their interpretation and agendas on that work. Unfortunately, we can't adequately respond because we don't really know who our collective dollars are serving and whether our grantees mirror the communities we are trying to serve. Because we don't have the data that supports the story we want to tell, others continue to write our story for us.

This is particularly important as we struggle with conversations around equity and justice in our communities and as we prepare for a looming conversation around charitable regulation. Philanthropy needs to be able to demonstrate its commitment to the public good by showing that its investments in community development, civic engagement, and social innovation reach across demographic and economic barriers. Given our special status as a tax-advantaged sector, we need to demonstrate that we are accountable and serve the public good.

In an earlier post, you heard from Joyce White, president of Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington, who shared details of her journey to collect more complete and meaningful data from funders in her region. When the Forum for Regional Associations of Grantmakers and Foundation Center formed a strategic alliance to improve the quality and effectiveness of grantmaking nationwide via data, research, and tools, the successful pilot in Oregon and southwest Washington served as a model for the rest of the country. The first focus of that partnership is a joint campaign to "Get on the Map."

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Nonprofit Sponsorship: 3 Key Questions

February 04, 2015

Sponsorship_keyYou've probably heard the story of legendary criminal Willie Sutton, who, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, "I rob banks because that's where the money is." Now whether Sutton actually said that is debatable, but many fundraisers have picked up on the lesson — and Sutton's grasp of the obvious. You want money? Figure out who has it and who's "giving" it away.

One answer to the "who has the money" question is corporations. Often a nonprofit's first way "in" to a corporation is through its foundation or corporate giving program — philanthropic vehicles with which fundraisers are very familiar. But what about nonprofit sponsorship? About thirty years ago, "cause marketing" became a real avenue for major corporate brands to position themselves in a favorable way with their customers. Suddenly, companies were investing in nonprofits and nonprofit causes — not only to support those organizations, but to help build their own brand loyalty. It was a new way of thinking, a new approach.

Fast-forward to today. In 2014, corporate sponsors were projected to spend over $925 million on the arts alone (IEG Property Sector Spending Report, 2014). And the top three companies sponsoring the arts?

  1. Bank of America
  2. Wells Fargo
  3. JPMorgan Chase

As a result of the astronomical growth in sponsorship and cause marketing, many nonprofits have followed the "money trail" and ramped up their sponsorship efforts. This makes a lot of sense as organizations, no longer able to rely solely on funding from foundations, individual donors, and corporate giving programs, scramble for new sources of revenue.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2015)

February 02, 2015

Snowed in? Again? Grab a cup of something warm and cozy up to our most popular posts in the month just passed. From a cool infographic, to tips designed to heat up your fundraising copy, to our sizzling link roundups, we've got something for everyone.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that you liked or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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  • "My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and inflame their intellects...."

    Robert Maynard Hutchins

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