500 posts categorized "International Affairs/Development"

Losing the Red Cross Would Be the Real Disaster

January 23, 2020

Red cross(Ed note: this post originally was published on PhilanTopic in November 2014 and is being republished as criticism of the Australian Red Cross for allegedly holding back donations for bushfire victims mounts.) 

As a disaster researcher and scholar of nonprofit management, I've followed the (well publicized) travails and (hardly publicized) successes of the American Red Cross over the years.

I've met its national staff at research conferences and local staff at state and county emergency management meetings, where I've served on the board of my local Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). I participated with hundreds of other invited experts in the governance audit that resulted in the "American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007." I’ve monitored the commentary after a ProPublica/National Public Radio exposé of the Red Cross appeared last week. And based on my observations, I have developed a healthy respect and sympathy for the Red Cross.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

There's no disputing the fact that the public needs better results from the Red Cross. The organization has been essential to our welfare since the day it was chartered by Congress to be our national disaster response agency — primus inter pares among hundreds of agencies known collectively as voluntary organizations active in disaster. In fact, the Red Cross predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by seventy-nine years.

Congress has entrusted a good part of disaster-related mass care and sheltering to the Red Cross. Somewhat less rationally, Congress imposed this public mandate on the Red Cross without much aid; the agency is expected to meet our nation's disaster relief needs largely through the philanthropic generosity of Americans.

Further complicating matters, the Red Cross has been plagued for years by leadership issues — issues that aren't easy to resolve because they are rooted in a number of larger, systemic problems:

Greater forces of nature. Climate change makes it harder for all disaster relief agencies to achieve their mission. In the ProPublica/NPR story, a Red Cross executive observes the challenge of "scaling up" for Sandy, a storm that covered an area half the size of Europe. The organization's inability to do that was due to climate change, not internal organizational problems. In 2005, disaster relief agencies reached the same conclusion when they reported that the impact of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina was many times larger than their capacity to deal with back-to-back disasters. The lesson is clear: As disasters get larger and more complex, we all have to work together to scale our disaster-response capacity.

Shortage of experienced staff. An increase in "superstorms" demands better frontline staff. However, internal reorganizations and massive layoffs triggered by a drop in donations have increased turnover and demoralized staff at the Red Cross. In my county last week, the national Red Cross laid off three of its four paid staff, including one of the state's most experienced disaster response professionals. That trend must be reversed. This is a unique and challenging profession. There are no easy substitutes. Disaster responders are trained to be flexible and resourceful because, as they often point out, every disaster is unique. Thus, disaster researchers and other observers note the challenge of getting it right every time. It takes training and experience, which depends, in turn, on stable, consistent funding to keep high-quality, experienced chapter staff (one of the Red Cross's most important assets) on the front lines.

National leaders at odds with grassroots base. The Red Cross traditionally has had a strong internal culture that fosters staff commitment ("lifers"). Any organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, that finds itself at odds with its grassroots base is in trouble. There's no denying the impact on morale of the systemic leadership problems at the Red Cross, but they go much further back than the current CEO's tenure. Before Gail McGovern was hired, the Red Cross cycled through more than a half dozen CEOs and interim CEOs in as many years. Friction between national and chapter staff isn't new, and it's clear that, to some degree, the organization's national leadership has been in denial about it. The solution is for the national board to recognize its responsibility to improve the organization's culture and to invest in the base. The board began that process with a governance restructuring six years ago and has followed up with a healthy investment in inter-organizational collaboration and public transparency initiatives. The tone is changing, and I am encouraged by that fact. But more needs to be done.

Shirking our collective responsibility to be prepared. Unfortunately, public criticism of the Red Cross has not been accompanied by an equally vigorous public discussion of our responsibility as citizens to prepare ourselves in advance. Ask any emergency responder what he or she wants from us, and you'll get the same answer: "Make a plan and assemble a kit. We can help you best when you help yourself." One of the most active Red Cross campaigns is about family and workplace emergency preparedness (see also FEMA's excellent resources at www.ready.gov).

I'm a scholar but also a citizen. From a rational point of view, the most dangerous outcome of the ProPublica/NPR story would be a second "disaster" in the form of an escalating public mistrust of the Red Cross, resulting in fewer donations and an even weaker paid and volunteer force that is demoralized by the public's lack of understanding about the good work they do every day. Increased turnover will worsen the kind of staffing issues the organization faces. More political and media scrutiny is likely to result in more, not less, questionable decision making at the top (e.g., diverting assets for public relations junkets).

So what can we do? First, get yourself prepared. Second, be generous. This is not the time to withdraw support from the Red Cross. The organization operates like an army but on exponentially less funding. McGovern runs a $3.5 billion enterprise on a fraction of the salary of a college football coach. And she does it with largely volunteer (albeit well-trained) labor. Disaster agency budgets go through "feast" or "famine" periods. Try holding on to a good workforce when faced with that kind of budget uncertainty. An operation with twenty-nine thousand staff and four hundred thousand volunteers needs stable funding if its job is to deploy anywhere in the United States after any disaster and help any citizen, regardless of age, disability, creed, or race, who needs it.

Local Red Cross employees are not only highly respected, they are some of the hardest-working people I know. Sit in an emergency planning meeting with them in any local community, and they will have their phones/radios on, ready to leave for a house fire, flood, ice storm, or tornado on a moment’s notice. Some day that house might be yours.

The Red Cross should be held accountable for problems of its own making. We should hold ourselves accountable for the rest.

Headshot_beth_gazleyBeth Gazley is associate vice provost for faculty and academic affairs at Indiana University's Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. This post was first published here on PhilanTopic in November 2014 and is being republished as criticism of the Australian Red Cross for allegedly holding back donations for bushfire victims mounts. 

Looking to Africa's Future: The Promise of Transnational Ties

January 14, 2020

African_gradNearly seven years ago, when I became president of Yale University, five of the top twelve — and eleven of the top twenty — of the world's fastest growing economies were in Africa, even though the continent faced serious challenges. Amid discussions of sobering events and hopes for the future, Yale took a stand for the promise of education, scholarship, and research — a promise that is particularly significant across Africa, home to a vibrant and growing population of young people. That year, 2013, I launched the Yale Africa Initiative as a way to create new partnerships between Yale and institutions on the continent. 

Africa's economic development remains impressive, but even more spectacular is the growth and promise of its youth. The continent's youth population is expected to increase by 522 million over the next three decades, while in the rest of the world, over the same period, it will decline by 220 million. By 2050, one-third of people on the planet age twenty-four or younger will call the continent home. As they come of age, these young people will take their place among the world's leaders and innovators — meaning we all have an interest in Africa's future.

As a university professor, I am focused on higher education, though primary and secondary education are, of course, critical. Higher education is essential to economic growth, and it also delivers a broad range of benefits, including progress toward gender equality, improvements in individual and public health, strengthened civic  institutions, and enhanced creativity and skills among those who serve society. 
 
Collaborative research and teaching that bridge national borders and cultures can further amplify the positive effects of colleges and universities. Through student and faculty exchanges, institutions of higher education can engage with diverse viewpoints and experiences, improving the scholarship and education they support and deliver. In these enriching environments, students also learn what they can contribute to an increasingly interconnected global community. Yes, they gain the education needed to become productive workers, but more importantly they also acquire the skills and knowledge needed to become business owners, entrepreneurs, and employers; create new knowledge; and transform their communities, their countries, and the planet. Graduates of Yale Law School, for instance, serve as judges and officials for some of the most important courts in the world. These scholars and practitioners are taking the knowledge and wisdom they have gained through their international education to transform the landscape of jurisprudence across Africa and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, I learned about the accomplishments of Adebayo Alonge, a graduate of the Yale School of Management and Lagos Business School, both of which members of the Global Network for Advanced Management. Adebayo won the grand prize in the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge, a world-renowned startup competition, for RxScanner, a handheld nanoscanner that authenticates drugs and helps patients avoid dangerous counterfeits. The company he built around the technology currently operates in Canada, China, Myanmar, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria, and he has plans to expand it further. Adebayo's story is just one example of how the opportunity to study in the United States and Nigeria can help power innovation and entrepreneurship.

Like many global universities, Yale has forged a number of partnerships with educational and research institutions in Africa. For instance, Makerere University, Uganda's largest institution of higher education, and Yale collaborate on a variety of research, including investigations of treatments for non-communicable diseases, patient empowerment, and women's health. In the short term, scholars from both Makerere and Yale benefit from exposure to different clinical settings that widen their perspectives, knowledge, and skills. In the longer term, these types of collaborative efforts will increase clinical capacity, improve medical access, and enhance public health, in both countries.

As more nations take a step back from the global community and focus their attention inward, universities must step up and fill the void, providing transformative educational opportunities for students and fostering innovative discoveries that improve lives. There is so much more to do, from creating partnerships and forging transnational ties, to building on the tremendous promise of young people around the globe. As we move inexorably toward 2050, the future increasingly will look  like Africa — full of promise, energy, determination, innovation, and resilience.

Peter Salovey is the president of Yale University. This article was distributed by African Media Agency on behalf of Yale and appears here with AMA and Yale's permission.

Weekend Link Roundup (January 4-5, 2020)

January 05, 2020

5W4htUpm6GwJkWfemfytV4-1024-80Happy New Year! Before you get back to work for real, check out our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

To see what climate change could portend for ordinary Americans, look no further than California, where over the last decade, as the Los Angeles Times' Deborah Netburn writes, "[t]he wildfires were more destructive. The drought was the longest on record. And the storms, when they finally came, unleashed more water than [the] dams could contain."

Fundraising

Ready for another year of fundraising? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks wants to help and has pulled together a list of his favorite fundraising blogs

And fundraising expert Pamela Grow shares eleven things you can do to make 2020 your most successful fundraising year yet.

Giving

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther shares the thinking behind the charitable donations he and his wife, Karen, made in 2019.

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit CEOs Alejandra Castillo, Susan Dreyfus, James Firman, Brian Gallagher, Gail McGovern, and Jonathan Reckford make the case that, after nearly two years of data, the evidence is clear: charitable giving is down, and changes in the 2017 tax law are to blame.

Global Health

There are only eight organizations on charity rating site GiveWell's list of top global charities and one of them is the San Jose-based Fistula Foundation. In a new post on the GiveWell blog, Catherine Hollander updates the organization's work on the foundation, which it continues to consider "a top charity contender."

Health

Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal (with research help from Gabriella Aboulafia) reviews the top developments in health care in 2019 on the fund's To The Point blog. 

Higher Education

"In the modern university, all sources of money, be they gifts from donors, corporate grants, or investments, can be tainted in some way.... [And] students, faculty members, and alumni...are demanding that universities take responsibility for their role in laundering wealthy philanthropists’ reputations and allowing outside influence on research." But are they? Nell Gluckman, a senior reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, takes a closer look.

International Affairs/Development

On the HistPhil blog, Álvaro Morcillo Laiz, a scholar of international relations, considers "U.S. foundations’ funding of education, the elaboration of statistics, and human rights activism in Latin America as producing public goods." 

Nonprofits

In a post on the Charity Navigator blog, Michael Thatcher, the nonprofit ratings organization's president and CEO, looks back at the things he and his team achieved and learned in 2019, and what they have planned for 2020.

Philanthropy

On the Candid blog, Larry McGill, our vice president for knowledge services, shares findings from a survey of six hundred and forty-five of the largest U.S. foundations conducted in early 2019 that asked if they had changed their funding priorities in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the 2016 presidential election. Check out Larry's post to learn more.

Social Good

And writing on the Equities.com site, Thomas Kostigen explains why he thinks impact investing is likely to become a bigger fact in the financial services and  money management worlds in 2020.

(Image: @ NASA EOSDIS)

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. 

Fit to Fund: Who Should Pay to Raise Standards for Good Financial Grant Practice?

November 08, 2019

Global standardsFunders have a right to expect that their nonprofit grantees have systems and structures in place to manage grants effectively and ethically. But does that right also imply that funders have a responsibility to invest in the grant management capabilities they expect from organizations they entrust with funds?

In the production of French cognac, nearly twenty million bottles, or 8 percent of the country’s annual production, is lost to evaporation after the distilled spirit has been put up in oak barrels; this is known, rather romantically, as "the Angel's Share."

A similar but far less romantic phenomenon occurs in the nonprofit sector. According to Caroline Fiennes, author of It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give It, roughly $125 million in the United Kingdom alone is "lost" by grant recipients in the production of reports required by funders and government agencies; much of that is spent on duplicate assessments as part of the submission of multiple grant proposals.

Rather than going to the angels, this $125 million could be seen as the "admin share," with both funders and their nonprofit grantees spending significant amounts of time and money on multiple due diligence assessments, diverting funds to needless administrative tasks that could be used to change lives for the better.

Most grant proposal forms use different criteria, leaving many would-be grant recipients unclear about what funders expect of them. This also means that many nonprofits end up spending hundreds of hours a year filling in different forms that ask for the same basic information in slightly different ways.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than when it comes to filling in forms designed to assess a nonprofit's grant management practices. In part, this is because funders are under increasing pressure from watchdog groups, the media, and taxpayers to demonstrate that the funds they award are being spent effectively and ethically.

In addition, different ideas about what constitutes good grant management practice have led to lower levels of trust in grant management capabilities across global funding supply chains. As a result of this breakdown, nonprofits find themselves having to jump through ever more complex and costly assessment hoops in order to reassure funders of their reliability.

The Global Grant Community (GGC) was established to address this broken model and reduce the "admin share" of funds being lost to paperwork. Its mission is to enable more money to flow to the people who need help by using standardization and the disruptive power of technology to reduce the cost, in time and dollars, currently entailed in connecting funders with potential nonprofit partners.

Our antidote to "admin share" is the world’s first international standard for Good Financial Grant Practice (ARS 1651:2018). For the first time ever, there is now a global standard for good grant management practice that CBOs, CSOs, NGOs, and higher educational and research institutions can adopt, bringing rigor and trust to even high-risk funding environments and creating a level playing field between state and philanthropic funders and their beneficiaries.

Streamlining and stripping out the cost of due diligence by standardizing and digitizing the due diligence process also means a greater comfort level for funders — and more money for organizations that are working to create greater impact for people across Africa and the world — a win for both funders and recipients.

The new standard was developed at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, with support from some of the world’s largest public- and private-sector funders, including UKAID, USAID, Wellcome, UK Research and Innovation, the UK Department of Health and Social Care, the IKEA Foundation, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the African Union, and the New Partnership for Africa's Development and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD).

Developed in partnership with the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), the standard was piloted and road-tested by more than three hundred organizations around the globe and was formally adopted (ARS 1651:2018) by ARSO in June 2018. As such, it sets out more than two hundred and eighty clauses stipulating what major funders expect from their grantees with respect to grant management practice. The practices are organized into four broad organizational areas — financial management, human resources, procurement, and governance — and four tiers of compliance — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (depending on the scale and complexity of funding and the size of the nonprofit, NGO, or research institution).

The GFGP standard is not meant to replace existing audit and assessment processes but instead provides a strong and consistent belt for a funder's braces. Because grant recipients are assessed against common standards of grant management practice, funders can have greater confidence that their funds will be spent effectively, responsibly, and free from corruption. Working with certified Global Grant Community organizations also reduces funders’ risk and the cost of audits and compliance, ensuring that more of their funds support government policy objectives, Sustainable Development Goals, and Grand Bargain targets.

At the same time, a global standard benefits grant recipients. Because the standard clearly sets out the grant management and risk mitigation procedures funders are looking for before awarding grants, nonprofits can use the standard as a tool to improve their grant management capabilities.

The journey for a nonprofit to world-class grant management practice begins with a simple GFGP Pre-Certification Assessment that measures its capacity to comply. Organizations can improve their funding prospects further by opting for an independent audit by a licensed GFGP Standard Certification Body and earning a Certificate of Compliance, which can be displayed as a quality mark on a searchable database used by funders, where it is seen by many funders. This "provide once – share with many" functionality reduces the time and money that grantmakers spend on finding and verifying reliable partners.

Critics of the standard may point out the irony of yet another new form that needs to be filled out. However, we believe that over time the GFGP standard will be the only form a nonprofit ever needs to complete. Still, there is a short-term cost for nonprofits, and while the costs are far lower than the price charged by external audit firms and other third-party verification bodies, they do represent a barrier for many organizations, which in turn limits the ability of those organizations to improve their grant management capabilities and attractiveness to funders.

That raises an interesting question about whether the world's biggest funders should subsidize the cost of completing a GFGP assessment for underresourced organizations. We say "yes." By making the cost of an assessment and certification an allowable grant expense, funders would be acting in their own self-interest while strengthening the ability of their nonprofit partners to spend the grant funds they receive responsibly and ethically. If you decide to give someone a car, the first thing you probably want to know is whether person has a driver’s license. The same principle applies here.

As well as making a GFGP assessment an allowable expense, we are calling on funders to provide small grants through a special fund to pay for assessments for the smallest CSOs as a way of ensuring that no organization is left behind. It's our belief that the GFGP standard will become an international standard on which all grant funding, and the way funders fund, is based. It is long overdue, and we look forward to the many positive changes its adoption will bring.

Headshot_michael_kilpatrickMichael Kilpatrick is senior advisor to the Global Grant Community at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya.

5 Questions for...Bill Cummings, Co-Founder and President, Cummings Foundation

October 18, 2019

Bill Cummings thinks of himself as a serial entrepreneur. At the age of six, he would venture over to a construction site near his parents' house and sell bottles of soda. Decades later, after having worked in sales for a number of national consumer product firms, he bought his first "real" business, a century-old fruit juice syrup manufacturer, for $4,000. Five years later, he sold the company and used the seven-figure proceeds to establish Cummings Properties, which today manages more than ten million square feet of debt-free real estate in suburban Boston. Nearly all the properties are owned by and operated for the benefit of the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, which was established by Cummings and his wife, Joyce, in 1986, with a focus on providing support for small nonprofits in the counties surrounding Boston. Much of the couple's giving over the years was done quietly and under the radar — a fact that changed when the couple decided to sign the Giving Pledge in 2011.

PND recently spoke with Cummings about his journey from entrepreneur to philanthropist, the evolution of the foundation's $100k for 100 program,  and the impact of the Giving Pledge on his thinking about and approach to philanthropy.

Bill_cummings_square_jpgPhilanthropy News Digest: Your foundation launched the $100k for 100 initiative in 2012 with the aim of providing a hundred nonprofits in the Massachusetts counties of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk with grants of $100,000. Did you have any models in mind when you designed the program?

Bill Cummings: No, we had nothing in mind. We had operated independently for a long time, and we had a policy of reaching out to nonprofits that weren't high profile, groups that typically found it difficult to secure foundation support. I suspect it's that way wherever you go in the U.S, and it's a shame, because there are so many small, obscure nonprofits doing marvelous things in their communities. We try to give a few of them in our neck of the woods more visibility. That was our initial goal, at any rate, and it eventually evolved into what, for several years, was known as the $100k for 100 program.

We have since combined that program with our Sustaining Grant program to create what is now a $20 million annual grantmaking program. Separately, both were extremely successful, but we came to realize we were doing two sequential programs to be included in our Sustaining Grants Program, organizations needed to have been included in one of the $100k for 100 cohorts and so we decided it would be better to streamline them. By combining them, we also eliminated the gap year that had been programmed into the Sustaining Grants effort. Under the new model we're able to provide longer-term grants of up to ten years.

PND: What do smaller, local non­profits need to do to prove to the foundation that they're able to handle what, in many cases, is likely to be the largest gift they've ever received?

BC: The $100,000 we awarded through the $100k for 100 program typically was awarded over a period of three to five years. Under the new model, if an organization has an annual budget of $50,000, we can make a big difference in their sustainability if we give them even $10,000 a year over ten years. We're talking about things like food pantries or afterschool day care. Once we know them a little better, we can then determine how much of the overall grant amount should go out at any one time. Initially, we committed to giving out $10 million a year, and it took a while for us to scale up. But now we're paying out considerably more than that.

PND: You and your wife signed the Giving Pledge in 2011. Did that have anything to do with your decision to scale up your philanthropy and be more public about it?

BC: Yes, but it didn't really change our approach or philosophy. Making one's philanthropy more public is one of the goals of the Giving Pledge, and when we joined it wasn't long before an editor at the Boston Globe called and said, "I've never heard of you. How can you be doing all this, and I never knew you existed?" Then she called the Boston Foundation to see what she could learn about us, and they hadn't heard of us, either. She was a little skeptical about us for a while, but we steered her to a few people who knew us, and she did her due diligence. At one point, I recall her saying that she was thinking of calling our foundation "The Billionaires Next Door."

By Giving Pledge standards, we're small. The Cummings Founda­tion has about $2 billion in assets, compared to, say, the more than $50 billion in assets held by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first Giving Pledge meet­ing my wife and I attended was a strange experience for us. We looked around the room and at the sixty or so other couples who were representing different foundations and organiza­tions and pretty quickly realized we were probably the least wealthy people there.

After we visited Africa for the first time, we decided we wanted to expand our philanthropic work beyond the three counties here in Massachusetts and decided to support some things in Rwanda. It was reassuring to be able to talk to other Giving Pledgers and be told that what we had seen and learned while we were in Rwanda was accurate, and that it was a good place in which to invest philanthropically. It's that kind of access to smart people, people who have done this and are happy to have us run ideas by them, that makes the Giving Pledge so valuable .

PND: Are you looking at other opportunities in Africa, or anywhere else, for that matter?

BC: For now, we're limiting our international giving to Rwanda. But we've learned about other organizations there through members of the Giving Pledge, and we've encouraged some of them to support organizations there that we're familiar with organizations like Uni­versity of Global Health Equity, which opened its new campus in January. We're also looking at expanding our activities in Rwanda in ways that better connect them to each other. The organizations we support there really could do more working together than alone, and we've encouraged them to apply to us for joint grants. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is one example.

PND: This is a moment of pretty intense political polarization in the United States. Do you have any thoughts about where we are as a country and how we got here? And are you optimistic about the future?

BC: I wish I were more optimistic than I actually am. In general, I'm an optimist, but I'm beside myself with some of the things I see going on in Washington these days. In our company and our foundation, we have always worked to build trust and accountability. Sadly, our country has a chief executive who openly talks about how one can profit from bankruptcy and how it's easy to cheat people. That's not good; that's discouraging. But I'm hopeful we will get beyond that.

I've been traveling a lot over the past year to promote my book. And that has led to some interesting opportunities. For instance, we worked with Harvard Business School recently on a Cummings Properties case study. I applied to the business school as a 21-year-old just out of Tufts and was effectively rejected and told to reapply in two years. So it's great fun, as you might imagine, to have a case being studied at Harvard.

Recently, I gave a book talk to a thousand people in Rwanda. I didn't sell a lot of books, but I was able to give audience members free access to a copy of it on the Internet. I also spoke at the Saïd School of Business at Oxford University and to another eight hundred people at the University of Alabama. Giving a talk like that is a lot of fun, and it helps to promote philanthropy. It's been an interesting sidebar to my career. Yes, the runway is getting shorter, but I don't see any reason to stop looking forward.

Matt Sinclair

How to Ensure Your Data Science Is Inclusive

October 16, 2019

Tanzania-citizen-priorities-767The potential of data science to support, measure, and amplify sustainable development is undeniable. And as public, private, and civic institutions around the world come to recognize the role that data science can play in advancing growth, an increasingly robust array of efforts aimed at fostering data science in lower-income countries has emerged.

This phenomenon is particularly salient in sub-Saharan Africa, where foundations are investing millions in building data literacy and data science skills; multilaterals and national governments are pioneering new investments in data science, artificial intelligence, and smart cities; private and public donors are investing in data science centers and local data science talent; and local universities are launching graduate-level data science courses.

Despite this progress (and the attendant hype) lurks an inconvenient truth: As a new generation of data scientists emerges in Africa, there is relatively little trusted, accurate, and accessible data available to them.

We often hear how data science can be used to help teachers tailor curricula according to student performance, but the fact remains that many school systems on the continent don't collect or track performance data with enough accuracy and timeliness to perform data science–enabled tweaks. Many firmly believe that data science can help us identify disease outbreaks early, but healthcare facilities often lack the patient data and digital capabilities needed to surface those clues.

Fundamental data gaps like these invite a question: Precisely what data do data scientists need to advance sustainable development?

There are, of course, compelling examples of data science being put to use for the public good. Emerging use cases include exploring call detail records to improve mobility and urban planning, using remote sensors to measure agricultural or economic growth, and mining online content to monitor election violence. These and other examples prove beyond a doubt that data science has a role to play in advancing sustainable development.

But obtaining call detail records requires time, money, and (often) political connections. Online content (like tweets) typically reflects the views of the relatively small number of people in lower-income countries who have Internet access and avail themselves of social media platforms. Even though we're working hard to make data science accessible to everyone, data scientists are left to work with information that remains either inaccessible to most technologists or is unrepresentative of the most marginalized populations.

The lack of good data has consequences. As leaders and influencers increasingly rely on data science to guide their decision-making, they risk making decisions that ignore the needs, perspectives, and values of the people they serve who are not online (more than half the world's population), or who don’t use a mobile device (which are used more by men than by women).

They also risk disenfranchising a new generation of African data scientists who lack the financial resources to access large and reliable datasets, or who have to watch as better-funded organizations an ocean away — for example, universities in the Global North — conduct data science and analytics focused on their communities.

The good news? There are steps we can take that will help data science achieve its full potential in the realm of sustainable development. Here are three:

1. Be wary of encouraging a generation of data scientists who must rely on expensive, hard-to-access data in order to meaningfully apply their skills. We should couple our data science training with efforts that build data collection skills through methods such as community mapping or data-sharing initiatives like data collaboratives.

2. Be conscious of the risk of reinforcing dependencies on companies whose technologies, platforms, and datasets comprise the bulk of data science case studies. We should intentionally pair our investments in data science with investments in indigenous innovations that produce data for data science. Low-cost, locally-built technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and initiatives that produce locally relevant training datasets can help mitigate such dependencies.

3. Be mindful of focusing too much on data science and not enough on data literacy. We should double down on building fundamental data skills — collecting, cleaning, analyzing, sharing — within health clinics, schools, and local government agencies, where so much valuable information is actually produced. Doing so will improve the availability and reliability of large datasets for use by homegrown data scientists.

Fortunately, momentum is beginning to shift in favor of indigenous data science. Entrepreneurs are rolling out innovations designed to address language gaps. Initiatives such as Data Science Africa and Deep Learning Indaba are nurturing communities of machine-learning experts. These are steps in the right direction.

Five years from now, a new generation of socially-conscious impact-driven African data scientists will have emerged, and many of them will be driven to use their skills to address sustainable development challenges. We must ensure that the information that powers their efforts isn't limited to expensive, inaccessible, or unrepresentative data that sits primarily in the hands of a few mobile operators, banks, or tech companies.

Getting there means complementing the hype of data science for global good with the long, difficult work of improving data quality at the local level, investing in indigenous technology and content, and investing in fundamental data skills. Only then will the data science revolution be primed to achieve its full potential.

Samhir Vasdev is an advisor for digital development at IREX's Center for Applied Learning and Impact. A version of this post originally appeared on the IREX website.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2019)

September 06, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone, the days are getting shorter, and you're probably feeling the urge for goin'. Before you do, check out some of the posts that were popular with our readers in August. Enjoy!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

[Review] The Business of Changing the World: How Billionaires, Tech Disrupters, and Social Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Aid Industry

July 10, 2019

Gone are the days when major donor governments and multilateral agencies poured large sums into international development projects that were evaluated mainly by the level of the donors' generosity. As Raj Kumar explains in The Business of Changing the World: How Billionaires, Tech Disrupters, and Social Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Aid Industry, the foreign aid industry, in the United States and elsewhere, is undergoing a huge transformation: once dominated by a handful of players, the sector is being reinvented as a dynamic marketplace hungry for cost-efficient, evidence-based solutions.

Tbcw-book-coverAs the co-founder of Devex, a social enterprise and media platform for the global development community, Kumar has a unique perspective on the emerging trends, key players, and new frameworks and philosophies that are shaping the development sector. And as he sees it, the sector is undergoing three fundamental changes: first, an opening up to diverse participants; second, a shift from a wholesale to a retail model of aid; and third, a growing focus on results-oriented, evidence-based strategies.

According to Kumar, the diversification of participants and, consequently, of strategies, both characterizes and is contributing to the growing success of this new era of aid. Prior to the twenty-first century, the sector was dominated by large agencies such as USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the World Bank functioning as an oligopsony in which aid strategies were relatively homogeneous and any latitude to innovate was limited. Thanks in part to the wealth accumulated by tech billionaires such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, however, that is changing and the sector today operates and is informed by a much broader range of perspectives.

One result of the influx of tech dollars and expertise into the sector has been a demand for results, often in the form of a measurable return on those investments. But despite the broader diversity of approaches, failure is still part and parcel of the field, and Kumar offers some insights into why. An example he cites repeatedly is Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Initiative, which never fully delivered on its thesis that providing laptops to children in the developing world would go a long way to closing education gaps. As Kumar notes, past evaluations of the program have found that laptops did not do much to improve children's learning — in part because the initiative failed to adequately train teachers or develop curricula tailored to computer-based learning — and he uses the example to highlight the importance of pilot-testing projects to determine their efficacy before implementing them at scale.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2018)

July 01, 2019

Is it us, or does chronological time seem to be accelerating? Before the first half of 2019 becomes a distant memory, take a few minutes to check out some of the most popular posts on the blog in June. And remember: You're not getting older, you're gaining wisdom.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Women's Movements Hold the Key to Gender Equality — So Why Aren't Donors Funding Them?

June 21, 2019

Strong_womanAt the Women Deliver conference in early June, the Canadian government announced that it was pledging $300 million to the Equality Fund to advance women's rights worldwide. The announcement was especially exciting because the fund is committed to supporting feminist movements and their advocacy work — an unusual focus for an international development initiative.

Over the last two decades, U.S. foundations and the international development community have dramatically increased funding for women and girls in the Global South. Yet despite these outlays — avowedly dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls — evidence has shown that most funding going to women's empowerment is not only ineffective but actually harmful.

The typical thinking goes something like this: Empower a woman in the Global South with the means to generate her own income and prevent unwanted pregnancy, and she will invest in the health and education of her children and family, ending the vicious cycle of poverty and generating an outsized return on investment. This approach focuses on the individual woman or girl. Very little, if any, support goes to feminist organizations and movements. The missing link is the advocacy efforts of feminist groups, which are dedicated to changing the very structures that perpetuate inequality and oppression.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 11-12, 2019)

May 12, 2019

0510_flooding_CNNA 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

There’s been an email marketing paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector, writes Caroline Fothergill on the npEngage site. Whereas the size of a list used to be all that mattered, "collectively [we've] come to realize the value of quality over quantity." Today, open and click rates are where it's at, and Fothergill shares some practical advice designed to help nonprofits improve their results in both areas.

Criminal Justice

"As a person who uses drugs," writes Louise Vincent on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, "I know that no one person is to blame. What is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths from drug overdose is a broken drug policy, a system that prioritizes punishment over treatment, and a culture of prohibition that leads us to use drugs alone and in shame." 

Health

What does it take to build fair opportunities for health in rural communities? On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Whitney Kimball Coe,  coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a movement geared toward building better policy and greater opportunity across the country, shares some of the lessons she has learned in her work.

Book reading has been declining for decades, and language and communications experts are concerned. Markheim Heid, a health and lifestyle writer, takes a closer look at the research — and the implications for society.

Higher Education

It's time to shift the social contract of education away from short-term job training toward long-term development, writes David M. Perry, a former professor of history, on the Pacific Standard site. And free college has to be part of that shift.

In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, author of the Death of Expertise, argues that the idea that students on college campuses should have "a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like...is a dangerous development — a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education." Readers of Nichols' article respond.

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Notre-Dame de Paris: What Can Philanthropy Learn?

April 30, 2019

AP_France_Notre_Dame_FireLike most people who have lived or spent time in Paris, I experienced a deep sadness that quickly turned to tears, anger, and confusion as the news flashed across social media that the great cathedral of Notre-Dame was burning. The blow to French identity, and the sense of loss for all of us who hold Paris dear, was and is profound.

Within days, my despair had given way to faint hope as I read news stories detailing pledges of more than €900 million from some of France's wealthiest families toward the reconstruction of the cathedral. But that hope soon gave way to feelings of guilt. Just weeks ago, Cyclone Idai smashed into southeastern Africa, leaving more than a thousand people dead and thousands more missing in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. It was a disaster of epic proportions that went largely unreported in the Western media and generated little in the way of disaster recovery funding. While I felt frustration at the contrast between the philanthropic response to the two events, I probably wasn’t as angry as I should have been. The fact I felt conflicted about what philanthropy could and was willing to do to save Notre-Dame versus the enormous challenge of mitigating human suffering and building peaceful societies, not just in Africa but around the world, has been haunting me ever since. And the juxtaposition of the two responses underscores a complex societal problem.

People's engagement with issues tends to be driven by their values and passions. Giving is shaped by the many different and connected parts of human psychology, and Notre-Dame was a classic example of giving driven by emotion (and, in the case of certain French billionaires, a healthy dose of ego). The fire was a blow to a collective French identity rooted in a distant, romanticized past, and the immediate outpouring of support for restoring the cathedral to its former glory was a way to stand in solidarity with that past and make oneself feel good in the bargain.

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5 Questions for...Jane Wales, Co-Founder/CEO, Global Philanthropy Forum

April 25, 2019

As she was nearing the end of her fourth five-year term heading up the World Affairs Councils, Jane Wales decided it was time to let someone else run the show — an effort that includes organizing the annual Global Philanthropy Forum, which she co-founded in 2001 and which has evolved into a platform where philanthropic practitioners can share their knowledge and learnings with social investors, donors, and funders in other sectors.

PND caught up with Wales, who continues to serve as vice president and executive director of the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation at the Aspen Institute, during the recently concluded eighteenth annual Global Philanthropy Forum conference and spoke with her about the challenges confronting liberal democracy in an era of rising populism, the alarming decline in the public's trust of institutions, and her hopes for the philanthropic sector going forward.

Headshot_jane_walesPhilanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues chose to organize this year's Global Philanthropy Forum conference around the theme "Reclaiming Democracy." Why?

Jane Wales: We're seeing a concerning trend of liberal democracies around the world shifting to illiberalism. These are places in which the vote remains sacrosanct — where citizens have the right to vote — but the protection of individual civil liberties is not. We see this is happening in the Philippines, in Turkey, in Poland and Hungary, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil, and the United States. And you can't say it's all due to a cultural shift or particular event. Clearly, there are underlying trends affecting us all. The question then becomes: How do you push back on those trends? What is the role of philanthropy in building social capital and citizen agency? And what are the most important ingredients of a successful democracy? The theme of the conference is about identifying a big problem, but it’s a problem for which civil society has solutions.

PND: What are those solutions?

JW: The underlying trends being discussed here have to do with the confluence of the information revolution and globalization, as well as the major demographic changes we're seeing in many countries. Conference attendees are looking at each of these powerful trends and trying to figure out what are the upsides, what are the downsides, and how can we mitigate the danger they pose?

When it comes to the information revolution, we're looking at the role of digital media and social media in sowing division. When it comes to globalization, the upside is that it has lifted millions of people out of poverty and created great wealth — and a considerable amount of that wealth has been directed to the public good. But globalization has also created a situation in which the standard of living for the middle class in many countries is declining, and that has contributed to divisions — not just along political and economic lines, but also along educational lines, because the opportunities and outcomes for college graduates and high school graduates are significantly different. Inequity results.

In terms of demographic change, the most powerful concerns are mass migration in the face of deadly conflict or natural disasters on the one hand and normal immigration flows on the other. That begs the question not only of what needs to be done to prevent crises but also what is needed to forge a comprehensive immigration policy that the majority of Americans and other publics will support. We also need to think through what can and should be done to help newly arrived people integrate into the society that will be their new home. Nonprofits are already doing exceptional work in this area.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 20-21, 2019)

April 21, 2019

Redacted-Legal-Documents-1And...we're back with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Disabilities

In a post on the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, the foundation's Noorain Khan and Catherine Townshend update readers on the foundation's disability inclusion journey.

Diversity

On the GrantSpace blog, Julieta Mendez, director of programs at Candid, explains how the organization's DEI programs are supporting the social sector.

Education

"Seven years after the state passed a law that required Maine’s high schools to award diplomas on the basis of demonstrated 'proficiency' in eight key areas, and nine months after the legislature repealed that mandate, the debate over proficiency-based diplomas continues to divide districts, teachers and families...even as the concept spreads to other schools and states." Kelly Field reports for the Hechinger Report.

Health

A proposed Trump administration rule to allow employers to fund individual, tax-preferred accounts for employees rather than cover them under employer-sponsored group plans could shift individuals from employee-sponsored plans to state-regulated individual markets and end up destabilizing those markets. Georgetown University professors JoAnn Volk and Kevin Lucia dig into the details on the Commonwealth Fund's To The Point blog.

Impact/Effectiveness

Charity Navigator, in partnership with Feedback Labs, Candid, GlobalGiving, Listen for Good, Acumen, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Bridges Fund Management, Development Gateway, and Keystone Accountability, has announced the release of version 1.0 of the Principles of Constituent Feedback, an effort to begin collecting and publishing the reflections of nonprofits on their feedback practice before #GivingTuesday 2019.

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5 Questions for Rolf Huber, Managing Director, Siemens Stiftung

April 20, 2019

In March, Siemens Stiftung, a nonprofit foundation created by Siemens AG, the German multinational conglomerate, established WE!Hub Victoria Ltd, a social enterprise based in Kisumu, Kenya, to bring innovative solutions related to drinking water and energy supplies to communities on the shores of Lake Victoria. Branded as WeTu ("ours" in Swahili), the initiative also plans to bring electric vehicles to rural Africa for the first time.

Recently, the folks at Sympra, a Stuttgart-based consulting firm, spoke with Rolf Huber, managing director of Siemens Stiftung, about the project.

Headshot_rold huberSympra: Why did Siemens Stiftung establish WeTu?

Rolf Huber: We strongly believe in a business approach to social and environmental problems: self-sustaining, environmentally-friendly business models can be used to meet sustainability goals and achieve social development in rural Africa. This is why WeTu is a social enterprise with clear goals pertaining to social, economic, and ecological outcomes. The business model is based on technology solutions that have been specifically developed for rural Africa.

In our experience, self-sustaining and financially independent solutions are possible when the ideas contributed by local communities are matched with regional and international networks and knowledge. Through our Impact Hub network, we've set up several entrepreneurial centers in African cities. And we were actively involved in We!Hub, the previous version of this project on Lake Victoria, meaning we know the region, the communities, and the potential business models quite well.

Sympra: How would you describe the situation on the ground?

RH: It's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we see enormous potential. There are many, highly-motivated young people who want to improve their quality of life. They want to seize opportunities and they have a real entrepreneurial spirit.

But on the other hand, there is 20 percent youth unemployment in the region — toxically frustrating for such a young society. Beyond that, access to basic goods is not always guaranteed. The drinking water situation is also dire. Many people continue to drink contaminated water straight from Lake Victoria. Pollution threatens the livelihoods of local communities that depend on income derived from fishing in the lake. There is poor infrastructure in rural areas: streets are bad, if they exist at all, which create challenges for transporting goods like food or drinking water. These are significant hurdles when it comes to development.

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