95 posts categorized "Innovation"

[Review] 'How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need'

July 12, 2021

Book_cover_how to avoid a climate disaster_philantopicWe are toast. Climate change is here, and things are not getting better. In the United States alone we are seeing unprecedented wildfires in California, mind-numbing heat in the Pacific Northwest, a mega-drought stretching from the Great Plains to the Pacific coast, and the Colorado River running dry, just to mention a few recent headlines. And that list only hints at the immediate — to say nothing of the future — challenges to our ability to grow food, earn a living, and raise our families. We have known this for decades, and while we have made tentative steps toward solving some problems (clean air, clean water, CAFE standards), we have yet to engage climate change as the existential threat it truly is. In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Bill Gates wants to shake us out of our complacency. If we as individuals, as a nation, as a global community, don't get to work fast, we are, like I said, toast.

It's noteworthy that Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote this book in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where his decades of work in global health (think polio and malaria) and his avuncular be-sweatered persona helped him play a vital role as a reliable explainer in the face of the U.S. federal government's inaction. His clear and persuasive language suggested: Here is someone who understands what is going on and what needs to be done to get to the other side. So too in his book, Gates proffers a diagnosis and possible roadmap to slow global warming (it's too late to stop it) and mitigate the worst of what this change will mean for the estimated ten billion people who will share the planet come 2100.

To summarize the dilemma in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: Every year humans put fifty-one billion tons of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) into the earth's atmosphere and, as a result, the earth is heating up faster and faster and becoming less and less livable. If we don't get to zero emissions by 2050, the scientists tell us, it's game over, and the ecosystems we have benefited from and relied upon for millennia will irrevocably collapse. It is not a question of if, but of when; not a question of reduced crop yield, but of any yield at all; not a question of whether sea levels will rise, but of how soon and how high.

In the late eighteenth century, Thomas Malthus (he of the Malthusian dilemma) feared that overpopulation would outstrip his native England's ability to feed its people, resulting in the collapse of order, economy, and civilization. Over the past two centuries, while hunger, starvation, and famine have forever been at the door, we have always set that pessimism aside. Through science and innovation, that is, people using science and leveraging great ideas in new ways — from chemical fertilizer to hardier, more productive grains, to removing toxins from industrial exhaust — we have, despite our worst fears, somehow figured out how to feed, sustain, and improve ourselves. For Gates the time is now or never to get to work in unprecedented fashion. Being the third richest person in the world with unlimited resources, comfort, and access may have something to do with it, but Gates is an unabashed optimist; the challenge of climate change is massive, but so too is his unbridled insistence that we have it in our power — to use Thomas Paine's phrase — "to begin the world again."

The good news, Gates tells us, is that we know what to do, and in many respects, we already have the science and innovation at the ready to march into that brave new world. The arguments made here echo basic economics: Consumers (people and nations) will move toward better choices if the cost of going green (what he refers to as the "Green Premium") is low enough. To entice ever-reluctant consumers to get off fossil fuels, we need lots and lots of clean, renewably sourced, no-carbon electricity, and we need it tomorrow. And even if we had all that clean energy today, we would still need to ramp up the capacity of our electric grid at more than three times the current rate and sustain that growth for the next thirty years. We need to accelerate the transition to all-electric transportation and revamp how we heat and cool our homes. We need to eat less meat and find ways for the meat we do eat to be produced while releasing less methane. We also need to find a way to capture greenhouse gases from the industrial and construction sectors. The list is long.

Many of these problems have solutions, while others, like how to capture carbon dioxide released from concrete — a staggering 8 percent of the global total of all greenhouse gases — are still waiting for a seismic technological fix. But Gates — late to the game on climate change — is buoyant about the prospects of his own efforts, as well as the collaborations he is encouraging on the global stage. For himself, Gates admits that this book exists awkwardly between his hopes for the future and his personal business interests. He is bullish on clean nuclear energy and plant-based burgers, two areas where he has investments. He's also bullish on the Breakthrough Energy coalition he helped foster around the 2015 Paris climate conference, as well as the multilateral Mission Innovation group, which is funding research on clean energy. All that is to the good.

The challenge is not that there are no green shoots of hopefulness, but that good vibes alone will not get us to zero by 2050. Gates praises the $6.4 billion in funding from Mission Innovation, but what is that investment relative to the size of what needs to be done? For Gates, the fact that the Paris Climate Agreement happened at all is a sign that collaboration on this issue is possible serving as a point of departure — especially now that the U.S. has rejoined the accords as the world heads toward a new round of climate talks in November. But the scale of the problem overshadows these efforts.

Our problem is a lack of will — political, economic, and cultural — to make the investments we need to avoid an actual cataclysm. It is good to learn that Gates divested from fossil fuel companies years ago — for moral reasons, if not because he thought doing so would make a difference. And kudos for using renewable fuels on his private jet, even though their Green Premium is more than double the cost of typical fuels. But relatively small specific gestures will not change the geometry of this very large puzzle: "We won't get to zero unless we get this right," Gates warns. To do that, we need a massive unprecedented investment of time, talent, and treasure on all fronts, the likes of which human society has never seen. This is not a moon shot; it is a moon shot every year for the next thirty years. And that makes the current fight over federal infrastructure funding look like a squabble over the Oxford comma.

Gates is notably unpolitical here — he repeatedly mentions the climate change movement being led by "young people" without saying the name Greta Thunberg; he leans in on the imperative of investments that do right by America and the world's poor without mentioning the Green New Deal. And perhaps that is because he knows that some among his audience, that is, those he actually needs to persuade, would sooner throw his book — and their own future — into the fire than align themselves with their cultural foes.  

It's a bit of puzzle as to why this call to arms against climate disaster is being published as an old-school hardcover book — that is, using trees. (This book was read for review as an ebook.) In 2021 a book is an equally curious choice of medium, considering the opportunities and media platforms available for sharing and exponentially leveraging the book's core message. Why no website, no teaching materials, no collaborations, no sustained online engagement? If the goal was to get the book into as many hands as possible — especially into the hands of those who disagree — why not just release it, for free, on the Gates Notes blog? But no matter the medium or the messenger, it is essential to repeat often and loudly its most-American of messages: We can do this — we must do this — because failure is not an option.

Daniel X Matz is foundation web development manager at Candid.

A conversation with Mari Kuraishi, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund

October 06, 2020

Mari Kuraishi came to prominence as president of GlobalGiving, which she co-founded with her husband, Dennis Whittle, in 2002. During her time there, the crowdfunding platform facilitated over $514 million in giving by more than a million donors to twenty-seven thousand projects around the world. In 2011, Kuraishi, who previously had worked at the World Bank, where she spearheaded the launch of the Development Marketplace, was named one of Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers for "crowdsourcing worldsaving." Since January 2019, she has served as president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Jacksonville, Florida.

PND recently spoke with Kuraishi — who chaired the board of GuideStar before it combined with Foundation Center in 2019 to form Candid and then served as co-chair of the Candid board during its first year — about the impact of crowdfunding on the global development landscape, her work at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and what she has learned about the social sector's response to urgent problems.

Mari_kuraishi_jessie_ball_dupontPhilanthropy News Digest: After seeing firsthand through your work at the World Bank the difficulty local officials and social entrepreneurs often had in securing funding for their development projects, you and your husband co-founded the world's first crowdfunding platform. Back then, what made you think individuals in developed countries would be willing to participate directly in the funding of such projects?

Mari Kuraishi: That is a very good question, because back in 2000 when we left the World Bank there actually was very little evidence that people were ready to give online, let alone to projects based thousands of miles away. To be sure, many generous donors existed, giving to brand-name NGOs like CARE, Oxfam, or the International Red Cross, but even those organizations were not yet online. Still, we were convinced that individual donors would give if they had a platform through which to do it. We were also sure that changes in technology would transform people's sense of proximity, and we knew that proximity was a key driver of generosity. What we weren't so sure about was how quickly it would happen.

PND: How has the popularity of crowdfunding and crowdfunding sites changed the international development landscape in the last dozen years or so?

MK: That's a little harder to calculate. Crowdfunding has definitely transformed giving in the U.S. since we founded GlobalGiving; online giving now represents almost a tenth of giving overall, starting from almost zero in 2000. That means more than $4 billion flowed through online giving platforms in 2019. What part of that $4 billion goes to international development projects, I can't tell you. But I do know this: in 2002, when we put up the first version of our website, we processed $25,000 in donations. This year it looks like GlobalGiving will process close to $100 million in donations to thousands of project leaders all over the world.

PND: While you were at GlobalGiving, the organization developed a framework of core values that included things like "always open" and "listen, act, learn, repeat." The emphasis on listening, on solutions developed by those on the front lines, and on continuous improvement through evidence-based learning has been adopted by many other nonprofits and foundations in recent years. Do you think what appears to be a gradual shift away from top-down funding models to more bottom-up crowdsourced models is here to stay?

MK: You're speaking right to my confirmation bias. I'm the woman who thought online giving was around the corner at the end of the year 2000. Yes, I think respecting the problem-solving capacities of communities and local leaders is here to stay. Not only are we seeing hashtags like #shiftthepower, we're seeing movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women's March come to the fore, so I cannot help but think that citizen leadership is on the rise. And perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but it's not necessarily a shift away from top-down to bottom-up, so much as there is a scope for both types of leadership and action — just in different contexts.

PND: You are a firm believer in using data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. Is the sector making progress in that area, and what are some of the challenges that may be slowing that progress?

MK: Yes, I think we are making progress in the use of data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. First, data is easier and cheaper to collect and analyze; we have technology to thank for that. Second, we have emerging standards for what data matters — ranging from the philosophical, conceptual, and qualitative frameworks provided by movements like Leap Ambassadors, centered around the Leap of Reason initiative launched by Mario Morino, to the specific and granular, like the GuideStar/Candid Exchange profile. All of this creates a way for organizations to benchmark their own status and progress. I see three challenges in this regard: first, data scientists are still scarce and expensive in the social sector; second, not as many funders understand how to interpret the data, which means that sometimes we don't make the jump into trust-based philanthropy as readily as we might; and, finally, not everyone agrees that the corollary to greater transparency from nonprofits is more unrestricted funding.

PND: What is your take on how COVID-19 is impacting charitable giving in general and crowdfunding for development projects in particular?

MK: You should probably ask Alix Guerrier, my successor, as he's the man at the helm of crowdfunding in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. I can tell you, though, that what I've heard from grantees at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund — who do not engage in international development — is that their traditional models of fundraising, which rely in great part on in-person events, have taken a hit, and that has spurred them to think a lot more about the potential for crowdfunding to fill the gaps.

PND: The Jessie Ball duPont Fund's grantmaking activities are guided by two strategic themes: equity and placemaking. What are the foundation's top priorities at the moment? And have the COVID-19 crisis and this summer's protests against systemic racism changed how you approach those priorities?

MK: Our priorities are in striking the right balance between seeking specific opportunities for change while also meeting the needs of our grantees and enhancing their resilience and effectiveness. To that end, we've built out an ambitious technical assistance program for grantees focused on fundraising, listening to constituent feedback, building capacity around data and equity, and achieving organizational transparency. The COVID-19 crisis really pushed us to undertake this as a hedge against the speed and magnitude of change that the crisis wrought. The protests against systemic racism redoubled our commitment to equity, which we had identified as a core direction through a strategy review we conducted last year. It has also increased the urgency I personally feel around making sure that we are not perpetuating systemic injustices through the patterns and processes of our grantmaking.

PND: As of the beginning of the year, about a third of the fund's endowment was invested in a socially responsible manner or to achieve a positive social or environmental impact. Can you tell us about the kinds of impact investments the fund is looking to make?

MK: The majority of our socially responsible investments, roughly $108 million, are in portfolios of companies that have been screened for best business practices, such as anti-discrimination, gender and racial equity, workforce development, wealth creation, and anti-pollution, among others.

About 6 percent, $18 million, is invested in high-impact funds and companies focused on affordable housing, support for small businesses, medical/social service tech, and clean energy. Illumen Capital, for instance, has a double bottom line of anticipated market-rate return and social impact. By directing capital to women- and people of color-owned businesses, Illumen finds traditionally overlooked value and doubles down by also working with financial managers to reduce their implicit biases in investing.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is largely place-based and about $12 million of our high-impact investments are in the communities Mrs. duPont cared about. These investments have mostly been in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that provide access to affordable capital to developers, as well as individuals who might not qualify for traditional commercial bank loans but need money for a car, mortgage, or to capitalize a small business.

PND: Asian Americans have not always been front and center in movements for racial and social justice. Why is that, and do you think it is changing?

MK: Yes, you're right that Asian Americans are underrepresented in movements for racial and social justice. But we did have people like Fred Korematsu, who explicitly challenged the internment order for Japanese Americans all the way up to the Supreme Court — and lost — and Yuri Kochiyama, who was at Malcolm X's side when he was assassinated. Both were radicalized by their experience of internment, and perhaps that points to an answer to your question about Asian Americans and racial or social justice. Perhaps, as a community, we have tended to not tell those stories of injustice — except for extremely visible and acute events like the internment — and thereby have not mobilized our own communities. I do think that Asian-American Gen Z-ers and millennials seem to be as fired up as their peers — my personal favorite is K-pop fans mobilizing for Black Lives Matter — but I'll admit my conclusion is based entirely on an anecdote here.

PND: Your professional career has included stints at a huge, well-resourced multilateral organization, at a social enterprise startup, and now at an established private foundation. What have those experiences taught you about the ways in which the social sector responds to urgent problems and about what it might do differently to create more impact and really move the needle on those problems? Are you hopeful it will be able to do so?

MK: That's difficult to distill into a short answer, but here's a take. Large, well-resourced multilateral organizations organize their inputs and subject their business processes to scrutiny, much like large, for-profit multilateral institutions do, with one exception: their results aren't subject to competition. Social enterprise startups usually have to compete to get attention and capital to survive, but many don't have the resources to invest in other resources, such as human capital. The foundation world isn't really impacted by competition, either. I'd say that I was forced into greater accountability and transparency and soul-searching at the startup than at either of the two other places. So, the one thing I might say is that competition, channeled well, matters.

It would be good, I think, for us in the foundation and multilateral-aid worlds, to hold ourselves accountable to a greater degree of transparency, such as benchmarking ourselves to common standards. Of course, I can foresee the potential for dispute around those standards, so perhaps we just start with greater transparency and see where it leads us. But the urgency of the need to become more effective than we are today, I think, is undeniable. It's the only feasible response to what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the "Full Catastrophe," because in the short run at least, we can't magically come up with more resources to dedicate to the growing list of challenges we face.

— Kyoko Uchida

Weekend Link Roundup (November 24-25, 2018)

November 25, 2018

Givingtuesday3A weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

What role might foundations play in addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), a significant risk factor for a variety of health and social problems across the lifespan? John Mullaney, executive director of the Nord Family Foundation, has been thinking about that for some time now and, in a post here on PhilanTopic, shares his thoughts.

Climate Change

Thirty years after The New Yorker published "The End of Nature," Bill McKibben's seminal article about the greenhouse effect, McKibben returns to the pages of the magazine with a look at what we have learned in the decades since about climate change, extreme weather, and their impact on human society. You will not be encouraged.

Education

On the HistPhil blog, Leslie Finger, a political scientist and lecturer on government and social studies at Harvard University, considers some of the implications of foundation grants to state education agencies.

Fundraising

It's not enough for nonprofits to simply thank their donors, says Vu Le, who shares twenty-one tips designed to help you and your organization be better at recognizing and appreciating the people who support your work.

On the Bloomerang blog, Terri Shoemaker, chief strategy officer at Abeja Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona, pays tribute to "the small donor. The little ones. Those generous folks that give when they can to a mailing, online, or even to your very specific appeal on social media."

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A Conversation With Ann Mei Chang, Author, 'Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good'

November 14, 2018

Poverty. Mass migration. Economic dislocation. Climate change.

The problems confronting societies around the globe are big and getting bigger. The resources available to address those problems, however, are shrinking, as governments burdened by huge debts and future obligations and corporations wary of controversy pull back from “feel-good” causes and collective action. And while countless foundations and civil society groups continue to fight the good fight, their resources seem Lilliputian compared to the magnitude of the challenges we face.

It’s a moment that demands big thinking, bold thinking but also creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The kind of thinking we’ve come to expect from Silicon Valley, the global epicenter of a certain kind of innovation and can-do spirit. The question, for many, is: What, if anything, can technologists teach nonprofits and social entrepreneurs about social change?

In her new book, Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good, Ann Mei Chang, a respected social change-maker and technologist, tackles that question head-on. Based on interviews with more than two hundred social change organizations spanning almost every continent, the book distills the lessons learned by change-makers over the years into a set of "lean" principles for nonprofits looking to innovate their way to greater impact.

PND recently spoke with Chang about the genesis of the book, the sometimes testy relationship between tech and the nonprofit sector, and her advice for millennials and social entrepreneurs impatient with the slow pace of change.

AnnMeiChang-32Philanthropy News Digest: How did you get into social change work?

Ann Mei Chang: I studied computer science in college and then worked in Silicon Valley for over twenty years, at big companies like Google, Apple, and Intuit, as well as a number of start-ups. But I had known since my mid-twenties that I wanted to spend the first half of my career in tech, and the second half doing something more meaningful, something to make the world a better place. I hoped I would be able to make that change, and I was committed to it, although I didn't know exactly when or how. But as I got closer to that point in my career, in my early forties, I began to look around at all the things I cared about, and decided to focus on global poverty, as it seemed to be at the root of so many other problems I cared about.

I recognized there was a lot I needed to learn about a very different space. I ended up taking a leave of absence from Google and went to the State Department on a fellowship, where I worked in the Secretary's Office of Global Women’s Issues, with a focus on issues around women and technology. It didn't take long before I was hooked. I resigned from Google and signed on for another year. After the State Department, where a lot of the work takes place at the ten-thousand-foot level, I joined a nonprofit called Mercy Corps to learn how the real work was being done in the trenches.

Then I was offered my dream job — as the first executive director for the Global Development Lab at USAID, the agency's newest bureau with an inspiring two-part mission. The first part was to identify breakthrough innovations that could accelerate progress in the global development and humanitarian aid work that USAID does. And the second was to look at how we could transform the practice of global development itself by bringing new tools and approaches to table. The first was the "what," and the second the "how."

It fit exactly into the way I was beginning to think about what was really needed to make a difference. That's why it felt like a dream job — it was an opportunity to do this work at the largest aid agency in the world, in the belly of the beast, so to speak, but where I'd be responsible for thinking about how we could work differently and more effectively.

PND: It's an interesting career trajectory, in that it bridges the worlds of both technology and social change. In your experience, do technologists get social change? Or do they tend to see it as another problem that needs to be "engineered"?

AMC: That really depends on the technologist. As with everything, people in tech exist on a spectrum. I've known people in tech who think that technology can solve everything — we'll build a smart phone app and that will somehow end global poverty. There can be a naiveté and hubris, especially when you’re building products for people who live in contexts that you’re not that familiar with.

But there's also a thriving community of tech people in the global development sphere — we call it ICT4D, or information communication technologies for development — who are both technologists and development professionals looking at the intersection between the two. This community has developed something called the principles for digital development, which embody the best practices for the responsible use of technology in development.

One of the really exciting things that happened while I was in government was the creation of US Digital Services and 18F, where a lot of people from the tech sector came in to work for the govern­ment and saw that their skills could be put to use to help the government better serve people. It was catalyzed by the debacle with HealthCare.gov, which caused a lot of people to recognize that tech had something it could contribute that would really make a difference.

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Small Charities Are Being Left Behind by Big Data for Social Good Initiatives

August 10, 2018

Big-Data-webData has the potential to help nonprofit organizations work at a scale larger than ever before and to solve problems more efficiently and effectively. Data can help organizations improve their monitoring and evaluation, determine where the biggest problems lie and where the most value can be added, influence policy through evidence, increase their reach, and enhance their fundraising capabilities.

But big data analytics and artificial intelligence have mainly been developed for and by the private sector. The good news is that third sector organizations increasingly are using data for social good, from predicting child welfare needs and monitoring climate change to working toward new cancer treatments.

Large nonprofits can use their brand power to leverage data-sharing partnerships with private companies, pay for expensive data-analytics services, or hire in-house data scientists. But for smaller charities, working with new data methods and analytics requires capacity, funding, and partnerships they typically don't have and can't easily secure.

That was underscored by Lloyd's Bank UK Digital Business Index 2016, which found that almost half of UK charities lack basic digital skills and that 80 percent are not investing in digital technology at all, let alone in big data. It's not difficult to see why: if comes down to a choice between hiring a program officer or a data officer, or between acquiring data analytics capabilities and additional project funding, most charities will choose to spend their limited resources in ways most likely to impact their constituents and communities.

Here at the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), we recently conducted a global scan highlighting how data is being used in different ways for social good, emerging challenges in the field, and how philanthropy can be and is engaged in this work.

For starters, philanthropy can help level the playing field by addressing some of the biggest obstacles facing small charities in using data for good, including often-prohibitive costs, a lack of human capital, insufficient leverage to form data philanthropy partnerships, and a difficult regulatory environment.

But there is hope.

Below, we highlight four examples of how philanthropy is supporting smaller charities to better engage in this work:

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 2-3, 2018)

June 03, 2018

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

Communications/Marketing

In a  post on Beth Kanter's Blog, Miriam Brosseau, chief innovation officer at See3 Communications, and Stephanie Corleto, digital communications manager at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, explain how you can use digital storytelling to break down the work silos in your organization. 

"Nonprofit leaders clearly understand the power of philanthropy"s voice in advocating for the nonprofit sector," argues David Biemesderfer, president and CEO of the United Philanthropy Forum (formerly the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers), in a post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. So "why doesn’t philanthropy understand the power of its own voice, and/or why does it seem so unwilling to use that voice?" 

Criminal Justice

In Town & Country, Adam Rathe looks at how New York philanthropist and art world doyenne Agnes Gund is using her renowned art collection to support criminal justice reform.

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss shares an "important article" by author Joanne Barkan about "the history of the movement to privatize U.S. public schools...[and] the national debate about the future of publicly funded education in this country." The long comment thread is also worth your time.

Innovation

Writing on our sister GrantCraft blog, Jason Rissman, a managing director at IDEO, shares three key learnings from the BridgeBuilder Challenge, a multi-challenge partnership between OpenIDEO — IDEO's open innovation practice — and the GHR Foundation aimed at finding solutions to global challenges at the intersection of peace, prosperity, and the environment.

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Learning From Abroad: Philanthropy’s Role in Spreading Social Innovation

November 20, 2017

Four_idea_lightbulbsDid you know the toothbrush was first invented in China, or that the idea for kindergarten originated in Germany? The United States has benefited from great ideas from other countries for years. As grantmakers — whether a national philanthropy or a local funder — we can learn so much by embracing the notion that good ideas have no borders.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I direct an effort explicitly tasked with searching the globe for ideas with the potential to improve health and health care in the U.S. And as the foundation continues on its ambitious journey to build a national Culture of Health, my colleagues and I are casting a wide net with our own learning efforts to bring the best ideas and solutions forward.

Finding promising ideas from abroad isn't always easy. It requires time and commitment. Making global ideas accessible and adaptable so that the communities we serve can implement them successfully can be challenging. But I am optimistic. Our efforts to learn from abroad have led us to the work of many organizations and experts who are advancing ideas in areas as diverse as creating a new workforce to support frail elders, building new partnerships to disrupt community violence, and bringing disengaged youth back into the fold.

Our journey also has led us to efforts like ChangeX that are laser-focused on transforming communities with great ideas and social innovations.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 18-19, 2017)

March 19, 2017

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

Arts and Culture

The Wellesley Centers for Women partnered with American Conservatory Theater to study gender equity in leadership opportunities in the nonprofit American theater. This is what they learned.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a major funder of the arts and humanities in America, suggests that any plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National for the Humanities "would be foolish," not least because it would "deprive ourselves and our successors of the cultural understanding central to our complex but shared national identity." 

Education

The Trump administration's call for massive cuts to national service in its first budget would deal a "devastating" blow to the education reform movement. Lisette Partelow, director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Center for American Progress, and Kami Spicklemire, an education campaign manager at CAP, explain.

Environment

In a guest post for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Keecha Harris, president of Keecha Harris and Associates, Inc. and director of InDEEP (Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Environmental Philanthropy), argues that if the environmental movement wants to remain relevant, its needs to do something about the "green ceiling" — i.e, the lack of diversity and inclusion within its ranks.

In a statement released earlier in the week, Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek criticizes the White House's "misguided" budget blueprint, which assumes that "the security and prosperity of [the] country must come at the expense of critical federal investments in our natural resources." 

Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer argues that philanthropy has an important role to play in limiting the damage from climate change already locked in, but that to do so, it will need to respond with a much bigger effort than it has mustered to date.

Here's some good news: Despite a growing global economy, CO2 emissions have remained flat for the third year in a row. 

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Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World's Most Urgent Problems

November 23, 2016

Over the past decade, the financial industry has been the subject of harsh criticism — and not without cause. Disillusioned by the abuse of esoteric financial instruments and repeated examples of corporate malfeasance, large numbers of Americans have grown tired of Wall Street and what they see as the financialization of the economy. Finance, however, is only a tool, and as with any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

Cover_capital_and_the_common_goodGeorgia Levenson Keohane, executive director of the Pershing Square Foundation, professor of social enterprise at Columbia Business School, and author of Social Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century: Innovation Across the Nonprofit, Private, and Public Sectors, makes the case in her new book, Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World's Most Urgent Problems, that traditional financial tools can be used to innovate solutions to some of the world's greatest social and environmental challenges and urges readers to regard finance not as an instrument of exploitation but rather as a force for good.

Central to her argument is the distinction between financial innovation — the creation of new, increasingly complex instruments of financial engineering — and innovative finance — the use of existing tools to overcome market failure and meet the needs of the poor and underserved. Divided into five thematic chapters, the book explores how innovative finance can be used to fund solutions to environmental, healthcare, financial inclusion, and disaster relief challenges around the world, as well as problems in the United States.

Revisiting Adam Smith's theory of the "invisible hand" in the context of public need, Keohane shows how financial techniques previously used in the pursuit of private interest can be adopted across sectors to benefit the common good and provide economic opportunities for those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. "When markets fail to produce a set of broad-based and sustainable public goods," she writes, "we need a more visible hand: concerted efforts by governments, multilateral agencies, philanthropies, and, increasingly, socially minded investors to meet needs and solve problems." It is a perspective rooted in the power of agency, the core of which she describes as "aligning incentives in ways that encourage people — individuals and government leaders — to make decisions that both are in their own self-interest and benefit the society." The logical extension of this argument is that many negative externalities (e.g., CO2 emissions) can be internalized by the market with the judicious application of the right tools — for example, cap and trade — while certain failures of the market can be redressed by the deployment of hybrid incentive models such as pay-for-success bonds.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2016)

September 03, 2016

"By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer's best of weather and autumn's best of cheer...." ~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Ah, summer, we hardly knew you. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend and getting to spend some of it with family and friends. While you're waiting for beverages to chill and the grill to get hot, check out some of the posts PhilanTopic readers gave a big thumb's up to in August.

What did you read/watch/listen to in August that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

August 15, 2016

Eco-InnovationToo often foundations ask their grantees for "innovative ideas" but fail to deliver the same thing themselves — or even bother to define what "innovation" means. The assumption is that it "just happens." That lack of definition has come to imply that innovation must involve a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.

As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula: How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, I now realize the opposite is true. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas. Here's what I learned from their book, and how I've applied it when working with my clients.

Supportive environments for innovation are created when:

  • Leadership – especially the CEO – serves as champions for the process.
  • Leadership believes that everyone can be innovative.
  • Leadership is willing to regularly identify, test, pilot, and implement potentially innovative ideas.
  • Leadership prudently monitors risk (not every innovative idea is a good one!).

Once these conditions are in place, there are four steps a foundation can take to generate innovations on an ongoing basis. They are:

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

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

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.

Data

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.

Education

How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 2-3, 2016)

April 03, 2016

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

Education

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

Environment

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

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

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

Higher Education

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 26-27, 2015)

December 27, 2015

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

Arts and Culture

Eight years after its controversial Central Library Plan was greeted with alarm and derision, the New York Public Library  is moving forward with a $300 million renovation of its historic midtown campus, and this time, library leaders say, "it's a different story." WNYC's Jessica Gould reports.

How can we talk about art and artists in a way that makes clear their contributions to quality of life in the communities we call home? Veteran policy advocate and communicator Margy Waller shares some thoughts on Americans for the Arts' ArtsBlog.

Civil Society

On the Open Society Foundations' Voices blog, OSF president Christopher Stone notes the troubling fact that, in countries around the world and for a variety of reasons, "active citizenship is under attack and the space for civic engagement is closing."

Climate Change

Andrew Simmons, founder of the JEMS Progressive Community Organization and the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and a previous winner ('94) of the Goldman Environmental Prize, talks to the folks at GEP about the global agreement forged at the recent Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC/COP21) summit in Paris and whether it is enough to save vulnerable island-nations from disaster.

Corporate Philanthropy

Based on Corporate Responsibility magazine's list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens of 2015, the folks at the JK group share ten lessons from their work that make these companies the best in philanthropy and how yours can follow suit.

Criminal Justice

On the Marshall Project site, Vincent Schiraldi, formerly director of juvenile corrections for Washington, D.C., and a senior advisor to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice in New York City, argues that in order to truly end mass incarceration in the U.S., "we need to completely shutter the doors of youth prisons...."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2015)

November 02, 2015

To quote the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro: "You are a New York Mets fan...and you know nothing is guaranteed." Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on a spectacular season and a truly memorable World Series victory, their first in thirty years. If you're a Mets fan...well, you don't have to wait that long to revisit some of the winning content we posted in October.

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that had you cheering? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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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