Hewlett Foundation launches new initiative to shore up US democracy

Alliance magazine

Alliance magazine

It is hard to look at events of the past few years without concluding that democracy in America is in trouble. Surveys routinely find that most Americans think poorly of the federal government and, in particular, of Congress. Such frustration and mistrust do not bode well for our system of government.

Against this backdrop, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced today [8 July] that it is launching a new initiative to help alleviate the problem of polarization, with a special focus on the problem in Congress. The foundation will invest $50 million over the next three years in what it is calling the Madison Initiative. It will use this initial phase of grantmaking to assess whether and how it can help strengthen the nation’s representative institutions so that they are better able to address the major issues facing the countryand do so in ways that work for the American people.

Click here to read the full press release>

The new initative has met with some criticism. ‘Critics, like Niki Jagpal, director of research and policy at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, called the effort “problematic”,’ reports Alex Daniels, writing for the Chronicle of Philanthropy on 15 July. ‘Instead of supporting groups across the political spectrum, Ms. Jagpal said it would make more sense to dedicate more resources to current Hewlett grantees that work to alleviate poverty, attain social justice, and secure women’s reproductive health.’

While David Callahan, writing for Inside Philanthropy on 14 July, asks:

Why Won’t Foundations Like Hewlett Just Stand Up and Fight for Their Values?

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Now free to read – The women effect

Suzanne Biegel

From the June 2014 issue of Alliance magazine.

From the September 2013 issue of Alliance magazine. – See more at: http://philanthropynews.alliancemagazine.org/2014/07/02/now-free-to-read-interview-theo-sowa/#sthash.znurmwvs.dpuf

Try this exercise. When you think ‘women’ and ‘investing’ what do you think about? This piece is going to ask you to think about the ‘women effect’ as a factor across multiple dimensions where ‘women and girls’ and ‘impact investing’ come together. Across all asset classes, and a variety of stakeholders.

Let’s put it right out there … women belong as investors (whether it’s their own capital or on behalf of others), as entrepreneurs, in management, and as board members. They belong in the picture of social impact as leaders in women-led enterprises, as participants in enterprises where women can create or increase wealth, as beneficiaries of investment, philanthropy or development aid. In fact they are key actors in almost any aspect of investment you might consider.

The case has been made about why women – and gender-diverse teams – make better investors, why you’d want women on boards, on a management team, on an investment committee, or running a hedge fund. The case has also been made that getting access to capital for women and girls lifts up their families, their communities, and indeed their nations, in a way that investment in men cannot. I’m not going to use my space here to debate these facts.

Investing with a gender lens
A gender lens in impact investing means considering how you can use your investment capital to have a positive impact on women and girls, and correspondingly to help solve the challenges that are the focus of our social investments and philanthropy. Whether we’re speaking about what are often called ‘women’s issues’ such as slavery and trafficking, domestic violence or maternal health (which aren’t ‘women’s issues’ as much as core ‘societal issues’) or about food security, healthcare, education, access to finance, energy, clean water, sanitation, you name it: women are the reality in the picture – though ironically often not in the picture when it comes to considering our investments.

And we must be as committed about getting women into the picture as impact investors, and therefore also as owners, board members and fund managers, as about investing with a gender lens. And this is not just about women. It’s about diversity, and the evidence that diversity, whether it be on teams or inside portfolios, enables investors to outperform their peers.

Some of the pioneers in the ‘women effect’ conversation are Joy Anderson (Criterion Institute),  Jackie Vanderbrug (US Trust, previously at Criterion) and the team at Calvert Foundation (there are too many women who have been inspirational to mention all of them here). Today, we could list dozens of women and men who have influenced this conversation, from the pioneers in impact fund management to those who started out in the early days of microfinance, SRI, community investing, and more.

Continue reading here>

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Impact investing in a democracy: A response to the Alliance special feature ‘Markets for Good: removing the barriers’ (£)

Joe Ludlow

Joe Ludlow

When I first started out in social impact investing, it was hard to find anyone writing or talking about it (apart from my boss at Venturesome, John Kingston). But the tables have turned, and in the recent Alliance special feature, ‘Markets for good: removing the barriers’, we had not just one article but several from around the globe! It’s a joy to think that the field is now at a point that such an esteemed and diverse group of contributors can come together and debate the issues raised by Monitor Inclusive Markets’ report Beyond the Pioneer: Getting inclusive industries to scale. For me one big issue the report raises is the role of government vis-à-vis impact investing in addressing social problems.

Beyond the Pioneer is framed as an exploration of the barriers faced by social/impact enterprise (‘social ventures’ as we label them at Nesta) when attempting to scale up their operations. Many of the responses to the paper looked through the lens of social/impact investing and its role in overcoming those barriers.

In my opinion, the barriers to scale faced by social ventures as identified in the paper (at the level of the firm, value chain, public goods and government) are a helpful framework to consider what is needed to tackle any complex problem, ie it is a means of exploring a whole system of innovation around a need (as Vineet Rai points out in his contribution). It shouldn’t surprise us that solving persistent social problems effectively, at meaningful scale and with longevity, requires interventions beyond the level of a single firm. I agreed with Guillaume Taylor that the lessons from Monitor Inclusive Markets’ developing world experience have plenty of resonance with our experience making impact investments within the UK’s developed economy and government structures.

So I want to respond to the special feature on five particular points that speak to my experience investing in UK social ventures operating at the boundaries of private, social and public sectors in education, social care and local communities.

Continue reading here (£)>

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Alliance Breakfast Club- Markets for good: removing the barriers

Alliance magazine

Alliance magazine

Why are so few market-based solutions to poverty getting to scale? What can be done so that they can deliver meaningful benefits to the poor?

These are the questions raised by the recently released Monitor Inclusive Markets report Beyond the Pioneer. Its findings are in turn examined by the June 2014 Alliance special feature.

Hosted by the Shell Foundation, the June 2014 Alliance Breakfast Club discussed these and other issues arising from the June 2014 special feature of Alliance magazine.


  • Richard Gomes, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Shell Foundation
  • Audrey Selian, founder and director of Artha Platform and guest editor for the June 2014 issue of Alliance
  • Suzanne Biegel, Catalyst at Large, and senior adviser, ClearlySo
  • Caroline Mason, Chief Executive, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation

The discussion was facilitated by Alliance’s editor, Caroline Hartnell

Watch the video here>

Read the June 2014 guest editors’ article here>

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What can we expect from new Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellman?

Alliance magazine

Alliance magazine

‘During her interviews for the CEO job, Desmond-Hellmann brought up criticisms of the foundation and other thorny topics, to see how philanthropy’s power couple would respond.

‘“I felt like I tested what it would be like to have a conversation about a difficult issue,” Desmond-Hellmann said. And she liked what she heard.’

So reports the Seattle Times in an interview with new Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellman published on 29 June.

It seems like asking questions is something she feels she brings to her new job. As the first physician and research scientist to hold the top job at the world’s richest philanthropy, ‘That outside perspective is already proving valuable,’ she told the Seattle Times. … ‘What I hope I bring to the foundation … is coming at things from a fresh angle. I find myself asking a lot of questions, and I think that’s an asset.’

But she isn’t planning any major course changes. ‘The strategies we have are awesome,’ she said. ‘We’re working on some of the most important problems in the world.’

But so far, much of that work is still in the research phase, limited to pilot projects or facing logistical and political hurdles to implementation. Eradicating polio, for example, has proved much tougher than expected due to conflict and chaos in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Desmond-Hellmann said her top priority is to ensure that the foundation’s investments have a broad impact.

‘If you make a medicine and no one gets it, it’s not really worth celebrating,’” she said.

Click here to read the full interview>

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