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1296 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

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.

As philanthropic professionals, our role and way of working is distinct. Philanthropy provides balance and support. Neither business nor government can improve communities and systems alone. If there is no profit involved, the private sector tends to prefer the status quo. If consensus isn't built, government often operates with its hands tied. Business and government function best when the community is involved through civic leadership and engagement. We — the people powering foundations — can facilitate and promote these conversations and connections.

Beyond our elaborate mission statements and theories of change, at the core of our work are the things we do to improve the people and places around us. That's our secret sauce.

When done well, making grants can create impact, but grantmakers also have the ability to influence outcomes in other ways. When we do more than grantmaking, we occupy a space of significance. And when, and only when, we are significant, can our communities be successful.

At the Skillman Foundation, we've experienced this shift in how we approach our role firsthand. Just recently, with the leadership of our board of directors and President/CEO Tonya Allen, the foundation played a critical role in influencing change. Our participation and leadership in the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren and My Brother's Keeper Detroit has not only created a foundation for positive change, it has also positioned us to do things with the community — not to or for it. In both these efforts, funding was not the driving force, and success wasn't measured by the size of a grant or the announcement of a new program. It involved leveraging various forms of capital to influence policy and practice at both the local and state levels. Being influential, we have learned, comes down to the ability to effect and affect. It's treating grantees as partners, not as clients.

When I first entered this field, I challenged myself to develop a personal mission statement that would guide my work and the way I engaged with communities. My mission is to be a voice for the voiceless, chart a path for the lost, shine a light on the invisible, and give hope to the forgotten. In my opinion, that is what philanthropy is all about.

Headshot_David_McGheeDavid McGhee is a program officer at the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, where he leads the foundation's youth development strategy portfolio. A version of this post originally appeared on Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.

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.

Health

The teen birth rate in the United States is at a record low, a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics finds. And the rate is falling fastest among non-whites and younger teens. A Pew Research Center analysis attributes the decline to an underperforming economy, teens having less sex, the use of more effective contraception, and more information about pregnancy prevention.

International Affairs/Development

On the Humanosphere blog, Lisa Nikolau talks to Kelly T. Clements, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, about the world's current refugee crisis — the worst since the end of World War II.

ShareTheMeal, an award-winning mobile app developed by the United Nations World Food Program, has announced that it is switching its fundraising efforts to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Since it was launched in November, the app, which targets one goal or community at a time, has generated donations from almost half a million people and helped the WFP reach funding goals in Lesotho, Jordan, and Syria.

Nonprofits

Do you know who your target population is? In a post on her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington explains why being clear about who you hope to create change for actually makes it easier to create that change. 

Philanthropy

"Institutional racism is a gargantuan barrier to success for people across the country and the South," writes NCRP's Ryan Schlegel in a post detailing key takeaways from the JustSouth Index 2016, a report from Loyola University in New Orleans. And "[f]oundations that care about equity and justice – especially in these Southern states," Schlegel adds, need "to invest in strategies to affect the machinery of policymaking that lets these conditions persist."

On the HistPhil blog, John Perkins explores some of the issues underlying the link between energy and the Green Revolution and the role of philanthropic organizations such as Rockefeller and Ford in questioning traditional assumptions regarding energy-intensive agriculture in places like India.

Poverty

There's a poverty in the U.S. "so deep that social scientists didn’t even think to look for it," writes Christie Manning, a senior program officer at the Saint Luke’s Foundation in Cleveland. How do people end up in $2-a-day poverty? What are the consequences, especially for their children? And what kind of intergenerational price will the country have to pay for not addressing the rise in extreme poverty? Those and other questions, if not all the answers, are raised by social scientist Kathryn J. Edin in her new book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

Regulation/Oversight

A California judge has ruled that the California attorney general's office cannot demand details on a charity's major donors as part of the charity's filings with the state. The ruling grants a permanent injunction to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a Charles and David Koch-backed group that refused to include Schedule B, which includes the names and addresses of individuals who have donated more than $5,000 to a charity during the tax year, with its annual filing on the grounds that the AG's office "systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of [those] forms." The Nonprofit Times' Mark Hrywna has the details.

Social Entrepreneurship

Ready to change the world? Check out this nicely curated list of books that will inspire you to do good and do good business from the folks at Causeartist.

Social Media

What is social listening? And why should you care? In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Roz Lemiueux, CEO and co-founder of Attentive.ly, breaks it down.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments section below....

Why Fund 'Insignificant' Populations?

April 28, 2016

Two-spirit-LGBTRecently, I was invited to speak on a panel concerning the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and Two-Spirit Native peoples at a grantmakers conference co-sponsored by Funders for LGBTQ Issues and International Funders of Indigenous Peoples. When we entered the Q&A portion, someone in the audience stood up and asked, "Given that LGBT people are a small minority and Native Americans are an even smaller one, isn’t the population of LGBT Native Americans statistically insignificant?"

The attendee then added, "Why would you say to a foundation that they should fund statistically insignificant populations when they want their funding to have a big impact?"

It's a fair question.

On a strictly mathematical basis, the questioner is right: we are talking about small populations. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2.9 million people identified as Native American/Alaska Native (AI/AN) alone. This puts the percentage of solely AI/AN people at approximately 1 percent of the total U.S. population. Unfortunately, the Census does not officially collect data on the number of LGBT people, but outside surveys peg the number around 6 percent of the total population. So if we are talking about absolute numbers, the questioner is technically right.

That said, I would argue that the question misses the point for three reasons:

Disparate impact. Seemingly small populations can be over-represented when it pertains to issues of particular concern to funders. Take homelessness. While LGBT-identified youth make up only 6 percent of the general population, they also constitute about 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Another fitting example would be educational outcomes. In South Dakota, which is home to a relatively large Native population, 91 percent of white fourth-graders are reading at grade level compared to only 34 percent of Native American students. How are we going to solve problems like homelessness and poor educational outcomes if we are not willing to address why some populations are faring more poorly than others? If you do not address the over-representation of so-called "insignificant" populations within larger, systemic issues, you’re less likely to make a significant dent in solving them.

The "canary in the coal mine" argument. As a descendant of Appalachian people, the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine resonates deeply with me. In the "old days," coal miners would take a caged canary into the mines to detect carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases. If the canary died, it was a sign the air was fatally toxic and it was time for workers to get out of the mine. Setting aside the animal cruelty, it's a meaningful analogy for social challenges that persist. As one Appalachian activist put it to me once, "If America sneezes, Appalachia gets pneumonia." Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres similarly argue in their book The Miner's Canary that the social ills that undermine American democracy are most pronounced among people of color, and thus solutions must begin with and focus on people of color. In other words, if marginalized populations aren’t doing well, the rest of society is in trouble, too.

If you want equity, start with inequity. When the attendee at the panel posed his provocative query, my first impulse was to simply answer, "Because it's the right thing to do." If we're going to meaningfully address the issue of equity – a concept most funders loudly proclaim their concern with – we must start by focusing on those who have the least amount of equity in society. LGBT Native Americans and other populations may not be the largest demographic in actual size, but they are often the most vulnerable and impacted by unjust systems that deny people access and opportunity. When Kristi Andrasik of the Cleveland Foundation was asked later at the conference why she, as a program officer, provides support for LGBT issues, she responded by sharing her foundation’s philosophy: If not all of us, then none of us.

Truthfully, I have to say I reject the basic premise of the original question. What is "significant" anyway? In moments like these, I am reminded of the parable of the person who encounters a child at the beach surrounded by thousands of beached starfish. The person watches the child tossing handfuls of the small beached creatures back into the ocean. The person finally asks, "Why bother? You can't save them all. There's just too many." In response, the child picks up a single starfish, throws it into the water, and replies, "I made a difference to that one."

Kevin_jennings_for_PhilanTopic2Philanthropy may not be able to solve every problem in society, but we can make a significant difference for some of the most vulnerable. Let's put these communities at the center of our work, so all of us benefit.

Kevin Jennings is executive director of the Arcus Foundation.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 23-24, 2016)

April 24, 2016

BarerootcherrytreeOur 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

Americans for the Arts has released the sixth and final edition of the National Arts Index, its annual report the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. This edition, which covers the years 2002-13 and includes data on eighty-one national-level indicators, provides "provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts — before, during, and after." You can download the full report (4.38mb, PDF) a one-page summary, and/or previous reports from this page.

Climate Change

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther suggests that is we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we not only have to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we'will also need to figure out how to pull vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. It's a daunting challenge, but we've got "a decade or two, perhaps" to figure it out, Gunther adds, and philanthropy, which has yet to devote much money to research on these technologies, has a real opportunity to make a difference.

In a Q&A here on PhilanTopic, the United Nation Foundation's Reid Detchon explains the significance of the Paris Agreement, which representatives of more than a hundred and seventy countries signed at a ceremony at the UN on Friday. And in a post on Medium, the National Resource Defense Council's Reah Suh argues that the accord represents the greatest opportunity the world has had to shift "from the carbon-rich fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy options that can power our future." home and abroad.

Disabilities

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has just awarded $20 million to thirty nonprofits working to engineer a better life for the disabled around the globe. Wired's Davey Alba has the details.

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss shares key takeaways from Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation, a new report written by a team of teachers and administrators headed by veteran educator Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and education historian and activist Diane Ravitch.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has launched an initiative called the Better Math Teaching Network. Learn more here.

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Paris and the Way Forward: A Conversation With the UN Foundation's Reid Detchon

April 22, 2016

It's been an unsettling couple of months for people who worry about the climate. As Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write in the Washington Post, "The first three months of 2016 have been the hottest ever recorded, and by a large margin. Greenland's massive ice sheet melted more this spring than researchers have ever seen. Warming seas are turning once-majestic coral reefs into ghostly underwater graveyards. And scientists are warning that sea levels could rise far faster than anyone expected by the end of the century, with severe impacts for coastal communities around the globe." Throw in the monsoon-like rains that have swamped Houston and the record heat baking the Pacific Northwest, and you're probably starting to think maybe it's time our elected officials took action. (Or not.)

In December, representatives from a hundred and ninety-five countries convened in Paris for the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), an annual gathering under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where they negotiated the so-called Paris Agreement, a non-binding pact to slow and, ultimately, reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. On April 22, Earth Day, the agreement will be opened for signing by countries that support it.

For most people, what that means — in terms of its impact, if any, on their lives and the future of the planet — is a mystery. To help shed light on these issues, PND spoke with Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate strategy at the United Nations Foundation, about the agreement, the significance of the signing ceremony, and whether the global community can slow and reverse emissions of greenhouse gases before it's too late.

From June 1999 through December 2001, Detchon served as director of special projects in Washington, D.C., for the Turner Foundation, managing a portfolio of grants aimed at increasing the effectiveness of environmental advocacy and encouraging federal action to avert global climate change. Before that, he spent six years at the Podesta Group, a government relations and public affairs firm in Washington, D.C., and from 1989 to 1993 he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for conservation and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. Detchon also worked for five years in the U.S. Senate, advising Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) on energy and environmental issues and serving as his legislative director, and was the principal speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Headshot_reid_detchonPhilanthropy News Digest: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on April 22, where they will have the opportunity to sign an agreement that was reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December. Before we get into the details of the agreement, what does the UN hope to accomplish at the ceremony on the 22nd?

Reid Detchon: The significance of April 22 really goes back to the Paris Agree­ment itself. And what's so remarkable about that is that previous disagreements fell away, and the agreement was signed by virtually every country on the planet. For each country to agree to participate and make a nationally determined contribution to limit climate change over the coming years — that consensus is, I think, the larger significance of Paris, and bodes well for the process going for­ward.

So, on April 22, as you noted, there will be a signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. And it's expected that a larger number of countries will sign the agreement, in a single day, than has ever happened with any previous treaty or agreement. Again, it's an indication of the universality of the agreement and of the excitement and momentum that was created in Paris, and we need to carry that forward into the implementation phase. The signing ceremony is the first step in that process, and I expect it will be a great launch pad for future action.

PND: Will President Obama be in New York on the 22nd to sign the agreement? And which other world leaders of note will be there?

RD: The United States will be represented by Secretary of State Kerry. That's my understanding. And we've heard that Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of China will be present as well. As you probably know, the U.S. and China issued a statement ten days ago reaffirming their support for the climate agreement and their intention to move forward with implementation of the agreement.

Among heads of state, I believe the presidents of the current and upcoming COPs  — that is, French president François Hollande and Mohammed VI of Morocco — will be in New York for the ceremony, and I believe there will be at least forty other heads of state there, principally from developing countries and the small island states. But, of course, we'll have to see.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Celebrate Experimentation in Environmental Grantmaking

April 20, 2016

News_tropical_andes_for_PhilanTopicAs we near the forty-sixth anniversary of Earth Day, let's all take a moment to celebrate the diversity and breadth of approaches to conserving this special planet we call home. Like so many other organizations in the conservation field, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grapples with the question of how to make sure — while there is time — Earth and its vital ecosystems flourish long into the future.

When Gordon and Betty Moore established the foundation in late 2000, they asked us to find ways for humans and other species to share the limited resources of our small but amazing planet. Fifteen years in, we've been both encouraged and humbled by how much our grantees and others working alongside them have accomplished — whether it's conserving wild salmon ecosystems across the North Pacific, the long-term health of the Amazon basin, or North America's marine environments.

As much progress as we have made, however, we also recognize that we need to scale and accelerate these gains. By reducing the mounting pressures on natural resources, we can help sustain the most critical ecosystems worldwide and, by extension, those who depend on them for their livelihoods. Put simply, those of us who work in environmental conservation must embrace the challenge of trying new things and doing more to develop long-term, systemic, sustainable solutions to meeting the demands of a growing human population.

To be clear, we don't think there's a single best approach to conservation. In fact, we believe our  success — as funders, nonprofits, corporations, governments — will require coordinated efforts that bring together vastly different approaches from all sectors.

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Invest in Community College Students; Transform Our Communities

April 19, 2016

News_college_grads2_for_PhilanTopicSecuring $60 million in state funding to overhaul remedial education and equip students with the basic skills they need to succeed in college. Procuring free transportation for more than fifty thousand college students. Establishing undocumented student resource centers in California. These are just some examples of what can happen when we invest in a powerful yet untapped catalyst for community transformation: the leadership of community college students.

The nation's nearly twelve million community college students are a key pillar of America's future. Today, almost half of America's undergraduates are studying in community colleges to acquire the skills they need to achieve their dreams and support themselves and their families. These students are diverse, motivated, and hopeful. After graduation, community college students also are more likely to stay in and contribute to their communities, going on to successful careers as teachers, business owners, civic leaders, and more. That's why if we truly want to expand opportunity, grow our economy, and strengthen our communities, we cannot afford to ignore the potential of community college students as advocates for change.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 9-10, 2016)

April 10, 2016

Robin-on-branchOur 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

Black Lives Matter is both a sprawling social movement and a civil rights organization with more than thirty chapters across the United States. But that distinction, and many other  nuances, rarely make it into coverage of either the movement or the organization, writes Jephie Bernard, a student at the Columbia School of Journalism, on the CJR website.

Communications/Marketing

And not a moment too soon...  NWB's Vu Le rides to the defense of the Oxford comma.

Global Health

"Pessimism is fashionable. It's also wrong," writes Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther. "People are safer, better-educated, better-fed, and wealthier than they used to be. Democracy and human rights are spreading. Perhaps most important, people, and in particular the world's poorest people, are healthier." So why aren't we cheering? Because, says Gunther, echoing others, "the world's governments, aid agencies, foundations and nonprofits could be doing much better."

Grantmaking

On our sister Transparency Talk blog, the Surdna Foundation's Adriana Jimenez explains how the foundation's decision to move to a workflow- and cloud-based system grants management system has enabled it to work more collaboratively with grantees; increased collaboration and learning within the foundation; and improved its capacity to share data and lessons learned with the rest of the sector.

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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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Weekend Link Roundup (April 2-3, 2016)

April 03, 2016

Baseball_3Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Education

StudentsFirst, the education reform organization started by controversial former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, is being merged into education advocacy organization 50Can. "Rhee's group launched on Oprah Winfrey's talk show in 2010, with the goal of raising $1 billion dollars in its first year," writes Joy Resmovits in the Washington Post. "The goal was then revised to $1 billion over five years; in its first year, it brought in only $7.6 million."  Rhee stepped down as CEO of the organization in 2014, after which it closed a number of state chapters, downsized its staff, and lowered its profile.

Environment

Two-thirds of the environmentalists who have died violently since 2002 were activists in Latin America. And for the five years ending in 2014, more than 450 were killed -- over half of them in Honduras and Brazil. Darryl Fears reports for the Washington Post.

On March 15, the World Health Organization released the second edition of a report on the health challenges that arise from living and working in unhealthy environments. The UN Foundation's Analise McNicholl shares five takeaways from the  report. 

A recent state task force report called the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, an "environmental justice." But what does that mean -- and what can we do to ensure that instances of similar injustice are eliminated? Brentin Mock examines those questions for The Atlantic's City Labs portal.

Higher Education

Phase-one results from College Count$, a joint research project established in April 2015 by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation, demonstrate that low-income students who've participated in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) earn associate degrees or technical certificates at more than double the rate of the general community college population in the state and experience a boost in wages. College Count$ itself currently is seeking funding for the next phase of research to measure the return on investment (ROI) to the state generated as a result of expanded employment, increased tax revenues, and a decline in the need for public assistance. 

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5 Questions for...Pamela Shifman, Executive Director, NoVo Foundation

April 01, 2016

Of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, approximately half — some 900 million — are adolescent girls and young women. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before the age of 15, 38 percent are married before the age of 18, and more than half never complete their primary school education. In the United States, girls and young women, especially girls and young women of color, face a different but related set of challenges. African-American girls are suspended from school, sent to foster care, and incarcerated at rates higher than other girls. Latina girls have the lowest four-year high-school graduation rates and highest pregnancy rates. And Native-American girls are two and half times more likely to experience sexual assault.

In response to these challenges, the NoVo Foundation, a private foundation created in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett that has long worked in the U.S. and Global South, last week announced a $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color here in the U.S. The day after the announcement, PND spoke via email with Pamela Shifman, the foundation's executive director, about the investment, the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color, and how the initiative complements NoVo's ongoing support for girls and young women in the Global South.

Philanthropy News Digest: I think a lot of people were surprised by the size of the investment NoVo has decided to make in improving the lives of girls and young women of color in the United States. In fact, it's the largest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color. In going "big," is the foundation making a statement about what it elsewhere calls the "invisibility" of girls and young women of color?

Headshot_pamela_shifman_philantopicPamela Shifman: We're making a major investment in this work because it is central to our mission. NoVo has always worked at the intersection of racial and gender justice, and we've included a focus on adolescent girls going back to our inception in 2006. We are a social justice foundation, with a deep commitment to dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate inequality, so it's always been clear to us that we needed to focus on girls. To date, much of our work with adolescent girls has focused on the Global South. That work is essential to our foundation and will continue to be a significant focus of ours.

But the need is also great in the United States. We began working with girls and young women of color in the U.S. over four years ago and launched an initial strategy in 2014. We've been guided by the groundbreaking work of partners like Sister Sol, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, The Beautiful Project, Young Women Empowered, and many others. Our new commitment will allow us to deepen this work.

As we've pursued grantmaking in this area, we've been struck by the pervasive and deep-seated myth that girls, including girls of color, are doing fine. By being public about our commitment, we hope to join with others in sending a clear message: girls and young women of color face specific disparities that are holding them back. Women of color activists have led a national movement to name and address these disparities, and there is a huge opportunity for philanthropy, government, and others to step up and support this work.

PND: What kinds of structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color do you hope to address through the initiative?

PS: If you look at the lived experience of girls and young women of color, you'll find structural inequities almost everywhere. Let's start with education. According to a landmark report from the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy, across the nation black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. Among indigenous girls, almost half, 49 percent, do not finish high school.

Safety — both inside and outside the home — is a huge issue. According to Black Women's Blueprint, 60 percent of black girls experience sexual abuse by the age of 18. Sixty-two percent of Latina girls report not feeling safe in their communities, and indigenous girls are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other girls. Twenty-two trans women and girls were murdered in the US in 2015, with women and girls of color making up a disproportionate number of the victims. The fear and threat of violence shapes every aspect of a girl's life, impacting her mobility, sense of safety, and bodily integrity.

Barriers to economic security also are very real. Thirty-five to 40 percent of Asian-American/Pacific Islander girls, for example, live in poverty, despite a widespread perception that suggests otherwise.

These disparities are deeply unacceptable in their own right, but they're even more troubling when you see how they combine into new disparities in adulthood. Today the median wealth for single black women is just $100, compared to $44,000 for single white men. Inequality starts early, and it must be addressed early if we want to create lasting change.

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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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A Cure for HIV: Cracking the Code

March 30, 2016

Crack-the-codeIt is rare in the field of biomedical research that a complex scientific challenge can be reduced to a quartet of deceptively simple sounding steps. After thirty years of incremental progress and steady accumulation of knowledge — and close to half a billion dollars expended by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research alone — we've reached such a juncture in our quest to find a cure for one of the most deadly viruses of our time — HIV.

The principal barrier to a cure is the reservoirs of persistent virus that remain in a person even after they have reached a so-called "undetectable" level of HIV as a result of antiretroviral therapy (ART). The four key questions that need to be answered all relate to these reservoirs: Where exactly in the body and in which types of cells are they located? How do they become established and how do they maintain themselves? How much virus do they contain? And, finally, how can we safely get rid of them?

HIV cure research has largely evolved from a process of discovery to a technological challenge. We need to develop the tools and agents to answer these key questions. Once we have answers, we can begin to cure some of the people some of the time, then most of the people most of the time. Ultimately, we hope, we'll have a safe and effective cure that can be made available to all who need it.

At the outset of World War II, the United States and its allies found themselves in a race against time and a Nazi war machine that was making alarming progress toward the development of an atomic bomb. And so the Manhattan Project was born. President Roosevelt marshaled the best scientific minds in the nation and provided them with the resources necessary to mount a massive collaborative effort and be first to the finish line.

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Evidence at the Crossroads: The Next Generation of Evidence-Based Policy

March 28, 2016

US CapitolWhen we began our "Evidence at the Crossroads" blog series, we posited that evidence-based policy making was at a crossroads. In the past six months — despite rancorous partisan debates and a fierce presidential primary season — Congress surprised everyone and passed the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with strong support from both parties.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes over eighty mentions of "evidence" and "evidence-based," and a devolution of power to states and districts to implement those provisions. And earlier this month, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), was approved by the Senate and the House in another display of cooperation.

It is promising that at a time of heightened political rancor, evidence-based policy is finding bipartisan support. But the road ahead is still tenuous, and much will depend on whether the evidence movement can evolve. Here, I draw on the terrific ideas and insights from the authors of the series to suggest three steps for moving forward: focus on improvement, attend to bodies of evidence, and build state and local capacity for evidence use.

Focus on improvement

It's time to position evidence-based policy as a learning endeavor. Implementing and scaling interventions in different contexts with diverse groups is notoriously challenging. Promising results are emerging, but not all are home runs. The history of evaluation research shows that most evaluations yield mixed or null results, and this generation of studies will produce the same. Interventions work in some places for some people, but not others. Even new studies of established interventions turn up findings that are inconsistent with prior studies. What should we make of these results?

One direction we should not take is to obscure these findings or pretend they don't exist. I fear that already happens too often. The rhetoric of the What Works agenda — funding more of what works and less of what doesn't — has created an environment that pressures program developers to portray home run results, communications engines to spin findings, and evaluation reports to become more convoluted and harder to interpret.

Improvement could be the North Star for the next generation of the evidence movement. The idea of building and using evidence simply to sift through what works and what doesn’t is wasteful and leaves us disappointed. We need to find ways to improve programs, practices, and systems in order to achieve better outcomes at scale. Let's not be too hasty in abandoning approaches that do not instantly pay off and instead learn from the investments that have been made. After all, many established interventions had years to gestate, learn from evidence, and improve. Let's not cut short this process for new innovations that are just starting out.

This is not to say that anything goes. Patrick McCarthy reminds us that when research evidence consistently shows that a policy or program doesn't work — or even produces harm — it should be discontinued. Indeed, the next generation of evidence-based policy will need to aim toward improvement while keeping an eye on whether progress is being made.

Attend to bodies of evidence

If evidence-based policy is to realize its potential to improve the systems in which young people learn, grow, and receive care, we need to rely on bodies of research evidence. Too often, public systems are pressured to seek silver bullet solutions. A focus on single studies of program effectiveness encourages this way of thinking. But, as Mark Lipsey writes, "multiple studies are needed to support generalization beyond the idiosyncrasies of a single study." Just as a narrow aperture can exclude the important context of an image, so too does focusing on a narrow set of findings exclude the larger body of knowledge that can inform efforts to improve outcomes at scale.

State and local leaders need to draw on bodies of research evidence. This includes not only studies of what works, but of what works for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost. What Works evidence typically reflects the average impact of an intervention in the places where it was evaluated. For decision makers in other localities, that evidence is only somewhat useful. States and localities ultimately need to know whether the intervention will work in their communities, under their operating conditions, and given their resources. Evidence-based policy needs to address those questions.

To meet decision makers' varied evidence needs, the evidence movement also needs to focus greater and more nuanced attention to implementation research. Real-world implementation creates tension between strict adherence to program models and the need to adapt them to local systems. To address this tension, we need to build a more robust evidence base on key implementation issues, such as how much staffing or training is required, how resources should be allocated, and how to align new interventions with existing programs and systems. As Barbara Goodson and Don Peurach argue, we have built a powerful infrastructure for building evidence of program impacts, but we need to match it with equally robust structures for implementation evidence.

And finally, the evidence-based policy movement needs to recognize the importance of descriptive and measurement research that helps local decision makers better understand the particular challenges they are facing and better judge whether existing interventions are well suited to address those problems. For those needs assessments, descriptive and measurement studies can be critical.

Build state and local capacity

As decision making devolves to states and localities, the way the federal government defines its role will also change. In the wake of ESSA, officials in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are aiming to move beyond top-down compliance. But to do so they will need to identify new means to support states, districts, and practitioners in the evidence agenda. States and localities are not mere implementers of federal policies, nor are they simply sites of experimentation. A key way to foster the success of the evidence movement is to support the capacity of state and local decision makers to build and use evidence to improve their systems and outcomes.

Technical assistance is one way that the federal government can support capacity, and it'll be important to direct technical assistance to state and local decision makers and grantees in productive ways. While tiered evidence initiatives such as i3 have provided grantees with technical assistance to conduct rigorous impact evaluations, assistance has focused less on other key issues: helping grantees apply continuous improvement principles and practices, vet and partner with external evaluators, and build productive collaborations with districts and other local agencies to implement programs.

Providing technical assistance in these areas would increase the ultimate success of these evidence-based initiatives.

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are another way to support state and local agencies. In education, these long-terms partnerships can provide the research infrastructure that is lacking in many states and districts as they seek to implement the evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act. RPPs can help districts and schools interpret the existing evidence base and discern which interventions are best aligned with their needs. In instances where the evidence base is lacking, RPPs are poised to conduct ongoing research to evaluate the interventions that are put into place. Similarly, in child welfare, research-practice partnerships could provide states with additional capacity as they develop Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects to test new approaches for delivering and financing services in order to improve child and family outcomes.

The federal government is perhaps uniquely situated to build and harness research evidence, so that what is learned in one place need not be reinvented in another and the lessons accumulate. Mark Lipsey suggests that federally funded research require the collection and reporting of common data elements so that individual studies can be synthesized. Don Peurach imagines ways the federal government can support an "improvement infrastructure." We should consider these ideas and others as we move forward.

Foundations also have a role. Private funders are able to support learning in ways that are harder for the federal government to do. The William T. Grant and Spencer foundations' i3 learning community, for example, provided a venue for program developers to share the challenges they faced in scaling their programs and to problem solve with one another. In another learning community, our foundation supported a network of federal research and evaluation staff across various agencies and offices to learn from each other. A learning community requires candor and can provide a safe and open environment to identify challenges and generate solutions. Foundations can also produce tools and share models that states and localities can draw upon in using evidence. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, we can often do this with greater speed than the federal government.

Realizing the potential of evidence in policymaking

The ascendance of research evidence in policy in the past two decades gave way to investments in innovation, experimentation, and evaluation that signaled great progress in the way our nation responds to its challenges. But for all the progress we've made in building and using evidence of What Works, we've also been left with blind spots. As a researcher, I did not enter my line of work expecting simple answers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners know that there is always more to learn than yes or no; more at stake than thumbs up or thumbs down. We build and use research evidence not just to identify what works, but to strengthen and improve programs and systems — to build knowledge that can improve kids' lives and better their chances to get ahead.

As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it's essential we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.

Headshot_vivian_tsengThe above post by Vivian Tseng, vice president, program, at the William T. Grant Foundation, is the eleventh and final post in the foundation's "Evidence at the Crossroads" series, in which it sought to provoke discussion and debate about the state of evidence use in policy, with a focus on federal efforts  to build and use evidence of What Works. It is reprinted here with permission of the foundation. You can read other posts in the series here and/or register for a free event co-sponsored by the foundation, "Building State and Local Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking," in Washington, D.C., on March 30.

Measuring Outcomes Across Grantees and Over Time

March 22, 2016

Results1When the Jim Joseph Foundation's evaluators’ consortium met last November, the overall focus was on the long road ahead toward developing a common set of measures — survey items, interview schedules, frameworks for documenting distinctive features of programs — to be used as outcomes and indicators of Jewish learning and growth for teens and young adults. Consortium members and the foundation were especially excited to learn about the work led by George Washington University to develop a common set of long-term outcomes and shared metrics to improve the foundation's ability to look at programs and outcomes across grantees and over time. A key part of this endeavor will be an online menu — developed in consultation with evaluation experts and practitioners — from which grantees can choose to measure their program outcomes.

Already, the GW team is making significant progress toward this end. As part of foundation efforts to inform and advance the field, we think the process and lessons related to these efforts are important to share.

To begin, the GW team reviewed the desired outcomes and evaluation reports from a dozen past foundation grants representing a variety of programs. Six grants address the foundation's strategic priority of providing immersive and ongoing Jewish experiences for teens and young adults. Six others address the strategic priority of educating Jewish educators and leaders.

For this latter strategic priority, the GW team offers a welcome "outsider" perspective, bringing strong expertise on outcomes in secular education and teacher training to the development of common outcomes for the foundation's Jewish educator grants. How, for example, do other programs measure quality and teacher retention? Both of these qualities are desired outcomes for the foundation's grants. Yet, if these qualities are not measured with common metrics, the foundation will never be able to properly determine whether its grantmaking in this area is successful. GW's expertise and strong relationship with the foundation are beginning to provide important answers to these challenges.

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