247 posts categorized "Poverty Alleviation"

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.

PND: Your book, Lean Impact, builds on a book called The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. If we grant that there are some things nonprofits and government can learn from business — and, more specifically, from Silicon Valley — would you also grant that there are things that nonprofits do at least as well as business?

AMC: I would answer that question a couple of ways. It's true that businesses, nonprofits, and governments function very differently and have different cultures, different processes, and so forth. That said, there are a number of factors that are causing that to change.

One is that in the world of social good, all these players need to work together if they hope to create sustainable change at scale. No one sector is capable of solving most of these problems on their own. And two is what I heard repeatedly in the course of my over two hundred interviews for the book — more and more of the most interesting work is happening at the intersection of sectors. It used to be that nonprofits did good and companies made money. Now you're seeing more nonprofits trying to build sustainable business models and more businesses trying to do good, because their employees, their customers, their stakeholders, and their investors are demanding it. You still have nonprofits and for-profits, but the gap between them is narrowing.

Eric's book has been incredibly popular and successful in the business world, but I've also talked to a lot of people who work in the social sector who have picked it up, were inspired by it, and said, "This makes so much sense, I want to do it." But they feel stuck. There are a lot of reasons for that, but basically it comes down to a number of struc­tural impediments that make it harder for nonprofits to innovate.

So, the idea behind Lean Impact is to build on these best practices for innovation and adapt them for the unique challenges of doing social good. None of this is rocket science. But it can be hard to do in the context in which we work.

PND: Innovation is a key theme of the book. How do you define it? And why does it need to be lean?

AMC: I think those questions go together. In the book I quote Edison, who famously said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." That's very much true of innovation. It's one percent inspiration, which is the big idea, the invention, if you will. That's the part that people tend to focus on when we talk about innovation, because it's sexy. Someone comes up with some whiz-bang gadget and everyone goes, "Wow."

But I think innovation and the book is about the ninety-nine percent — the blood, sweat, and tears that is involved with taking that initial germ of a good idea and testing, iterat­ing, improving it; creating a business model; and building the infrastructure and operations to bring it to real impact in the real world.

The book looks at how to do that. Remember, despite being considered among the most innovative companies on the planet, Google didn’t "invent" search and Facebook didn't "invent" social networking. They built on existing ideas and relentlessly focused on improving the algorithms, the user interface, and the feature set, until, over time, they were head-and-shoulders above their competitors.

In the social sector, there tends to be a focus on the big idea, the flashy thing no one has thought of before versus the blood, sweat, and tears needed to take an idea that is already out there and figuring out how to really make it work in a context in which it could have real impact.

PND: You're a believer in the importance of setting audacious goals. But I think many people engaged in social change work would argue that, given the constraints on resources, setting big audacious goals is a non-starter. Do they have a point?

AMC: The book is organized around three principles, and one of them is about the importance of thinking big. And yes, the nonprofit sector tends to plan based on constraints. They look at the money they have, the existing staff, or the size and scope of a particular grant and ask, What can we do with these resources? But that rarely makes an appreciable dent in the problem. The organizations that I have found to be the most impressive and most successful were the ones that think big and plan based on the real needs in the world. It forces them to make different decisions. Can I give you an example?

PND: Sure.

AMC: There's a social enterprise based here in New York called VisionSpring. They've identified an invention that has proven to improve productivity and learning. You know what I'm talking about. Eyeglasses. It's a technology that has been around for seven hundred years, and yet two and half billion people who could benefit still don't have a pair. So, VisionSpring set out to address this huge gap. They started out in two countries, India and El Salvador, and they hired "vision entrepreneurs" to go into rural areas to do eye exams and sell eyeglasses at a very low-cost. And these vision entrepreneurs came back with amazing stories about kids who were suddenly able and eager to learn and people who thought they'd never be able to see well again who could suddenly see and work and contribute to the community. These are results most nonprofits would have been very happy with: We had some resources, and we did some good, right?

But, for VisionSpring it wasn't enough. It was doing good and on to something that mattered. But it was also losing money on each person it served and was never going to raise enough money to reach all the people who could benefit from a pair of eyeglasses.

So it pivoted. It moved to a hub-and-spoke model by setting up vision centers in urban areas to serve a higher-end clientele. And with the profits, VisionSpring was able to cross-subsidize outreach to more rural areas. Under the new model, the organization soon became financially self-supporting, which is something most nonprofits would be happy about. But VisioinSpring still wasn't satisfied. Even though it was on financially solid ground, it would take decades for it to set up centers around the world to reach all the people who might benefit from a pair of eyeglasses.

So it pivoted again. This time it partnered with BRAC — one of the biggest global development organizations around — to leverage its existing network of community healthcare workers in every corner of Bangladesh. By working with BRAC, VisionSpring was able to train those community healthcare workers to provide eye exams and sell low-cost glasses across the country. It was a win-win, because it gave BRAC another benefit they could offer their constituents, while VisionSpring was able to get eyeglasses to a lot more people. Together, they've now helped over a million people. Which is pretty impressive. Today, VisionSpring has hundreds of partnerships through which they've been able to reach over four and a half million people. Again, most people would consider that a huge success.

But the organization still wasn't satisfied. The way VisionSpring saw it, they'd only reached a tiny fraction of the two and a half billion people who needed eyeglasses. So their most recent pivot was to spin out a new nonprofit called EYElliance, which brings together eyeglass manufacturers, governments, and nonprofits to look at the market and policy failures that are behind the supply-demand gap — things like the fact that eyeglass manufacturers aren't incentivized to invest in low-cost glasses or distribute them in rural areas and that governments tend not to include vision care in the services they provide. One of their first successes was an MOU they signed with the government of Liberia to integrate vision care into the national health and public school systems. One can imagine what that might mean for one of the poorest countries in the world. And as the coalition continues to focus on systems changes like that, you can see the potential for it to maybe, just maybe, get to that two and a half billion in need.

PND: You mentioned that the book is centered around three guiding principles. What are the other two?

AMC: The first is to think big. The idea is to have an audacious goal that moves the needle on the real need in the world.

The second is to start small. Too often, social entrepreneurs and nonprofits do the opposite: they think too small and start too big. Funders tend to ask nonprofits to set achievable goals and deliver reliably on them. That's not a recipe for innovation. The beauty of starting small is that it allows you to experiment when you don't yet have a solution to the problem and to validate your assumptions before making a bigger investment. It also makes it easier for nonprofits to try out more options and find the best one, to take more risk, to learn more quickly and cheaply, and to adapt and improve on their solution.

The third principle is to relentlessly seek impact. By that, I mean staying intently focused at every step of the way on your big audacious goal, and avoiding all the things that can throw you off track. In the book I encourage people to fall in love with the problem rather than their solution. Often, it's the opposite: we fall in love with a solution — because it's what we have been promoting, become attached to, feel pride of ownership for, or can't let go of. In the process, we can forget to ask ourselves whether it’s actually going to solve the problem. VisionSpring could have gotten very attached to its idea of vision entrepreneurs; they were doing some good and they had great stories to tell. But because it held on lightly to that particular path and kept returning to what its original audacious goal was, it realized it had to pivot — not once, not twice, but three times — and find even more effective ways to achieve its goal.

PND: What is the role of time in all of this? Should organizations looking to scale their impact ignore how long it might take or is taking? Or is time irrelevant to the equation?

AMC: Well, you've got to have both long- and short-term goals. Your big audacious goal should be your North Star that keeps you headed in the right direction. But by definition it's usually a long-term goal and is not granular enough to guide your short-term decisions. From a day-to-day standpoint, I recommend focusing on innovation metrics. In The Lean Startup Eric Ries coined the term "vanity metrics" for the kind of numbers that quantify activity and look good, but often are not a meaningful measure of progress. In the nonprofit space, this tends to be aggregate numbers like the number of people reached or touched. In contrast, innovation metrics capture the unit metrics that are the underlying drivers of real impact. In the book, I break those down into three buckets: value — is this something people demand, will come back for, and will tell their friends about; impact — does what you're delivering create the social benefit you intend; and growth — do you have an engine to drive scale to somewhere approximating the need that exists.

PND: Many of the case studies in the book feature NGOs and nonprofits working in a developing world context. Should we infer from that that it's easier to scale impact in a developing world as opposed to a developed world context?

AMC: No, not at all. I worked at USAID, Mercy Corps, and the State Department, which were all focused on global poverty, so I've had a lot more personal experience in this area. But at least a third of the examples in the book concern domestic organizations and efforts. Part of my research for the book was to learn more about the work that is happening domestically and about organizations that are innovating and pioneering new approaches to problems here in our backyard.

PND: Do you have an example you can share with us?

AMC: One example I like is an organization called Summit Public Schools, which operates a dozen charter schools in the Bay Area and Washington State. One reason I find them inspiring is that they have been rapidly innovating in the field of education, a field where impact can take years to fully realize. When Diane Tavenner started SPS, her big audacious goal was to have 100 percent of SPS' diverse student body graduate from college. She and her team started with a couple of schools, adopted the best educational practices they could find, and hit the ground running. Eight years later, when SPS' first cohort of students graduated from college, the graduation rate for those kids was much higher than average. Again, most people would say, "Hey, that's a huge success."

But Diane wasn't satisfied, because she had a big audacious goal, and 100 percent meant 100 percent. She also wasn’t willing to wait another eight years to see whether a new set of enhancements might succeed. Instead, she decided to focus on building innovation, iteration, and data into the culture of SPS so that teachers and administrators in SPS schools could speed up their pace of learning.

And that's what they did. In a space where, traditionally, it's very hard to innovate, SPS created a system where they could run week-long variations, trying a mix of elements such as lecture time, one-on-one mentoring, personalized learning with computers, group project time, and so on. They also introduced variety into the curriculum, changed the physical configuration of classrooms, and looked at a bunch of other dimensions of the school day. Each week they would gather data from individual student learning assessments, focus groups, and student and teacher feedback, to see what was working and what wasn't. Now, of course, the data collected wasn't going to tell you definitively whether this kid or that kid would, down the road, graduate from college. But it did tell them which elements of the curriculum and school day were more engaging and resulted in improved learning. With these iterations over the course of a year, they were able to fine-tune their approach and come up with a personalized learning model that was significantly better than the model they started with.

The students who were exposed to that approach haven't graduated college yet, but in the past year 99 percent of them were admitted to college. What's even more exciting is the SPS model is now being replicated at over three hundred different public schools in forty different states. Dianne and her team recognize that they would never be able to run enough schools themselves, but they have developed the capacity to be able to experiment and innovate much more quickly than most schools and school districts, and that should benefit everyone in the long run.

PND: The elimination of global poverty by 2030 is one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. Do you think that's an achievable goal? And how might the principles outlined in your book help the global community achieve that goal as well as the other SDGs?

AMC: All indications are that we are not on track to achieve many of the SDGs by 2030, including ending extreme poverty. I often hear people focus on the $2 trillion to $3 trillion annual funding gap that is needed to get us all the way there. It's completely unrealistic, of course, to think that we're going to somehow magically come up with $2 trillion or $3 trillion — if anything, foreign-aid dollars are more likely going to decline over the next decade. The only other alternative I can see is to innovate our way into better, more cost effective, more scalable solutions to these problems. That is, we need to get dramatically greater bang for the buck for the dollars we do have. Of course, that means innovation. If we shift our attention and apply more of the kinds of approaches I try to elevate in the book, we have a far better chance of achieving many more of the SDGs.

PND: After thirty-plus years of globalization and technology-driven disruption, we're seeing a serious populist backlash to many of the consequences of those phenomena in countries like Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, and, yes, the U.S. What advice would you give to a young social entrepreneur with a great idea and a burning desire to change the world?

AMC: Well, the political landscape certainly has changed, and national­ism and populism are on the rise. But there are still a huge number of institutions out there that are continuing to drive and push for social change, whether its foundations or multilateral institutions like the World Bank and USAID or governments, including ours. At the same time, new problems are rearing their heads and demanding attention. I do think there's a ton of passion and interest among millennials to step up and take responsibil­ity for making the world a better place, and we're seeing that in the increased interest in things like impact investing and the drive to hold all com­panies, but especially giant multinationals, accountable. There's a real interest in the responsibility we all have to society and the planet.

The nonprofit space is changing as well. There's more emphasis on the need for rigor and on the need to scale, and that's part of what I think Lean Impact is trying to do — to take some of the techniques that have been honed by business and put them to work to solve some of the world's most important problems.

As for advice I might give, I think it really comes down to the principles outlined in the book. Don't get too attached to your big idea. Lots of people have great ideas, and most of them end up falling by the wayside. Be open to the possibility that your idea may need to be tweaked or even discarded and fall in love with the problem you want to solve instead.

Be audacious about your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish and remember: the foundation of innovation is an audacious goal. If your goals can be achieved with business as usual, there's no reason to take the risks needed to achieve something great. As I tell my teams, what would you do if you had to deliver ten times as much as what you're doing today? It forces you to think out of the box, to take some risks, and to try some things that are different.

Finally, get out there and start building, experimenting, and start learning. Be humble about what you know and don't know. And be relentless about trying and failing, trying and fail­ing, and finding the best path forward. Great things have never been achieved by those who were afraid to fail.

— Mitch Nauffts

Current Trends in Philanthropy: International Giving by U.S. Foundations

November 01, 2018

Global-giving-report-coverInternational giving by large U.S. foundations reached an all-time high of $9.3 billion in 2015, up some 306 percent, from $2.1 billion, in 2002, when Foundation Center first started tracking it on an annual basis. During the same period, international giving also increased as a percent of total giving, from 13.9 percent in 2002 to 28.4 percent in 2015.

While the number of grants to international organizations and causes has stayed relatively stable, up some 31 percent (from 10,600 to 13,900) since 2002, average grant size has increased more than three-fold, from $200,900 in 2002 to $604,500 in 2015.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which accounted for more than half (51 percent) of all international giving from 2011 to 2015. When Gates Foundation grantmaking is excluded, we see that international giving grew at a somewhat slower rate (21 percent) during the five-year period, reaching a high of nearly $4 billion in 2015.

Like foundation giving in general, international giving by U.S. foundations is largely project-focused: despite continued calls from nonprofit leaders for foundations to provide more general operating support, 65 percent of international giving by U.S. foundations from 2011 to 2015 was for specific projects or programs. (General support refers broadly to unrestricted funding and core support for day-to-day operating costs. Project support or program development refers to support for specific projects or programs as opposed to the general purpose of an organization. For more information, see https://taxonomy.foundationcenter.org/support-strategies.)

Data also show that U.S. foundations continue to fund international work primarily through intermediaries. From 2011 to 2015, 28 percent of international giving was channeled through U.S.-based intermediaries, 30 percent went through non-U.S. intermediaries, and just 12 percent went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented. What’s more, just 1 percent of international giving was awarded in the form of general support grants directly to local organizations, and those grants were substantially smaller in size, averaging just under $242,000, while grants to intermediaries averaged just over $554,000.

It's important to note that these intermediaries vary in type and structure, and include:

  • International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) operating programs in a different country than the country where they are headquartered.
  • U.S. public charities re-granting funds directly to local organizations.
  • Organizations indigenous to their geographic region but working across countries (i.e., not just in the country where they are headquartered).
  • Multilateral institutions working globally (e.g., the World Health Organization, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria).
  • Research institutions conducting public health research or vaccination programs targeted at specific countries that are not the country where they are headquartered.

Unsurprisingly, health was the top-funded subject area supported by U.S. foundations in the 2011 to 2015 period, with grants totaling $18.6 billion accounting for 53 percent of international grantmaking.

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Philanthropy's Under-Investment in Holding High Finance Accountable: A Gamble We Can’t Afford

October 17, 2018

Monopoly_top_hatTen years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, authorizing $700 billion in federal funding to buy troubled assets from banks deemed to be in danger of failing as a result of the subprime foreclosure crisis.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained the same: progressive philanthropy continues to under-prioritize efforts to hold the financial industry accountable.

It's a choice that risks undermining the headway progressive foundations are making on issues of inequality and wealth building. Placing big bets on policies designed to lift up low- and moderate-income communities while failing to address the accountability of financial institutions is a gamble we cannot afford to take — not least because it puts at risk the very people we are trying to serve.

American households lost $16 trillion in wealth in the years after the 2007-08 financial crisis. And while some experts estimate that Americans have regained $14.6 trillion, or 91 percent, of those losses in the decade since, the collapse affected different segments of society unequally, with the gains just as unequally distributed. In other words, both the crash and the recovery increased inequality in America.

The impact on African Americans was especially profound. Nearly 8 percent of African-American homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in the years after the crisis, compared with only 4.5 percent of white homeowners, and between 2007 and 2010 African Americans saw their retirement accounts lose 35 percent of their value. Indeed, according to the National Association of Realtors, African Americans lost fully half their wealth as a result of the financial crisis.

It's not just the likelihood of future financial crises that should give philanthropic leaders pause; it's also the fact that an under-regulated and unaccountable financial industry will continue to target communities of color and low-income communities with sketchy products and put vulnerable households at risk.

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On 'Fake' Victories and the Need to Act

August 02, 2018

American-Poverty-768x512While no one would argue that Donald Trump is a student of history, he and other Republicans seem to have taken a lesson from a former "dean" of the Senate, George Aiken (R-VT), who was alleged to have said of U.S. involvement in Vietnam that we should simply "declare victory and get out." How else to explain the things Trump and Republican politicians are doing to "address" poverty in America?

Most of us have learned that the president, members of his administration, and his congressional allies are adept at creating "alternative facts" through exaggeration, misrepresentation, and plain old dissembling. After a one-day summit meeting in June with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un generated nothing in the way of detailed policy agreements, Trump declared that the North Korean nuclear threat had been eliminated. (Real-world developments subsequently invalidated the president’s assertions.) Similarly, at an extraordinary press conference following an unprecedented private meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the president dismissed the consensus view of American intelligence agencies that Russia was actively working to undermine our electoral and democratic processes and declared that no such threat exists. And now the president is focusing his magical-thinking act on the home front.

In July, the Trump administration declared "victory" in the War on Poverty — the unofficial name for a series of federal initiatives introduced in the 1960s by the Johnson administration to help people move out of poverty and provide assistance to those in need — and declared that poverty in the United States was no longer a problem the federal government need worry about. The administration's declaration was stunning on two counts: Republicans have a long history of opposing the War on Poverty, and poverty remains a huge problem in America.

Established measures of poverty show that in 2016 about 12.7 percent of Americans — roughly 43 million people — lived in poverty. And a recent United Nations study found that 18.5 million Americans are facing "extreme impoverishment." In fact, close to 2 percent of the population – more than 5 million of us — live on no more than $4 a day, including government assistance. Even more alarming, more than a few moderate-income Americans are included in a Federal Reserve study which found that 40 percent of us would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without having to sell something or borrow the money.

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CUNY: A Model for Expanding College Access and Success for Low-Income Students

June 27, 2018

CUNY_james_b_millikenAs James B. ("JB") Milliken steps down after four years as chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY), many stories about his successes and dedication to students are emerging. Mine is a personal tribute based on what I've observed first-hand as a committed but demanding supporter.

JB's leadership in getting students not just to but through college is exemplary. CUNY propels nearly six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as the twelve "Ivy League Plus" campuses combined (as demonstrated by Raj Chetty of Stanford University and a group of other prominent economists). While this has always been a strength at CUNY, JB called for improving that record with an audacious plan to double graduation rates at its seven community college in five years — and to increase by ten percentage points the four-year CUNY college graduation rates.

The university is on track to meet those goals. According to CUNY, three-year graduation rates from associate programs have climbed from 13.6 percent for the cohort that entered full-time in 2010 to 19.2 percent for the 2014 cohort, and are on track to achieve the chancellor's target of 35.6 percent for the 2019 cohort. Six-year graduation rates for baccalaureate degrees have improved from 51 percent for the cohort that entered full-time in 2006 to 56.6 percent for the 2011 cohort, and are on track to achieve the goal of 61 percent for the 2017 cohort.

To get there, JB scaled a successful pilot named ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) from 3,700 students to more than 25,000 students. It is now the best program in the country for accelerating community college graduation rates. Graduation rates for students in the program are at 55 percent in three years, compared with the national average of 16 percent, and it costs just under $4,000 per student.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 7-8, 2018)

April 08, 2018

Cherry-blossomsOur 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

The Hewlett Foundation's Ruth Levine argues (persuasively) that "the benefit/cost ratio for [nonprofit] annual reports is pretty unfavorable" and that "[t]they are more trouble than they're worth." 

Reinvent the wheel. Close the loop. Onboarding. Vu Le has gathered nineteen of the most annoying phrases used in the nonprofit sector.

Diversity

On the BoardSource blog, Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation since 2008, shares five recommendations for foundations that want to do something about the lack of board diversity in the field. 

Giving

When should you start teaching your kids about charitable giving. Forbes contributor Rob Clarfeld shares a few thoughts.

Higher Education 

After a lifetime working in and around students and public schools, Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and a former chancellor of the New York City public school system, reflects in an op-ed in the New York Times on the "troubling fact" that "[d]espite the best efforts of many, the gap between the numbers of rich and poor college graduates continues to grow."

The Times' Kyle Spencer reports that, with the price of higher education soaring, middle-class families increasingly are looking to community colleges as an option.

"For years, researchers have highlighted the vast inequities that persist in the country's K-12 education system with students of color disproportionately enrolled in public schools that are underfunded, understaffed, and thus more likely to underperform when compared with schools attended by their white peers," writes Sara Garcia on the Center for American progress site. "What has received less attention is the fact that these inequitable patterns do not end when a student graduates from high school but persist through postsecondary education."

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 17-18, 2018)

March 18, 2018

NCAA_basketballOur 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

Nonprofit communications professionals should pay more attention to their usage of hyphens. Nonprofit AF's Vu Le shares a dozen examples that demonstrate why. 

Criminal Justice

"As the U.S. confronts a growing epidemic of opioid misuse, policymakers and public health officials need a clear understanding of whether, how, and to what degree imprisonment for drug offenses affects the nature and extent of the nation’s drug problems." A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds "no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests." Pew's Adam Gelb explains.

Education

On WaPo education reporter Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog, venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith offers some advice to Education Secretary Besty DeVos based on what he learned after visiting two hundred schools in fifty states.

On the Aspen Institute blog, Jennifer Bradley chats with Caroline Hill, founder of the DC Equity Lab, which invests in early stage education ventures in Washington, D.C. 

More than 50 percent of the U.S.-based education companies invested in by Omidyar Network have been founded or led by women. ON's Isabelle Hau shares some  of the lessons it has learned along the way. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 10-11, 2018)

February 11, 2018

Market_3275653kOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

What if boycotts — punishing companies for perceived anti-social or -environmental practices by refusing to buy their products or services — isn't the most effective way to change corporate behavior? A new report from public relations firm Weber Shandwick suggest that "buycotts" — in which consumers actively support companies that model pro-social behavior — are overtaking boycotts as the preferred mode of consumer activism. Eillie Anzilotti reports for Fast Company.

Economy

In the New York Times, Kevin Roose profiles self-declared 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who tells Roose, "All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society....[W]e're going to have a million truck drivers who are out of work [and] who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or [a] year of college. That one innovation will be enough to create riots in the street. And we're about to do the same thing to retail workers, call center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms."

Giving

The 80/20 rule, whereby 80 percent of charitable gifts come from 20 percent of the donors, seems like "a quaint artifact of a simpler time," writes Alan Cantor in Philanthropy Daily. These days, the more accurate measure is probably closer to 95/5  and, according to the authors of a new report on giving, it's headed toward a ratio of 98/2. What's a nonprofit leader to do? "[G]o where the money is. Try not to sell your souls to your top donors, and do your best to maintain a broad constituency of supporters. "

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Heather McLeod Grant and Kate Wilkinson argue that, with a new generation of donors arriving on the scene, "we need to pay more attention to how values around philanthropy pass from one generation to the next and how that initial spark of generosity awakens — factors that most nonprofits can’t influence but should heed to as they cultivate donors."

Broadening access to college and increasing college completion are imperative, but they are not enough, argues Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and president emeritus of Michigan State University, if students who complete a degree are not ready for employment.

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Weekend Link Roundup (Jan. 27-28, 2018)

January 28, 2018

640_2015_01_02_15_45_20_04_2015_08_23_13_12_33Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Animal Welfare

Following recent allegations of workplace misconduct leveled at Human Society of the U.S. chief executive Wayne Pacelle, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther takes a closer look at charges of widespread sexual harassment and gender bias in the animal welfare movement. 

Arts and Culture

Be sure to check out the Q&A on Barry's Blog, a service of the Western States Arts Federation, with John E. McGuirk, the recently retired director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Performing Arts Program.

Fundraising

On the Inside Philanthropy site, IP contributor Mike Scutari asks: When should nonprofit institutions keep a gift that has been tainted by the bad actions of the giver?

Grantseeking

You've been awarded a grant and now the deadline for reporting your program's outcomes is looming. Should you invest as much time and effort into writing the final project report as you did in writing the grant proposal? On the Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland blog, Jenna Gonzales, a program associate at the San Antonio Area Foundation, shares six things you can do to "articulate your impact and demonstrate you are a credible partner to consider for future grant opportunities."

Higher Education

At a time when postsecondary educational attainment in the United States remains below 50 percent for the 25-34 year-old age group, "the vast, affordable, and extraordinarily diverse community college system is central to the national debate about access and quality in postsecondary education, and about work life readiness for the next generation of Americans." The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Mariët Westermann explains

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 13-14, 2018)

January 15, 2018

MLKOur 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

On the Barr Foundation blog, the foundation's Climate Program co-directors, Mariella Puerto and Mary Skelton Roberts, outline "the rationale, priorities, and early steps of the foundation's newly-expanded focus on [climate] resilience."

New York Magazine's Reeves Wiedeman checks in with a fresh take on the climate advocacy of the Rockefeller family and its campaign against Exxon, one of the legacy companies of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.

Education

A consensus has developed over the last decade around the importance of pre-K education. So why do so many preschool teachers live on the edge of financial ruin? Jeneen Interlandi reports for the New York Times.

To kick off the new year, the editors of Education Week share ten ideas that they believe have the potential to change K-12 education in 2018.

Fundraising

Why are we so bad at predicting the future, and what can we learn from our collective obtuseness? When it comes to fundraising, writes digital marketer and self-styled charity nerd Brady Josephson, "the question shouldn't be 'What will be different in the future?' but rather 'What will be the same?'"

International Affairs/Development

It may not have seemed like it, but 2017 was the best year in human history. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains. And Kristof's Times colleague Tina Rosenberg reminds us that it was a pretty good year for social innovation as well.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 28-29, 2017)

October 29, 2017

Tax_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

On the Getting Smart blog, Tom Vander Ark, former director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and author of Getting Smart: How Personal Digital Learning is Changing the World, highlights ten tech-driven developments (widespread unemployment, widening inequality, algorithmic bias, machine ethics, genome editing) that require decisions, sooner rather than later, we are not prepared to make.

In a new post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz wonders whether the social sector can "pre-emptively develop a set of guardrails for the application of new technologies so that predictable harm (at least) can be minimized or prevented?" 

Disaster Relief/Recovery

In Houston, the newly formed Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium is convening leading  researchers to compile, analyze, and share an array of scientifically-informed data about flooding risk and mitigation opportunities in the region. Three key stakeholders in the effort — Ann Stern, president and CEO of the Houston Endowment; Nancy Kinder, president of the Kinder Foundation; and Katherine Lorenz, president of the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation — explain what the initiative hopes to accomplish.

Education

"It is the latest iteration for a philanthropy that has both had a significant influence on K-12 policy over its two-decades-long involvement in the sector — and drawn harsh criticism for pushing ideas that some see as technocratic." Education Week's Stephen Sawchuck examines what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent strategy pivot and new investments in K-12 education signal for the field.

Giving

Donald Trump and his administration's policies appear to be behind a dramatic increase in giving to progress groups. Ben Paynter reports for Fast Company.

Forbes has published its annual list of the top givers in the U.S.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 7-8, 2017)

October 08, 2017

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

Disaster Relief

ProPublica, no fan of the Red Cross, sent a team of reporters to Texas to see how the organization performed in the days after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston and the surrounding region. They found a lot of local officials who were not impressed. And here's the official Red Cross response to the criticism.

Giving

In the Baltimore Sun, Aaron Dorfman, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, wonders whether elimination of the estate tax, as the Trump administration has proposed, will result in a decline in charitable giving, especially large gifts. That's what happened the last time the tax was effectively zeroed out, in 2010, a year that saw bequests from estates decline by 37 percent from the previous year ($11.9 billion to $7.49 billion). A year later, after the tax had been reinstated (albeit at a lower level), the dollar value of bequests rose some 92 percent (to $14.36 billion). And in an op-ed in the Argus Leader, Dorfman provides some numbers which suggest that the family farm argument for eliminating the tax is overstated.

Inequality

On the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Tracy Jan shares a set of charts from the Urban Institute that help explain why the wealth gap between white families and everyone else is widenening.

International Affairs/Development

In a welcome development, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of disarmament activists, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 26-27, 2017)

August 28, 2017

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

Harvey-goes-82517_0Disaster Relief

Harvey has slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast and flooding from the rainfall accompanying the storm appears to be as bad, if not worse, than predicted. NPR has put together a very helpful list of sites and resources for those who would like to help.

Fundraising

The team behind the Fundly blog shares five tips aimed at helping your organization improve its crowdfunding goals. 

International Affairs/Development

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a framework for what might just be the most ambitious development effort ever. And if that effort is to succeed, every dollar contributed toward one of the goals needs to be spent effectively. On the Triple Pundit site, Mandy Ryan, managing director at Changing Our World, has some good tips for companies looking to align their citizenship work with the SDGs.

And what can we learn from UNLEASH, an "innovation lab" where a thousand young people from a hundred and twenty-nine countries spent ten days in Aarhus, Denmark, developing solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals?  Catherine Cheney reports for Devex.

Journalism/Media

Google News Lab, in partnership with ProPublica, is launching a new, machine learning-powered tool to track reported hate crimes across the country. Taylor Hatmaker reports for Tech Crunch.

We were saddened to learn of the death of Jack Rosenthal, the great  New York Timesman (and our UWS neighbor), at the age of 82. In a long career at the Times, Rosenthal served as urban affairs correspondent in Washington, deputy editorial page editor, editorial page editor, editor of The New York Times Magazine, and president of the New York Times Company Foundation. Eighteen months after 9/11, we had an opportunity to interview him as he was serving in that latter role  an interview that still has much to teach us.

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Two New Data Tools for the Open Ag Sector

August 14, 2017

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

_____

You work at a foundation, government agency, or nonprofit committed to reducing poverty and hunger. Recognizing the importance of agriculture for achieving this goal, you've decided to focus on improving the lives of smallholder farmers, who represent a significant portion of those living on less than $2 a day. You know which regions you want to work in, and now you're trying to determine which value chains you should invest in to create the greatest impact. As part of the Initiative for Open Ag Funding, Foundation Center has two new tools to help you answer that question.

First, an acknowledgment: such a decision requires an analysis of many, many data points. Among the factors to consider are: Which crops are produced by smallholder farmers? Which of those crops have the most potential to increase farmers' income? What does the market for these crops look like? What is the potential for significant productivity gains? Is there the infrastructure needed to get these goods to market? Who else is investing in these particular value chains?

The Initiative for Open Ag Funding focuses on this last question: Who is doing what, where, with whom, and to what effect? And rather than reinvent the wheel, the initiative uses the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data standard as its starting point. IATI aims to improve the transparency of international development and humanitarian resources and activities and has been widely adopted by bilateral and multilateral donors as well as many other organizations. To date, two of Foundation Center's major contributions have been: 1) filling a gap in IATI data; and 2) developing a tool to enrich that data so it better meets the needs of the agriculture sector.

Shedding Light on Foundation Funding for Agriculture

Foundation Center has been collecting and sharing data on foundations' grantmaking for decades. This data has been used to ground philanthropy research, inform grant prospecting, and foster collaboration. Given our comprehensive data on foundation grants and the fact that few foundations have published their data to IATI, we have opened our data on funding for international agriculture and food security activities. This data represents $4.3 billion worth of grants from nearly 1,900 funders to more than 3,000 organizations around the world. In addition to posting the data on the IATI Registry,* we've also made it accessible through a new and publicly available Open Agriculture Data map.

OpenAg_tools_grino

Making IATI Data More Relevant for Agriculture

At the moment, most data published to IATI is coded with OECD DAC purpose codes or the organization's own subject taxonomy. Early conversations with agricultural practitioners revealed, however, that these categories are not granular enough. In response, we developed an open source agriculture autocoder for the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) AGROVOC thesaurus. Enter a project title, description, or any other text and, using machine learning, the OpenAgClassifier will return codes for terms such as rice or bananas or goats. (You can learn more about our approach to open source in this blog post by my colleague, Dave Hollander.) As a result, what would have been a time-consuming and probably manual process of identifying who is working in, say, the rice value chain is now much faster and easier.

Foundation Center and the Open Ag Funding team know that data and tools alone won't lead to smarter investments or more collaboration. Our goal is simply to give organizations a better starting point for making decisions about where and how to direct their resources. Given the progress of the open data movement, a lack of data or good tools shouldn't be a major reason why organizations duplicate efforts, why Organization A didn't know to go to Organization B to learn more about their approach, or why an organization really making a difference is invisible to those that have the means to support it. Our hope is that by putting the right data and tools at their disposal, we can make it easier for organizations to focus on the harder things about getting development right.

Headshot_laia-grino(*Note: To avoid duplication of data on the IATI Registry, we have removed funders already publishing to IATI from our IATI data.)

Laia Griñó is director of data discovery at Foundation Center. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

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

August 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    — Kofi Annan (1938-2018)

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