Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI)

Report #149: October 2008

Report #149: October 2008
Special Supplement: Insights from the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative

Editor's note: The Aspen Philanthropy Letter (APL) reports on developments that may affect philanthropy and the civil society institutions it supports. An early alert system, APL includes items that are both critical and supportive of current practice and policy. Opinions expressed in this newsletter reflect the views of the sources named, not necessarily those of the Aspen Institute and its supporters. Doug Rule prepares the newsletter's copy. We are grateful for the funding provided by the Northwest Area Foundation for APL, and as the publication’s editor, I would welcome both the comments – and the support – of others.
-Jane Wales
Vice President, Philanthropy and Society
The Aspen Institute

This year I served as Chair of the Poverty Alleviation track of the fourth annual Clinton Global Initiative. At the event in late September, over 1,000 philanthropists, business executives and government leaders made nearly 250 new commitments to help tackle many of the developing world’s greatest challenges, specifically in the areas of global health, education, poverty alleviation and energy and climate change.

Among the larger commitments:

  • Multiple efforts to help Haiti recover and "build back better" from its recent natural disasters, as noted in a Sept. 26 CGI press release; *Creation of an Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University to serve as an education research center akin to the National Institutes of Health;
  • A multi-entity, multi-million dollar effort to improve access to clean water and sanitation in the developing world, as reported in a Sept. 27 Wall Street Journal article;
  • President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia will work with Humanity United, the Global Philanthropy Forum, and the NoVo Foundation, among others, to support Liberia’s reconstruction and development, committing $15 million over one year for health and education, governance, private sector development, and energy and climate change. press release; and
  • The Aspen Institute-hosted Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, a collaboration among organizations that raise venture capital for and provide technical assistance to small and growing businesses in the developing world. Among ANDE's contribution is the establishment of a metrics system, designed by the Acumen Fund and to measure social impact.

Amidst the commitment announcements, many ideas were offered during CGI panel and plenary sessions of benefit to grantmakers. Key points are summarized in this Aspen Philanthropy Letter special supplement. Most items in this supplement include links to the webcast of the session discussed. To access audio podcasts or written transcripts, see the complete schedule.


Don't Let Economic Crisis Overshadow Other Critical Issues
"It’s critical that urgency doesn't crowd out the important," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a Poverty Alleviation Track session on food security. "Advocates cannot let the crisis in the economy serve as an excuse not to deal with other critical issues such as climate change," she said. Josette Sheeran of the United Nations World Food Program told another session that the world is in crisis now, due in part to high prices of fuel and food. In response, donors should remove earmarks from their giving, allowing for quicker and more flexible emergency response. Sheeran cited her own organization’s inability to act on time-sensitive food market opportunities because of a lack of discretionary funds.

Need for Funders to Listen to Grantees, Take Their Suggestions on Funding Strategies
At a poverty alleviation session focused on building livelihoods in the wake of conflict, Peter Buffet of the NoVo Foundation warned against ‘philanthropic colonialism’ - assuming that funders know best – and urged instead that funders must see, experience, and listen to the people they are trying to help, because it is those on the ground who know best.  Following through on local suggestions shows respect, and allows grantees to learn from their own mistakes. Philanthropy has the ability to take big risks, but if done without listening and consulting the people one is trying to help, it becomes self-serving – and just plain “stupid,” said Buffet.  He also stressed the need for funders to stay committed to an issue – and to remain engaged despite complications.  


Funding for Women and Girls Best Way to Deal with All Critical Issues
The proven way to deal with population growth and its effects is to promote education and access to labor and capital markets for all girls and women worldwide, according to former President Bill Clinton. Funding for women and girls was a leading unofficial theme at CGI, discussed across all four tracks. Actress and global AIDS activist Ashley Judd said that improving the status of girls and women in society is a key means to spreading peace. Jon Lane of the WHO-hosted Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council indentified girls' education and girls' development as the only issue more important than his own – improved water and sanitation – for world development. Peter Buffett of the NoVo Foundation said at a poverty session (see previous item) that a funder is almost guaranteed a greater return on investment by helping adolescent girls in the developing world, regardless of the area or issue. Girls are the first tool of war and the last tool of stability, according to Buffett, so they must be primary agents of change.

Judd stressed the value of investing in girls to help them develop their leadership ability and rediscover their potential and creativity. Both Judd and Peter Bamkole of Pan-African University’s Enterprise Development Services (see next item) said that while empowering girls and women is important in itself, men also need to see the value of helping to advance women.

Funding Women and Girls Creates Ripple Effect Benefiting All in Society
In the developing world, funding women and girls creates a ripple effect, what’s also called "the girl effect". In general, a woman will work to advance both her own standing as well as that of her family and community, according to Merida Roets of the African-based nonprofit Scientific Roets. Roets noted at an education session focused on the advancement of women’s rights through microfinance that funding one woman will actually benefit 10 or 20 people standing behind her. Pan-African University’s Peter Bamkole said that for every woman who gains financial literacy, at least 50 others benefit, as women go back and teach other women and youth in their church what they learned. One idea that emerged from table discussions at this session was to start offering financial education for women earlier than current practice – while still adolescents, to instill confidence that they can succeed on their own.

Roets encouraged philanthropists to help female microfinancers network and develop mentors in their community. She urged the funding of "reciprocal visits" which allow small-businesswomen to connect with one another and discuss common concerns, and called for financial incentives to get bankers and others to meet with female microfinancers and serve as mentors.


Poor Nutrition Among Children A Major Issue; Promote Value of Breast Milk
Poor nutrition is responsible for more than half of all child deaths worldwide, according to Kathy Spahn of Helen Keller International, citing United Nations' data at a session on maternal and child nutrition. Rising food prices and food shortages are going to make the situation worse and more critical in the years ahead. But focus needs to be on quality as much as quantity: Utami Roesli of Indonesian Breastfeeding Center said the food crisis offers opportunities to help people learn about foods that are good for them. Roesli stressed the importance of breastfeeding and called on donors to aggressively promote this before and after delivery. She pleaded with donors not to send baby formula in emergency situations, citing difficulty finding clean water and food and the greater chance of harm to the baby. Provide ways to help feed the mother instead, she said.

Lack of Safe Drinking Water and Poor Sanitation are as Critical as Food Security
The increasing crisis over food security in the developing world is matched by the crisis over unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation, according to several sessions on nutrition and global health. Antonio Guterres of United Nations Human Rights Commission said at a session that the safe-water issue is under-funded because people are unaware of its connection to other problems, and thus of its importance. The further a woman travels to get water for her family, the more likely she is to be sexually assaulted, Guterres noted as an example. Also at this panel, Rohini Nilekani of India’s Arghyam Trust stressed the need for "sustainable sanitation" in the developing world and the need to rethink human waste as a resource for fertilization. The moderator, Jon Lane of the WHO-affiliated Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, said that advocates need to stress the positive returns of improved water and sanitation, noting that every $1 spent in the area produces $6 to $7 in benefit.


Help the Poor Gain Basic Financial Literacy; Develop Micro-Insurance Products
2.3 billion of the world’s poor lack access to even the most basic of financial services. Increasing the poor’s financial literacy was another major theme to emerge from the various sessions focused on poverty alleviation. As summarized at the end of the last poverty session, philanthropists and others must help the poor build and protect assets as they emerge from poverty. The poor are equally capable of advancement if given the right tools and opportunities, including appropriate training and job skills. Micro-insurance emerged as a particular need at the end of a session on food security. Micro-insurance products help farmers, small businesses and others protect against external shocks, from economic turmoil to poor health to disasters, especially in the context of climate change. The Sept. 27 Wall Street Journal reported on one $100 million commitment at this year’s CGI intended to deliver low-cost insurance to the developing world in the next decade, with a goal of helping insure 25 million people.

Finesse Needed in Rebuilding Societies Post-Conflict
Rebuilding societies post-conflict is a critical aspect of alleviating poverty in the developing world. Many suggestions for donors emerged from table discussions at the end of a session on the topic, including the need to prioritize investments - especially in sectors such as public works and housing - that demonstrate visible results, to give populations a real sense that progress is being made. Consideration must be given to amnesty laws for former combatants, including child soldiers, to help them reintegrate into society. But such efforts, tied to peace and justice, will be thorny and difficult, and will require much finesse.


Schools Can Be Major Solution to Community Health and Nutrition Problems
Education leads to better health, and schools in particular can be tools for improving nutrition among children, according to panelists at a joint education and global health session. Josette Sheeran of the United Nations World Food Program stressed the value of having food in school as a major solution for problems in poor communities. If schools guarantee food for students, parents will ensure that their children attend – including girls. Donors could also ensure that schools have enough food to allow girls' to take a ration home at the end of each week for their families – which will further increase support for girls education. Donors can help make schools the center of community life, a place where people gather, receive health tests and discuss health issues. Schools can also serve as early warning system for emerging health issues in a community.

Improving Quality of Education Becoming Critical in Developing World
Funding for education in the developing world must be about more than access to education or the bricks and mortar of physical buildings. The developing world faces a crisis in the quality of its education, according to Lynn Murphy of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. At a session on global issues of quality education, Murphy and other panelists stressed the need for greater distribution of books and written materials in developing countries. Without enough age-appropriate books and satisfactory and proper teaching, students are not inspired to return to school – which leads to high dropout rates in elementary schools around the world, Murphy said.

Greater funds should be geared toward dealing with the complex realities involved in why children are not in school. At a session on education and the struggle for peace and stability, Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International noted that poor families often keep children out of school so they can work, while others in war-torn and post-conflict situations keep children from school over concern about their safety in getting to school. Few resources are given for educational assistance in crisis situations, Salbi noted, with short-term needs such as food and clothing predominating.


Build a 'Green Wave' by Focusing on Job Opportunities, Not Climate Crisis
To successfully tackle climate change, Van Jones of the California nonprofit Green for All stressed the need to focus on opportunities, not crisis. At a joint session on climate change and poverty, Jones said bringing a message of hope and opportunity to people who haven’t had a lot of that lately could do wonders to help build a "green wave" – or what he called a New Deal styled Green Growth Alliance – that benefits everyone. The opportunities include, according to Jones, the number of jobs that will be created: to better "weatherize" buildings, to create millions of solar panels, and to develop wind and solar farms.

Meanwhile, Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation called for the creation of a National Energy Institute, modeled after the National Institutes of Health, which would help boost research in the area of climate change, something that she says has waned over the years.

Help Increase Consumer Demand for Better, Cleaner Technology
Climate change advocates need to increase demand for better, cleaner technology and greater efficiency of products and services, according to several sessions focused on the topic. At table discussions at a session on clean transport, participants reported back that changes in individual behavior will help advance the development of cleaner technologies, and this can be achieved in part through government incentives, such as rebates or earned-income tax credits, to buy or use more fuel-efficient products. At a joint session on climate change and poverty (see previous item), Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals said by stressing the shared religious tenet of being good stewards of nature and the earth, we can dramatically alter behavior for the better.


We would appreciate your offering us information that we can include in a future edition. If you have an item you believe would be helpful to your colleagues, please e-mail it to Doug Rule, who prepares the report’s copy. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

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