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23 posts from May 2016

Turning a Visit Into an Immersive Experience

May 11, 2016

Immersive_learningThe Jim Joseph Foundation invests in curated immersive learning experiences and the training of talented educators who facilitate them. From a pedagogical view, these kinds of experiences stand in contrast to the simpler "trip to the museum," which by itself typically lacks the educational component needed to catalyze learning. In contrast, an immersive learning experience provides an opportunity for a participant's growth in terms of knowledge, character, and identity.

One example of the value of such an opportunity is found in a 1970 study of Sesame Street[1] (which premiered in 1969). The study sought to determine whether socioeconomic status (SeS) was a determining factor in whether young children (ages 3 to 5) benefited from watching the program. In the study, there was a difference in baseline performance between those with low SeS and high SeS, although both segments exhibited material improvement on assessments after regularly watching the program.

In a subsequent study that examined the same age group[2], however, researchers noted a profound divergence and determined that certain children not differentiated by SeS excelled at a far greater rate than other participants. The X-factor? Parents. When one or more parents collectively watched episodes with their children, researchers noticed that children’s measurable skill sets increased more than the skills sets of those whose parents did not. The result pointed to the "curated experience" as an important and defining one.

This idea of curation permeates each of the Jim Joseph Foundation's strategic priorities: Increase the Number and Quality of Jewish Educators and Education LeadersExpand Opportunities for Effective Jewish Learning, and Build a Strong Field for Jewish Education. Three grants — to George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the American Friends of the Israel Museum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum's Innovation Fund — represent the symbiotic actualization of these strategies.

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[Review] The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century

May 10, 2016

To critique a critic: that is the task before me. In The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century, David Rieff offers an erudite and well-researched analysis of the problem of world hunger and the challenges associated with international development. While occasionally dense, his book both exposes the contradictions of the philanthrocapitalist dogma currently in vogue and challenges readers to reexamine the causes of growing development inequality among countries.

Bookcover-the-reproach-of-hungerIn outlook, Rieff, whose previous books include Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (1997), A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2003), and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (2006), is unapologetically pessimistic. "Hunger and poverty are inseparable," he writes, "and despite the many real successes in poverty reduction in many parts of the Global South, it is highly unlikely that these gains will be sustainable if rises in the price of staple food significantly outstrip the rise in incomes of the poor as a result of sound development policies." Due to the 2007-08 global economic crisis, recent extreme weather events, commodities speculation, and the diversion of corn to ethanol production, he notes, there is a "new normal" for global food production characterized by high prices and surging demand. And "[i]f significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050…when the world's population will have risen…to nine or perhaps even ten billion."

Central to Rieff's critique is what he sees as philanthrocapitalism's unquestioning adherence to the secular faith of progress first promoted by eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, subsequently nurtured by Gilded Age capitalists, exalted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and promoted today by their neoliberal acolytes. The intellectual embodiment of this hope, says Rieff, can be found in the thought and work of Bill and Melinda Gates, the development economics of Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama's triumphalist "end of history" thesis that capitalism and democracy were inevitable following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While Rieff seems to delight in putting a few dents in Sachs's worldview, his real aim here is to carve out space for a thoughtful critique of the historical, economic, and social forces underpinning international development as it is presently understood and practiced. To that end, he frequently challenges the "impatient optimism" advocated by the Gateses as well as their foundation's technocratic approach to the problems of global poverty and hunger. Similarly, he has little patience for those who insist that the line between the public and private sectors has been "blurred" — a trope, he says, that disingenuously ignores the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal system, resulting in impoverished dialogue and the dismissal of intellectual alternatives.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 7-8, 2016)

May 08, 2016

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

Civil Society

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

Community Improvement/Development

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

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

Education

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

Environment

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

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[Review] Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

May 06, 2016

Global health volunteering — medical missions, health brigades, "flying" surgeons — is a huge and growing enterprise. An estimated two hundred thousand Americans engage in such activities each year, and their time is valued at more than $750 million — not including the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs such as air travel, administration, and supplies.

Book_hoping_to_help_for_PhilanTopicDespite this enormous investment of resources, very little is known about the actual benefits of short-term volunteer service trips, of which the vast majority last less than two weeks. Volunteer trips are seen as opportunities to "make a difference" or to "give back," and most people who engage in such activities intuitively believe they accomplish some measure of good. Yet whether these efforts actually benefit the host communities, how those benefits are measured, and what other objectives are involved are rarely discussed or considered.

As they have grown in popularity, such activities — often grouped under the heading of "voluntourism" — have become a target of criticism. In a scathing critique in the Guardian a few years back, Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud wrote: "Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis-à-vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals' history, culture, and way of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering that seems to be enough."

Judith N. Lasker engages this debate with her latest book, Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering. A professor of sociology at Lehigh University, Lasker examines the landscape of short-term volunteer trips; the benefits and drawbacks of such activity from the perspective of the sponsoring organizations, the volunteers, and the host communities; and what can be done to make such activity more effective, particularly for the latter. The research on which the book is based includes a national survey of a hundred and seventy-seven U.S.-based sponsor organizations, more than a hundred interviews, and participant observation by the author on two short-term trips.

To assess effectiveness, one has to identify program goals, and in the case of voluntourism that ends up being more complicated than simply saying "improving the health of host communities." Indeed, sponsoring organizations — which include churches, universities, hospitals, and NGOs, as well as large corporations and other profit-making companies — often state that providing health services and building public health capacity in underresourced communities is one of their primary goals. However, organizations oftentimes have other, competing interests, including their ability to recruit talented professionals and their own financial sustainability. "[E]nhancing the organization's reputation" and "promoting volunteers' personal growth," writes Lasker, "are often considered just as important [as any benefits created for the host community], raising questions about whether a focus on them might reduce the effectiveness of a group in promoting health."

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4 Performance Measurement Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

May 05, 2016

Warning-286x300Performance management can be a tricky beast — hugely important, but difficult to get right. Here are four common mistakes my team and I see made by social, government, and nonprofit organizations trying to measure their impact, and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Measuring too much. By far the most common problem we see is that most organizations try to measure too much. Every additional measure you track uses up precious staff time for collection, aggregation, and analysis. In some cases, tracking too many measures is as almost as bad as not tracking at all. One client we served had a list of more than eight measures it was trying to track. Managers and the board were so overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that their eyes tended to glaze over when the data was presented, and little or nothing happened as a result. We helped them whittle the list down to just a few outcome measures for each client group, and that enabled them to focus their energy, track their efforts in a meaningful way, and improve their outcomes.

2. Underutilizing what you have. Many organizations are so busy worrying about measurement that they don't realize what a trove of information they may already be sitting on. One national nonprofit I know had been working on putting together a measurement system for three years, engaging external consultants, and doing a lot of hand-wringing about their lack of a large-scale control study. Its senior leaders, like those at many other organizations, found themselves overwhelmed by choices, confused by terminology, and with little to show for their hard work. Yet in the background, the organization had been collecting all kinds of information. With an infusion of new energy, leadership took stock and found that simply by undertaking an audit and tidying up the organization's data they were able to tell a compelling story to current and potential funders. The moral of the story? Before you do anything else, investigate what you have at hand. What information are you already collecting that measures outcomes for your clients?

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Philanthropy as a Platform for Civic Leadership

May 04, 2016

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

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

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

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2016)

May 02, 2016

The 2016 presidential primary races are heading into the homestretch, and for the first time in half a century the contests in California may actually help determine the winner(s). In the meantime, we've already tallied your votes for the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in April. Take a look and let us know what you think (or write in your favorite) in the comments section below....

It's a new month and we're looking for new contributors. Got a submission you'd like to share with our readers? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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

May 01, 2016

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

Arts and Culture

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

Climate Change

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

Community Improvement/Development

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

Corporate Philanthropy

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

Education

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

Environment

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

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

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