World Leaders Focus on Clean Cookstoves

September 22, 2010

On a road trip earlier this week, I had the chance to listen to a lot of National Public Radio, and I was glad to hear coverage of the United Nations Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). Until earlier this year, when MCF’s Global Funders Network did a program on the goals, I hadn’t heard of them so I’m sure they can use the attention.

Why the coverage this week? The United Nations is hosting a high-level meeting of 140 government and private sector leaders to assess progress made so far toward the MDGs and to accelerate progress to reach the goals by their 2015 target date.  There are eight goals that include slashing poverty, combating disease, fighting hunger, protecting the environment and boosting education.

Complex global strategies are being launched and recommitted to, but the coverage I heard this week focused on the seemingly simple idea of clean cookstoves. Worldwide current methods of cooking over open fires, or on inefficient clay stoves, pose daily risks to hundreds of millions of women and children. In fact, health officials attribute more than 2 million deaths annually to women’s exposure to smoke and toxins from cooking fires. Smoke is also a major cause of pneumonia in infants — a leading factor in high infant-mortality rates in the world’s poorest countries.

The cookstove initiative, announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a partnership of governments, nongovernmental groups and private companies. The idea is not to flood poor countries with a one-size-fits-all cooking alternative, but instead to consult local cooks and use local markets to develop and distribute different cookstoves for different regions and cultures. The objective: create cleaner, healthier, environmentally sound and locally adapted stoves that women will want.

The project caught my attention because it seems so simple yet so necessary. Years ago while traveling in Thailand, I stayed with a family that cooked on an open fire in their small home. A hole in the ceiling was meant to attract smoke, but the walls and ceiling were still covered with oily black soot. While cooking and tending the fire, the women also worked to ensure toddlers didn’t topple toward the flames. I believe those women and millions like them would love to make use of a solution that made cooking easier and safer for themselves and their families.

The meeting in New York ends today, but watch for updates on progress toward the MDGs on the United Nation’s site.

– Susan Stehling, MCF

Photo CC United Nations Media

Disaster Philanthropy: A Long Term Role for Foundations

February 5, 2010

The aftershocks of the earthquake in Haiti will be felt for generations. What role should philanthropy play in rebuilding?

I listened in on a recent conference call organized by the partners of Katrina @ 5 about philanthropy’s response to the earthquake in Haiti.  Several speakers from government and philanthropy spoke about the current relief efforts in Haiti and the long term role for foundations in disaster response.  You can listen to a recording of the conference call here and learn more about Katrina @ 5 on their website.  Also, see how Minnesota grantmakers are providing support to Haiti on the Minnesota Responds webpage.

The panelists on the call offered advice to foundations thinking about engaging in disaster philanthropy.  Regine Webster, from Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors, emphasized these recommendations:

  1. Support organizations with long standing history of working in the affected area, especially those organizations that have solid relationships with people in the area.
  2. Support disaster risk reduction, like disaster-proof construction and other proactive efforts.
  3. Support underfunded needs in disaster recovery, like mental health and other psychosocial support.
  4. Commit multi-year funds to rebuild public goods, like schools and transportation systems.
  5. Support advocacy efforts, not only by encouraging government efforts like debt relief, but also for the creation of more sustained and coordinated disaster preparedness and response.

Rebecca Hove from the Bridgeway Foundation spoke about the importance of developing relationships with people on the ground and with organizations already working in the affected area.  She said that the Bridgeway Foundation is providing unrestricted support to local implementers in Haiti who have proven distribution and communications methods and can make sound assessments of urgent critical needs. Bridgeway Foundation has also built a local coalition called Houston Helps Haiti.  Hove said that their strong collaborations with organizations and people on the ground has prepared them to mobilize and respond more quickly than many of their colleagues.

Chris Page from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors addressed the reasons why the situation in Haiti is so different from other developing areas struck by disasters.  He believes it is because so many institutions in Haiti simply haven’t existed or haven’t been reliable.  The recovery in Haiti will be less about rebuilding the country, and more about building anew.  Page encouraged donors to look at phases of redevelopment and think about strengthening the country to protect against future losses.  Building trust in individuals and institutions creates stability that can lead to a transparent and functional democracy that is more prepared to respond to disasters in the future.

Patrick Corvington, Senior Associate of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and CEO Designate of the Corporation of National and Community Service, is a Haitian American and came to the United States as a teenager.  He talked about using his emotional and personal connection with this disaster to help the Annie E. Casey Foundation think about its response.  He talked about focusing on one area of relief and thinking through these questions:

  1. Can we act?
  2. What value can we add?
  3. How do we engage?

Corvington said that foundations that do not have relationships with Haiti, do not do disaster relief, or cannot respond as quickly should think about what they do well and how they can contribute in the long term, without getting in the way in the short term.   If a foundation can’t respond in the immediate relief effort, how can the organization play to its strengths and provide recovery support months or years after the disaster has occurred?

All of the panelists talked about the long term infrastructure for disaster philanthropy.  Here are some suggestions they offered for the foundation community to consider:

  1. Stay on mission.  Either add disaster funding to an existing mission or stay with what you know best and provide information and resources to those working in affected areas.
  2. Promote donor and philanthropic engagement with established international relief organizations.
  3. Promote more collaboration between foundations, government, and NGOs in disaster response.
  4. Instead of taking on a first-responder role, philanthropy should focus on the rebuilding and transforming phases of disaster recovery.
  5. Philanthropy can help ensure that attention is paid to the long term, ongoing issues the affected areas face after the immediacy of the situation has subsided.

With donations for Haiti slowing, this is an opportunity for foundations to step up and do what they do best: invest in extended and focused support on the needs of a community in order to have a systemic, enduring impact.

The question we should ask ourselves about Haiti should be the kind of question foundations should ask every time they consider responding to a disaster: What kind of Haiti do we want in the future?

Stephanie Jacobs, member services manager

International Giving – Networking Around the World!

June 15, 2009

If you are an MCF member involved in international giving or considering it, you would love to have participated in a recent meeting of the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s (MCF) International Funders Network and hear from four people who recently attended an international giving conference. This meeting was hosted by the Lutheran Community Foundation (an MCF member) and moderated by Susan Hayes, director of Community Grants and Services at the Lutheran Community Foundation.

The speakers included:

I found the following points that came out during the presentations and during the Q&A especially interesting:

  • Networking and Contacts
    The networking and contacts available at these conferences were extremely valuable for everyone.  All of the presenters commented on having connected with people who know and work with one of their grantees or in the country in which they were making the grants, providing a unique opportunity to learn from others who are in the countries in which these funders are making grants.  In addition, several of the conferences included creative approaches to networking like “speed networking,” a “reciprocity web,” maps showing where each participant’s organization is providing funding, and even dots on nametags indicating the language a person speaks.
  • Selecting the “Best” Conference
    Since there is an increasing number of international giving conferences, all speakers had made a very deliberate decision about which conference to attend, taking into account several or more factors including the types of organizations that participate and the design of the conference.
  • Grant Applications – Which Language?
    One foundation is working on providing its grant application in several languages, to make sure that the content is clear to grantseekers, while requiring the grant application to be submitted in English.

Even in this two-hour program, I learned a great deal about international giving and left feeling inspired by all of the great work that is going on around the world.

If you are an MCF member interested in international giving, please consider attending the next meeting arranged by the International Funders Network.  The speaker will be Rob Buchanan, who is the managing director, International Programs, at the national Council on Foundations.  The meeting is scheduled for August 12, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  This meeting also is open to all MCF members.

If you are a grantmaker interested in international giving and are not a member of MCF, please contact Chuck Peterson, vice president, Member Relations and Operations, at for membership information.

– Cindy Moeller, Director, Professional Development and Member Services
Minnesota Council on Foundations

Help Your Letter Carrier Deliver the Goods

May 7, 2009

The canned goods, that is.

This Saturday, May 9, is the 17th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. In 2008, the event, billed as the world’s largest food drive, collected 73.1 million pounds of food that was subsequently delivered to local food banks, pantries and shelters in all 50 states.

Contributing couldn’t be easier. Simply place your donation of non-perishable food items in a bag next to your mailbox before your mail is delivered this Saturday.  Your letter carrier will pick up the donation and see that it is delivered to a local food bank.

With more Americans unemployed every day, your contribution really matters. Thirty-five million Americans are hungry or living on the brink of hunger. Take a look at Hunger 101 on Feeding America’s website for some disheartening facts about hungry children, seniors and the working poor.

Or for something more interactive, take the quick Hunger Quiz and see what you learn about hunger in the U.S. I hope you learn enough to join me in donating this weekend. The Greater Twin Cities United Way, an MCF member, is a sponsor of this long-standing event.

If you really get into it, consider visiting the hunger site, where one click of your mouse donates 1.1 cups of food to the world’s poor and hungry. Last year, visitor clicks at the site triggered donations of 66,235,889 cups (more than 8 million pounds) of food. It’s so easy, and if you come back every day this year, you and your mouse will be responsible for donating 400 cups of food.

– Susan Stehling, MCF web communications associate

Succeeding with Microfinance

May 6, 2009
Learning about microfinance in Akbarpura, India - by lecercle

Learning about microfinance in Akbarpura, India - by lecercle

MCF’s International Funders Network recently held a discussion on what international funders and donors need to know about microfinance in order to succeed.

Three experts were invited to provide information on this complex topic: Rob Scarlett, a member of ACCION International’s President’s Council and a trustee of Sundance Family Foundation (an MCF member); Monte Achenbach, VP for international programs at American Refugee Committee; and Jason Cons, director of research and project design at The Goldin Institute.

During the Q & A session, attendees had the opportunity to inquire about their specific areas of interest. Here is a flavor of the conversation:

Q: Is Microlending working?

A: It depends — it’s not working in Bangladesh where people have taken out multiple loans to pay for everyday living expenses and are now overextended. It is working in Bolivia. The answer is different depending on the country, regulations, and division between NGOs and for-profit lenders.

Q: How do funders work successfully with for-profit lenders?

A: The lack of government oversight and regulation makes this difficult. Funders really need to build a long-term relationship and communicate their needs with their lender. 

Q: How do you determine and measure the impacts of giving?

A:  There are many ways to make determinations and measure impact. The impact can be social, economic, societal — and all can be measured in different ways.  Once you’ve determined what you want to measure, it’s recommended that you build in an ongoing, long-term process of internal and external accountability at all levels, and that you incorporate a community engagement process into your data collection and reporting activities.  

Q: Where can we find more information about microfinance?

A: In addition to ACCION International, ARC and the Goldin Institute, you can find information at CGAP: Consultative Group to Assist the Poor and The MIX Market. These organizations are also in the beginning stages of reporting social key indicators and eco-mapping that can be used for comparison data.

Submitted by Lisa Johnson, MCF’s manager of professional development and e-learning

Conference blog keeps you in the loop

May 4, 2009

The national Council on Foundations’ (COF) annual conference began this morning in Atlanta.  COF’s president Steve Gunderson writes, “There is energy and urgency in the air. It’s a critical time for the country and the world. And it’s just the right time for the more than 1,300 people here to reexamine philanthropy’s place, today and tomorrow.”

Tight budgets may be preventing many from attending this year, but you can still join the conversation and gather insights on what matters in the field of philanthropy.

The Council launched a new blog, which my colleague Juliana Tillema introduced to you on her Philanthropy Potluck blog post April 30. The conference blog, RE: Philanthropy, provides a place for those attending to post reports and reflections on what they see, hear and think. What’s the talk in the halls? Amid all the changes in the economy and Washington, what really matters now?

The blogging team is a mix of expected and unexpected writers, established voices and next-generation leaders, and includes Minnesota connections such as Trista Harris, executive director of Headwaters Foundation for Justice, and Emmett Carson, former president and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation and current CEO and president of Silicon Valley Community Foundation.  The blog may also include video.

This morning’s posts include contributors’ responses to the question “What one question do you think philanthropy needs to address?”

COF says the blog will continue beyond the conference. So, check out what your colleagues in philanthropy are saying. Post your own ideas. And join the conversation.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF Communications Associate

A New Community Engagement Guide for Social Justice

March 30, 2009

On March 26, the Minnesota Council on Foundations, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and PFund Foundation held a briefing on capacity building and community engagement for social change at the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul

The National Gender & Equity Campaign, a demonstration project of AAPIP and PFund Foundation, shared best practices and key lessons from their community engagement approaches. Grantmakers also heard various community perspectives about the NGEC and PFund Foundation’s community engagement processes. They shared their reflections and insights in to the impacts on the ground and how to enact approaches that stay relevant to community contexts.

This sparked a thoughtful discussion among participants. The discussion revolved around the questions: How can we keep our organization relevant to our audience? How can we reflect the needs of the community back into the community through responsive services? How can we make the evaluation process more realistic? Once you’ve participated in the community engagement process, how do you move forward strategically? One attendee remarked, “The community engagement process helps to debunk myths and satisfy truths. It helps you keep your organization relevant.” In light of today’s economic environment, I think we can all agree that we need to attend to the needs of our audiences now more than ever before.

The National Gender & Equity Campaign, a demonstration project of AAPIP, has produced “A Guide on Community Engagement: Making Social Justice Work Inclusive”. This facilitation guide shares a framework, tools and methods for community engagement. If you’re interested in engaging the communities you serve, check out the full facilitation guide on NGEC’s website.

– Lisa Johnson, MCF’s manager of professional development  and e-learning