A Look Behind The Data

April 14, 2011

This afternoon, on the opening day of the 10th anniversary Global Philanthropy Forum, I had the pleasure of speaking in conversation with Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Among its many tremendous contributions, the Gates Foundation has been an intellectual leader when it comes to measurement and evaluation, or M&E.  But in Jeff’s work, as in the work of all GPF members, it’s not just about the data for data’s sake. It’s about learning. And about using data in creative and powerful ways to ensure continuous improvement.

Jeff brought up the example of Guinea Worm as a model for where we, as philanthropists, have been in global health, where we’re going, and what we need to get there. In just twenty-five years, the world has gone from 3.5 million cases of Guinea Worm to just 1,700 in 2010, in large measure because of the extraordinary work of The Carter Center. This is a tribute to hard and persistent work of many people, including some of the GPF’s members, but also an example of the profound impact that low-tech solutions can have.  The allure and excitement of high tech solutions often lead us to neglect the simple, cost-effective low-tech solution right in front of us.  The dramatic reduction in Guinea Worm has been largely achieved through the provision of public health solutions – safe drinking water provision and behavioral change interventions.

Jeff tells us that more than tracking the numbers, we need to think about what they mean. What does one case of guinea worm represent? What does it mean, day-to-day, for the life of the person affected? For that person’s family?  It’s not simply one life improved or saved. The data we collect can tell this larger story.

While the purpose of M&E is to improve performance and enhance impact, it is not meant to remove risk. But as philanthropists we have the unique privilege of being in a position to take the risks that government and the private sector cannot, or will not.  Failure as a philanthropist is not the failure of a grant or project. Rather, in Jeff’s words, “our failure will be if we don’t learn from those experiences.” THAT is failure. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is guided by this philosophy, as should we be, as engaged, agile, and committed philanthropists.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Today we officially open the 2011 Global Philanthropy Forum—our tenth annual convening of donors and social investors committed to international causes. Over the last decade the GPF community has become a significant force for change. The members and early founders of the GPF have given “new philanthropy” operational meaning, testing novel approaches and infusing philanthropy with the same creative and experimental zest they bring to private enterprise. They have devised some of the most strategic, inspired and sustainable solutions to the challenges faced. As a result, the options have expanded, philanthropy is transformed.

This year’s conference takes stock of what we have learned over the last ten years. We are exploring the new fundamentals that have enabled success. We are considering philanthropy’s turning points, and exploring the issues and actors that are at a moment of inflection.  We look to share our lessons with growing economies to accelerate possibilities for social change.

One of philanthropy’s most promising new fundamentals that we will explore over the next three days is the tremendous growth in collaboration seen in the past few years. Today’s philanthropists are ambitious in their social goals and are taking on very large problems. They are leveraging not only one another but also other sectors, joining forces and aligning for impact. What can we learn from “networked” giving approaches and can they be replicated elsewhere?

One turning point we will explore is the expansion of connective technology, which has enhanced communication within and among societies and empowered individuals previously isolated by geography, poverty, or politics. These technological innovations are providing a larger set of tools for the social change toolbox. How will they change the work of philanthropy in the years to come?

Another significant turning point is the expanded definition of philanthropy. Our members were bold enough to define philanthropy broadly to encompass all private means of financing positive social change, a definition that allowed them not only to explore but to expand the options and more fully align their assets with their intentions. We will explore the emerging impact economy, considering its first building block in microfinance to the requirements of an enabling environment for impact investing. How will the emergence of an impact economy amplify our ability to achieve social change?

We also will explore regions at a turning point. North Africa is experiencing sweeping change. Pakistan and Afghanistan are struggling under the weight of enormous political, economic and social challenges that can undermine social cohesion and state capacity. Mexico and Central America are threatened by organized criminal networks that are affecting both human security and state capacity, raising the prospect of a failed state on our border. While in Central Africa, conflict continues to rage in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the next three days we will discuss the challenges and opportunities in these regions and the ways philanthropy and civil society can help to address them.

Last, we will consider the globalization of philanthropy. GPF started with a core of American philanthropists, but we’re now increasingly international and extending our reach. How can we take the lessons learned from the last decade to “leap frog” traditional charity in two fast growing economies: China and India?

The agenda for the 2011 GPF is rich in content and features speakers at the cutting edge of social change.  I invite you to follow our GPF experience over the next three days through our webcasts, which can be viewed at http://www.livestream.com/gpf2011, via this blog, and on Twitter (@gpforg; #gpf2011).

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Sunday’s New York Times article on Google.org caught my attention. The Times is one of the few daily papers that cover the philanthropic sector, and it does so with the same seriousness it applies to developments in business and government. It is attentive to new philanthropic models that are being tested and refined, and offers a snapshot of a work in progress.

One such experiment is Google’s philanthropy arm, Google.org, or DotOrg for short. Structured as part of the for-profit company, it reflects a fundamental shift in corporate philanthropy.  Whereas corporate foundations used grants and employee volunteer time as their only tools, increasingly corporate executives work to assure that social outcomes are intrinsic to their company’s value chain. Many believe that the right business decisions can unleash market forces that, in turn, can drive positive and sustainable social change.

What sets DotOrg apart is that it is embedded in a search giant in the Information Age, a time when decision-making and authority are decentralized, and the individual, for better or for ill, reigns supreme.

It may be that many of the world’s most daunting problems, as well as their solutions, will be the aggregate effect of millions of individual choices – whether they be to limit the water and energy we consume; to resist taking up arms; to engage in healthy practices; or to vote, and demand that that vote be counted.

Informing those choices can be the ultimate form of philanthropic leverage.

No one understands that better than the executives and employees of a company whose first maxim is “focus on the user and the rest will follow.”

And, so Google has blurred the lines between the company and the philanthropy, naming its brilliant VP for New Product Development as DotOrg’s leader, embedding DotOrg program staff in product teams, and fostering a smart and deep collaboration between Google’s public-spirited engineers and external experts in large problems like poverty or climate change. Their combined talent has produced such products as PowerMeter, which allows the user to track home energy consumption, and in the aggregate, to contribute to mitigating climate change. Google Earth Engine allows the user to monitor deforestation in real time, informing efforts to promote the responsible use of this vital natural resource. Google Crisis Response and Resource Finder enable individual and group relief efforts after natural and man-made disasters. By informing individual choice and action, DotOrg hopes that these products can help to advance the social good more broadly.

Critics argue that these innovations are important mainly in the rich world where computers are ubiquitous. That may be true today. But the introduction and rapidly spreading use of “smart” phones, which provide internet access, is changing that equation.  In the short term, Google has work-arounds like SpeaktoTweet, which shows that states cannot deny the oxygen of unfiltered information to a public yearning for a better life.

But, over the long term, the company’s most significant contribution will likely be its decision to translate the world’s knowledge into the languages of the developing world. Leveraging that innovation will be DotOrg’s largest opportunity to harness information technology to social change. The combination of automated translation and connective technologies can change our world.

The Times article is critical of DotOrg’s prior leadership for making similarly bold claims, thereby raising expectations to a level that could not be met in a period short enough to match our attention span. Fair enough. Perhaps it would have been wise to have been quieter during the philanthropy’s “quiet phase,” as DotOrg defined its goals and honed its method. New models take time to develop and prove their worth.

While that criticism may be fair, in the scheme of things, it seems unimportant.

Like the rest of us, Googlers could not and cannot foresee the full social, economic and political implications of providing the world’s knowledge to those who were previously isolated by poverty or politics. (Although Google Chairman Eric Schmidt co-authored a deeply thoughtful Foreign Affairs article on the subject.)

But Googlers do know one thing, and that is the level at which large decisions will be made– and that is at the level of the individual

Even for a giant like Google, with 31 billion searches each month, that knowledge alone is humbling – and hopeful.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Over the past few days, the New York Times has offered a telling glimpse into the varied nature of the nonprofit sector and the ways in which it touches our lives — from day-to-day services to public policy. The Times coverage also offers insight into our shared instinct to preserve a sector that has the agility to help address market or policy failures.

This article reminded us that America’s increasing numbers of unemployed rely upon nonprofit food banks and other charitable services when their government benefits are exhausted.

Another article reports on one of the most significant developments in nuclear non-proliferation policy — the establishment of a global nuclear fuel bank — enabled by a $50-million gift from philanthropist Warren Buffet to the UN’s resource-strapped and politically hampered International Atomic Energy Agency. The bank would provide low-enriched uranium to states seeking nuclear power, in exchange for their returning the spent fuel and foregoing the indigenous capacity to produce their own fuel, including that which is weapons grade. Thus, the nuclear fuel bank would control the cycle of nuclear production and its associated dangers.

It is against this backdrop that a debate erupted within the nonprofit sector over proposals to alter the tax treatment of the donations on which it relies. The Times covered that as well, treating it as more than an industry’s special pleading. The debate’s starting point is that deficit reduction will require the combination of reduced spending and increased revenues. The question is whether tax breaks for charitable gifts are off limits or on.

A range of organizations from think tanks, advocacy and service groups to churches, temples, universities and hospitals have long benefited from the tax write-off their benefactors enjoy. And, in the past decade, there has been an explosion in the creation of new foundations, tax exempt endowments established to advance social causes. The introduction of these new philanthropic players with bold ambitions has created benefits not only for our society, but also for others across the globe.

Our tax code reflects the importance we place on the freedom that these philanthropies and other nonprofits enjoy. Reducing charitable deductions could adversely impact a nonprofit’s ability to raise or grant the funds needed to fulfill its mission. The change would occur on the heels of a recession that has already reduced foundation endowments and individual givers’ accounts, forcing their grantees to make do with less. Moreover, as national, state and local coffers have shrunk, nonprofits have stretched to make up for the resulting reductions in government services, providing a safety net for America’s most vulnerable families.

But the impact on nonprofits of a changed tax treatment is likely to be as varied as the nonprofits themselves — not to mention the philanthropists that support them. Donors are motivated by a range of factors. Tax relief is among them, but how much is not known. In order to judge whether it is right or wise to ask this sector to sacrifice further, policy makers would need to know the risks and benefits to society as a whole.

While that analysis is undertaken, it would be useful to come to a shared view of the reasons for the favorable tax treatment in the first place. Americans value the sector because it is unconstrained by the need to win elections or generate profits and can therefore take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular and unprofitable today but produce true societal benefit tomorrow. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems.

Among the difficult problems the sector can help us address is the need to get our country on a sustainable course.

The sector has already contributed by sounding the alarm and offering specific options for financing the obligations we undertake as a country over time. The continued search for solutions will not only test our willingness as a citizenry to share in the sacrifice, but also our ability to think strategically, ask and answer knotty questions, explore novel solutions — and to imagine. These are the strengths of the nonprofit sector.

While the sector can and will continue to contribute in these ways, informing a larger process, it may also choose to shoulder a greater sacrifice. Whatever choices the sector and the people make, let’s never sacrifice the sector’s independence from political and market constraints.

We must and they should preserve the sector’s freedom to help us solve society’s next difficult problem.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

In their rush to gain an end of the year tax deal, elected leaders postponed hard choices. In the process, they denied the government the revenues it needs to either respond to unforeseen crises or deliver on promises made.

At the same time, wary corporate decision-makers reported that uncertainty over tax and fiscal policy had discouraged them from creating jobs or making R&D investments essential to prosperity.

As self- imposed constraints limit the agility of these two important sectors, a third — the non-profit sector – worries that the 2010 Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act may have a cascading effect, further impoverishing state and local governments, shifting the burden of providing social services from the public to the non-profit sector. Moreover, its leaders fear that the estate tax provisions may reduce incentives for wealthy individuals to make the no-strings-attached donations and bequests that free the sector from the constraints of politics and markets.

Our tax structure has long reflected the value we place on the nonprofit sector’s ability to take risks and try out new ideas without fear of political or market reprisals. Income and inheritance taxes have encouraged donations and bequests, as well as the creation of tax exempt foundations. As a result, our nation has a diverse charitable sector comprised of grantees and grantors who are tackling issues at home and across the globe. Free from the need to garner votes or generate profits, they needn’t test the political winds before offering services to the most marginalized Americans. Their reach extends to the developing world, where they have created or supported “social enterprises” with for-profit business models for providing off-grid communities with renewable sources of energy. And, globally they have even entered into public-private partnerships to effect high policy, as Warren Buffett did in making his $50-million gift to the U.N.’s politically-hampered and resource-strapped International Atomic Energy Agency. That grant will help to create a “nuclear fuels bank” upon which states committed to nonproliferation can draw to meet their energy needs.

Whether the tax deal will limit the freedom of non-profits to achieve such salutary outcomes is a matter of intense debate. But, it is up to us to ask and answer that question before the law’s review in 2012. An election year is a particularly poor time for political risk-taking. Policy-makers will need to be armed with the facts, and buttressed by a clear and unswerving sense of the sector’s purpose.

First the data: The law extends several provisions that can affect charitable giving – and provides time to gather data on their effect. It extends Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels and continues favorable treatment of capital gains and dividends. It delays a requirement that high-income tax-payers reduce their itemized deductions, including for charitable gifts. It exempts older taxpayers from treating up to $100k gifted to charities from their IRAs as taxable income. But, what worries some nonprofits is the 35% cap it places on inheritance taxes, while exempting estates of $5m or less.  Many analysts argue that these estate tax provisions will remove incentives for bequests as well as giving-while-living aimed at reducing the size of the taxable estate. Others contend that estate tax considerations play a negligible role in the decision to give, but can influence the size of the gifts made. They draw on the 2004 predictions of the Congressional Budget Office, which anticipated a drop off in the number and size of bequests. Indeed fewer dollars were donated in this way during the phase-out of the estate tax, from 2008-2009. But, that year’s economic contraction is likely to have had far greater effect. More time in an improved economic climate can yield more data on which policymakers can base future choices.

And, the purpose – As we undertake that analysis, it is essential that we come to a shared view of the reasons for charitable organizations, and their tax-exempt status, in the first place. Americans value nonprofits because they can take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular, and unprofitable in the short run, but produce true societal benefit over time. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems when others cannot. Among the hard problems nonprofits can help address is the need to get our country on a financially sustainable course. Nonprofits have already contributed by sounding the alarm, providing analysis and offering policy options.

The deficit dilemma has helped to highlight the hurdles political and business decision-makers face when it comes to calling for sacrifice. Elected officials must respond to caricatures of their views repeated in 24 hour news-cycles. Business leaders are required to produce shareholder value as measured in quarterly returns. The nonprofit sector may be the only one that can afford to ask tough questions, test novel solutions and build consensus from the ground up.

In considering our tax laws in 2012 our goals should be straight-forward: to regain our ability to solve problems as a nation. Preserving the nonprofit sector’s freedom to help tackle society’s next hard problem is an essential first step.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

 

Valuing the Civic Sector

December 8, 2010

Over the past few days, the New York Times has offered a telling glimpse into the varied nature of the nonprofit sector and the ways in which it touches our lives—from day-to-day services to high policy. The Times coverage also offers insight into our shared instinct to preserve a sector that has the agility to help address market or policy failures.

Saturday’s paper reminded us that America’s increasing numbers of unemployed rely upon nonprofit food banks and other charitable services when their government benefits are exhausted. Another article reports on one of the most significant developments in nuclear non-proliferation policy—the establishment of a global nuclear fuel bank—enabled by a $50-million gift from philanthropist Warren Buffet to the UN’s resource-strapped and politically hampered International Atomic Energy Agency. The bank would provide low-enriched uranium to states seeking nuclear power, in exchange for their returning the spent fuel and foregoing the indigenous capacity to produce their own fuel, including that which is weapons grade. Thus, the nuclear fuel bank would control the cycle of nuclear production and its associated dangers.

It is against this backdrop that a debate erupted within the nonprofit sector over proposals to alter the tax treatment of the donations on which it relies. The Times covered that as well, treating it as more than an industry’s special pleading. The debate’s starting point is that deficit reduction will require the combination of reduced spending and increased revenues. The question is whether tax breaks for charitable gifts are off limits or on.

A range of organizations from think tanks, advocacy and service groups to churches, temples, universities and hospitals have long benefited from the tax write-off their benefactors enjoy. And, in the past decade there has been an explosion in the creation of new foundations, tax exempt endowments established to advance social causes. The introduction of these new philanthropic players with bold ambitions has created benefits not only for our society but also for others across the globe.

Our tax code reflects the importance we place on the freedom that these philanthropies and other nonprofits enjoy. Reducing charitable deductions could adversely impact a nonprofit’s ability to raise or grant the funds needed to fulfill its mission. The change would occur on the heels of a recession that has already reduced foundation endowments and individual givers’ accounts, forcing their grantees to make do with less. Moreover, as national, state and local coffers have shrunk, nonprofits have stretched to make up for the resulting reductions in government services, providing a safety net for America’s most vulnerable families.

But the impact on nonprofits of a changed tax treatment is likely to be as varied as the non-profits themselves—not to mention the philanthropists that support them. Donors are motivated by a range of factors. Tax relief is among them, but how much is not known. In order to judge whether it is right or wise to ask this sector to sacrifice further, policymakers would need to know the risks and benefits to society as a whole.

While that analysis is undertaken, it would be useful to come to a shared view of the reasons for the favorable tax treatment in the first place. Americans value the sector because it is unconstrained by the need to win elections or generate profits and can therefore take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular and unprofitable today but produce true societal benefit tomorrow. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems.

Among the hard problems the sector can help us address is the need to get our country on a sustainable course. The deficit dilemma has called into question our leaders’ capacity for problem-solving. Elected officials must respond to caricatures of their views repeated in 24-hour news-cycles. Private sector leaders are required to produce shareholder value as measured in quarterly returns. The social sector may be the only one that can afford to ask hard questions, test novel solutions and build consensus from the ground up.

The sector has already contributed by sounding the alarm and offering specific options for financing the obligations we undertake as a country over time. The continued search for solutions will not only test our willingness as a citizenry to share in the sacrifice, but also our ability to think strategically, ask and answer knotty questions, explore novel solutions—and to imagine. These are the strengths of the nonprofit sector.

While the sector can and will continue to contribute in these ways, informing a larger process, it may also choose to shoulder a greater sacrifice. Whatever choices the sector and we make, let’s never sacrifice the sector’s independence from political and market constraints.

We must and they should preserve the sector’s freedom to help us solve society’s next hard problem.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

“The best boost for our nation’s civic health is to ensure all children graduate from high school and complete college,” according to the 2010 Civic Health Assessment. Educational attainment is the greatest predictor of future civic engagement, this National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) report finds.

With that, this annual survey becomes yet another argument for addressing the nation’s disturbing college dropout rate, about which I recently blogged. The survey calls on philanthropists and others to help foster a culture of college completion, not just access, as well as push for a stronger focus on teaching American history and civic learning, to help boost civic appreciation.

This is the fifth such survey measuring Americans’ civic habits across a wide range of indicators, but the first since the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act called for expanding the work. The now-federal assessment is produced by the NCoC in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of the survey’s statistics, covering the years 2008 and 2009, are being published for the first time, as they stem from the Census Bureau’s Civic Engagement Supplement, added to the bureau’s Current Population Survey in 2008. They’ve also developed a website, providing state and local statistics, to help community leaders better understand their community’s service and engagement activities

Among the survey’s key findings: The country’s multiracial citizens were the most politically active in 2008, though African Americans led the way in voting and whites or Caucasians led in group membership and volunteering . Meanwhile, while the overall volunteer rate is lower than it was immediately after 9/11, the years 2008 and 2009 saw the largest increase since 2003. And Millennials (aged 16 to 30) are volunteering at higher rates than Boomers did at the same age.

Perhaps most notably, the survey suggests that the Internet builds civic health. While acknowledging that more metrics of “eCitizenship” need to be developed to assess its full impact, early indicators suggest that those who go online on a regular basis are more likely to be involved in offline communities as well. The report says ensuring access to broadband-quality Internet connections should therefore be a high priority.

A related issue brief released jointly with the Corporation for National and Community Service calls on philanthropists, among others, to help support efforts to develop and collect new measures of civic engagement that broaden our understanding of the term and more accurately capture the full range of participation — including metrics associated with social innovation, online engagement, corporate citizenship, social capital and public service.

The survey already defines civic engagement broadly, even including less-formal activities, such as talking about politics with family members, exchanging favors with neighbors and engaging in online activities that allow people to stay connected to each other. “If we continue to consider service as only those activities done through formal organizations or programs,” according to the issue brief, “we miss the opportunity to promote and support the many other powerful ways Americans get involved.” For example, eating dinner with other members of the household can help jumpstart people’s interest in engaging in their communities in other ways after hearing stories of service or group participation.

Maybe so. The world, and the way people engage with it, is changing, and so certainly, measurement needs to reflect that. The question is, do these social interactions that may have been seen as routine, and even taken for granted, lead to more formal activities, such as voting and volunteering?  It’ll be interesting to watch for changes in the survey’s baseline data as the years go by. Interesting – and important.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

“Social media powers social networks for social change.”

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine offer that thesis in The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change. They argue that transformation can result from online technologies, including social networking sites, blogs and wikis.

In recent weeks, the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell has stirred debate by criticizing this and other broad notions about the power of social media. In an article, Gladwell suggests that, at best, social media can make things more efficient. However, such technologies cannot fundamentally alter the status quo or foment social revolution.

Maybe not — though both Kanter and Fine took to their respective blogs to contest Gladwell’s claims, which are driven by a focus on past efforts at social activism and protest. Activism is not the only way to bring about social change, however. And technology advances have altered society (think of the introduction of steam, of the printing press and of the automobile) providing a new status quo. Finally, small changes can lead to bigger things. But not always better things.

In their book, Kanter and Fine focus in part on the way foundations operate, and on the way the next generation of “digital natives” will give: responding to causes rather than individuals and organizations. The authors contend that future individual givers will be inclined to join or support a network of people and organizations that collaborate to tackle an issue. And foundations have given rise to crowd-source grantmaking, as I’ve discussed in previous blogs.

Kanter and Fine believe that transparency will increase in the nonprofit sector. They envision more organizations operating with a “hive” architecture, rather than hierarchies or in silos. And they imagine that everyone in a hive organization, not just an organization’s leader or communications staff, would be engaged in true, two-way interactions with people on the outside.

Even if, citing Gladwell, “the revolution will not be tweeted” — and there has been too much hullabaloo over technology’s power — social media offer tools, which, when used to full advantage can promote transparency, collaboration and a new openness to ideas from unusual sources. Surely these are values to promote, especially in the world of social change. But — as Digg and its Digg Patriots demonstrate — this tool can be used to distort as well as to discover. Intentions matter.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Thanks to a decades-long focus on improving access to college, nearly seven in ten Americans today enroll in some form of postsecondary education within two years of leaving high school. That’s a record number, and it is impressive. But it also obscures another reality. Lurking in the shadows is a more sobering statistic: Not much more than half of college students — some 57 percent — earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.

In short, colleges are getting more people to start a race they cannot finish. In fact, college graduation rates are increasing in every developed country except for the United States, according to Grantmakers for Education (GfE). Individual success is hindered, as is the nation’s competitive global edge.

Over the past couple months the college dropout issue has been getting the increasing attention it deserves. Last month, President Obama called for the nation to regain the world lead in college completion by 2020. (The U.S. currently ranks No. 12.) Philanthropy is stepping up, too. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just launched a $12-million initiative with the National League of Cities to boost college graduation rates in four cities. The Intel Foundation, led by Shelly Esque and championed by Intel CEO Paul Otellini, has sponsored competitions to incent and reward achievement in science and math, thus encouraging dazzling stars in the next generation, not only to do well in high school, but to excel in college and in life. And the Lumina Foundation has announced a $14.8 million, four-year national effort to help adults with “some college” — even those decades removed from attending school — complete their degree.

Over the summer GfE released From Access to Success, a funders guide to improving college graduation rates, relating key themes from a spring meeting in Washington with prominent researchers, higher education leaders and officials from the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to describing the reasons too many students don’t complete college, the short GfE guide offers ideas for funders. Among these: Convene K-12, higher education and private industry leaders to better define college- and career-readiness; help schools and districts strengthen the quality of student counseling and college preparation; and help build will among policymakers and the public to support adequate funding of community colleges, which are entry points for many into the larger, postsecondary system.

But in addition to dangling carrots, the guide also offers prodding with sticks. It calls on grantmakers to hinge institutional support on efforts at improving college retention, including better tracking and analyzing of data. According to the guide, basing funding on course and degree completion rather than mere enrollment will push schools to focus on true progress.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Of all the pressing issues confronting the developing world, cancer gets comparatively short shrift. And yet, a majority of new cancer diagnoses come from developing countries.

The fact that these countries are significantly less capable to care for the afflicted than, say, the United States, where cancer has been a leading health priority for many decades, means that cancer is “a time bomb waiting to explode,” says Princess Dina Mired of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation. At last month’s Clinton Global Initiative, Mired said that addressing cancer depends on a sophisticated medical infrastructure above and beyond traditional health care. Much of the world is ill-equipped to tackle the disease, and increasing numbers are dying because they can’t reach or afford adequate treatment. As such, it’s disturbing that cancer is not a part of any global health agenda, Mired asserted.

A special session on the topic at CGI offered a rare spotlight on this global issue, which has striking parallels to HIV/AIDS in the level of ignorance and stigma surrounding it. For example, widespread concern that the disease is contagious leads victims to refrain from publicly disclosing their status. In turn, a lack of visible cancer survivors leads people to think it’s always a deadly disease, or less common than it really is. And then there’s the omnipresent issue of gender discrimination and the need for funding to specifically advance women and girls, a major theme at CGI this year as it was last. When it comes to cancer, for example, some women in the developing world who get a diagnosis of breast cancer forego a mastectomy for fear of losing their husbands, according to Felicia Knaul of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative.

Paul Farmer of Partners In Health and the Harvard Medical School called for the creation of a Global Fund for Cancer, one focused on all areas of need, from prevention to diagnosis to care. But, a recent study from the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine, as reported by VaccineNewsDaily, found that single disease campaigns in developing countries “interfered significantly with routine health care delivery.”

So, while cancer demands greater global attention and care, this work should be approached in such a way as to strengthen the general health infrastructure in developing countries, rather than compete with it for needed funds.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum