255 posts categorized "Poverty Alleviation"

[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.

Indeed, while veteran development hands may commend Negroponte for his ambition and good intentions, a new generation of development professionals is more interested in setting goals by which a project's success (or failure) can be measured and conducting rigorous evaluation to determine whether it meets those goals. In a resource-constrained world, Kumar argues, such an approach is the best way for aid groups and their funders to avoid the opportunity costs of a failed project and harness their limited funds for maximum impact.

Another important change in the sector is the shift away from the traditional decision-making model in which decisions were made by well-compensated individuals embedded in institutions at a significant remove from the people in need of help. In the new world of aid, writes Kumar, donors and aid experts have to let go of the mindset that they know best, step back, and listen to the intended beneficiaries about how that aid should be put to use. "Only by asking...questions, listening carefully, watching how people actually behave and react in the real world, and then designing programs to address those realities," he writes, "will we be able to get the kind of results we want."

That also means that aid programs need to incorporate behavioral science- and human psychology-based approaches to ensure that the funded intervention will be both widely adopted and effective. In support of his argument, Kumar cites the example of an insecticide-treated mosquito net distribution effort. While a standard cost-benefit analysis most likely would conclude that such nets are a reasonable and cost-effective intervention, aid groups that took the time to interview the intended beneficiaries soon learned that mosquito nets distributed through previous campaigns were hardly ever used because they are too hot to sleep under and are not easy to set up. By doing a better job of focusing on "people, not widgets," aid groups stand a much better chance of ensuring that projects are executed efficiently and goals are met.

In addition to these broad trends and themes, Kumar looks at the ways in which the emerging aid industry has embraced a more diverse cast of players — including so-called social enterprises, which he defines as businesses "established with the sole purpose of meeting an important social need [that create] shared value for all those involved — the producers, the organization, customers, and the broader society." From Hello Tractor, an app modeled on Uber that connects Nigerian farmers who are not fully utilizing their tractors to farmers in need of a tractor, to microfinance platform Kiva, Kumar illustrates how social entrepreneurs are transforming the aid sector with technology and, crucially, a behavioral-science mindset, creating solutions that address the specific needs of a specific target population in real time.

While it's perhaps unrealistic to expect all businesses to operate with the sole intention of meeting a social need, Kumar argues that such enterprises could pave the way for more businesses to adopt the idea of shared value, creating what the World Economic Forum has called a "fourth sector." One way for corporations to become more socially responsible is to ignore the notion that people at the "bottom of the pyramid" (a phrase coined by C.K. Prahalad in his 2004 book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) can never function as a market. Instead, companies need to embrace the idea that the vast number of people who fall into that category are more than enough to create aggregate demand — and a profit — for any business and create products and services specifically for the BoP.

Kumar also examines the emergence of "retail" aid, as seen in the growing popularity of crowdfunding sites like Kiva and direct cash transfers, and notes that "frictionless" digital technologies are putting increasing pressure on "wholesale" models of aid to incorporate local input, monitor results continually, make course corrections as needed, and ensure that projects are self-sustaining over time. Such changes go hand-in-hand with "a new ethos" of what Kumar calls "open source aid" — organizational cultures that embrace the humility required to share results (including failures), openly and in the spirit of collective learning.

Despite the credit he gives social entrepreneurs and businesses for embracing market solutions, Kumar recognizes that systemic problems do not always lend themselves to a quick market or technological fix. One organization that seems to understand that is Teach for All, a global network of independent, locally led and governed partner organizations that has trained more than sixty-five hundred individuals to serve as educators in their communities. As he explains, if Teach for All's progress in transforming local educational systems has been slower and less quantifiable than might be the case with a more disruptive Silicon Valley solution, its approach is better suited to the "complex, emotionally fraught, politicized [education] system" in most countries. In other words, where market-based solutions may succeed in reducing complexity, they often fail to address many of the fundamental issues responsible for a system's underperformance.

Like education, extreme poverty is a challenge far too complex to be solved by a simple market-based solution. Today, seven hundred and forty-six million people around the world live in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2 a day), and, from conflict situations to "extractive institutions," Kumar points to the many systemic factors perpetuating the problem. So, if market-based solutions are unlikely to solve the problem, what will? Kumar thinks the answer lies in embracing a results-based approach to aid delivery, including the collection of real-time data that enables aid groups to track and disseminate the successes (and failures) of their interventions and drive awareness of and support to those deserving of more attention; and demanding that billionaire donors be held accountable for the support they provide. Good intentions and "giving pledges" are not enough in the twenty-first century, he writes; instead, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the resources provided by billionaire philanthropists produce real, meaningful results.

Kumar notes that even if foreign aid succeeded in eradicating extreme poverty in a given country, in most cases it would still leave 3 percent of that country's population living below the poverty line. While some readers might find this to be an oddly pessimistic note on which to end the book (coming as it does on the book's second-to-last page), it's more a case of Kumar wanting to highlight the urgent need for efficiency and effectiveness in aid delivery. Simply put, we cannot afford to waste resources on "best" guesses, insufficiently evaluated initiatives, and serial failures. The aid community, donors as well as those on the front lines, must listen to and engage with those they seek to serve so as to better understand the problem, think outside the box, and harness the power of data to produce desperately needed results. As Kumar reminds us, it is not enough to do good; it needs to be done well.

Avi Bond is a Knowledge Services intern at Candid.

 

A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

For Massachusetts folks of a certain age, the name Filene's Basement evokes memories of a crowded emporium where the hunt for bargains, especially on weekends, often resembled competitive sport. The basement was the brainchild of Edward A. Filene, whose father, William, founded Filene's in 1908. It was Edward, however, who recognized that growing numbers of American factory workers represented a new market and persuaded his father to start selling surplus, overstock, and closeout merchandise in the basement of his flagship Downtown Crossing store.

The experiment was a huge success, and the Filenes soon joined the ranks of America’s wealthiest families. In 1919, Ed Filene, already recognized as a progressive business leader, founded the Co-operative League — later renamed the Twentieth Century Fund — one of the first public policy research institutes in the country.

Mark Zuckerman joined TCF — which changed its name to the Century Foundation in the early 2000s — as president in 2015. A veteran of the Obama administration, where he served as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, leading teams on initiatives to reduce student debt, increase accountability at for-profit educational institutions, reduce workplace discrimination, and expand access to job training, and Capitol Hill, where he served as staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee, Zuckerman has worked over the last four years to bring the organization’s research efforts and policy work into the twenty-first century.

PND spoke with Zuckerman recently about some of those changes, the meaning of the 2018 midterm elections, and TCF’s efforts to advance a progressive policy agenda.

Headshot_mark_zuckermanPhilanthropy News Digest: The Century Foundation is marking its hundredth anniversary in 2019. Tell us a bit about Edward Filene, the man who created it back in 1919.

Mark Zuckerman: Ed Filene was a prominent businessman but also somebody who was deeply engaged in public policy, a rare combination in those days. The era in which he was working was a time when there wasn't strong governmental involvement in the economy, and where it was involved, it was too weak to effectively address the economic chal­lenges of the day. Things like workers' wages and benefits, anti-trust enforcement, and a lack of transparency with respect to Wall Street, something that eventually led to passage of the Securities and Exchange Act.

Ed Filene very much believed in more robust engagement by local, state, and the federal government in people's lives. And he felt that research was a linchpin of good public policy. At the time, there were very few think tanks — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had been started a year earlier and Brookings had been started two years before that. 

So, the idea of a private entity taking on challenges that, in the past, only government had had sufficient resources to address was something new. Today, of course, there are think tanks all over the world focused on many different subjects, but Ed Filene really was in on the beginning of the think tank movement and on think tanks as places where social policy, progressive social policy in Mr. Filene's case, would be discussed and developed.

Like Henry Ford, he believed that paying a decent wage to your employees was good for the overall economy, and in his writings he expressed support for a mandatory minimum wage. He also gave speeches about the importance of supporting the Roosevelt admin­istration in its attempt to get Congress to pass something that looked a lot like Medicare and urged people to call in their support for initiatives Roosevelt and his brain trust were proposing.

One of the public policy innovations he was most interested in was the credit union movement, and for a specific reason. At the time, the nineteen-thirties, financial institutions mostly were there to lend and cater to businesses and wealthy individuals. There simply was no infra­structure in the United States to provide the middle class — never mind lower-income folks — with capital to buy their first home or even to invest in a small business. Ed Filene viewed credit unions as a critical tool for providing Americans with capital that could help them thrive and grow the middle class. And so he embarked on a major effort, not only at the national level but at the state level, including his own state, Massachusetts, to authorize the creation of credit unions, which sort of makes him the father of the credit union movement.

PND: Let's jump ahead a bit. How does the Century Foundation's work support a progressive policy agenda in 2019? And how has the organization's model evolved over the last hundred years to support that work?

MZ: Well, one of the big changes the Century Foundation went through — and I would say it was in keeping with changes in the way policy was made over the decades — is that it evolved over the years from being essentially a book publisher, which was what it was for decades. Back then, it would engage influential thinkers about specific social policy ideas they wanted to promote in book form. Many of those titles were, of course, written for policy elites, with the idea that these ideas would be circulated and eventually find their way into the halls of Con­gress or onto the floor of state legislatures. It was a common sort of model for academic institutions and emerging think tanks during the mid-twentieth century. But over time, and especially as the Internet became more widely used, the model changed. Today, having influence in or impact on public policy requires a lot more than just having a good idea, and too many of these books end up sitting on shelves, unread. Maybe they're filled with great ideas, but there are fewer and fewer people willing to pull those ideas out of those volumes and turn them into policy.

So, the Century Foundation today is very differ­ent than it was seventy or fifty or even twenty years ago, in that we are taking more responsibility — not only for coming up with creative solutions to today's challenges, but for figuring out how to use the resources we have beyond research and the development of policy ideas to create impact.

That's the big shift — the leveraging of intellectual and advocacy resources and institutional relationships to drive policy change. When I joined TCF as president four years ago, I hired a number of people who had recent experience in the White House or in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill, because I wanted people who understood how best to approach those institutions, and how they could have an impact on those institutions. They were also people with a high level of expertise in their particular subject matter. That's been my focus as president — finding people who know who the policy players in Washington are, who have deep expertise in their subject matter and the ability to do good research, and who have wide, influential networks in the advocacy, policy, and academic communities.

PND: Can you give us an example of how that focus has played out with respect to a specific issue?

MZ: So, the day after Barack Obama's second term in office ended, I hired a woman named Jeanne Lambrew who had been President Obama's top healthcare expert. Jeanne came to the Century Foundation for two years to be a resource to us in our efforts to defend the Affordable Care Act, which was under attack by Republican members of Congress. We felt that healthcare advocates needed to have access to someone who knew the history of the legislation, someone who knew how it was being undermined administratively or could be repealed or compromised in a significant way. And for two years, thanks to our investment, Jeanne did just that, making herself available to people on Capitol Hill who had technical questions or questions about strategy, and laying the groundwork for an in-depth analysis of competing proposals that could serve as the basis of the next generation of healthcare reform. Besides Medicare for All, there are four or five other proposals out there that could serve as the basis for a new and improved version of the Affordable Care Act. And through convenings, conferences, commissions of work, and her own work, Jeanne brought attention to those proposals, which, in my opinion, are going to very much be front and center in the next presi­dential election cycle.

PND: In their book The Liberal Hour, MacKenzie and Weisbrot argue that while civil rights activists, New Left dissidents, and student protesters all played important roles in driving social change in the 1960s, it was "the institutions of national politics, and the politicians and bureaucrats who inhabited them, that produced the social and economic changes that became the deep and enduring legacy of that decade." Do you agree with that?

MZ: I think underlying your question is the question of how much government intervention there should be in the economy. Capitalism has great strengths, but as we know, it also tends to leave a lot of people behind. And I think the debates of the last several decades, to a significant degree, have been about what level of government intervention in the economy is appropriate in terms of making sure that the rich and powerful aren't the only ones with the power to make decisions, aren't the only ones who do well, and that everyone has adequate access to the kinds of resources, whether it's education or housing or healthcare or retirement security, they need to realize their full potential.

The Century Foundation and other progressive institutions will say, unabashedly, that in some cases there needs to be significant intervention by gov­ernment to ensure that all Americans have access to the resources they need to realize their full potential. And, of course, there are people on the right who subscribe to the idea that each of us is on our own, that capitalism creates winners and losers, and that if you're a loser in a capitalist system, well, then, you're a loser and that, moreover, government has no role to play in terms of ensuring that everyone has a shot, that everyone gets to participate in our democracy, and that everyone enjoys the full rights of citizenship.

PND: The freshman class elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms includes record numbers of women and people of color. What's your view of what happened in November?

MZ: I think 2018 was one of the most significant midterm elections since 1974, when the first post-Watergate class came in and passed a number of reforms to the way Con­gress does its business, not to mention broader reforms in the economy. In some ways, the 2018 midterms were even more consequential, because of the diversity and energy that the new representatives have brought to Washington. They look a lot more like America looks in 2019, and to my mind they represent what America in the future will look like.

Now, it may take two, four, even ten years to deliver on some of the most progressive ideas that many in this freshman class are pushing and fighting for, but I think they're trying, as a group, to shift where the center is, and that's very important to making progress in public policy — shifting the center of the debate. And I think they're succeeding. As a group, they're expanding the definition of what's possible in terms of government intervention, especially as it relates to the security of the middle class, as well as low-income populations that haven't been given access to the kind of tools and resources and opportunities they need to prosper.

PND: What is the Century Foundation doing in 2019 to advance a progressive agenda in the United States?

MZ: One of the things we're tackling is the college affordability issue. The single most important thing we can do as a country, in my opinion, is to make sure young people have the opportunity to prosper economic­ally, and that simply is not the case right now. There are too many young people who don't have access to a four-year education or even a two-year or vocational education. Or they get to college only to drop out because they don't have the kinds of support, beyond tuition assistance, they need to navigate the college landscape — things like basic living expenses and child care and money for food and transportation. None of that is properly figured into the actual cost of college, and that's a problem, because we have to make it possible for more young people to get the kind of education they're going to need to thrive in the twenty-first century.

So, one of the things we're looking at here at TCF is the idea of debt-free college, with a focus on the kinds of resources and training we can provide to the next generation who are going to college — and who, in many cases, may be the first in their family to go to college. We spend tens of billions of dollars on higher education in this country, and only $5 billion on college-prep training and vocational programs. That's just wrong. And it means we're shortchanging young people who are looking for something other than the traditional college path

None of that is acceptable, and so we're working hard to come up with proposals, especially in the context of federal-state partnerships, that would provide millions of more young people access to college and, when they get to college, make it possible for them not to have to take on backbreaking amounts of debt in order to graduate. I mean, that's just not what the American dream is about. Ultimately, the idea is to have federal-state partnerships that help make college accessible and affordable for every­one, and to invest in alternative tracks like vocational or certificate training for those who feel that that's a better path for them. We have to invest in those individuals as well, and not just people on the four-year college track.

PND: Obviously, there is a lot of anxiety in America about the way the economy has changed and how the nature of work is changing. What is the Century Foundation doing to address those challenges?

MZ: One focus is labor unions. A lot of your readers can recall a time, as recently as the 1970s, when organized labor represented as much as a third of all the people employed in the United States. The simple fact of the matter is that unionization had the effect of preserving good wages and benefits for American workers, and of giving workers bargaining power in their dealings with employers. But in the decades since, we've seen a dramatic decline in union membership in America, especially in private-sector unionization, where today it's only 6 percent of the private-sector workforce. Meanwhile, Congress, for the better part of three decades, has been absolutely stuck in terms of doing what one would like to see it do when it comes to important social legislation, and that is to update and modernize laws already on the books so that they continue to work for the benefit of American workers.

One of the things I wrote about earlier this year concerned the opportunity for the labor movement and its allies to do something that is done in political campaigns, and that, of course, is to promote themselves with modern tech­nology and digital marketing techniques to activists and people who are interested in creating new unions. Technology has been deployed in hundreds of ways and in every area of the economy — whether it's filing your taxes, or booking an airline reservation, or automatically paying a toll with an E-ZPass — to make life easier for the consumer and help individuals work more efficiently. And it's unfortunate that the same technologies have not been marshaled to help people understand their right to form and be part of a labor union.

So what I outlined in my paper is how digital marketing techniques can be used to present the benefits of labor unions to a new generation — a generation, I might add, that is very used to and receptive to these technologies. It gives labor and its allies specific suggestions with respect to how the labor movement could be revived and strengthened because, as I said, it's one of the keys to making the American economy work for all Americans again.

There are also policy changes we need to make, some of which are being discussed at TCF and elsewhere in think-tank land — things like a guaranteed basic income for every American, a higher minimum wage, better overtime protections, an updating of the National Labor Relations Act, putting some teeth into our anti-trust laws, and passing corporate respon­sibility legislation.

All those things — along with better trade policy — play a role in addressing what has become an historic level of inequal­ity in the United States. In the last thirty years, we've seen wages stagnate for the lower quintiles and explode for the very highest quintile. And it's going to take more than one strategy to fix the problem; it's going to take half a dozen strategies to change the trajectory of wage gains for most Americans. If we do nothing, the problem will only get worse, creating greater and greater economic inequality in the country, and posing a real threat to our democracy.

PND: Ed Filene's foundation was an early promoter of public-private partner­ships, and the foundation con­tinues to work very much in that spirit. Over the last forty years or so, however, Americans have been conditioned to believe that government is inefficient and expensive. What can progressives do to change their fellow citizens' view of government and the role it plays in promoting the common weal?

MZ: This is a big chal­lenge for the progressive movement, especially at a time when so many good things have hap­pened in the country with respect to the protection of individual rights. The phenomenon you describe was observed during the debates on the Affordable Care Act, when it wasn't unusual to hear people express the belief that Medicare was a private-sector program. They would slam the Affordable Care Act as a tyrannical federal program and in the next breath say, "And keep your hands off my Medicare," failing completely to make the connection between the two.

So, yes, we face a big challenge around educating people about all the ways in which our investments in the federal government improve their lives, and that those investments have involved decades and decades of hard work aimed at trying to perfect these programs so that they are reliable, efficient, and — no small matter — properly understood and appreciated. Look at Social Security. When it was first proposed, it was bitterly contested and argued about, and for a few years after it was passed into law there were attempts to undermine and repeal it. Eighty years later, it is woven into the fabric of the country — so much so that something like President Bush’s attempt to privatize it was met with massive resistance. By and large, Americans just expect that they're going to get a monthly Social Security check when they reach a certain age, and they don't make the connection between their own reliance on the program and it actually being a big, successful government program that is emblematic of the best of what government can do for them.

Long story short, I think progressives have to do a better job of pointing to the government programs that work and improve people's lives and then make the case that without more interventions in the economy to balance the depredations of global capitalism, they're going to be worse off than they would be with a little more government in their lives. That's what the debate over the last few decades has been about, and it will continue to be what the debate is about for the foreseeable future. Progressives need to fight hard against this philosophy that we're all on our own, and that government is just a big, wasteful bureaucracy with no redeeming value.

That said, I also think it’s important for government to make itself more efficient through the smart use of modern tech­nologies, and to work in a way that is more responsive to individuals who need help. In some cases, that means making more investments in things that it under-invests in, especially K-12 education. That's the challenge for the progressive movement.

PND: What is your take on the new generation of politicians and policy leaders that has emerged in Washington and in state capitals around the country?

MZ: I think it's a fantastic development and the Democratic Party should be very proud of the diversity it represents today, both in terms of people of color and the representation of women. In Congress and in state legislatures across the country, the power structure is more reflective of the citizens it is meant to serve than ever before, and that is essential if our democracy is to thrive.

Beyond that, I think this is a transformative moment in our democracy, and I think this new generation of leaders is already doing a good job of identifying the shortcomings of existing public policy and making it clear what kinds of public policy we need going forward, whether it's universal health care, or action on climate change, or tackling income and wealth inequality. They are successfully engaging the country in these hard-to-solve problems, and they are doing so with specific solutions, in some cases even going around elite power structures and appealing directly to the people. That's probably the only way they will succeed, given the state of our extremely inadequate and counter-productive campaign finance laws.

PND: So, I take it you do not think the United States is a country in decline. If that's not the case, what makes you optimistic about the future?

MZ: No, I don't think we’re in decline, but I do think people are frustrated, because they see we have a set of very big challenges that need to be addressed, and they don't see any evidence that government is willing or able to address them. What they see instead is partisanship and grid­lock, and that causes them to be frustrated.

But what is hopeful about this rising generation is that so many of them are courageous and outspoken and seem to be willing to put their shoulder to the wheel. They are also very clear-eyed about who is blocking progress and the changes that the country wants and needs. Whether it's the Parkland students, or the new generation of legislators in the House who want to open things up and create processes that work better for the American people, or those who think the judiciary needs to be more responsive to ordinary Americans. Whatever the forum, there is this sense, I think, of optimism that new blood can revive our democracy and deliver on its promise — not just for Americans but for the world.

But they need to be sup­ported. That's the reason that the Century Foundation, in honor of our hundredth anniversary this year, launched Next100, a new, independent, and first-of-its-kind pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders. For the next two years, we'll select six emerging policy leaders and give them training, resources, and support to tackle a policy challenge of their choosing, all while providing them full-timed salaried positions and benefits. After we announced Next100 earlier this year, more than seven hundred people applied — from all walks of life and backgrounds, wanting to work on all sorts of challenges. It was an inspiring response to witness, and we just finished interviews and will be announcing the incoming class of leaders in July. Stay tuned.

So that's, in part, what makes me optimistic about the future of America — the next generation of leaders coming up.

Mitch Nauffts

A Conversation With Angelique Power, President, Field Foundation

May 20, 2019

A Chicago native, Angelique Power started her career in philanthropy in the public affairs department of Marshall Field's Department Stores, where she learned about corporate social responsibility and what effective civic engagement in the business world looks like. She went on to serve as program director at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and as director of community engagement and communications at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, before being named president of the Field Foundation of Illinois in the summer of 2016.

Since stepping into that role, Power has helped catalyze new ways of thinking about racial equity and social justice at a foundation that has engaged in that kind of work for decades. Under her leadership, the foundation has expanded its relationships with the community-based nonprofits it historically has supported as well as a range of philanthropic partners in Chicago.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Power about how the foundation is rethinking its approach to racial equity, its new partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and why she is optimistic about the future.

Heasdhot_angelique_powerPhilanthropy News Digest: The Field Foundation was established in 1940 by Marshall Field III, grandson of the man who founded the Marshall Field’s department store chain. Although the younger Marshall Field worked on Wall Street, he was also a committed New Dealer. What did Field think he could accomplish through the foundation, and what happened to the foundation after his death in 1956?

Angelique Power: As someone who in the day practiced what we refer to today as racial equity and social justice grantmaking, Marshall Field III was a leading financial supporter of Saul Alinsky, the godfather of community organizing. And the Field Foundation in the early '60s was a significant supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially around some of the voter registration campaigns that Dr. King led. It’s always interesting to me to reflect on Field's trajectory, a person who was born into great wealth but who saw the racial inequality in Chicago and nationally and decided to use his resources and his platform as a white man of privilege to effect change in the system.

Marshall Field V is on our board, and I often tell him, "You know, I never met your grandfather, but I have such a crush on him." Marshall Field III was a visionary in the way he thought about democracy and the institutions that hold power accountable in a democracy and how you can support individuals who are working to create change at a systems level. And I'm pretty sure he had all of that in mind when he set up the foundation.

After he passed away in 1956, the foundation was broken up. His widow moved to New York and created the Field Foundation of New York, and his son, Marshall Field IV, stayed in Chicago and created the Field Foundation of Illinois. The Field Foundation of New York spent itself down after twenty years, while the Field Foundation of Illinois is what we today refer to as the Field Foundation. In many ways, I feel like the path we've been on since I arrived three years ago — and going back beyond that to the tenures of the foundation's last few presidents — has been to try to put into action the ideals of Marshall Field III.

PND: You're the third consecutive African American to serve as head of the foundation, and individuals of color comprise a majority of your board. Whom do you credit for ensuring that the leadership of the foundation reflects the community it aims to serve?

AP: In the late 1980s, the Field Foundation made a couple of very interesting and unusual moves for the time. One was adding Milton Davis, an African-American man, to the board. The other was hiring Handy Lindsey, Jr. as president. Handy, who recently retired as president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, is so well respected in the field, both locally and nationally, that for years there was a lecture series named in his honor.

There are a couple of other things about the Field Foundation that make it unique. One, we are not a family foundation, although we do have some family members on our ten-person board, including Marshall Field V, who is a director for life, and two other family members; everyone else is a person of color. And the board has a keen interest in having the foundation operate as a private independent foundation, rather than as a family foundation. Family foundations are great and allocate capital in really interesting ways. But there was a decision early on here at the Field Foundation to put the resources and influence of the foundation in the hands of civic leaders, as opposed to solely family members.

Marshall Field V was instrumental in that decision, and he has never served as board chair. He is also very careful about how he participates in board meetings. I'm talking about a brilliant human being who serves on many boards, who has raised a tremendous amount of money for conservation and arts organizations and other causes, and who understands that his voice carries a lot of weight. He is very intentional in the context of his Field Foundation duties about sharing power, and always has been.

The decision to diversify the center of power at the foundation began in the 1980s, and that's also something I attribute to Marshall Field V. It's because of Marshall that our last two board chairs — including Lyle Logan, who recently stepped down as chair after serving more than ten years in that role — have been persons of color.

According to the D5 coalition, nationally, 14 percent of foundation board members are people of color, while the population of Chicago is 60 percent people of color. Our new board chair, Gloria Castillo, who also serves as CEO of Chicago United, a robust organization of CEOs of color that is working to create a more inclusive business ecosystem in Chicago, is very thoughtful about how leadership should look and operate, and she is absolutely committed to making sure that our organizational culture reflects equity in every sense of the word.

I would also mention Marshall's daughter, Stephanie Field-Harris, who chaired the search committee that selected me and was fiercely committed to speaking to candidates for the job who could come into a situation and not do what most people expected them to do but would be willing to lead an inclusive process that tried to radically re-imagine philanthropy. I credit all those folks, and each of our board and staff members, for making the Field Foundation the special institution it is today.

PND: How has the foundation changed its approach to grantmaking and evaluation since you became president?

AP: I joined the foundation in 2016, and since then we've changed how we fund, who we fund, and how we evaluate our grantmaking. We've even changed the way we look at the function of a foundation.

It all started with a process we initiated in 2016, shortly after I arrived. It was a time in Illinois, and in Chicago in particular, that a lot of us were asking, "What can we do differently?" When I started at the foundation, in July, the state's budget had been frozen for a year. It would remain frozen for another year, which meant that a lot of nonprofits were put on a starvation diet. They were not receiving their usual funding from the state, and they were turning to foundations and the private sector to keep their doors open. At the same time, the city was halfway through what would, because of gun violence, turn out to be the second bloodiest year in its history. The video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the African-American teenager who was shot sixteen times by a white police officer, had been released about eight months before I started, and the sense of urgency in the city was palpable.

The Field Foundation had had a history of funding community-based organizations under Handy Lindsey, and that work had continued under the brilliant leadership of Aurie Pennick, who succeeded Handy. We had a thirty-year track record of building deep, trusting relationships with local organizations that didn’t always receive funding from foundations, and that helped lay the groundwork for what followed.

Staff and the board were starting to ask questions about impact and whether our resources were helping to reduce violence in Chicago. But with the number of shootings going through the roof, it was hard to argue that the grants we were making were helping to reduce violence. So staff and board got together to study the problem and possible responses to it. We looked at being both more responsive and more strategic. And we talked about an equitable approach where you focus more on dismantling power dynamics within philanthropy and try to move the needle on questions like, Who gets to establish theories of change? And who gets to decide what success looks like?

Then we took a deep dive into racial justice. The full board — and this is extremely important, in my opinion — as well as staff went through racial justice training. I started that session by reciting a parable I'm sure many of your readers have heard. I'm sure you've heard it:

A woman is walking along a river and all of a sudden sees a baby floating downstream. Alarmed, she jumps into the river to save the baby, only to see another baby floating in her direction, and then another, and another. She saves as many of the babies as she can and starts to panic about how she is going to shelter, feed, clothe, and educate them. All the while, babies keep floating down the river, and she never has a moment to think about heading upstream to find out where all the babies are coming from.

That was really important in helping my board understand the difference between charity and social change work. In the nonprofit sector, writ large, it's the difference between direct service and systemic interventions. If we are standing on the banks of the river, so to speak, and are asking questions like, "Have we helped reduce violence in Chicago?" we really either have to ask ourselves better questions, or, if the answers are unsatisfactory, we need to travel upstream to the source of the problem.

PND: What are the biggest challenges you and your colleagues face in working to advance racial equity in Chicago?

AP: One of the biggest challenges is that nobody knows how to talk about race in mixed company. We are all scared of offending, and we’re all scared of being offended. And most of us have not been given the tools to do it properly. It's really important to engage in training, to have a shared language, and to have the presence of mind to avoid the obvious traps that await everybody when the conversation turns to race.

We also find ourselves in a period when hate crimes are on the rise, and you have this extreme rhetoric coming from the highest office in the land, and you have racism showing up in unexpected places and ways. What's especially difficult is thinking that race conversations are mostly about unpacking individual racism, when in fact you need to be able to identify its influence in policy, and how it shows up in a city budget, and how it shows up in philanthropy, particularly in philanthropy metrics.

PND: Can you give us an example of how it shows up in philanthropy metrics?

AP: Say, you're giving a capacity-building grant to a small ALAANA organization [African/Latinx/Asian/Arab/Native-American organization] and expecting that the organization will use it to build out its board and increase its ability to access working capital. But, as we know, there's a significant racial wealth gap in many of these communities; you won't necessarily find a lot of high-net-worth individuals who are spending their volunteer time sitting on nonprofit boards. That's a metric that's never going to be attainable for a lot of these organizations.

And, yet, lots of studies have been done about the number of people in communities of color who volunteer and about how they give their time and talent and treasure, which they do; it's just in different ways. It doesn't show up in the same format that it does in, say, white, communities. Which means if we have metrics designed to gauge whether ALAANA organizations operate the same way that larger, mostly white organizations do, we are asking the wrong questions.

PND: How did your recent collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation come about, and what is the primary goal of the collaboration?

AP: It's a new chapter for us. We've never had this type of re-granting partnership with a foundation, and it's enabling us to do interesting things that we weren't able to do before, things like giving dollars directly to individuals.

It came about as a result of conversations with different people at MacArthur, which as you know awards hundreds of millions in grants annually and is a global foundation with tremendous reach. And even though MacArthur is headquartered in Chicago, and many of its staff are based here, due to the leadership of the past two presidents, the Field Foundation has extremely deep relationships in the city and a level of trust among nonprofits that we've earned through thirty years of local funding characterized by intentionality and trust building.

When we sat down with the folks at MacArthur, there was an understanding among everyone at the table that there are different kinds of capital — including social and financial capital — and that, collectively, we were all interested in doing something beyond how our respective foundations normally operate. So, we began to unpack the differences in the way we think about our work, and how we could learn from and with each other, and then we tackled the question of how we could do something that is better for the people we serve here in Chicago. We weren't fooling ourselves, thinking that from our positions of privilege we could create transformative solutions to all the major problems in our city. Instead, we asked folks in the nonprofit community to help us design a new giving program — what do journalists and storytellers need? What does philanthropy need to understand and do differently? So now we're rolling out a program designed by journalists and storytellers rather than by us on their behalf. We also heard that nonprofit visionaries need unrestricted capital to further develop their leadership capacity. We are listening and doing our best to respond.

PND: Is the collaboration with MacArthur an example of how the Field Foundation punches above its weight?

AP: We think of ourselves as being in the civic architecture business. Yes, we award grants, and that makes us a conduit to cash, which we try to provide responsibly and respectfully. But like any foundation, we also have a power and privilege that grants us access to many tables, in many different rooms. In some rooms we get to hear the voices of people who are smarter than we are, the nonprofit folks who are doing the actual work. In other rooms, often where decisions about policy or capital are made, those voices are woefully absent. We see our job as changing the architecture of those rooms, so all voices are deciding together.

PND: In recent remarks you made at Northwestern, you analogized diversity, equity, and inclusion work to owning and operating a restaurant. Focusing on diversity, you said, is like giving a handful of new customers a prized table in your restaurant and inviting them to enjoy a meal from a menu that hasn't changed much in years. In the analogy, inclusion is equivalent to checking on the folks you've seated to see how they're enjoying their meal. And equity is about totally re-defining the dining experience by disrupting the power dynamics of the business. Do you think philanthropy needs to be disrupted in order for it to advance racial equity more broadly?

AP: One hundred percent, which is why Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas, and Decolonizing Wealth, by Edgar Villanueva, are resonating so much right now. We're living in a time of intensely concentrated wealth and intensely concentrated poverty. At the same time, we're watching the equivalent of modern-day lynchings on our iPhones, we're seeing children torn from their parents and thrown into cages, we're seeing a huge rise in Islamophobia and outright bans on people from certain countries.

Solutions to problems like those cannot be dictated solely by people for whom access to capital is a given. While many of us might have been born on third base and had home plate moved halfway up the line in our direction, we are not in the best position to conceive of the solutions we need to the urgent problems we face. Those solutions need to be designed by folks who have struggled and are more resilient because of that struggle. By folks who have a deep understanding of the problems and who have a vision for their communities. If those people are not at the table with us determining how philanthropic capital is allocated, it means we are wasting resources and diminishing our return on investment.

Right now, the conversation people are having about racial equity is largely about the sharing of power and resources. It is not a conversation about representation. Equity is about changing the default operating system. Do I think philanthropy is a space with well-intentioned, thoughtful people and a tremendous amount of resources? Yes. Do I think it is as accountable to the communities on whose behalf it works as it needs to be? No.

PND: You did an interview with Marshall Field V for StoryCorp in which you mentioned the "unsaid" in the work of philanthropy. What are some of the things that go unsaid in philanthropy?

AP: First of all, that was one of my favorite interviews. I love that he sold encyclopedias door-to-door to learn everything about the businesses he ran. We have it on our website if anyone is interested in hearing more of his story.

But to answer your question about the unsaids in philanthropy, racialized systems and racism are the biggest. We talk a lot about "achievement gaps" and "immigration reform" and "community engagement" and "hard-to-count" populations. But we avoid the word racism, and I think that's because we associate it with people with tiki torches and polo shirts spewing intolerance and hate. As I mentioned earlier, hate crimes in the America are on the rise, and we haven't seen this kind of blatant dog-whistling in decades. But when we attempt to be race agnostic in philanthropy, we ignore how racism is designed. If we can't start with the correct diagnosis — which is that the history of our country is one in which genocidal policies targeting Native peoples were the norm and black people were enslaved for centuries and poor white people were trapped in indentured servitude well into the twentieth century and immigrants from some countries were and are turned away while immigrants from other countries are welcomed — then we will never be able to design solutions that address these problems.

To be honest, I don't think most people understand what we mean when we say "racial equity." People think it's about including a person of color here or there. That's not what we mean. What we are talking about is a rethink. It's about rebuilding systems so that they benefit everyone, and I mean everyone. Often in these conversations we pit communities against each other: urban communities of color versus white rural communities, for example. We need to understand that there are more similarities there than differences.

PND: When you look at where we are as a country, where we've been, and where we're headed, can you say that you are optimistic?

AP: I am an optimistic person by nature. While I believe one can and should be skeptical of systems, especially entrenched systems, I think you have to be optimistic because those systems, at the end of the day, are controlled by and can be changed by people. Today, more than ever maybe, people are desperate for connection and to be understood. We long to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to let our bravest selves shine through. People are awake. There are more women in Congress than at any other time in our history, we have our first black openly gay female mayor in Chicago, and people across the country, from every walk of life, are getting involved, joining school boards and running for city council and working to turn out the vote.

So, I am optimistic, extremely optimistic, that by shifting the allocation of power and resources we will go much further, much faster, toward designing the solutions the country desperately needs. And we will be a better country for it.

— Matt Sinclair

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.

Continue reading »

'Future-Fit' Philanthropy: Why Philanthropic Organizations Will Need Foresight to Leave a Lasting Legacy of Change

April 10, 2019

Future_start_gettyimages_olm26250To be considered transformational, any philanthropic organization should aim for lasting impacts that go beyond their immediate beneficiaries. Yet, in the face of what the UK's Ministry of Defense recently characterized as "unprecedented acceleration in the speed of change, driving ever more complex interactions between [diverse] trends," the longer-term future of philanthropy, and the success of individual programs, are at risk as never before.

Philanthropy is already trying to deliver on a hugely ambitious vision of a better future. Taking the Sustainable Development Goals as one marker, this includes, within just over a decade, ending poverty, ending hunger, and delivering universal healthcare. Progress is struggling to match aspirations: the UN has found that globally, hunger is on the rise again and malaria rates are up due to antimicrobial resistance.

With the accelerating pace of change, new trends are set to bring huge opportunities — and threats — often both at once. Two examples: new technologies in the field of synthetic biology, and the fourth Industrial Revolution. Other trends — climate change, demographic shifts, democratic rollback — may be familiar, but their pace, trajectory, and impact remain radically uncertain.

The trends of the coming ten to twenty years have the potential to reverse hard-won progress, distort the outcomes of interventions, radically change the geography and distribution of need, and outpace the philanthropy business model altogether.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2019)

April 01, 2019

It's April 1 and you're no fool — which is why you'll want to settle in with a glass of your favorite beverage and check out some of the posts PhilanTopic readers couldn't get enough of in March. We'll be back with new material in a day or two. Enjoy!

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

7 Things One Family Foundation Is Doing to End Poverty

March 29, 2019

End_povertyThe Skees Family Foundation (SFF) is just one of the more than 86,000 private foundations in the United States, and with a corpus of just over $2 million, we're consistently the smallest foundation in the room at any peer gathering. Undeterred by the magnitude of the challenge, however, we've invested $1.7 million over fifteen years in efforts to end poverty. Along the way, we've learned a few things about how to leverage our funding:

1. Philanthropy of the hands. We named SFF after the grandparents (my parents) who struggled to feed their seven children but always added a dollar to the church basket and could find an hour when needed for community volunteering. Hugh and Jasmine believed in giving whatever they had: Hugh donated blood to the American Red Cross and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and the Dayton International Peace Museum, while Jasmine sang in the church choir, crocheted prayer shawls, and visited with surgery and hospice patients. They taught us that so many of things we take for granted — abundant food, clean water, shelter, good health, security — were not ours because we deserved them but because of a combination of luck (being born in a stable, prosperous country) and hard work. They also taught us that all humans are created equal, deserve equal access to respect and opportunities, and are part of one big family. Their legacy — of humility, gratitude, and belonging — may seem idealistic in today's polarized world, but it's the core value on which all of our own families and careers, as well as our philanthropic collaborations, are based.

2. Diversity of viewpoints. SFF unites more than forty family members ranging in age from nine to ninety-one. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists, occupy different places along the gender spectrum, are of many different ethnicities and nationalities, and work at a range of occupations, from nurse and nanny to soldier, salesman, accountant, Web developer, and writer. Each family member is invited to collaborate on an annual grant to an organization that reflects his or her passion for a cause — whether it's self-esteem training for at-risk young girls in California, tutoring and job skills development for young men in Chicago looking to make a new start after time spent in a gang or jail, or business skills training for a beekeeping women’s co-op in Haiti. As well, members of each of our three generations convene biannually to select grant partners with expertise in a specific area — whether it's mental health, veterans' issues, or survivors of trafficking — that are near and dear to their heart. When it comes to our major multiyear grants, we encourage loving debate by members of our all-family volunteer board, with a focus on programs that have the potential to reach the greatest number of people and to create a holistic ecosystem of respect and care.

Continue reading »

New Study on the Role of Philanthropy in a Safe, Healthy and Just World

March 07, 2019

Globus-icon-300Candid (Foundation Center + Guidestar) and Centris (Rethinking Poverty) are conducting a study on the role of philanthropy in producing safe, healthy, and just societies.

At a time when many people are questioning the value of philanthropy, the study aims to clarify its role in creating peaceful and inclusive societies that provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and responsive institutions.

A survey designed to identify stakeholders, strategies, and outcomes across a variety of dimensions of social progress is the first component of the study.

Initial results of the survey will be published in the June 2019 issue of Alliance magazine, a leading source of comment and analysis on global philanthropy that is read by over 24,000 philanthropy practitioners around the world.

The June edition will include an in-depth feature exploring the role of philanthropy in peace building — thirty pages that illuminate philanthropy practice around the world, explore the merit and value of community-based approaches to conflict resolution, and profile some of the pioneering people and networks in the field. The issue is being guest edited by a new generation of practitioners working at the intersection of philanthropy and peace — Hope Lyons of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Lauren Bradford of Candid, and the Dalia Association's Rasha Sansour. (For examples of the magazine's recent special features, see https://www.alliancemagazine.org/magazine/.)

A full report on the survey will be produced for discussion by the field at a variety of venues. All those who take part in the study will receive a copy of the report.

The survey has twenty questions and only takes seven to eight minutes to complete. Click here to take the survey now: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Candid_Centris

Barry_knightThe survey closes on Wednesday, March 27, and all answers will be treated in confidence.

Please take part. Your views are important to us.

Barry Knight (barryknight@cranehouse.eu)

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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."

Continue reading »

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. 

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned...."

    — Bryan Stevenson

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Other Blogs

Tags