President Obama Announces “My Brother’s Keeper” and Philanthropy Investment

February 28, 2014

obama9Boys and young men of color too often face disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success in our society.

Today in the U.S., if you are African-American, there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll grow up without a father at home, and you’re more likely to be poor, to not read well, to be expelled from school and eventually to end up incarcerated.

And, as President Obama stressed yesterday, “The worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics. We pretend this is a normal part of American life instead of the outrage that it is. These statistics should break our hearts and compel us to act.”

Act is what the President did Thursday as he signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the “My Brother’s Keeper” Task Force, an interagency initiative to determine what public and private efforts are working for young men and boys of color and how to expand upon them.

The President has built a broad coalition of backers to help break down barriers, clear pathways to opportunity and reverse troubling trends that show too many boys and young men of color slipping through the cracks.

For yesterday’s announcement, he was joined by philanthropic leaders — including MCF President Trista Harris and David Nicholson, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice — and representatives from communities, business, government and faith groups.

Foundations have already made extensive investments in support of boys and young men of color. Building on that, yesterday 10 foundations (including MCF members The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation) announced additional commitments of at least $200 million over the next five years to find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for positive impact in the lives of boys and young men of color.

Look for more next week on Trista Harris’ D.C. experience.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Cargill Foundation Helping North Minneapolis’ Harvest Schools Scale Up

February 6, 2014
Eric Mahmoud, founder and president of the Harvest Network of Schools

Eric Mahmoud, founder and president of the Harvest Network of Schools

On Wednesday, the Cargill Foundation announced a $1.5 million, three-year grant to the Harvest Network of Schools to help close the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color in North Minneapolis.

The schools have a long history in North Minneapolis. Started by Ella Mahmoud in her home in 1985 for 10 children, today the schools educate 1,200 children in six programs and are led by Ella’s husband, Eric Mahmoud, president and CEO, Harvest Network of Schools.

Harvest Schools to Scale Up
The grant from the Cargill Foundation will help the Harvest network of charter schools scale up to meet its goal of having 3,500 students in Harvest classrooms by 2021. The number is significant. North Minneapolis has a total of 6,800 students in grades K-8, so the Harvest Network will be educating 51% of North Minneapolis’ students when it hits 3,500 students.

Scott Portnoy, Cargill corporate vice president and president of the Cargill Foundation

Scott Portnoy, Cargill corporate vice president and president of the Cargill Foundation

Scott Portnoy, president of the Cargill Foundation, explained that Cargill is a major and long-time funder of education in the metro area. He continued, “These schools have been very successful at closing the achievement gap. They are in the top 10 of the State of Minnesota’s ‘Beating the Odds‘ schools, and they are leaders in educating boys of color.”

Minneapolis Public Schools Partners with Harvest Schools
Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, doesn’t disagree. At Wednesday’s event she supported the Harvest Network of Schools, saying, “I want great schools for Minneapolis, irrespective if they are district or charter schools.” And she added that it wasn’t a particularly tough decision. “It was easier for me to decide to partner with Harvest Prep than to close the Minneapolis Public Schools for the recent cold weather.”

This is likely because the Harvest Schools set and enforce high standards. The schools’ website stresses rigorous academics and says, “No Gaps Here!”

Best of the Best
Eric Mahmoud reiterated that, saying, “We don’t want to be the best of the worst. We want to be among the best of the best.”

The schools are succeeding. He shared a slide that showed the math gap between white and black students in St. Paul Schools at 44% and in Wayzata Schools at 41%. The same chart showed African American boys at the Harvest Schools achieving at the same levels as white students in Edina and other high-performing school systems.

Darryl Cobb from the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF), a nonprofit that invests philanthropic capital in the nation’s highest performing charter schools, also spoke at the event. He explained that the Harvest Network is currently undergoing the CSGF’s rigorous application process with hopes of being considered for CSGF investment.

Philanthropists who want to learn more about the Harvest schools should contact Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, chief officer of strategic alliances, Harvest Network of Schools, or watch the Minnesota Futures Award Video on the school’s home page.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Young or Old, Mentoring Matters

January 28, 2014

mentoringworks_logoSometimes a little moral support can make all the difference.

January is National Mentoring Month. And evidence shows that mentoring is definitely worth celebrating and promoting.

No matter your age or your goals, support from others can help you overcome barriers to success, navigate unfamiliar cultures, and reach new heights.

Many examples of mentoring’s power have popped up in my reading this month. They’ve run the gamut – from reduction in juvenile crime for at-risk youth in national mentoring programs, to greater interest and confidence among mentored girls and young women pursuing STEM studies and careers, to patients having greater success controlling their diabetes when paired with a peer mentor than when taking medication.

Career Growth in Philanthropy
Of course, social support is important at work, too. Local peer networks are popular resources for MCF members. And national networks and affinity groups are valuable repositories of information for professional development and job effectiveness.

MCF has even launched its own version of a mentoring program. Four inaugural MCF Philanthropy Fellows have joined the Bush Foundation to grow professionally and infuse new ideas and energy into the sector.  Read about the MCF Philanthropy Fellows in our Philanthropy Potluck Blog post, and while you’re at it, check out our announcement about EPIP’s new Leadership Institute.

Mentoring in Minnesota
While Minnesota grantmakers are building their own skills, they’re also providing financial support to local, national and global mentoring programs. Not surprisingly, 86 percent of our state’s grant dollars dedicated to mentoring benefit children and youth, according to MCF’s latest Giving in Minnesota research.

Leading Minnesota funders for youth development mentoring include: Federated Insurance Foundation; Greater Twin Cities United Way; Carlson Family Foundation; Cargill Foundation and Cargill, Inc.; and Otto Bremer Foundation. The McKnight Foundation has also been a major youth development grantmaker and was instrumental in founding Youthprise.

According to MCF research, leading nonprofit recipients of private, community/public and corporate grants include: Big Brothers/Big Sisters in St. Paul and throughout the state; Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota (MPM); Bolder Options and BestPrep.

Last year MPM honored the Carlson Family Foundation with the Bob Dayton Quality Mentoring Award as a leading investor and champion for high-quality youth mentoring – long-term, trusting relationships between children and caring adults.

According to MPM:

Mentoring is an active ingredient in helping young people perform better in school, develop aspirations to go to college and choose a career, make responsible decisions, model good behavior, and become more productive and engaged citizens – all key factors in building stronger communities.

Join the Conversation
Check out the National Mentoring Month resources and let us know what resonates with you. What positive outcomes have you experienced as a mentee or mentor? What mentoring programs do you know of that are achieving exceptional results for individuals of varying ages?

- Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services

Collaborative Approaches to Improve the Health of Native Children in Minnesota

January 23, 2014

The Notah Begay III Foundation, focused on improving Native American health, was one of the conveners of this convening.

On January 17, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, Clearway Minnesota and Notah Begay III Foundation convened a group of funders to explore collaborative approaches to attaining health equity for Native children in Minnesota.

Representatives from the American Indian Cancer Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Health, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and Native Americans in Philanthropy also joined in this effort to identify current services, trends and gaps impacting the health of Native American children in Minnesota and brainstorm ways existing efforts could be woven together to strengthen the health outcomes for tribal communities.

Promising Strategies

While the discussions highlighted the health challenges facing Minnesota’s Native American communities including disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer, promising strategies for eliminating these disparities were also brought forth, such as:

Also noteworthy is the National Initiative for Native Children, led by the Notah Begay III Foundation with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Through this initiative, the Notah Begay III Foundation will be making investments in Native American communities, including in Minnesota and Wisconsin, to expand efforts to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.

Effective Collaboration

After reviewing the landscape of health equity efforts in Minnesota’s tribal communities, the funders agreed upon the following strategies for moving this work forward collaboratively:

  • Increasing access to culturally grounded systems of care
  • Coordinating resources for efficiency and impact
  • Trailblazing innovative funding of health equity work
  • Authentically engaging nations toward tribally driven solutions
  • Identifying and celebrating the assets of Native communities

For more information about this funder roundtable discussion or the National Initiative for Native Children, contact Olivia Roanhorse at the Notah Begay III Foundation ( or 505.867.0775).

- Tara Kumar, MCF member services manager

Education Can’t Minimize Relationships

December 19, 2013
David O'Fallon

David O’Fallon

Today on the blog we welcome David O’Fallon president of Minnesota Humanities Center. He shares his perspective on what we need for real education reform, a topic he presented on at MCF’s 2013 Philanthropy Convening.

At the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), we are developing a strategy to transform education founded on a simple premise: Underlying the achievement gap is a relationship gap.

An authentic person-to-person relationship is the foundation of learning, and it depends on real human engagement between teacher and student. In school, the stronger and more authentic the relationship, the greater the likelihood that a student will learn. A wealth of research supports this.

Relationships are possible and strengthened only when essential stories of the many people and cultures represented in the classroom, school and community are present. These stories – currently unrepresented —  are called absent narratives.

Person-to-Person Problem
Top-down reform and large-scale system-improvement efforts overlook or minimize the all-important relationship. This is a person-to-person problem. Thus, change brought about by technical or structural fixes – curriculum alterations, schedule modifications, high-stakes testing or the introduction of iPads – will be incomplete and have unsatisfactory results.

Since A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was written in 1983, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to transform education. Results have been disappointing. Obviously, the challenges are complex; no single intervention will transform education.

Reorient School Culture
Our strategy is founded on including and articulating the absent narrative and focused on relationships among people in the human school community and between members of the communities that engage, or would like to engage, with people in the school.

The absent narratives approach reorients school culture. It invites community members to examine how they engage with each other and, most critically, how teachers engage with students. All members of the school community are involved in the discovery and articulation of the missing narratives, which provides a new sense of agency and purpose.

Key Elements

1. Reclaim the absent narrative: When the story of a group of people is marginalized or completely left out of school curriculum, it is an absent narrative. This absence ignores some (or most) of the young people in today’s schools, especially youth of color. Use of a dominant narrative limits and even damages the teacher-child relationship.

2. Create the innocent classroom: This strategy calls on us to see anew the power and the essential nature of the teacher-to-child relationship. It asserts that every child is innocent — desiring and acting toward his or her own goodness. Too often, the innocence of children (especially that of children of color) is obscured by the burden of unexamined and unspoken beliefs.

3. Reconstruct curriculum: This strategy engages teachers in examining current curriculum with an absent narrative lens. The effects are powerful, and new content and teaching approaches develop as a result.

4. Build community narratives: Schools occupy a specific place in a community. Place matters, but it is often ignored. In this strategy, the community is invited to consider place and contribute their own narratives. Stories emerge as content that enlivens the school as a human community and engages young people and adults in new ways.

These elements combine to form a powerful and effective professional development and systems-change approach that is currently being used by 60 teachers in St. Paul and in an urban district outside Minnesota.

The Future Started Yesterday

December 6, 2013

MCF President Trista Harris at the 2013 Philanthropy Convening

Earlier this week, we showed you the TED talk “Abundance is Our Future” that we watched at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening.

MCF President Trista Harris used this as a springboard into her closing talk, saying she sees small groups of people doing extraordinary things in the nonprofit sector all the time. But, she lamented, “The social sector uses old data, which makes it tough to see the future.” One example: U.S. census data, which is currently nine years old.

Her mission, she said, is to turn the boat around, so we can all see the future. “Many great ideas are right on the horizon, but we won’t see them if we don’t know what we’re looking for.”

Here are three positive trends Harris is seeing now.

Better, Cheaper, Faster Technology

“Technology is getting better, cheaper and faster on a very predictable schedule,” Harris said. “This allows us to do things today that we couldn’t think of doing 10 years ago.”

Diversity of Youth

Our youngest residents are much more diverse than our oldest, and we must use this diversity as an asset and not let it tear our state apart.

“We can’t forget that Minnesota is successful when we rely on each other. And ‘each other’ looks different than it used to,” said Harris.


“Nonprofiteers” are young people in our community who are exposed to nonprofit and philanthropy work early in their lives and see it as a career path.

She cited 2013’s We Day as a great example. On We Day, 18,000 students from 400 schools across Minnesota were entertained and engaged in the greater good. Attendees earned entry by committing to take action on at least one local and one global initiative during the next year.

“We may not see the next generation doing good,” said Harris. “Because it looks different than how we do good.”

21st Century Foundation Leadership

Harris shared a glimpse of where MCF is headed, saying the work will revolve around 21st century foundation leadership and getting people ready to learn together.

Areas that will be important include: diversity, equity and inclusion; the leadership pipeline; public policy; cross-sector partnerships; effective grantmaking practice and principles; and anticipating future trends.

Join the conversation: What are other important trends you see in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors?


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