102 posts categorized "Economic Development"

A 'Just and Resilient Recovery' framework for international donors and financial institutions

July 09, 2020

HR&A_just_resilient_recovery_shutterstockEven as some of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks subside, the pandemic continues to spread around the world, with 11.5 million cases confirmed and more than five hundred thousand deaths as we write. Roughly two-thirds of all new confirmed cases are in developing countries, with Latin America alone accounting for over a third of new confirmed cases.

The economic disruption that the virus and measures to contain it have brought to developed economies will be dwarfed by the consequences of similar efforts in the developing world. According to forecasts from the World Bank, COVID-19 will, by the end of 2020, push an additional forty-nine million people into extreme poverty. That represents an increase of 8 percent and would be the first increase in extreme poverty globally since the Asian financial crisis in 1998. The projections suggest that sub-Saharan Africa, where an additional twenty-three million people could fall into extreme poverty, will be hardest hit, with Latin America and the Caribbean and South Asia splitting the balance.

Designing emergency response programs, fiscal and monetary stimulus, and long-term economic recovery plans to address the effects of the pandemic will be more challenging in places where the economic damage is deepest and existing inequality the most acute. Indeed, a combination of already-stagnant economies, tight fiscal conditions, and weak institutional capacity has created a perfect storm in many developing countries.

A Framework for International Donors and Financial Institutions

Against this backdrop, the mitigation of economic and social damage in many countries has been left to global philanthropies and international financial institutions. The G20 countries have agreed to a useful, if limited, suspension of debt service for the poorest countries, and the World Bank moved quickly to mobilize $160 billion in new and repurposed capital, which was followed by other multilateral development groups. We believe, however, that these efforts will be insufficient if these and other institutions do not take a structured approach to understanding needs on the ground and the prioritization of the implementation of their actions.

While most actors have rightfully focused their immediate attention on public health measures and efforts to strengthen the safety net, as cities and regions start emerging from quarantine and effective therapies and vaccines are developed they will need to collectively address the underlying economic and social challenges that have made COVID-19 so devastating and destabilizing for the most vulnerable groups in society.

Based on our experience with previous natural, economic, and humanitarian crises, we have developed a framework to help guide cities and communities on the path to a more "Just and Resilient Recovery." The framework calls for public and private institutions to organize and coordinate their COVID-19 recovery efforts around the four sequential phases illustrated below.

Global Philantropy Commentary Graphic

The time for planning and coordinating fiscal policy efforts is now. Global donors and financial development institutions should start planning and prioritizing how and where their assistance will be directed to ensure that countries and cities that receive that assistance can use it to create a more just and resilient "next" normal that addresses some of the structural inequities of the old normal, including poverty, informality, and discrimination.

Over the coming weeks and months, as institutions continue to organize their internal resources and begin to develop road maps for the next phase of the recovery, they should consider the following:

Assess the economic disruption: As lockdowns ease and more evidence and data becomes available, institutions should develop a more granular understanding of the economic and fiscal impact of the virus in the countries and jurisdictions they serve. This can be done at scale with a dynamic model that takes into consideration baseline economic conditions pre-crisis, the scope of containment measures taken and the degree to which they have been enforced, the level of unemployment (formal and informal), and, where appropriate, the fiscal measures already taken by governments to mitigate the economic impacts of the virus. The model should also take into account the compounding effects of future natural disasters and the percentage of the population lacking access to clean water and waste treatment infrastructure. This more granular understanding of the economic damage resulting from the virus will enable institutions to better calibrate the magnitude and speed of the response required in different countries, regions, and communities.

Understand needs and opportunities: Supported by such an assessment, institutions need to understand which economic sectors and segments of the population have been most impacted and what the opportunities are to rethink how to rebuild and create employment opportunities in more productive industries. A focus on sectors with high economic multipliers such as technology, research, and advanced manufacturing should be seen as an opportunity to bring substantial numbers of workers into the formal economy and prepare large segments of the population for the future of work.

Map resources: Once the economic damage and the opportunities for a more just and resilient economic recovery have been identified, institutions need to think carefully about how to leverage resources from other countries, donors, and the private sector. The capital from donors and multilateral development banks should be seen as a "filler" that closes financial gaps and addresses market failures, catalyzing private investment and participation. Understanding the potential to effectively leverage private-sector participation under the current short-term capital commitments from development banks will be critical. That includes exploring more active participation in public-private concessions, providing availability payments, and making backstop guarantees to de-risk projects.

Prioritize areas of investment: With an understanding of the needs, opportunities, and resources available in the short- and mid-term, institutions should be able to prioritize the allocation of resources across countries and sectors in an efficient way and provide guidance and direction to specific country offices and divisions accordingly. Such a prioritization should consider which industries and clusters are best positioned to increase productivity and create jobs and how communities can benefit from such growth in an inclusive manner. This could include investments in digital infrastructure that pave the way for greater innovation and technology, public transportation to make job opportunities accessible to everyone and cities more sustainable, and resilient infrastructure designed to mitigate the shock and disruption of future climate-related disasters.

The global development community has a generational opportunity to substantially transform the economies of the poorest countries, leveraging resources from all sectors, with a focus on investments that boost productivity and eradicate secular inequities and establish a precedent for a Just and Resilient Economic Recovery. Let’s not let that opportunity go by the wayside.

Shuprotim_Bhaumik_Ignacio_MontojoShuprotim Bhaumik is a partner at HR&A Advisors, where he specializes in economic development and public policy consulting. Ignacio Montojo is a director at HR&A and specializes in the design and implementation of public-private partnerships and financing strategies for infrastructure and real estate development projects. Both have worked on behalf of several international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Finance Corporation in countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Panama, and South Africa.

Leading in solidarity to reshape the nonprofit ecosystem

July 01, 2020

SolidarityWe are five women of color leading five organizations deeply embedded in the nonprofit ecosystem of Detroit and southeast Michigan. We have five missions, five work styles, and five voices. With mutual intentions and hearts, we have decided to work as a collective that honors the history and resiliency of Black and Indigenous people and communities of color. Together, our work offers nonprofits the critical support needed to advance their missions. Today, we stand in recognition of the privilege and responsibility we have to speak as leaders of nonprofit support organizations.

We embrace the challenge and opportunity presented by this unique moment. Here in southeast Michigan, as elsewhere, the Black community has suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic. And we have borne witness to brutal injustices at the hands of police. It has been tough. Some have responded to the moment by issuing statements of solidarity with the Black people of America. Individuals and organizations across the nation are reckoning with their experience of racism and anti-Blackness. But what does solidarity mean, especially in a moment like this? Our humanity demands we recognize ourselves as part of a larger whole, and the nature of our work in the nonprofit sector demands we recognize solidarity as an ongoing practice and process.

As human beings, as organizational leaders, and as stakeholders in the nonprofit ecosystem, we are tired of the neverending effort needed to beat back the stereotype that nonprofits are not efficient or able to survive without constant handouts. Some of our community-based organizations have been serving residents of southeastern Michigan for more than seventy years! (We see you, Russell Woods-Sullivan Area Association.) In this moment, we see an opportunity to rise up, to reimagine our work, and to cultivate a more just and beautiful world in transformative solidarity with others.

Our work together began with a look back at the history of and policies that have shaped the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit universe contains complexities with which all of us need to grapple. Events of the past few months did not create racial and gendered inequities in philanthropic funding. Nor did they shape the failed policies and misplaced public funding priorities that necessitated the creation of nonprofits in the first place. The pandemic and the brutal killings over the last few months of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and George Floyd have created a fierce urgency, within us and others, around the need to address the structural inequities that pervade so many of our systems.

Solutions to the challenges our communities face must come from those closest to the issues. And solidarity begins when we recognize that missions, needs, and fate of community-based nonprofits are interconnected. Such a recognition changes our work as nonprofit support providers. In the short term, we’re working together more than ever to address acute needs created by the pandemic; over the longer term we’re committed to addressing chronic needs at the systems level and leveraging our understanding of power dynamics in the sector to shape solutions that are inclusive, sustainable, and grounded in community-based structures and knowledge that already exist.

The most challenging aspect of solidarity is the revolution that takes place in our thoughts and actions when it is embraced. Our leadership practice in this moment disabuses the notion that leadership is the responsibility of a single, heroic figure. The five of us have learned to share leadership, and our work together has challenged us to interrogate the conventional wisdom around capacity building, fund development, data analysis and evaluation, and other nonprofit practices. It also has led us to acknowledge that self-care and the overall well-being of our organizations and staff require tending and attention, even though the dominant structures and culture in which we operate often contest and frustrate that process.

Support is synonymous with "holding up" or "bearing." It's a word we use to describe our function as leaders and organizations in a nonprofit ecosystem. Solidarity has brought us together to make all our internal structures and processes stronger. That scaffolding includes a growing trust in each other and the journey we've embarked on to reimagine leadership. As we continue to push ourselves to grow, we do so with the recognition that our Black and Brown sisters and brothers in nonprofits need more voices like ours to stand up and join with like-minded others to achieve the glorious futures we imagine for our communities.

Allandra Bulger is executive director at Co.act Detroit. Madhavi Reddy is executive director at Community Development Advocates of Detroit. Shamyle Dobbs is CEO at Michigan Community Resources. Yodit Mesfin Johnson is CEO at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work. And Donna Murray-Brown is CEO at the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

"I Am Tired...The Pandemic of Racism Must End"

June 08, 2020

Black_Lives_Matter_protestOver the past week, civil unrest has gripped the nation. Much of it was sparked by the unwarranted and senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who held his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes as Floyd begged for his life and three other MPD officers stood by and did nothing. Tragically, it is only the latest example of an African-American citizen of this country being subjected to wanton police brutality and losing his life as a result. Enough is enough. I cannot, in all good conscience, remain silent while police violence against African Americans goes unchecked or unpunished.

I am a proud African-American man who loves this country. I have close friends and family of all races, and I pride myself on being measured and fair. I have always tried to view the "glass of life" as being "three-quarters full instead of a quarter empty," but my patience has run thin...and I am tired.

Tired of watching innocent black men being targeted with violence by police officers.

Tired of bigots taking the law into their own hands and feeling justified in confronting black citizens of this country.

Tired of negative, media-driven stereotypes that shape the dangerous narratives around young black men.

Tired of white people calling the police on black people, falling back on their feelings of entitlement and privilege to weaponize the police.

Tired of both the purposeful and passive suppression of talented black professionals by corporate America.

Tired of watching black-owned businesses struggle because they cannot access capital.

Tired of corporate America profiting from the fruit of black culture, but not nurturing the tree that bears it.

Tired of the word diversity, which is meant to deflect attention from the word black.

Tired of systemic and institutionalized corporate racism masked by flowery mission statements and codes of conduct that are rarely enforced.

Tired of the rise of the digital and social media economy without commensurate investment in populations that have driven much of its success.

Tired of being disrespected in restaurants as if I did not exist.

Tired of being followed in retail establishments as if I were about to commit a crime.

Tired of not being afforded the same assumption of competence and associated opportunities as my white high school, college, and business school classmates.

Tired of explaining why I like to spend time with black people, even as white people are never asked to explain why they like spending time with other white people.

Tired of the overall physical and psychological toll that being a black man takes on me every day.

As the father of two talented, charming, educated, young black men with unlimited potential, it pains me deeply that I needed to have "the conversation" with them when they were teenagers regarding their possible interaction with cops — the same conversation my dad had with me almost five decades earlier, and that no doubt his dad had with him. Every evening before I go to bed, I say a prayer that my boys will not be targeted and killed by law enforcement who see them as a threat — something none of my white friends or classmates have ever had to endure, much less think about.

Why are we having the same conversations about racism in America in 2020 that we've had for the past fifty, hundred, two hundred years? The reason is that we have never truly had a desire to actually address the "pandemic" of racism in this country. I guarantee you we will develop a vaccine for COVID-19 in short order, just like we've developed cures for other diseases that have plagued us over the centuries. We are a nation able to muster vast amounts of money and intelligence in service to a worthy cause, and the pandemic of racism should be no different. Racism can be cured, but black people alone cannot put an end to the disease. We need the commitment and engagement of consciously aware white people to do that.

Let me be clear: I do not condone violence and looting. But I fully understand the frustration and outrage sparked by yet another incident in which the life of a black person is considered to be worthless. The sight of so many young people — white, black, yellow, and brown — coming together across this country and around the world to protest the injustice of it gives me hope.

Corporate America is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this conversation and to drive the lasting change we so desperately need. As it has done throughout history, American business can offer viable solutions that address the disease of racism while setting an example for the country and the world. The initial response from dozens of CEOs and corporate leaders over the past week gives me cause to be optimistic. But I challenge all of corporate America to follow the lead of these men and women and develop a plan for their businesses informed by fairness, love, and compassion for everyone. Only then will we unlock the true greatness of America.

Headshots_earl_gravesEarl "Butch" Graves, Jr. is an American businessman and retired basketball player.

Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, the SDGs Are More Relevant Than Ever

May 10, 2020

SdgThe world is dealing with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, destroying lives and ruining livelihoods. The primary cost of the pandemic as calculated in the loss of human life is distressing, but the knock-on effects in terms of the global economy, people's livelihoods, and sustainable development prospects are even more alarming. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy has already fallen into recession, and while the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, the ultimate cost is likely to be extraordinary and unprecedented.

That is why we must all support the United Nations' call to scale up the immediate health response to the virus, with a particular focus on women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector, and vulnerable groups who were already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods, and get the global economy back on track.

At the same time, the pandemic has utterly exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system of governance and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt how poverty, inadequate health systems, underresourced educational systems, and sub-optimal global cooperation can exacerbate a crisis like COVID-19. These are exactly the kinds of challenges the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are meant to address.

The rapid spread of the virus has come at a time when the SDGs were beginning to get traction and a significant number of countries were making progress in implementing them. But with the world today consumed by the need to contain the virus and mitigate its many adverse and debilitating impacts, countries are resetting their priorities and reallocating resources to deal with the challenge.

Emerging evidence of the broader impact of the coronavirus crisis on efforts to achieve the SDGs should be troubling for all. UNESCO estimates that some 1.25 billion students globally have been affected by the pandemic, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 4, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) projects that some 25 million people could lose their jobs over the coming months, dealing a serious blow to progress on Sustainable Development Goal 8 — and that is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic also is creating roadblocks to progress on clean water and sanitation targets (Goal 6), addressing pervasive inequality (Goal 10), and, perhaps most importantly, addressing the twin crises of global poverty (Goal 1) and hunger/food insecurity (Goal 2). Indeed, the World Bank estimates that pandemic will push an additional 11 million people into poverty.

In other words, what we cannot afford to do in this critical moment is to de-link the global response to the pandemic from action on the SDGs. Indeed, by continuing to make progress on the SDGs, we will be putting ourselves on a firmer path to dealing with global health risks and the emergence of new infectious diseases in the future. Achieving SDGs Goal 3, for instance, will mean that we succeeded in strengthening the capacity of countries to conduct early warning surveillance, reduce the risk of contagious pathogens from spreading, and manage the situation promptly and effectively should they be faced with such a situation.

As the global community strives to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, we must seek to turn the crisis into an opportunity and ramp up our actions to support and ultimately achieve the goals by 2030. The world has the knowledge and expertise to muster the full complement of resources needed to to do that. Buoyed by a spirit of solidarity, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and civil society have been able to raise and direct trillions of dollars to defeat the virus. We can do the same to defeat global poverty, reduce inequality, provide a quality education to all, protect the climate, and build a more just and sustainable global economy. All that is missing is the political will.

As governments, business, and civil society around the world respond to the impacts of the pandemic, it is incumbent on all of us to stay focused on the underlying factors that have exacerbated those impacts. We cannot relent in our efforts, even amid this painful pandemic, to address people's basic needs, protect the beauty and diversity of our planet, and build a fairer and more just world. COVID-19 reminds us that we face common, global challenges that can only be solved through united, global action. In a crisis like this, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Erna Solberg are, respectively, president of the Republic of Ghana and prime minister of Norway and co-chairs of the UN Secretary-General's Eminent Group of Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Economic Democracy: A Conversation With Funders

March 12, 2020

Diane_Ives_Scott_AbramsThe Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI), in partnership with the Kendeda Fund and the Open Society Foundations (OSF), recently hosted a funder briefing on economic democracy. In the lead-up to the briefing, Sandra Lobo, BCDI board vice president and executive director of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition — a founding member organization of the BCDI — sat down with Diane Ives from the Kendeda Fund and Scott Abrams from OSF to better understand how economic democracy became a priority for their foundations and the opportunities and challenges ahead. Ives has served since 2003 as fund advisor for the Kendeda Fund's People, Place, and Planet program, while Abrams is director of special initiatives for OSF's Economic Justice Program, where he focuses on early-stage high-risk bets aimed at advancing the concept of economic advancement globally. 

In a wide-ranging conversation, Lobo, Ives, and Abrams discussed their respective decisions to invest in BCDI, what funders need to do to support one another in this work, and why there is a need to create a collective consciousness around economic democracy. Economic democracy is a framework in which people share ownership over the assets and resources in their communities and govern and steward them democratically for a shared purpose. It's not just about more participation; it's about sharing power.

The transcript below, provided by BCDI, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sandra Lobo: You all have funded a number of different kinds of work in your tenure. How did economic democracy become a priority for you and your respective programs, and given what you've seen and learned, why do you think it's important?

Diane Ives: When I first started at Kendeda, we didn't even call it the People, Place, and Planet program. It was an environmental sustainability program. We were using the very familiar Venn diagram of sustainability, economics, and equity, and we realized that we were funding in all three of those areas but not where the overlap was, which is really what we were trying to get at. So we made a shift in 2012 toward a vision of "well-being for all within the means of the planet." Once we made that shift, it was easier for us to explore what we call "community wealth-building," which is this notion that communities should have agency around the decisions about their neighborhood and that they're able to retain and build the wealth they need to activate what they really want their neighborhoods and communities to be. So that was the shift we went through between 2012 and 2014.

Scott Abrams: A lot of what Diane just said in terms of community wealth-building resonates very strongly, but let me take a step back and explain how we came to this body of work. The first is widening inequality around the world — in terms of wealth and income — and a second is the way in which the structural deficiencies with the economy have been a driving force for populism and autocratic government we've seen all over the world. Part of our diagnosis is that so many people feel they've lost all control over the economy, and their role within it. This feeling of precariousness and vulnerability has fed a host of unsavory, radical, and regressive political outcomes.  

Questions of redistributive policy are difficult to grapple with in today's political climate. One of the ways in which we think about addressing these issues is to try to build models or spotlight examples of where democratic forms of economic activity are taking root. And a part of that for us is, of course, advancing shared ownership at the firm level and supporting ecosystems that enable more democratic forms of economic activity. Our larger, longer-term hypothesis is that some of those examples could help inspire replication, upscaling, et cetera, which would then impact the way people think about the economy more generally.

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Rooted Communities: Placemaking, Placekeeping

December 06, 2018

IRetail for rentn Seattle's Central District, or "CD," gentrification and rapid development are displacing the largest African-American community in the state, reducing opportunities for wealth creation and accumulation among thousands of lower- and middle-class people and threatening the black community's political representation in city government, as well as its social, cultural, and economic capital.

In just a single generation, the African-American share of the neighborhood's population has fallen from 70 percent to under 20 percent, creating a cultural "diaspora" from what had been a diverse, welcoming neighborhood for more than a hundred and thirty years. Shaped early on by racist housing policies that pushed families of color into the neighborhood and limited their access to economic opportunity, African-American members of the community responded by building powerful neighborhood businesses and institutions. Now, those businesses and institutions are being forced out by surging rents and taxes, eroding the sense of community in the district.

Nationally, African Americans have a homeownership rate of 42 percent, a rate virtually unchanged since 1968 and a third less than the 70 percent enjoyed by whites. In Seattle, the home ownership rate for African Americans is just 24 percent. Low rates of home ownership, in both Seattle and nationally, increase African Americans' vulnerability to gentrification, which inevitably leads to rent increases, reduces the stock of affordable housing, and decreases economic opportunity for long-time members of the community.

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Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

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5 Questions for… David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

November 27, 2018

Established by the late owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills with more than a billion dollars in assets, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation plans to spend those assets down, with a focus on western New York state and southeastern Michigan, by 2035.

David Egner was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2015, having served prior to that as president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson Webber Foundation. A fixture in Michigan philanthropy for decades, first as an executive assistant to longtime W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby, then as director of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and executive director of the New Economy Initiative, Egner is using his extensive knowledge, experience, and connections to make the Detroit and Buffalo metro region better places to live and work.

PND recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Headshot_david_egnerPhilanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

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Newsmaker: Fred Blackwell, CEO, The San Francisco Foundation

January 31, 2018

Fred Blackwell joined The San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the United States, as CEO in 2014. An Oakland native, he previously had served as interim administrator and assistant administrator for the city, led the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Community Development and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and directed the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections Initiative in Oakland.

In June 2016, TSFF announced a new commitment to racial and economic equity in the Bay Area. PND spoke with Blackwell about the foundation's racial equity lens, movement building in the wake of the 2016 elections and Charlottesville, and what it means for philanthropic organizations to speak out, step up, and actually try to achieve racial equity.

Fred_blackwellPhilanthropy News Digest: How do you define "racial equity"?

Fred Blackwell: I define it as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone can participate, prosper, and thrive, regardless of their race or where they live or their family's economic status or any other defining characteristic. Obviously, the way we think about equity is colored by our particular focus on the Bay Area — a place where there is tremendous opportunity and prosperity being generated, but also where access to those opportunities is limited for many people. So from an institutional point of view, we need to answer the question: How do we make sure that the region prospers in a way that the rising tide lifts all boats?

PND: When you stepped into the top job at TSFF in 2014, the foundation already had a lengthy history of social justice work. How did the decision to focus the foundation's grantmaking on racial and economic equity come about?

FB: Shortly after I came to the foundation, we conducted a listening tour of the Bay Area. As part of that listening tour, we held what we called our VOICE: Bay Area sessions — a series of large public meetings in seven diverse low-income communities across the region. In addition, we held consultative sessions, half-day meetings with practitioners, policy people, and thought leaders to talk about trends, both positive and negative, they were seeing in the region and how those trends were affecting people. We did a lot of data collection and analysis. And the data all pointed in the same direction: the need for greater levels of inclusion here in the Bay Area. The fact that race and economic status and geography had predictive power over where people were headed and what they could accomplish concerned us, and it was important to try to respond to that.

There are two pieces of the foundation's history that we wanted to build on: one is the social justice orientation of our work, and the other is our regional footprint. We serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. So in focusing on the equity issue, we're also thinking about it from a regional point of view. What makes the Bay Area unique is its diversity and prosperity, and yet we are a prime real-time example of the kinds of inequalities and inequities that you see on multiple levels across the country. It's important to us as a unit of analysis because equity and the issues that emanate from it — whether it's economic opportunity or housing or education or criminal justice or civic participation — none of those issues conform neatly to the boundaries of the various jurisdictions in the region. People may live in Oakland or San Francisco or Berkeley or Richmond, but they experience the Bay Area as a region.

What I think I brought to the foundation is a laser-like focus on the dimensions of social justice work with respect to racial and economic inclusion and equity — making sure that that "North Star" is something that is modeled at the top and cascades down through all levels of the organization. I would say that we are more explicit than we've been in the past about making equity the focus — not just in our grantmaking but also in how we work with donors, how we provide civic leadership in the region, and how we bring our voice to the table and those of our partners in order to make a difference. We view that North Star as guiding not only our programmatic work but everything we do here at the foundation.

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[Review] 'The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It'

August 10, 2017

In The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It (Basic Books: 2017), urban studies theorist Richard Florida offers a mea culpa of sort for the back-to-the-city movement he has long championed. In books such as The Rise of the Creative Class, and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure and Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2002) and Cities and the Creative Class (Routledge, 2005), Florida argued that, if cities hoped to thrive in a competitive global economy, they needed to attract and retain talent — "[t]he knowledge workers, techies, and artists and other cultural creatives who [make] up the creative class.:

Book_the_new_urban_crisis (002)If nothing else, Florida's timing was impeccable. By 2000, the ranks of the creative class in the United States had grown to 40 million — a third of the U.S. workforce — and many of its members had left the suburban or rural communities of their childhood and headed to cities such as New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where they moved into neighborhoods that had been written off by the professional class and city officials. That story was repeated around the globe, as knowledge workers and creatives flocked to already vibrant cities such as London, Paris, and Tokyo; booming Asian metropolises such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Seoul; and sprawling, emerging mega-cities such as Lagos, Mexico City, and Mumbai.

Indeed, today — in a stunning illustration of the power of urban centers to transform societies through what Florida dubs the "3Ts of economic development" (technology, talent, and tolerance) — more than half the population of the globe lives in cities, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050 upwards of 70 percent of the global population will live in urban areas. Little wonder, then, that in recent decades urbanists have proclaimed "the triumph of the city" (the title of an excellent book by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser), or that the future of humanity is urban.

And yet this newfound appreciation for the richness, convenience, and stimulation provided by city living has not been without costs, as gentrification, rising rents, and real estate speculation have squeezed blue-collar and service workers out of neighborhoods and livelihoods, contributed to the re-segregation of public schools, and driven huge increases in wealth and income inequality. It is an economic failure that we should have seen but didn't, and from the Brexit vote in England, to the election of Donald Trump, to the growing popularity of far-right populist parties in Europe, we are living with the consequences of that failure. The New Urban Crisis is Florida's attempt to diagnose where things went wrong — and offer a prescription for how we can recover an urbanism that works for all people, not just elites and the creative class.

If that's too conceptual, allow me an anecdote by way of illustration: As I was finishing Florida's book in Washington Square Park in Manhattan earlier this summer, surrounded on all sides by buildings belonging to New York University (where Florida is a fellow), I could see, firsthand, his 3Ts at work. Across the way, diverse crowds of college students walked to their next class or appointment while sending photos to friends on the latest app; on the corner, a well-heeled couple waited impatiently for their Uber driver; and, a group of foreign tourists were listening to their guide about the history of the square. To the "urban optimist," it was a perfect illustration of "the stunning revival of cities and the power of urbanization to improve the human condition," while for the pessimist, it might suggest just how profoundly "modern cities [are] being carved into gilded and virtually gated areas for conspicuous consumption by the super-rich...."

And that's not the half of it. The juxtaposition of boundless opportunity and desperate poverty found in so many cities has led to mounting alienation and resentment. Indeed, Florida, who counted himself among the optimists "not too long ago," argues that to truly understand this new urban crisis (as opposed to the mid-twentieth-century urban crisis of deindustrialization and white flight), we need to recognize and come to grips with the fact that cities are both "the great engines of innovation, the models of economic and social progress," and "zones of gaping inequality and class division."

Florida identifies five key factors that have combined to create this crisis: 1) the growing economic gap between so-called superstar cities — where a disproportionate share of high-value industries, high-tech startups, and top talent are concentrated — and struggling industrial cities, or what he calls "winner-take-call urbanism"; 2) the steep rise in urban housing costs, which has resulted in the displacement of countless numbers of blue-collar and service workers, not to mention the poor and disadvantaged; 3) a rapid increase in inequality and segregation driven in part by "sorting" — a phenomenon in which creatives and the well-off congregate in neighborhoods formerly favored by the working middle class, creating a patchwork of relatively small areas of privilege surrounded by large tracts of poverty; 4) the growing crisis in the suburbs, where problems typically associated with urban areas — poverty, economic insecurity, crime, and segregation — are growing and becoming entrenched; and 5) the urbanization of the developing world, often without the improvements in standards of living that accompanied an earlier wave of urbanization in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China.

At the core of these challenges, writes Florida, is an economic divide that shapes our built environment and determines where we live. "Simply put," he adds, "the rich live where they choose, and the poor where they can." This reality creates a host of related problems with both short- and long-term consequences (e.g., "people who live in far-flung suburbs and endure long commutes have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, stress, insomnia, and hypertension and are more likely to commit suicide or die in car crashes").

Florida illustrates each of these challenges using the latest demographic and economic data, much of it pulled from the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, which he leads. In fact, the book is filled with interesting graphs and charts, including one showing the number of houses one could buy in various U.S. cities for the price of a single apartment in Manhattan's chi-chi SoHo neighborhood (Memphis, Tennessee, tops the list with 38!). He also highlights his institute's New Urban Crisis Index, which reveals high levels of combined economic segregation, wage inequality, income inequality, and housing unaffordability not only in superstar cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, but in Chicago, Miami, and Memphis. (While interesting, many of the maps and charts could have benefited from better graphic design, and most of the data cited are for U.S. cities — a weakness in a book that purports to be about global trends.)

But what most readers will be looking for is a solution (or solutions) to this complex crisis of inequality. On that score, the glass is half full (or empty, depending on one's perspective). Florida points to the tension between the kind of "urban density and clustering that innovation and economic progress require" — and a "New Urban Luddism" — as the greatest impediment to the kind of equitable development and opportunity needed to overcome rising inequality. He has little sympathy for these twenty-first-century Luddites, who live in well-off communities and neighborhoods and are quick to say no to projects that may pose inconveniences but whose benefits in terms of the greater public good are indisputable. As he writes at one point, "If we are to...enjoy a widely shared and sustainable prosperity, we must become a more fully and fairly urbanized nation."

With that tension in mind, Florida sets out seven strategies designed to foster a "more productive urbanism for all": 1) make clustering work more efficiently by switching from a property tax to a land value tax; 2) invest in urban infrastructure to support greater density and growth; 3) build more affordable housing; 4) convert low-wage service jobs into living-wage work by raising the minimum wage; 5) address urban and suburban poverty by investing in people and places and providing a universal basic income; 6) shift development policies from nation-building to city-building and mobilize behind a global effort to build more resilient, prosperous cities; and 7) empower cities and communities by devolving political power from states and national governments to cities themselves.

As wide-ranging as these solutions are, the recommendations at the core of Florida’s books are fairly straightforward: governments and the private sector need to make investments in new and upgraded infrastructure and adopt tax and land-use policies that encourage increased density. Around the world, he writes, "strategic investments in basic infrastructure can help connect [poor people] to jobs; leverage their talent and productive capabilities and enable them to become more fully engaged; and, ultimately, turn the vicious cycle of urban isolation and poverty into a virtuous cycle of urban progress." In an American context, that means moving beyond the longstanding practice of encouraging suburban sprawl and expansion into rural areas and, instead, putting a new focus on the country’s neglected urban cores — a re-urbanization movement, if you will — that creates jobs and opportunities for all Americans.

While The New Urban Crisis may not be the twenty-first-century equivalent of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities or Lewis Mumford's The City in History, it is an interesting and highly readable update of Florida's creative class concept and an excellent introduction, for those not familiar with his earlier work, to how a new generation of knowledge workers and creative class types are shaping our economy, our cities, and, for better or worse, our future. The challenges posed by this development are profound, both in the U.S. and around the world, and The New Urban Crisis is a welcome contribution to the conversation around the best ways to address those challenges.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

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

_____

OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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[Review] 'Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations'

January 30, 2017

One morning at the gym, I looked up at the TV and saw that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was promoting his latest book and opining about the state of the world following the U.S. elections. It took me a minute, between the banter and the buzzwords, but I eventually understood Friedman's reason for writing the book: like most of us, he thinks the world is moving too fast. His recommended remedy? We all need to slow down and reflect on the causes of this acceleration so that we can more confidently (and optimistically) chart our way through an increasingly complex world.

Bookcover_Thank You For Being LateAs he explains in Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writes books (The Lexus and the Olive Tree; The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century; Hot, Flat, and Crowded) "because I love…taking a complex subject and trying to break it down so…I...understand it and…readers better understand it." Reading his work, one can see the interplay between the best sellers he writes every few years and his twice-a-week musings on the op-ed page of the Times. In Thank You For Being Late, for example, he sets the table with one of his go-to subjects: Moore's law, named after Intel-co-founder Gordon Moore, who noted in 1965 that computing power had been doubling every year based on the increasing density of silicon transistors in computer chips — and was likely to continue at a similar rate for at least the next ten years. As anyone who follows tech knows, Moore's famous observation continues to bear out forty years after its predicted expiration date. And the consequences of that astounding increase in computing power serve as a backdrop against which Friedman explores three accelerating forces affecting every aspect of our lives: technology (especially cloud computing, which he calls the"Supernova"), globalization (the "Market"), and climate change ("Mother Nature").

The exponential growth in computing power and the increasing rate of innovation it drives have created, according to Friedman, an orders-of-magnitude change in digital interconnectedness, transforming how we communicate (texting, social media), shop (e-commerce), and even where we sleep (Airbnb). At the same time, he argues, the rate of change, both technological and social, enabled by this connectivity now exceeds our ability to adapt, causing many of our current political, economic, and sectarian challenges. "When fast gets really fast," he writes, "being slower to adapt makes you really slow — and disoriented."

And guess what? The world continues to speed up.

He notes, for instance, that the typical cellphone today provides SMS texting capabilities and mobile access to the Internet to anyone who can afford one, creating a previously unimaginable global exchange of goods and ideas. Residents of small towns in sub-Saharan Africa are just a text or a click away from family members in northern European cities — and everyone in between. "Globalization has always been everything and its opposite — it can be incredibly democratizing and it can concentrate incredible power in giant multinationals," he writes; "it [also] can be incredibly particularizing — the smallest voices can now be heard everywhere — and incredibly homogenizing, with big brands now able to swamp everything everywhere."

On the downside, the forces unleashed by globalization and a digitally networked world are merging with human-driven climate change to create a perfect storm of unintended, and mostly negative, consequences, with the most profound effects being felt in the most vulnerable countries and communities. Sadly, efforts to cope with the massive movement of people triggered by climate change have been woefully inadequate, not least because "when Moore's law and globalization accelerate at their current rates and your country falls behind on education and infrastructure, it falls behind at an accelerating rate as well."

The book is classic Friedman — a smorgasbord of ideas interspersed with conversations with world leaders and parking attendants. In a single chapter he might explore the potential of article intelligence, reflect on the political cataclysms of recent years, and offer policy recommendations based on lessons learned from Mother Nature. Throughout he indulges his seemingly insatiable curiosity and penchant for asking questions that border on the metaphysical. If at times it causes his narrative to feel a bit scattered — jumping from topic to topic with an alacrity that can be fatiguing — most readers won't hold it against him; in fact, it is probably what makes his writing appealing to so many.

I know: Friedman's technique is often criticized for being a form of lesson-by-anecdote that is taken more seriously than it should be. The caricature goes something like this: I was in [insert world city] for two days and took a cab to meet with [insert world leader]. While in the ride over, I spoke to my driver, who shared his view that [insert insightful comment], and all of a sudden I thought to myself: Eureka! this is the answer to [insert complex world crisis].

And it's true, to the extent that any caricature is. But the final chapters of Thank You for Being Late are much more substantive and give us the musings of a grounded, authentic, and, yes, deep thinker — not to mention a badly needed voice of reason in our current politically fraught climate. In the final pages of the book, for example, he visits his childhood home of St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, where he grew up in an environment of "inclusion and civic idealism." Once there, he tries to see the community for what it was and is, all the while looking for the source of its still-evident civic spirit — and for lessons that can be replicated in communities across the country. The story of St. Louis Park, he writes, "is the story of how an ethic of pluralism and a healthy community got built one relationship, one breakup, one makeup, one insult, one welcoming neighbor, one classroom at a time." While nostalgia is certainly a factor in this rosy assessment, there's more to his trip down memory lane and explorations of what happens in a community where people take the time to get to know each other and build bonds across their differences — or, as he puts it, who are willing "to belong to a network of intertwined 'little platoons', communities of trust, which [form] the foundation for belonging, for civic idealism, for believing others who [are different] [can] and should belong, too." Yes, in an age of accelerating global interdependence and contact between strangers, "the bridges of understanding that we have to build are longer, the chasms they have to span much deeper." But that is the challenge.

In our ever more complicated world, generalists who wrestle with a broad spectrum of ideas and seek to help us understand often difficult issues and events are in short supply. In the crowded (and increasingly noisy) public square of the twenty-first century, reasonable, thoughtful, and generous are not adjectives applied to many: Thomas Friedman is all three, and Thank You for Being Late offers some of his best work to date.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

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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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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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