Go Far to See Close

October 19, 2015

MCF’s Early Childhood Delegation to Sweden

I think we sometimes have two conflicting ideas of travel. One is personal travel, the romantic idea of going to an exotic location and exposing yourself to new flavors, sights and ways of thinking. Travel as a pause button on our often hectic lives, so we can refresh and re-enter the fray with a new sense of purpose.

The other is business travel, which for those of us in the social sector means cramped airline seats, quick trips to conferences held in look-alike hotel ballrooms and plenty of rubber chicken dinners. There are sparks of great ideas, but they are easily extinguished as you try to focus on both the session at hand and the unrelenting emails that drag you back to the office.

When I proposed to my staff that MCF lead an early childhood delegation of funders, practitioners, researchers and civic leaders to Sweden, I think many of them envisioned the business trip described above on steroids. What we got instead were the sparks of brilliance that business travel can bring enriched with the relationship building and wonder more often associated with personal travel.

What does it mean for kids in Minnesota?
In September 2015, 20 delegates – including funders, elected officials, professors, representatives from early childhood programs, members of MCF’s staff and others – traveled with me to Sweden. We spent five days meeting government officials to begin to understand the infrastructure and funding tied to Sweden’s world-renowned education system.

We also met university professors dedicated to educating the next generation of early childhood teachers, and we toured three types of pre-school programs to better understand the classroom experiences of Swedish children. The visits were thoughtfully curated by our tour guide in Sweden, and they gave us time to really dig in and ask questions to help us answer our most pressing question: What does this mean for kids in Minnesota?

While the official visits were critical, I think the moments that felt more like personal travel will endure. Walking through Old Town Stockholm to help a fellow delegate find just the right souvenir for her new grandchild while conversing about what outdoor preschool education looks like in Duluth. Standing together on a city bus and being asked politely but loudly to move from the baby carriage section, and realizing that society is very different when children and families are at the center. Sitting in a restaurant built in the 1300s on the grounds of Uppsala Cathedral and watching delegates with very different ideas of what early childhood should look like discover how much they actually had in common.

All of these experiences are what one delegate member, originally from Denmark, called hygge – the warm feeling of connection and hospitality that opens you up to new ways of being with each other. This space of hygge creates the conditions where trust, respect and mutual joy become the foundation for doing something very different in our local communities.

I believe experiential travel has an important place in our work. By leaving our little corner of the world and exploring what can be learned from a very different corner of the world, we grow and our communities are better off because of it. We get sparks of brilliance enriched with wonder and relationship. Säker resa!

Trista Harris, president, Minnesota Council on Foundations

Resources on Funding Civil Legal Aid

August 4, 2015

A member post from Bridget Gernander of the Minnesota Supreme Court Legal Services Advisory Committee on their grantmaking field of expertise.

Last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court Legal Services Advisory Committee (LSAC) became the first government grantmaker to join MCF.  LSAC’s focus is on funding civil legal aid statewide, with grants to twenty-six nonprofits that assist low-income people in meeting their legal needs.

LSAC hosted a member briefing back in April about the impact of funding civil legal aid.  If you were unable to attend the member briefing or want to learn more about the subject, video of the event is now available:

  • Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright (34 minute video with an overview of how access to justice for people who can’t afford an attorney is critical to our legal system)
  • Bridget Gernander, LSAC Program Director (37 minute video focusing on the work of LSAC and civil legal aid statistics)
  • Randi Ilyse Roth, LSAC Committee Member (29 minute video describing the return on investment of civil legal aid)

For those who prefer written materials to videos, the Minnesota State Bar Association has done a civil legal aid by the numbers infographic below (click to enlarge), and there are national resources about the impact of funding civil legal aid.



Philanthropy’s Role in Disaster Relief

June 9, 2014
Damage from the 2009 Minneapolis tornado.

Damage from the 2009 Minneapolis tornado.

In December 2013, MCF’s board adopted the following policy statement:

Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery: MCF will promote disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and long-term recovery policies and procedures that involve marginalized communities, respond to their needs and define a realistic and effective role for philanthropy.

In May 2014, MCF’s Government Relations and Public Policy committee invited Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and Erik Torch, grant program manager of the Northland Foundation, to share their experiences and lessons-learned since extensive flooding in 2012.

Presentation Highlights

  • One hundred-year weather events now happen every few years. Vulnerable populations — including seniors, those living in poverty, the mentally ill and those already living on the edge — endure the greatest and longest lasting challenges.
  • There is an immediate need for a common data system to track those affected, their needs and how they have been met. Because this doesn’t currently exist, disaster victims must “shop for aid.” This is unacceptable.
  • Recovery will take longer than expected. Disaster declarations, insurance pay offs and buy-out programs may take months or years. During this time, people can’t live in their old homes, but they must continue to pay those expenses along with expenses associated with new housing. This is a financial disaster for families.
  • Low-income and rental housing was hit hard. Landlords may leave it up to renters, without financial resources, to respond. There are not programs to replace renters’ possessions.
  • In Duluth, $2.7 million in private giving is being used to fix what insurance and the private sector could not. More and more, private giving is relied upon in these situations.
  • Disaster relief efforts require regional, institutional and cross-sector response teams. No one sector can do it alone. Grantmakers need to strategize preparation and recovery efforts to effectively serve families and stabilize communities.

Upcoming MCF Bus Tour

On August 11, 2014, MCF will sponsor a bus tour and workshop, “Responding to Minnesota’s New Reality of Disaster Relief,” to explore grantmaking and public policy responses to disaster preparedness, relief and recovery in Minnesota. Watch our events calendar for a listing — coming soon — or contact Tara Kumar to ensure you’re included.

How Funders in Other Hard-hit States are Responding:

Jesse Ball duPont Fund

After a deadly 2011 tornado hit Alabama, Jessie Ball duPont Fund published Creating Order from Chaos to help foundations identify their roles and points of entry in response to disaster planning and recovery. Its framework names three fundamental stages of disaster response and recovery.

  1. Planning and Preparation: community members, grantmakers and local officials create a system to support the community in case of disaster.
  2. First Response: occurs directly after a disaster occurs. Critical moment where federal and community agencies provide immediate resources and support to communities and families.
  3. Recovery and Rebuilding: federal and local leaders work toward rebuilding community and families to state of health.

Long after disasters hit and federal resources are spent, communities will still need help. Philanthropy can play a role by providing long-term sustainable engagement before and after a natural disaster.

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation takes an innovative approach, working with communities to build resilience when hit by disaster and other stressors. It defines resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, business and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

It has identified five core characteristics of resilient communities:

  1. Constant Learning: The ability to internalize past experiences linked with robust feedback loops that sense, provide foresight and allow new solutions.
  2. Rapid Rebound: The capacity to re-establish function, re-organize and avoid long-term disruption.
  3. Limited or “Safe” Failure: Prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  4. Flexibility: The ability to change, evolve and adapt to alternative strategies in the face of disaster.
  5. Spare Capacity: Ensure there is a back up or alternative available when a vital component of a system fails.

Tiffany Wilson-Worsley, MCF government relations and public policy fellow

Photo cc mollyapolis


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