The Council on Foundations annual conference began its programme in Chicago with a packed pre-conference day of ‘Bold Ideas for Global Philanthropy’. Having attended CoF at least 20 times over the last 30 years, it was particularly refreshing to participate, along with about 150 other funders, in sessions dedicated to philanthropy outside the US. I commend John Harvey, Managing Director of Global Philanthropy at CoF, for his leadership and vision. In the three decades I’ve been involved, there have always been a small number of people, perhaps starting with Bill White of the Mott Foundation, urging US foundations to pay more attention to the rest of the world. I wonder to myself why it has taken so long to take hold?
Our day began with a chilling update on repressive legislation against civil society and foreign giving in parts of the world seemingly as diverse as Ethiopia, India and Russia. Joshua Mintz, General Counsel at the MacArthur Foundation, indicated that one of his major concerns right now is about ‘grantees at risk’ in Moscow, Mexico and Nigeria, and that MacArthur is exploring how to make funds available for immediate legal aid in these regions. Douglas Rutzen of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law explained that non-profit organizations in Russia which take donations of any type from outside their country must now register as ‘foreign agents’, which in Russian means the same as ‘spies’. Audience participants pointed out that US Treasury Guidelines can have a similarly adverse effect on funding to groups and individuals that have been designated as ‘terrorist’, whether or not they truly belong on the black lists. Some good news is that Treasury will soon be issuing new, potentially less draconian anti-terrorism guidelines. An excellent session. I only wish it hadn’t led the day, as I heard from more than a few participants that it had dissuaded them from international giving.
Five leading US thinkers and a Kenyan delivered inspiring, TED-like, presentations on bold ideas: challenges in a digital age for civil society (Lucy Bernholz); ways to overcome the lemming-like responses of foundations, especially around excessive measurement (Adele Simmons); about values being just as important as evidence, ‘Tell me what you measure and I’ll tell you what you are’ (Jennifer Lentfer, how-matters.org); data as the scaffolding for social change and wise philanthropy (Jacob Harold); social entrepreneurship and the leadership that already exists in marginalized communities (Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenburg); and human rights philanthropy (Daniel Lee). Sitting through them all without a break was a bit of an effort, but the last two were especially compelling and the information delivered in all substantive. The afternoon allowed participants to join break-out groups for deeper conversation with each of these thinkers.
The traditional evening dinner, which used to be the only venue for global grantmaking, had Dr Tomicah Tillemann, Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of State for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, as the keynote speaker. This new initiative was set up by Secretary Hillary Clinton prior to her departure and shows the increasing recognition in the US ‘Foreign Office’ and outside of USAID of the need to focus attention and resources on what we in the US call the non-profit sector and philanthropy. He explained that while diplomacy involves state to state conversations, it’s clear that lasting change will not occur without the involvement of civil society. While not explicitly stated, it seems that the ‘Sequester’ is also forcing US government agencies to look for support from foundations.
The next morning I learned more about ‘The Brazilian Way: Perspectives on Social Investment’, organized by GIFE, the equivalent of CoF (but different) in Brazil. GIFE’s 140 members, many of them corporations, give away over US$2.4 billion annually, often through programmes they run themselves, and typically in conjunction with government, 80 per cent of it going to education. Philanthropy is not the same worldwide.
Moving from a gathering of 150 to 1,000 in the opening plenary was a bit of a shock, as was the presentation by three US mayors: Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Mitchell Landrieu of New Orleans. The CoF is always particularly adept at bringing in politicos for their perspectives. Because the session was moderated by Ellen Alberding of the Joyce Foundation, one of the few US funders to focus on the need for gun control even before the gun-related tragedies in the US of the last few years, I was surprised that the mayors focused on very traditional policing issues. I was not able to stay through the whole plenary, but a friend of mine, Hugh Hogan, executive director of the North Star Fund in New York, spent the evening fuming about what he heard. Mayor Emanuel had proudly announced that Chicago was planning to introduce some of the same policing methods used in New York. I asked Hugh to elaborate in writing.
‘Broken Windows, or stop and frisk, may be coming to Chicago in the form of four P’s: prevention, policing, penalties and parenting. Based on our experience in NYC, the last sounds great, the other three should make Chicagoans and others very, very worried. Also known as bias based policing, in 2011, the New York Police Department made over 684,000 street stops as part their Broken Windows policing approach. In 90 percent of these stops, there was no arrest or summons whatsoever. Even when these stops turn into arrests, almost all are low-level and result when someone questions the rights of the police to stop them in the first place. The stops can also trigger severe consequences including job loss, eviction, and a loss of scholarship opportunities. Stop and frisk and other ‘broken windows’ policing aggressively targets low-income communities of color, young people, homeless people, LGBT people, people with disabilities, immigrants, and women. North Star Fund took the unprecedented step of becoming the fiscal sponsor of Communities United for Police Reform, which is a broad coalition led by community organizing and activist groups worked with legal advocates, researchers and media makers to challenge and reform the worst excesses of the discrimination based policies known as Broken Windows.’ Go to changethenypd.org to learn more.
I went to two great, more progressive, sessions, one on food security and the other on climate justice (also organized as part of a global philanthropy focus). An interesting comment was made by Jacques Bouche, apparently one of a handful of Europeans in attendance, about how European efforts and policy seemed to be missing from the conversation.
I just left a morning breakfast plenary asking why foundations don’t take more risk. The best question of three and a half long days…
Terry Odendahl is executive director of Global Greengrants Fund