163 posts categorized "Civil Society"

Information for more impact: An interview with Kat Rosqueta, Executive Director, Center for High Impact Philanthropy and Candid Board Chair

May 23, 2022

Headshot_Kat_Rosqueta_Center for High Impact PhilanthropyIn February 2022, Katherina “Kat” Rosqueta became board chair of Candid, the organization established in 2019 with the merger of Foundation Center and GuideStar, where she had also served as a trustee beginning in 2012. Rosqueta was integral to the planning that led to the creation of Candid and served as vice chair to T. Sylvester John, whom she succeeded this year.

To many, Rosqueta is best known as the founding executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP), a collaboration between the Wharton School—where she received her MBA in 2001—and the School of Social Policy and Practice. Since 2006, Rosqueta has led CHIP’s effort to encourage the practice of an evidence-based approach to philanthropy.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Rosqueta about her career, her work with CHIP, and how it all connects with Candid’s 2030 vision.

Philanthropy News Digest: You’re a Philadelphia native. After earning an undergraduate degree at Yale and working for more than a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area, was coming home, first for an MBA at Wharton and then as a founder of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, inevitable?

Kat Rosqueta: The draw of family was always quite strong, but after a decade in Northern California there was a lot of reinforcement of the same ideas. I considered business school when I was at a point in my career where I needed more tools and a bigger community to figure out how I could make a bigger difference.

At the same time, people around me were saying: “Oh, nonprofits have to be more business-like.” I decided to find out what that means.

To give you some historical context, I left the Bay Area at the frothiest part of the first dot-com bubble. People thought I was insane to leave Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Until that point, I was almost always involved in some sort of startup, and I had a bias—one that I think a lot of entrepreneurs, in my case, a social entrepreneur, had—around any kind of consulting.

But I got recruited to McKinsey & Company during the summer between my first and second year at Wharton. I found really sharp people that I was learning really quickly from and with.

To me, my time with McKinsey—and my earlier work in Wells Fargo’s Corporate Community Development Group—is reflected in our work at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. No single sector—the business sector, the government sector, the nonprofit, philanthropic sector—alone can possibly advance the kind of lasting, positive social change that we all hope for.

You can even look at the origin story of CHIP, which was conceived as a collaborative effort between fellow alumni of the Wharton School and the dean and stakeholders from what was then called the School of Social Work, now Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice.

And while it can be much more challenging and take longer to work in those kinds of collaborative efforts, or even with a really diverse team, that’s the only way to solve these really tough problems....

Read the full interview with Kat Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy and board chair of Candid.

Who is engaging, how, and on behalf of which social issues?: A commentary by Natalye Paquin

May 16, 2022

Young woman_megaphone_protest_social_justice_GettyImages_LeoPatriziFor nearly two and a half years, we’ve shared one collective experience around the world. And while most of us are ready to leave behind the years of fear, uncertainty, and loss, we should think twice before rushing to get back to our “old lives,” and for good reason.  

History tells us that pandemics and other crises can be catalysts for rebuilding society in new and better ways. If we seek to get back to our old ways, we—especially in the nonprofit sector—are missing an opportunity to take this historic moment to address the fractured systems and stark inequities the global pandemic has exposed, exacerbated, and solidified. We cannot be “done” when there is still so much to do.  

At Points of Light, we’ve been shining a light on the organizations and individuals serving as those catalysts for rebuilding society. We continue to uplift hundreds of stories of light so those changemakers who have taken action, supported their communities, and made each day just a little better for others can inspire a movement.

Beyond sharing stories, we also need to take this opportunity to meaningfully study the nonprofit sector and determine how organizations can make an impact amid this “new normal.” We’ve been asking ourselves: Who is taking action? In what ways are they engaging and on behalf of which social issues? And for those who are not engaging, why not?

Points of Light just released Civic Life Today: The State of Global Civic Engagement, a series of five in-depth reports that provide insight into the attitudes and behaviors of individuals and the barriers they face—globally and across the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and India—to help us begin to answer these questions. Here are some of the key findings from our research....

Read the full commentary by Natalye Paquin, president and CEO of Points of Light.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Leo Patrizi)

Review: 'Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropy and Democratic Equality'

April 30, 2022

Book_cover_Public_Virtues_Private_VicesIt is lamented that large-scale philanthropy (like everything else) has become politicized and polarizing, subject to conspiracy theories and accusations of whitewashing and being too “woke.” In Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropy and Democratic Equality, Emma Saunders-Hastings reminds us that contributing private wealth for the public good—by definition—has always been a political act.

An assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, Saunders-Hastings writes like the academic she is, giving careful consideration to historical and contemporary theorists and practitioners—including Alexis de Tocqueville, John Rawls, Peter Singer, Rob Reich, and Erica Kohl-Arenas—and scrupulously qualifying her statements, devoting almost as much space to what she is not arguing as to what she is. She does not deny the merits of philanthropy itself, as Machiavelli did, but seeks “a theory of philanthropy that is political, not just ethical; that applies across multiple levels of idealization; and that is oriented to relational equality”—that is, relations of social and political (not distributive) equality.

“Democratic equality demands of philanthropy and philanthropic regulation not (or not only) better outcomes but changes in the ways that power is distributed and exercised within philanthropic relationships,” she writes.

The book focuses on two objections to philanthropy with regard to democracy: “philanthropy can be an exercise of plutocratic power, and it can be objectionably paternalistic.” The title’s “public vices” are “relational vices—usurpation, subordination, failures of reciprocity, and paternalism,” which can create or reinforce unequal political relationships, even when based on consent. Despite calls for reform, elite philanthropy continues to enjoy both social deference, which limits comparative evaluations of philanthropic donations, and institutional and legal deference, in the form of tax benefits, facilitation of foundation creation, weak oversight, and protection of donor intent....

Read the full review by Kyoko Uchida, features editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

Review: 'The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World'

April 03, 2022

Book_cover_the_smart_nonprofit_fine_kanterTechnology is collecting information from us all the time to guide us in our decision making—much more than ever conceived of 30 or 40 years ago. A Netflix algorithm makes recommendations on past viewing history; Amazon’s algorithm decides how products are ranked in search results; Facebook’s algorithm determines what you see in your feed, to good and not-so-good results. If we’re not careful, algorithms can be used to decide who gets hired, who gets a loan, and who can receive vital, life-saving services. That part of it is about making sure human beings are not part of a data point metric but considered unique individuals with various needs. In The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World,  Beth Kanter and Alison Fine, two experts in the use of technology for social good, explore the many ways in which nonprofits have been adopting “smart tech,” which they define as “an umbrella term for advanced digital technologies that make decisions for people.” Smart tech includes artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, and robots.

Kanter and Fine discuss the many ways in which smart tech is quickly becoming a part of nonprofit operations and how it’s used to automate tasks and save time. One of the most significant points they make is the importance of saving time in the nonprofit world—this world filled with people who are working to do good but may not have copious resources, staff, money, or time. The authors refer to this as the “dividend of time,” which translates to freeing staff to focus on other activities instead of rote tasks. Enabling staff to focus on “the things that only people can do” could lead to the very things the nonprofit is working to accomplish internally and externally, like reducing staff burnout, connecting with clients on a deeper level, solving problems, building better relationships within the sector, creating solutions, and overall better outcomes—a win-win when you find yourself in the nonprofit trenches and wishing for the day to be a little longer to offer just a bit more to the communities you serve....

Read the full review by Lauren Brathwaite, content editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

Ukrainian civil society working to meet urgent needs: A commentary by Svitlana Bakhshaliieva

April 01, 2022

Independence monument and ukrainian flag in Kiev_GettyImages_DmyToHelping Ukrainian civil society meet urgent needs during and after the war

Ukrainian civil society received a significant boost in 2014, when the need for charitable assistance increased sharply during the Revolution of Dignity as well as after the occupation of Crimea and the start of the war in eastern Ukraine. NGOs and charitable foundations have since proven to be an effective driving force for coordinating aid and meeting civic needs, which has helped catalyze the institutionalization of the social sector in Ukraine. Today, there are more foundations that can work efficiently and systematically, and as we have seen since the start of the war in February, civil society is able to quickly adapt to new conditions to meet current challenges.

For example, a few days into the current war, the Alexey Stavnitser Foundation, together with relevant government ministries, the armed forces, and representatives of Ukrainian businesses, set up a warehouse in Poland to collect medicines and humanitarian aid from abroad. A few days later, the executive director of the Olena Pinchuk Foundation, who helps with the coordination of aid procurement, joined the initiative as a volunteer. And thanks to the cooperation of the Ernst Prost Foundation, the warehouse can now accept payments from all over the world and buy supplies abroad....

Read the full commentary by Svitlana Bakhshaliieva, international partnerships manager at Zagoriy Foundation in Kyiv. 

(Photo credit: Getty Images/DmyTo)

Find more articles in Philanthropy News Digest about  philanthropy’s response to the war in Ukraine.

Find more updates and resources on Candids special issue page on the philanthropic response to the war in Ukraine.

Resistance and opposition to Putin’s assault on democracy: A commentary by Viorel Ursu

March 18, 2022

Independence monument and ukrainian flag in Kiev_GettyImages_DmyTo_2Supporting civil society and democracy in Ukraine and beyond

The Open Society Foundations have been funding civil society groups in Ukraine since our founder, George Soros, launched the Kyiv-based International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) in 1990. Today, in the face of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s aggression, our foundations’ commitment to the independence of a democratic Ukraine is stronger than ever.  

But what does that mean? It means stepping up our support for those we have always supported in Ukraine—the civil society groups that have reinforced Ukraine’s democratic development, particularly since the Maidan uprising of the winter of 2013-14. Through our locally led foundation, we have been providing around $8 million annually in grants to these groups, working on everything from fighting corruption, to defending independent media, to helping Ukraine’s response to COVID-19, and promoting the rights of citizens.

So what are we doing now? With Ukrainian cities under attack, with more than a million civilians already fleeing the country and more terrors ahead, the international community is engaged in a massive humanitarian relief effort. But there’s another desperate need—to support the continued existence of the civil society groups in Ukraine and elsewhere in the region that provide the life blood of democracy, and who are now under threat from Putin....

Read the full commentary by Viorel Ursu, a division director with the Open Society Foundations’ Europe and Eurasia program.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/DmyTo)

Find more articles in Philanthropy News Digest about  philanthropy’s response to the war in Ukraine.

Find more updates and resources on Candids special issue page on the philanthropic response to the war in Ukraine.

 

Civic Alliance: A commentary by Natalie Tran

March 16, 2022

I_Voted_stickers_element5-digital_unsplashWorking together to strengthen civic engagement

At the CAA Foundation, we work to activate popular culture to create sustainable social change. Alongside our colleagues, clients, and industry peers, we mobilize timely initiatives to raise awareness and catalyze action and forge public-private partnerships to achieve scale and impact.

One of those initiatives is the Civic Alliance—a coalition of America’s premier businesses united by a commitment to our democracy. Founded in partnership with the nonpartisan civic nonprofit Democracy Works, the Civic Alliance has built a community of more than 1,250 businesses with a reach of over 5.5 million employees.

Personally, I’m encouraged by the record voter turnout we have seen in recent years: 49.4 percent in the 2018 midterm elections and 66.8 percent in the 2020 presidential election. I am hopeful that this trend in increased voter turnout will continue and that we will break records in upcoming elections....

Read the full commentary by Natalie Tran, executive director of the CAA Foundation.

(Photo credit: element5-digital via Unsplash)

 

Going beyond community engagement, building community power: A commentary by Aditi Vaidya

January 14, 2022

Hands_collaboration_trust_GettyImages_Prostock-StudioWhy does the country’s largest foundation dedicated to health and health equity care about community power? I get that question a lot when discussing our support of Lead Local, a collaboration funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to advance our understanding of the role community power plays in catalyzing, creating, and sustaining conditions for healthy, equitable communities.

In its nearly fifty-year history, RWJF has long valued and invested in efforts focused on community engagement to improve health. Through our own analysis and evaluation, we’ve come to recognize that community engagement is critical but in and of itself not enough to create systemic and enduring change. We’ve learned that community power can be designed to specifically target the root and structural causes of health inequities — racism, sexism, and classism within the structures and systems that govern our lives. We know what the social determinants of health are, and now we also know that community power-building strategies developed and led by those communities most impacted by structural inequities are critical to addressing all determinants.

RWJF funded Lead Local nearly three years ago to learn what the sector could teach funders like us that are committed to dismantling structural barriers to health such as powerlessness, housing segregation, and lack of access to quality jobs, food, or medical care....

Read the full commentary by Aditi Vaidya, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Prostock-Studio)

Review: The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream

October 25, 2021

Book_cover_david_m_rubenstein_the_american_experimentAt seventy-two years old, David M. Rubenstein remains curious and keeps asking questions. The billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, the world's third largest private equity firm, is curious about American history and how that history helps define what being an American actually means. As an investor and philanthropist, Rubenstein is keenly interested in what motivates people and society to do hard things. And while he demurs from calling himself a journalist, on the David Rubenstein Show on Bloomberg News and History with David Rubenstein on PBS, Rubenstein has in recent years pursued a reporter-like thread through conversations exploring the myriad facets of American identity and how they are reflected in our business practices, the arts, our communities, and above all our civic life — that is, how we understand and exercise our rights and obligations as citizens.

The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream is Rubenstein's third collection of ideas and interviews exploring the nature of America. While many of these conversations occurred as early as 2017, several took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, some as recently as this summer, giving an existential sharpness and immediacy to Rubenstein's narrative. Rubenstein has been described as a patriotic philanthropist, notably footing the bill for improvements to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, among many other gifts. And in a very real sense, The American Experiment is an extension of that philanthropy; sharing his idea of America — his received wisdom — with an America fraught with immense challenges, but gifted with extraordinary opportunity....

Read the full review by Daniel X Matz, foundation web development manager at Candid.

[Review] How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us

October 14, 2021

Book_cover_how_we give_nowEvery day, we give. In many, many ways. Though we might not realize it, we are constantly giving our time, our money, and, as Lucy Bernholz, senior research scholar at Stanford University's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), reminds us, our personal data. In How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us, Bernholz asks us — the non-wealthy givers — to expand our definition of philanthropy to include the numerous ways in which we are already participating in society, and to do so with more consciousness around how we give.

In writing this book, Bernholz engaged individuals and groups across the nation in reflective discussions about all the ways in which they direct their private resources for public benefit, beyond what is traditionally captured in official giving data. The stories people shared — in big cities and rural towns — are brought to life in the book and highlight the array of giving options we have.

Over the last few decades, income inequality in the United States has been worsening. As the wealthy get wealthier, their contributions are fueling a steady rise in charitable contributions, but fewer and fewer families overall are engaging in philanthropy and volunteering. To help us better understand why, Bernholz presents a broader "givingscape" — one that includes all the ways we — "the rest of us" — are asked to give in today's fast-paced digital environment....

Read the full review by Sarina Dayal.

'Philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as government': A commentary by AJ Dahiya

October 06, 2021

Globe_Afghanistan_India_WorldMaps_via_StockSnapWhat philanthropy can learn from Afghanistan:

I recently read the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from 20 Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction to try to understand how the investment of $145 billion in reconstruction dollars over two decades could be so decisively and spectacularly undone in a mere ten days. 

The section that stood out the most for me was titled "The US Government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly." It details how the Americans tried to superimpose Western models onto Afghan institutions, unintentionally empowering corrupt power brokers and unwittingly supporting projects that were meant to mitigate conflict but often exacerbated it. In large and small ways, this lack of cultural context extended to all they did. For example, the new schools being constructed were designed to American standards, with a heavy roof that required a crane to install, yet cranes could not be used in the mountainous terrain of much of the country. 

Reflecting on these tragic lessons in hubris, money, and power, I see so many important lessons for our own work. 

In truth, philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as governments. How often do we assume that because we have the resources, we also have the solutions? Do top-down attempts at movement building make any more sense than attempts at nation building? How do we shift our ways of thinking and doing to move from saving those in need to a focus on serving them? 

Read the full commentary by AJ Dahiya, chief vision officer of the Pollination Project.

Twenty years after 9/11, still fighting the criminalization and dehumanization of our communities

July 15, 2021

DRUM protest for excluded workers_risetogether_philantopicOn September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona, when Frank Silva Roque, a white Boeing aircraft mechanic, saw Sodhi's turban, a sign of his Sikh faith, and shot and killed him. Silva Roque then drove through town and shot two people of Middle Eastern descent, who thankfully survived. Roque was apprehended the next day and is now serving a life sentence.

Sodhi's murder was just one of an onslaught of hate crimes committed in the wake of 9/11. Nor were hate crimes committed by individuals the only threat to targeted communities. The Department of Homeland Security spearheaded the criminalization of Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) immigrant men through humiliating racial profiling programs like the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Tens of thousands of Black and Brown men were forced to line up at federal agencies to register for ongoing government surveillance based on religion, ethnicity, and national origin, targeting foreign nationals from twenty-five countries. Before the program was finally dismantled in 2016, thousands of families were torn apart and entire communities were devastated by job losses, deportations, and ongoing harassment.

Stories of interpersonal and structural violence against BAMEMSA communities after 9/11 are ubiquitous, but so are the stories of activists rising to these challenges and leading a vibrant movement to secure their rights and inclusion. Members of the Sikh community formed the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit that has won numerous court cases against workplace discrimination, school bullying, racial profiling, and hate crimes and has secured the passage of groundbreaking religious rights laws and significant policy improvements. Community-based activist organizations like Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), founded in 2000 to build the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low wage immigrant workers, youth, and families in New York City, mobilized to support the victims of state-sponsored discrimination, offering "know your rights" training, holding vigils and protests at federal agencies, documenting civil rights violations, and working in solidarity with other social justice organizations to demand policy change.

That movement includes the founding of the RISE Together Fund (RTF) in 2008, the first national donor collaborative dedicated to supporting directly impacted voices to lead policy and social change in BAMEMSA communities. Housed at Proteus Fund, the RISE Together Fund is led by an all-women team, each of whom identifies with the communities we support, connecting our personal and political commitments to build a just, multiracial, feminist democracy.

This year, as we mark two decades since 9/11, we're reflecting on the milestones of our movement, including working with grassroots organizations over four years to organize against the Muslim & Africa Bans, a series of Supreme Court-approved restrictions on travel to the United States from thirteen countries — which was finally rescinded on day one of the Biden administration. We also helped increase voter turnout among BAMEMSA communities by mobilizing significant support for civic engagement initiatives. We partnered with Dr. Tom Wong, a specialist in identifying high-potential voters of color, who worked with twelve grantees, including the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, on non-partisan voter messaging, outreach, and technical support.

Despite these many successes, BAMEMSA communities continue to be underinvested in and excluded from broader conversations and philanthropic opportunities around racial justice and immigrant justice. We also are up against a tidal wave of funding in support of efforts to demonize and criminalize our communities. According to a 2019 report authored by Abbas Barzegar and Zainab Arain, between 2014 and 2016, more than a thousand organizations funded thirty-nine groups with a total revenue capacity of $1.5 billion that foment hate toward BAMEMSA communities. While RTF and our philanthropic partners are making great strides in supporting BAMEMSA communities, we have a long way to go to fully address their continued criminalization and dehumanization.

Since 2009, RTF has worked with longtime field partner ReThink Media to ensure that BAMEMSA movement leaders speak for themselves and build media savvy. ReThink offers fieldwide spokesperson training, messaging research and guidance, op-ed writing support, and direct connections to journalists. The overarching goal of RTF is to direct grants toward building a long-term, sustainable movement and work alongside grantees and the wider BAMEMSA field to develop and amplify a collective voice — a voice that is particularly critical this year in countering nationalistic sloganeering and offering more critical perspectives that address the ongoing harms of the 9/11 era.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, RTF is offering a variety of opportunities for funders to learn more about our communities and support their efforts to build a stronger democracy — through funder briefings, panel discussions, and blog posts. In June we co-hosted a funder briefing with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) about supporting impacted communities; in October we will hold a panel discussion on "The 20th Anniversary of 9/11: BAMEMSA Women Activists Leading Resistance and Resilience" at the CHANGE Philanthropy UNITY Summit; and in collaboration with Democracy Fund and Mission Partners, we are working to publish a series of blog posts to educate philanthropy about the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA movement. We are speaking with funders about opportunities to support the urgent needs of grantees in their efforts to mobilize around the 9/11 anniversary, such as locally focused arts and culture programming to share the experiences of BAMEMSA communities over the past two decades. There are opportunities for partners to support BAMEMSA field leaders with long-term cultural strategy training and coaching to help them communicate their work more effectively to wider audiences and coherently connect post-9/11 harms to broader conversations on surveillance, policing, and racial justice.

While the anniversary is an important moment for us to reflect on the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA field, our work is ongoing. Policy advocacy is needed to address the ongoing criminalization of our communities, such as efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and defund Homeland Security grants used to support spying and psychological warfare in BAMEMSA communities. We must fund ongoing nonpartisan voter engagement efforts outside of federal election years, and we need to protect field leaders who face doxxing and threats online with robust digital security support. Given that 80 percent of our grantee organizations are led by women of color, we need to support their leadership with resiliency training and capacity building efforts to empower their work well into the future.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, we at RTF reaffirm our commitment to support communities who have been on the front lines of creating a just society and we invite fellow funders to support BAMEMSA communities in this important year.

(Photo credit: Desis Rising Up & Moving)

SheilaBapat_ClaireDowning_AlisonKysia_DeborahMkari_RTF_philantopicSheila Bapat, is senior program officer, Claire Downing is program officer, Alison Kysia is grant writer, and Deborah Makari is program assistant for the RISE Together Fund at Proteus Fund.

Funding criminal justice reform in Latin America: Investing in affected communities

June 15, 2021

Casa de las Muñecas_PhilanTopicThere is always a glass-half-full aspect to grantmaking: While we are proud of what our grants have helped accomplish, we recognize that we can always do better. Looking back on the past decade of grantmaking by the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative in support of criminal justice reform, we can draw critical lessons from both our successes and our failures.

We would like to share some lessons learned from our work funding communities affected by over-policing, mass incarceration, and state violence in Latin America.

A bedrock principle for us is that affected communities are the most capable drivers of long-term, sustainable change, and funders need to prioritize providing them with direct support.

There are four fundamental reasons why donors funding criminal justice reform should support leaders of the movement who are directly impacted by the system:

1. Investing in collective organizing and leadership provides affected communities with resources to build their power. It enables them to shape a narrative on public safety that highlights the stories of the victims and exposes the root causes of violence and harm such as social, economic, and racial injustices — and the way the criminal justice system is designed to criminalize and discriminate against marginalized communities. Funding their leaders also empowers affected communities to develop solutions to problems that directly impact them, and funding is critical to effectively challenging structural inequality and injustice through a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach.

2. Investing in affected communities contributes to a more representative, diverse, and inclusive criminal justice movement that nurtures new and emerging leaders. In Brazil, for example, white — and often elite — legal and policy advocacy groups tend to dominate the criminal justice field — but this is changing. More Black activists and Black-led organizations such as the newly formed Black Coalition for Rights, are leading advocacy on criminal justice reform and placing racial justice squarely on the agenda of the broader movement, and more donors are funding racial justice work in the country. In Mexico, the trans-led NGO Casa de las Muñecas is introducing new perspectives in the criminal justice debate regarding discrimination against trans women, which other organizations in this space have not prioritized. Building the leadership of affected communities has a knock-on effect on mainstream organizations as well, motivating them to recruit staff and board members from these communities, diversifying their membership.

3. The strong connection between directly impacted people and their families, neighbors, and/or people with similar experiences gives those leaders and organizations legitimacy in the eyes of their communities and the public. They therefore have a greater capacity to mobilize and galvanize people around their demands. In the United States, as a result of the shift in the profile of its leadership to include more people from impacted communities, the criminal justice movement has pushed new and more radical ideas to the fore, such as "prison abolition" and "defunding the police," and is placing greater emphasis on initiatives dealing with violence prevention, community reinvestments, and reentry. In Latin America, a nascent network of formerly incarcerated women (including Red de Acciones por la Justicia in Mexico, Mujeres Libres in Colombia, and Amparar in Brazil), is developing an advocacy platform to promote transformative justice across the region, a topic that traditional criminal justice organizations, which have been more focused on technical legislative reforms, have not prioritized.

4. While directly impacted individuals are arguably the most capable and effective leaders of the criminal justice movement, they are also the most in need of and the least able to access resources. Groups and movements led by affected communities are typically under-funded and conduct most of their work on a volunteer basis. They lack the vital resources required for organizational and professional development (e.g., fundraising, advocacy) and end up giving their time and energy free of charge, despite precarious living conditions, such as insecure housing, lack of access to basic services (health care, education, etc.), and the stigma that comes with having spent time behind bars or the trauma of having lost a family member to state violence.

Donors have an important role to play in supporting affected communities' efforts to organize, strategize, and develop their own solutions to problems of which they have an intimate knowledge.

Here are four lessons we'd like to share from our experience in Latin America:

1. Funding affected communities requires grantmaking that is flexible, long-term, and premised on trust. Keep in mind that while grantees will choose the path that works best for them, it may take time to figure this out, and results may not be immediately tangible. There may be an advocacy win down the road, but the organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing necessary to make it happen could take years. Results need to be measured against movement-building milestones such as agenda setting, increased visibility of advocates and positions, stronger networks/development of new organizations, and law and policy reform).  

2. Affected communities should make their own decisions, but they need allies and assistance from well-established organizations that can offer respectful accompaniment and technical support. Allies (including donors) must perform a delicate balancing act: committing to nurturing the leadership of affected communities while knowing when to step back to let them make their own decisions.

3. We need to navigate movement dynamics carefully. Funding one set of affected leaders or organizations but not another may pit groups against each other. Donors need to understand alliances and rivalries and asses how best to support the movement as a whole. It is also important to recognize the tensions between movements. For instance, in Colombia, we cannot assume that solidarity is automatic between female coca growers in rural areas and women who use or sell drugs in urban settings, but they could rally around common goals such as the need for economic opportunities.

4. Some communities self-organize to defend their rights and interests but do not focus on criminal justice reform. For instance, while associations of sex workers, people who use drugs, or LGBTQI communities are victims of violence and criminalization, they tend not to operate in the criminal justice field. They could, however, be allies and help break silos between movements.

It's too early to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the impact of this strategic shift on policy and practice and people's lives. Yet, after a few years of funding affected communities in Latin America, we already see changes in the types of organizations and activists present in the criminal justice field across the region: They are more diverse, they have brought new voices and perspectives to the table, and they have given a sense of empowerment to disenfranchised communities. We hope the donor community embraces this approach and understands that systemic change requires a sustained and collaborative effort and a commitment to invest in building the infrastructure for movements that have historically lacked access to resources.

(Photo credit: Casa de las Muñecas)

Soheila Comninos_Nina_Madsen_PhilanTopic Soheila Comninos and Nina Madsen are program officers in the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative.

 

Business must do more to restore our democracy — and philanthropy must help

February 12, 2021

News_capitol_building_from_mallOn January 6, we witnessed an unprecedented attack on American democracy — the culmination of a sustained campaign to undermine the integrity of the November 2020 election and, ultimately, overturn the will of the people. While our democracy withstood the assault, the insurrection revealed its underlying vulnerability.

Now more than ever, we need to defend democracy. The business community bears some responsibility for our current predicament and has an especially important role to play in upholding democratic norms. Philanthropy can help by holding corporate America to account for its role in degrading those norms, and by encouraging reforms that ensure that corporate political activity works for, not against, the public interest.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many CEOs, companies, and trade associations responded by condemning the assault and calling for consequences for those responsible. A number of major corporations, including Marriott International, American Express, Dow Chemical, and AT&T, ended their political contributions to members of Congress who voted against the certification of the Electoral College votes. Dozens of other companies temporarily suspended all political contributions.

These statements and actions have been important. Amidst a broader, troubling trend of declining trust, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows business to be the most trusted of our major institutions — and the only one seen by a majority of Americans as both ethical and competent. The same survey revealed that 86 percent of Americans expect CEOs to speak out on social issues and highlighted the expectation among respondents that corporations should work with government to solve problems. Given Americans' generally favorable view of business, business leaders' unambiguous condemnation of the attack was a necessary affirmation of the election's legitimacy.

And yet it is deeply troubling that it took such a profound crisis for a critical mass of business leaders to express their concern about our broken politics and to condemn racist, anti-democratic actions. Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and current chair of the B Team, said in the Harvard Business Review that CEOs "chose tax breaks and a booming stock market over ethical leadership," and concluded that "this silence — in the face of repeated assaults on common decency, respect and rule of law — helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the recent insurrection to occur."

This abdication of responsibility by business leaders is remarkable given the formidable political power corporations wield. And as large corporations in almost every industry have consolidated their market power, they have also assembled a formidable political advocacy infrastructure to protect and advance their commercial interests.

This power is overwhelmingly deployed to advance specific policies that advance individual companies' commercial interests, but often directly contradict companies' public commitments and stated aims on important social issues.

For example, with respect to racial justice, companies have contributed to state-level 527 organizations that are at the forefront of rolling back voting rights for people of color.

On climate change, many of the companies publicizing the steps they are taking to achieve net zero carbon emissions are contributing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the strongest lobbies opposing major climate reform.

Even during the COVID pandemic, companies have been supporting organizations behind the scenes working to advance litigation designed to weaken unions, or have been engaged in outright union busting.

Such hypocrisy has to stop.

Investors increasingly are demanding greater transparency and accountability from corporations, as evidenced by demands from asset owners for companies to immediately stop funding treason, and by the growing number of shareholder resolutions concerning political spending and lobbying disclosure.

The American public is also demanding greater accountability from corporations with respect to their political activity. According to recent polling from JUST Capital, 78 percent of Americans favor requiring companies to publicly disclose all political donations, while a majority believe corporate political spending is harmful to democracy.

Collectively, these trends are changing the risk-reward calculus for corporations engaged in political activity. Indeed, this could be a moment when norms and standards of corporate political accountability actually shift. But for that to happen, philanthropy needs to be more strategically, deliberately, and forcefully involved in catalyzing the change we need.

First, foundations and family offices that have direct relationships with corporations should explore opportunities for direct engagement and dialogue with respect to corporate political accountability. Through their board members, endowment investments, and/or philanthropic partnerships, foundations can signal how important it is that the positive impact of corporate philanthropic engagement is not offset, undone, or undermined by corporate political activity working at cross-purposes to the public good.

Second, philanthropies can do more to support the advocacy organizations fighting for accountability in corporate political spending and lobbying. These organizations are often small and lightly funded but punch well above their weight and have been highly influential. Look at the impact that data from the Center for Responsive Politics has in the media, or the influence that Wharton and the Center for Political Accountability's Zicklin Index has had on incentivizing companies to voluntarily disclose their political spending.

Third, philanthropies can strengthen their focus on corporate political accountability in their programmatic work and across their influence strategies, from federal and state policy advocacy to grassroots power building. For example, the Action Center for Race in the Economy works with organizations leading local campaigns for racial, economic, and environmental justice. They use their in-depth research capabilities to investigate sources of corporate political influence and dark money in key policy fights and help those campaigns connect the dots between their issues and corporate and Wall Street actors who often operate out of sight.

Finally, the philanthropic community collectively needs to build stronger coalitions to address corporate political influence — coalitions that span different issue areas and deliberately ignore funding silos. Funders approach corporate political influence through multiple frames, including democracy reform, getting money out of politics, climate change, and racial and economic justice, among others.

Now is the time for funders to come together to explore how we can complement and reinforce each other's work and leverage this moment to drive real change in the relationship between big business and democracy.

Chris_Jurgens_Omidyar_Network_PhilanTopicChris Jurgens is a director on Omidyar Network's Reimagining Capitalism team and leads a portfolio focused on how corporations and capital markets can contribute to a more inclusive capitalism.

[Review] 'It's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York'

February 11, 2021

Cover Its a Helluva TownIt's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York by Roberta Brandes Gratz tells the story of how one person and a small family foundation were able to create outsize impact in the nation's largest city and make it a more vibrant, equitable, and sustainable place to live and work. As cities across the country wrestle with unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gratz' "case study" on the power, and limits, of philanthropy could not be more timely.

Founded in 1945 by Jacob "Jack" Merrill Kaplan, the J.M. Kaplan Fund today distributes more than $6 million in grants annually and has approximately $140 million in assets, a legacy of the sale of the Welch Grape Juice Company, which Kaplan headed for many years, to a grape growers' cooperative in the 1950s. In 1977, Kaplan's oldest child, Joan Davidson, was named president of the foundation he had created. As Gratz details in the book, Davidson took the responsibility seriously and, with the relatively modest resources of the J.M. Kaplan Fund at her disposal, played an outsized role in transforming New York during the latter half of the twentieth century. 

For Gratz, Davidson and the Kaplan Fund embody an important philanthropic principle: solutions to some of our most urgent social problems do not necessarily have to come with a big price tag.  Indeed, because foundations and philanthropists tend to be risk-averse, moving early and decisively to address a problem can yield impressive results. By way of example, Gratz quotes Aryeh Neier, a co-founder of Human Rights Watch, who credits the Kaplan Fund as  "the first significant funder of Human Rights Watch at $200,000 a year before [the] Ford Foundation came in" and goes on to say "[the fund] was crucial in launching us." To put that in perspective, HRW today has a budget of $75 million, a staff of four hundred and fifty people, and is widely considered to be one of the most effective human rights organizations in the world.

In an entirely different arena and on a smaller scale, the fund awarded a $1,500 grant in 1992 to the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association in Far Rockaway, Queens, to plant thirty trees and other site-appropriate vegetation as protection against potentially devastating storm surges. Twenty years later, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, the area's bungalows and their residents were largely spared.

One of Davidson's most remarkable accomplishments as leader of the fund was her willingness to support institutions and social movements unafraid to question the paradigms and narratives that others took for granted. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance, the fund supported the efforts to landmark and save the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters in Manhattan's Theater District from demolition. Legal action seemed to be the only way to save the theaters, and for help Davidson turned to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a young environmental organization and an unlikely ally. Davidson had been a board member of NRDC, however, and understood how it could be useful in this particular fight. Though getting NRDC to take up the cause was a "hard sell," it eventually agreed. Ultimately, the theaters fell to the wrecking ball, but the case was pivotal in defining the strategies employed by the organization as it grew to become a leading player in the environmental advocacy movement — and, as Gratz writes, expanded the boundaries of that work so that "[e]nvironmental issues would never again be limited to the natural; the built and the natural were seen as symbiotic and forever joined." Today, cities and the urban ecosystems that grow up around them are widely regarded as critical components of the "environment," and NRDC has gone on to build an important and impactful urban program focused on putting resilient, sustainable cities at the center of the climate change conversation.

The success of an initiative often is judged by the extent to which it prevents harm. By empowering grassroots activism, philanthropy can play a critical role in stopping projects that pose threats to the environment, communities, and/or the very fabric of society — an idea that has significantly shaped both the historic preservation and environmental movements. As Gratz writes, "Preservation is never about historic buildings alone; it is about urbanism — preserving the whole city — which is simply the sum of its diverse and very interconnected parts." In the 1970s, she adds, "intelligent people had good reason to think that New York was doomed, and that making it more accessible to suburbia (and cars) and easier and safer as a venue for nighttime entertainment (via Lincoln Center) was the way to save it."

One of the linchpins of that vision was Westway, a proposed twelve-lane highway to be built from 42nd Street to Battery Park on land partly reclaimed from the Hudson River. The project, if completed, would have ceded primacy to the automobile in Manhattan — at the expense of mass transit and the ecologically important Hudson River estuary. Thanks to successful litigation supported by Davidson and the Kaplan Fund, however, the project was defeated, and the federal funding that had been allocated to it was used instead to support the city's public transit infrastructure, a critical building block of New York City's comeback in the 1980s and '90s. The book details several such fights against pernicious projects and proposals, some of them more successful than others. But the common thread in all is the emerging power of grassroots activism, which Davidson and the fund were critical in nurturing and sustaining.

More recently, the economic model that propelled New York City to new heights in the opening decades of the twenty-first century has been overturned by COVID-19. Every day during this seemingly endless pandemic, New Yorkers have been challenged to re-conceptualize how they work and live. At the same time, the virus has highlighted the unequal, unjust, and often-racist systems that marginalize communities.  The lesson is clear: now is the time to develop new models and paradigms for cities that give all people who call them home a chance to flourish. It's A Helluva Town reminds us that this isn't the first time New York has found itself at such a crossroads. But, as in the 1970s, headlines like "Is New York City Over?" and "400,000 people flee from the city" obscure the fact that major urban centers like New York are hard to keep down as long as visionaries like Joan Davidson call them home. She, and the people who supported her at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, are proof, as Margaret Meade famously said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Nick Opinsky is a senior development officer for institutional giving at American Jewish World Service.

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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