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226 posts categorized "Poverty Alleviation"

[Review] The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World

March 16, 2016

The story Steven Radelet tells in The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of 1989. Marking the end of the Cold War, the wall's fall ushered in an era of unprecedented development progress across much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But as the event itself faded into history, many viewed the breakdown of global order into ethnic cleansing, economic instability, the emergence of Islamist terrorism, and an upswing in refugee crises with growing alarm — a pessimistic view that, Radelet argues, was and is misplaced.

Cover_the_great_surgeIn his book, Radelet, who chairs the Global Human Development Program at Georgetown University and serves as economic advisor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, highlights progress in more than a hundred developing countries across "four critical dimensions" of development: poverty, income, health and education, and democracy and governance. Between 1993 and 2011, Radelet notes, the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) fell from nearly two billion, or 42 percent of the global population, to just over one billion, or 17 percent. Meanwhile, GDP per capita in developing countries grew more than 70 percent on average, with population-weighted real incomes rising some 90 percent since 1994.

Over roughly the same period, the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 fell from 10 percent to 4.7 percent. With maternal mortality and fertility rates also down significantly, children in developing countries today are far healthier and better educated than they have been at any time in memory, while the percentage of girls finishing primary school has risen from 50 percent to 80 percent and the percentage of girls completing secondary school has doubled, from 30 percent to 60 percent. Whether as cause or product of these trends, it is no coincidence that the number of democracies globally has jumped from seventeen in 1983 to fifty-six in 2013 (not counting countries that claim to be democracies but merely pay lip service to fair and open elections).

To be sure, some of this progress occurred before the late 1980s. But burdened by the legacy of colonialism and factors such as unfavorable geography, inadequate resources, and endemic disease, many developing countries found themselves struggling to break free of the "poverty trap." What made their "sudden" ascent possible, Radelet argues, was the convergence of three post-Cold War factors: global geopolitical conditions becoming more conducive to development; increased opportunities provided by a new wave of globalization and the spread of new technologies; and the rapid development of the skills and capabilities needed to take advantage of those opportunities.  

Take the first. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and a rump Russia lost their appetite (at least temporarily) for proxy wars in the developing world as well as their costly habit of propping up Communist and right-wing dictatorships in countries like Bangladesh, Benin, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Panama. Moreover, as Communist and authoritarian ideologies lost their credibility among much of the world's population, a consensus began to form around the efficacy of market-based approaches to economic growth and development, an emphasis on individual freedoms, and respect for basic human rights. In time, "[d]eveloping countries around the world began to build institutions more conducive to growth and social progress," Radelet writes. "The doors opened to new possibilities."

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5 Questions for...Laurie Garduque, Director, Justice Reform, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

February 04, 2016

Recent opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court which hold that imposing harsh sentences on juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment have transformed the landscape of juvenile sentencing. In December, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which earlier in the year had announced it would be winding down its significant support for juvenile justice reform efforts as part of a refocusing of its grantmaking strategy on  a handful of "big bets," including the over-use of jails and incarceration in America, released Juvenile Justice in a Developmental Framework: A Status Report (48 pages, PDF), its summation, based on twenty years of work, of developmentally appropriate best practices in nine key juvenile justice policy areas.

Last month, PND spoke with Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the foundation, about the genesis of its work in the juvenile justice field, the report's findings, and the prospects for further reform as MacArthur exits the field.

Philanthropy News Digest: MacArthur entered the juvenile justice field in 1996, a decision motivated by a belief inside the foundation that juveniles are not adults and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. What was it about the environment in the mid-1990s that brought the issue to a head for you and your colleagues?

Headshot_laurie_garduqueLaurie Garduque: We'd been investing in research on child and adolescent development before 1996, and that research made it clear that children and adolescents were different, cognitively and emotionally, than adults. But the legal implications of those findings had not been considered. In the 1980s, violent crime among youths increased sharply, and fears of a generation of "super predators," a fear fanned by politicians and the press, led states across the country to move to treat young offenders as if they weren't young. States began to focus on the offense, not the offender, and moved toward harsh, punitive laws that included making it easier to try adolescents as adults. The report notes that, in the years leading up to MacArthur's decision to enter the field, forty-five states had changed their laws to try adolescents and children, some as young as ten years of age, as adults. States had also removed the kinds of due process protections you would like to see for young people – for example, determining whether or not they're competent to stand trial. And within the system itself, the emphasis was less on rehabilitation and treatment, and more on punishment. It wasn't about helping young people learn from their mistakes and getting them back on course; it was about punishing them harshly.

Knowing all that, knowing the harm that can result when you treat young people as adults, and seeing the toll these new laws were taking, dispropor­tion­ately, on young people of color and on low-income communities, the foundation started to look at ways we could use research, scientific evidence, and best practices to stem the tide and reform the system. In effect, we were looking for ways to reverse the rush toward draconian reforms and policies that was sweeping the country.

PND: One of the first things you and your col­leagues did was to create a re­search network focused on some of the important aspects of adolescent development and juvenile justice. Can you share with us some of the key findings surfaced by that initiative.

LG: You have to go back to the origins of juvenile court in the early part of the twentieth century, which was based on the recognition that children were deserving of a separate justice system from adults because they weren't as competent as adults, weren't as culp­able for their actions, and should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their capacity to change. Those ideas were challenged in the '80s as crime rates in the United States rose. To get society to once again accept the idea that a young person is less culpable for his actions than an adult, is less compe­tent to stand trial, and has more of a capacity to change than an adult, we knew we would have to map the adolescent development research that was being done to specific legal concepts. How, for example, do you determine whether someone is competent to stand trial? Are adolescents fully responsible for and truly understand the consequences of their actions? Are they more susceptible to peer pressure? More impulsive? Given their developmental immatur­ity, both with respect to their behavior and their brain development, should the criminal justice system treat them differently? The same is true of sentencing. We tend to punish adults harshly because we don't believe they have the capacity to change, or they're not as amenable to treatment and rehabilitation, whereas young people, who haven't yet matured, either emotionally and, in many cases, psychologically, are more likely to respond to rehabilitation.

So, as I said, it became important to map what all that looked like in terms of adolescents' social, emo­tional, and cognitive develop­ment, and to try to identify what the differences between children, adolescents, and adults in those areas were. We were confident that if we could pro­vide scientific evidence which demonstrated, in effect, how the immaturity of young people argues against them being treated as adults by the justice system, it could be the basis for a new way of thinking about how to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their behavior.

As things turned out, that body of research also became important in terms of recent Supreme Court decisions and was a valuable source of guidance for state and local agencies with respect to their juvenile justice practices.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2016)

February 02, 2016

Not even an epic mid-month nor'easter could keep January from flying by. Not to worry. For those who blinked and missed all the great content posted here during the month just passed, we've got you covered....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (January 30-31, 2016)

January 31, 2016

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

Climate Change

According to Jessica Leber, a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist, Al Gore, at one time "possibly the gloomiest man in America," is feeling somewhat hopeful for the future of the planet, thanks in part to what he sees as the success of the recent Paris climate change talks.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Hey, you CSR types, looking to achieve more social good in 2016? Saudia Davis, founder and CEO of GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning, shares some good advice.

And Ryan Scott, founder and CEO of Causecast, a platform for cause engagement, weighs in with six reasons businesses need to increase their CSR budgets.

Criminal Justice

"It is clear," writes Sonia Kowal, president of Zevin Asset Management, on the NCRP blog, "that our justice system is designed for control rather than healing. And with the alarming demographics of national incarceration rates, it's also clear that it helps facilitate an economy of exclusion that considers many people of color to be unemployable and disposable." What can foundations and impact investors do to change that paradigm. Kowal has a few suggestions.

Education

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has announced the launch of EDInsight, a new education-related blog that will  "provide a forum for discussing a variety of topics related to education — including teacher preparation, school quality, postsecondary attainment, use of education data and other education news and trends."

Giving Pledge

The New York Times reports that, since July, investor and Giving Pledge co-founder Warren Buffett has gifted $32 million worth of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company he controls. The Times also notes that the total represents "a relatively small part of Buffett's plan to give most of his $58.3 billion fortune to charity." Interestingly, despite giving roughly $1.5 billion a year (mostly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) since launching the Giving Pledge in 2010, Buffett's personal net worth, most of it tied to Berkshire stock, has increased by more than $10 billion, while Bill Gates's net worth has grown by $27 billion, from $53 billion to $80 billion. In other words, neither man is giving his fortune away as quickly as he is adding to it.

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[Review]: Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results

January 29, 2016

Each year, hundreds of thousands of charities raise billions of dollars to fund their efforts to serve the less fortunate. But the efforts of a vast number of these charities — indeed, most of them, says Robert D. Lupton — may actually be hurting those they aim to help. And charity that does more harm than good is definitely not better than no charity at all.

Book_charity_detox_for_PhilanTopicIn Charity Detox, Lupton, the founder of Atlanta-based FCS Urban Ministries and the author of the 2011 book Toxic Charity, explores and tries to answer the question: "What would charity look like if we cared about results?" But where Lupton's earlier book exposed what he calls "the dirty little secret that on-the-ground charity workers know all too well but are loath to admit" — namely, that most anti-poverty programs not only fail to end the cycle of poverty, they perpetuate it by creating dependency — here he argues that even though charitable giving almost always makes donors feel good, the negative impact of such giving on the poor cannot be ignored. The question, then, is how can charities "detoxify" themselves so that they truly help those in need?

"The fact is," Lupton writes, "we cannot serve others out of poverty." What people living in poverty need, instead, are living-wage jobs and healthy, thriving communities. And that requires two things: economic and community development. Lupton notes that one obstacle to reforming the traditional model of "pure philanthropy" are churches, which, he argues, have been at the vanguard of the "compassion industry," dispensing “unexamined charity...that fails to ask the hard questions about outcomes." Too often, he argues, charity in the United States looks like disaster relief in its inability to distinguish between a crisis and chronic need. In contrast, when the charities Lupton was involved with in Atlanta began to actually measure outcomes and not outputs, both he and those charities were transformed for the simple reason that measuring outcomes forces nonprofits and their funders to focus on specific goals rather than a diffuse "serve-the-neighborhood" approach. The book then goes on to describe how a range of organizations and initiatives, from foodbanks and co-ops, to Christian ministries, to urban development projects, adapted their operations not only to create sustainable opportunities for the poor but also to build trust and dignity among the people they served.

In Lupton's view, the best way to accomplish that is through "comprehensive community development" — an approach requiring fundamental changes not only in organizations but in the people who work for them. What kind of change? First, charities and nonprofits need to leverage the business expertise of their supporters to accurately measure return on their charitable activities. While lots of people in nonprofits and faith-based organizations tend to view wealth and the profit motive with suspicion, he writes, real economic development is impossible without profit-making enterprises. Accordingly, nonprofits that can sustain themselves through entrepreneurial and/or earned-income activities have a better chance of creating larger, longer-term impact than those who reject or shy away from such activities. What's more, this focus on business discipline should extend to both internal operations and operating models. And there's an added benefit: organizations that operate successful businesses are in a position to provide economic opportunities, in the form of jobs, to people in the community. Offering competitive pay and health and educational benefits to one's employees is an element of what Lupton describes as doing business well, and, in turn, can help lift those employees and their families out of poverty. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 16-17, 2016)

January 17, 2016

Martin-Luther-King-2016Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Diversity

A new report on workforce diversity in the metro Pittsburgh region is not only an incredibly important data set, writes Grant Oliphant, president of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments. It's also a reminder that the the issues the report points to are NOT just a matter of perspective, are NOT just a concern for minorities, and are NOT unfixable.

Economy

Although long-term unemployment has fallen significantly since the Great Recession, the decline has been slow and long-term unemployment still remains high. Congress could do something to address the situation, write Harry Stein and Shirley Sagawa on the Center for American Progress site, by following through with funding for the "significant" expansion of national service programs like AmeriCorps it authorized back in 2009.

Education

Can the Hastings Fund, the $100 million philanthropic entity created by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, avoid the controversy and criticism that have greeted the education reform efforts of other tech moguls? The Christian Science Monitor's Molly Jackson reports.

Immigration

"Like it or not, integration has been happening over America’s 239-year history, as members of both groups —immigrants and the U.S.-born — continually come to resemble one another. And America has benefited greatly from the economic vitality and cultural vibrancy that immigrants and their descendants have brought and continue to contribute." Writing in Fortune, Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the National Academies of Sciences panel on immigrant integration, reminds us what we are missing about the immigration debate.

International Affairs/Development

On the HistPhil blog, Ruth Levine, director of the Global Development and Population Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and her father, Gilbert, professor emeritus of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, review David Rieff's new book, The Reproach of Hunger.

In a post on the Development Set, a space created by Medium for discussions of global health and development issues, Courtney Martin offers some compelling advice to young activists, advocates, and entrepreneurs interested in creating a life of meaning by helping to solve pressing social problems in the developing countries.

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[Review] The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty

January 14, 2016

"Foundations are bizarre beasts. They are created to solve societal problems by using inordinate amounts of wealth — wealth that is inherently contradictory because it was gleaned out of the inequalities...it proposes to address."

That contradiction, shared with Erica Kohl-Arenas by a foundation program officer in an interview conducted for her new book, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty, is at the heart of what Kohl-Arenas calls the "self-help approach to poverty alleviation." It's an approach, she writes, grounded in the "belief that entrenched poverty is the result of social and economic isolation that [traps] poor people within a culture of poverty," while largely ignoring "the structural causes of poverty and inequality." As starkly illustrated by Kohl-Arenas, an assistant professor of nonprofit management at the New School in New York City, it is also an approach whose inherent limitations raise troubling questions about the ability of private philanthropy to change "the conditions of poverty or help the people [it] claims to serve."

Book_the_self_help_myth_for_PhilanTopicDrawing on case studies of the mid-twentieth-century farm workers movement and more recent foundation-funded initiatives in California's Central Valley, Kohl-Arenas documents how, over the decades, grassroots self-help initiatives have repeatedly been co-opted by private foundations into "nonthreatening service or 'civic participation' programs in keeping with [their] current funding priorities," obscuring the fact that foundations in general are reluctant to support union organizing, strikes, boycotts, and other types of "radical" activity. The surprise, for Kohl-Arenas, is that anyone would be surprised. After all, it was Andrew Carnegie, in the Gospel of Wealth (1889), who suggested that "the new rich had a responsibility to help the poor help themselves — in the interest of preventing protest," while the history of American philanthropy in the decades since is rife with examples of foundations de-politicizing and "neutralizing" initiatives that threaten the social and economic status quo. As a result, Kohl-Arenas argues, foundation-funded self-help programs have served to shift the focus from "capitalist processes that create poverty" to "the weaknesses and responsibilities of the poor."

To illustrate her argument, Kohl-Arenas devotes a chapter to the case of Cesar Chavez, whose efforts to organize and unionize farm workers in California and Florida in the 1960s and '70s have been the subject of two recent books and a movie that, in her words, "complicate [the] story most commonly told." A farm worker and civil rights activist in the 1950s, Chavez rose to national prominence in the 1960s as co-founder (with Dolores Huerta) of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). The broader farmworker movement had received crucial early funding, including "Depression-era grants to support migrant community and childcare centers incubated through the [Works Progress Administration]," from the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, which provided additional funding in the late 1950s and early 1960s to assist Central Valley farmworkers in building their own homes and to support so-called movement organizations. The effect of the foundation's programs, however, was to create, in Kohl-Arenas' words, farmworker leaders "more concerned with empowerment through education, relationships with mainstream institutions, and migrant-led infrastructure development," a model that, because of "its educational and relational, as opposed to confrontational and systemic, approach to self-help...garnered mainstream institutional support in local communities."

The emergence of Chavez as a social justice activist during the Delano grape strike of 1965 and the national grape boycott launched by NFWA the following year changed the picture. According to Kohl-Arenas, a younger Chavez never imagined union organizing becoming the focus of the movement, but as political unrest across the country mounted, the charismatic Chavez "rose to the occasion and became a spokesperson for the strike, both in the fields and nationally."

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 19-20, 2014)

December 20, 2015

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

Climate Change

"After two centuries of prosperity built on the use of coal, oil, and natural gas, representatives of nearly two hundred countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference resolved to turn away from those fuels and embrace a new future of clean energy," writes Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate strategy at the United Nations Foundation. The key word in that sentence is "resolved," and while the agreement should be celebrated, the "hard work of implementation remains [to be done]." It won't be easy, but Detchon, for one, is an optimist. As is Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and head of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, who in an interview with the Harvard Gazette pushes back against the idea that the agreement signed in Paris was a "fraud."

Corporate Philanthropy

Tech giant Microsoft has announced an "expanded commitment" to its global corporate philanthropy and a new organization within the company, Microsoft Philanthropies, "to make this ambition a reality."

Environment

The so-called war on drugs not only has failed to impede global drug trafficking, it's also contributing to "widespread environmental degradation and accelerating climate change." Vice's Eva Hershaw has the story.

On the Huffington Post's Green blog, Laura Goldman looks at what the Philadelphia-based William Penn foundation, and others, have been doing to improve and maintain the Delaware River watershed, which provides drinking water to fifteen million people or 5 percent of the U.S. population. 

Giving

It's that time of year, and Steve Delfin,  president and CEO of America’s Charities, has six tips for getting the most out of your giving during the holiday season.

When is a pledge to give as valuable as an actual donation? More often than you'd think. The Wall Street Journal's James Andreoni and Marta Serra-Garcia explain.

Yes, taxes matter when it comes to charitable giving. But as Andrew Blackman explains in the Journal, the relationship isn't as simple as it looks. "For instance, research suggests that the system of itemized deductions the U.S. has been using for decades is much less effective at spurring donations than tax systems in other countries that...offer charities matching donations.

Still other research suggests people may even be willing to give money voluntarily to the government — if the government gives them the chance to direct the money to a cause they approve of.

Meanwhile, some scientists have found that the brain reacts the same way to making donations as it does to paying taxes, if the taxes are clearly being used for a good cause — suggesting that people may be more willing to pay taxes if they know how the money's being used. And some findings even suggest that offering deductions for charitable giving may promote good health....

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Loose Ties + Strong Trust = Innovation in Los Angeles

October 17, 2015

In 2008, Lisa Watson was the executive director of the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of women on Los Angeles' Skid Row hoping to overcome poverty and homelessness. That year, Lisa received a Stanton Fellowship to investigate the viability of a co-located social enterprise retail store that would offer workforce training to homeless women and generate revenues for the center. Revenues would be used to subsidize housing and supportive services in the pricey Los Angeles real estate market.

For the past ten years the Durfee Foundation has awarded a select number of Stanton Fellowships to social change leaders in Los Angeles with the aim of fostering innovative solutions to some of the city's most intractable problems. Lisa's project became a reality in 2011 with the opening of MADE by DWC, a gift boutique and café that offers organic coffee and food along with one-of-a-kind vintage and contemporary women's clothing, accessories, household accents, and their signature handMADE product line. One hundred percent of the proceeds support the residents of the Downtown Women's Center, providing the kind of earned revenue that is a vital component of long-term sustainability for most nonprofits.

Cross-Disciplinary Connections

Prior to the fellowship, Lisa had met a handful of other Stanton alumni, all in the housing/homelessness space. Over the course of her fellowship, however, she expanded her connections to include Stanton fellows with expertise in urban planning, health, education, the environment, and economic development, as well as contacts in the L.A. Mayor's Office. The interactions with other fellows significantly affected her project's design as well as its resulting success. "By bringing together smart people from various disciplines in Los Angeles," she notes, "problems can be viewed through various prisms rather than through a telescope. Solutions and strategies are developed by looking more richly at the problem from various perspectives and disciplines."

The Stanton Fellowship provides funds over two years for each fellow to think deeply about a specific challenge related to their work and to tease out solutions that will improve life in Los Angeles. The Durfee Foundation deliberately encourages connecting and knowledge sharing among fellows as a way to foster the cross-fertilization of ideas that might lead to new approaches. Stanton Fellows are intentionally selected to represent a wide-ranging spectrum of issues and sectors, with fellows coming from government and social enterprise as well as nonprofits. Key elements of the program include opening and concluding fellowship retreats that overlap with the next/prior cohort of fellows; quarterly get-togethers hosted by a fellow who provides a tour of the issue they are tackling and includes time for fellows to update the group on their projects; and foundation staff matching fellows with program alumni mentors. In addition, every other year the foundation hosts a retreat to which all alumni of the program as well as current fellows are invited.

Enhanced Peripheral Vision

In order to better understand the network dimension of the program, the Durfee Foundation asked Network Impact to assess the role that ties among Stanton Fellows play in contributing to the program's goals. To that end, in the fall of 2014 we surveyed current fellows and alumni, and supplemented that work with focus-group interviews and Social Network analysis (SNA) to assess the nature of the connections among fellows over time. What we found has implications for funders who are supporting innovation in the social sector, particularly investors in fellowship or leadership development programs who are curious about the wider impact of these initiatives.

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Latino Entrepreneurs: How Philanthropy Can Fuel Small Business

October 15, 2015

Hand-with-FlagsAs National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, it's a good time to recognize and celebrate the critical role that Latino-owned businesses play in the U.S. economy. Consider, for starters, that between 1990 and 2012, the number of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States more than tripled, from 577,000 to 2 million (Source: Partnership for a New American Economy).

While significant, however, those gains are modest compared to the growth of white-owned businesses over the same period. What's more, Latino-owned businesses generate less annual revenue than non-Latino small businesses and grow at a slower rate. And, like many small businesses and entrepreneurs, Latino-owned businesses report that access to capital is a major barrier to growth.

That should not come as a surprise. A recent Harvard Business School study (66 pages, PDF) reports that small business loans as a share of total bank loans in 1995 was about 50 percent, compared to only 30 percent in 2012. And a report on minority entrepreneurship by researchers at UC-Berkeley and Wayne State University finds that minority-owned businesses typically encounter higher borrowing costs, receive smaller loan amounts, and see their loan applications rejected more often.

The reasons for such disparities are many, but one thing seems abundantly clear: resolving them is not just a question of social justice; it goes to the heart of American competitiveness in a fast-moving global economy.

On the plus side, there are no shortage of examples of dynamic businesses started — and nurtured — by Latino entrepreneurs who have secured access to affordable loans from lenders who understand their dreams, their businesses, and their challenges.

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Newsmakers: Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

September 21, 2015

Headshot_darren_walkerPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in December 2013. Enjoy.

In September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation. Before coming to Ford, where he was vice president of the foundation's Education, Creativity, and Freedom of Expression program, Walker served as vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he guided the organization's efforts to develop housing for low and moderate-income families in Harlem.

Recently, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, spoke with Walker about the current social change environment, the influence of the foundation's activities on his life, and his hopes for the foundation going forward. Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and an affiliated faculty member of its Center for Nonprofit Strategy & Management.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is it like to be president of the Ford Foundation?

Darren Walker: Although I've been at the foundation for more than three years, in many ways I still have a lot to learn. I certainly didn't arrive here with any idea I would end up as president. When I walked through the doors of this institution for the first time, it was a transformational experience, because the Ford Foundation represents the ways in which my own life has been changed by philanthropy.

I'm a graduate of public schools. I attended public school in a small town in Texas, and I am also a graduate of the first Head Start cohort, a program that was developed out of Ford Foundation-supported research on early child development at Yale University. After high school, I attended a large land grant university -- thanks to Pell grants, another Ford Foundation-supported intervention -- so I know all about Ford's commitment to public education in this country.

After college, I worked on Wall Street and one day found myself at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which was hosting a representative of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a creation of -- you guessed it -- the Ford Foundation. LISC had awarded a grant to the Abyssinian Development Corporation for capacity-building initiatives that would allow it to realize the aspirations of the organization's founders, who had a dream in the mid-'80s that Harlem could be a community that could regenerate itself from within. And the Ford Foundation, through LISC, believed in that dream and invested in it. And that capacity-building grant made it possible for ADC to hire me. So my journey, like the journeys of so many others, has been deeply influenced by the Ford Foundation.

I was thrilled to receive a call from the foundation's board chair, Irene Hirano-Inouye, and have her tell me that the board had voted to appoint me president. Actually, I wasn't sure how to respond, beyond saying, "Yes!" because I know that with this job comes huge responsibility, and that I stand on the shoulders of some extraordinary people.

PND: The Ford Foundation has been a long-distance runner when it comes to addressing social issues like poverty. Today, we face some of the most serious social challenges we've seen since the 1960s -- both in terms of holding the line on the progress we've made and in putting forward new solutions designed to help low-income individuals and communities build assets and resilience. Are you discouraged by the magnitude of the challenges we face?

DW: It's easy to be dismayed by the current state of social justice in our country and around the world. But it is important to remember the remarkable progress we have made. There was a time, not too long ago, when every indicator of social mobility for low-income and marginalized communities was improving -- employment among urban black males in the 1990s saw tremendous gains, we saw significant reductions in the level of homelessness, and more African-Americans and Latinos were matriculating to institutions of higher education. Although it wasn't always even, for almost forty years, from the early 1960s through the 1990s, we saw progress. We've fallen back some, so it's particularly important we remember that history and not be discouraged. A certain set of circumstances contributed to the conditions which prevail today. That said, we have faced these problems before and made huge progress in addressing them, and we can do so again.

I am actually hopeful and quite excited about what the Ford Foundation can do to address some of these challenges. There are thousands of new foundations out there, and together we have an opportunity and the potential to make a tremendous difference in the lives of poor and vulnerable people. That is very exciting. So, no, I am not discouraged. I am energized. We have work to do, but as Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." The journey toward justice is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back affair. That process will always be with us.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 12-13, 2015)

September 13, 2015

Back-to-schoolOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Former Seattle mayor Michael McGinn and the environmental group 350 Seattle has launched a campaign to get the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable and funder of medical research, to completely divest itself of its investments in fossil fuels. The Guardian reports.

Over the last twenty-five years, the world has lost forested areas equal to South Africa. The good news, writes Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, is that the rate of deforestation appears to be slowing.

Communications/Marketing

Still trying to figure out this nonprofit marketing thing? On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington explains the basics.

Guest blogging on Kivil Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Laurel Dykema of Mission India shares five "don'ts" for nonprofit writers.

Economy

Is entrepreneurship in America becoming the province of the wealthy? Gillian B. White, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.

Fundraising

Markets for Good has a nice crowdfunding-focused Q&A with Alison Carlman, senior manager of marketing and communications at GlobalGiving.

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In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

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[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 9-10, 2015)

May 10, 2015

TulipsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the battle against climate change is likely to be won or lost in Asia's expanding megacities, which are poised to contribute more than half the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next twenty years.

In a Q&A with the Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek, Jerry Taylor, of the Niskanen Center, makes the conservative case for a tax on carbon tax. 

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Tech Crunch site, Kim-Mai Cutler reports on Salesforce Foundation head Suzanne DiBianca's efforts to spread the San Francisco-based cloud-based computing company's "1-1-1" philanthropic model" -- in which 1 percent of the company’s equity is set aside for philanthropic donations, 1 percent of employee time is earmarked for volunteering, and 1 percent of its products and services are donated to nonprofits -- to the tech startup scene in New York City.

Data Visualization

On the Fast.co Design site, Mark Wilson, founder of Philanthroper.com, reports  that the days of the truly creative infographic are over, killed -- like so much else -- by the smartphone, which now accounts for roughly 50 percent of the traffic on the World Wide Web.

Disaster Relief

Be sure to check out the report in The New Yorker by Prasant Jha, an associate editor at the Hindustan Times and a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, on the scale of the devastation in and around Kathmandu, the sprawling capital city of Nepal, which was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Elsewhere, the Asian Philanthropy Forum shares some helpful advice and a list of NGOs currently on the ground in Nepal, which will be dealing with the consequences of the disaster for weeks, months, and years to come.

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