Archive for August, 2010

What do donors want?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Tim Ogden has an interesting reflection, reacting to some new survey data, on the SSIR blog (8/24) about what individual donors want. Apparently, it’s not impact.

Why is this a surprise? Individual donors have been acting all along as if they don’t care about impact, based on their “vote choice” (how they allocate their philanthropic dollar). Again, I find myself wondering what the analogy is to Congressional voters. What is the nature of affinity between candidates and voters, between nonprofits and their individual donors? Is it those that bring home the pork/show impact, or is it something else? What about the high degrees of loyalty in the data Tim cites? There are Congresspeople who get re-elected every two years like clockwork; what’s their secret?

Tim concludes by suggesting that we (who?) need to change what donors want. Ah, here there is much to be learned from political campaigning! Things both uplifting and nefarious, I assume. To be continued…

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The I in CIVETS (part 3)

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

indonesia_map_2007-worldfactbook.jpg

Continuing a series on Indonesia, the I in CIVETS, a group of countries tagged by a financial analyst as emerging economic powers. I’m wondering what kind of philanthropy there is in such countries, as a way of getting at the first of my two questions, “what is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?”

Basic facts for context (continued): population, size of the economy, principal industries, political system, ethnic and religious makeup. Where would the country fall on the liberal market economy-coordinated market economy spectrum?

Back again with the CIA World Factbook, an incredibly handy online reference source.

There were 30 million Internet users in Indonesia in 2008, the 11th most in the world. While that’s only about 12% of the population, it’s still a significant number. The literacy rate was 90% in 2004, though that’s unequal by gender (94% male, 87% female).

Eighty-six percent of the population is Muslim. The primary ethnic groups are Javanese (40%) and Sundanese (15%), with a variety of other groups under 4%.

What about varieties of capitalism – where would the country fall on the LME-CME spectrum? This is the glaring blind spot in Hall and Soskice’s work on varieties of capitalism: it’s about the developed economies. According to a recent survey article, “Asia’s economies are at various stages of emergence and transition and do not easily fit into the LME-CME dichotomy.”

This was the feeling I got when I first studied varieties of capitalism in grad school; that it didn’t quite capture the reality of Latin America, the region I was studying. The legacy of colonialism was high levels of inequality, particularly around the distribution of land, and the process of developing in a world where there are already developed countries is fundamentally different. (The latter is one of the ideas that’s most stuck with me from grad school: timing really matters for development.)

Here’s an interesting quote from the same article about how well varieties of capitalism apply in Asia: “Peng et al. (2008) suggest that the key research question for an institutional theory of firm strategy in emerging and transitional scenarios is “how (do firms) play the game when the rules of the game are changing and not completely known” (2008: 5). This sounds very much like Latin America. Is the difference about how firms (or, extending the analogy I explored in prior posts, nonprofits) navigate a weakly institutionalized context, when the rules of the game are in flux? I’ll want to explore what this looks like in Indonesia, and the other CIVETS.

The I in CIVETS (part 2)

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Continuing a series on Indonesia, the I in CIVETS, a group of countries tagged by a financial analyst as emerging economic powers. I’m wondering what kind of philanthropy there is in such countries, as a way of getting at the first of my two questions, “what is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?”

Basic facts for context (continued): population, size of the economy, principal industries, political system, ethnic and religious makeup. Where would the country fall on the liberal market economy-coordinated market economy spectrum?

Back again with the CIA World Factbook, an incredibly handy online reference source.

Indonesia’s economy is big (16th in the world in GDP at $969 billion), but not very well distributed (155th in the world in GDP per capita at $4,000, 66th in the world in Gini index of distribution of family income at 39.4).

The economy is 47.6% industry, 37.1% services, and 15.3% agriculture, though 42.1% of the labor force is in agriculture – which means a lot of people work in a part of the economy that proportionally doesn’t generate much GDP. This may have an effect on how well their interests are represented in the political system.

The unemployment rate in 2009 was 7.7%, 78th in the world at that time (the US was 110th).

The main industries include oil and natural gas, textiles and apparel, mining, rubber, and tourism. Indonesia has one of the three richest rainforest areas in the world, along with the Amazon and Central Africa. As a result, there’s a lot of struggle around sustainable forestry. Palm oil is one of the main products that can be generated from the Indonesian rainforest, and the government, environmental groups, and farmers are involved in complicated interactions around how to harvest it sustainably, balancing livelihood and conservation. (Check out The Burning Season for an illuminating look.)

Indonesia’s biggest trade partners for exports are Japan (17%), Singapore (11%), and the US (11%). Its biggest partners for imports are Singapore (25%), China (13%), and Japan (9%). Very imbedded in the East Asian economy, surprisingly not so dependent on China, and not all that engaged with the U.S. or other parts of the West. That suggests it’s probably focused on regional issues. It’ll be interesting to see when I get to the V in CIVETS, Vietnam, how those two interact, if at all.

Is the answer “taxes”?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Interesting article in the NYT about giving patterns at different income levels. As has been known for a while, the poor give more as a proportion of their income. Lots to dig into in future posts:

  • What really motivates people to give? Maybe the rich don’t give as much because the tax deductibility isn’t as much of an incentive as we think. What would be a better motivation given the “compassion gap” the article talks about?
  • The article is framed in terms of the upcoming debate over extending Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, setting up a dichotomy between charitable giving and taxes. Is the answer to the question framed in the title of this blog, “democratizing philanthropy?,” just…taxes? Do more taxes = more democratized philanthropy, because the decision-making is put in the hands of democratically elected leaders? Is that the right premise? How much of that decision-making is actually in the hands of democratically elected leaders vs. the hands of appointees in what the Brits call “the civil service” who have less (if any) accountability to the public?
  • “Americans pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition,” the article observes, “and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor.” This speaks to varieties of capitalism, a topic I’ve considered at length on this blog. Motivations for giving in each type of system might be an interesting new angle on that topic.

The I in CIVETS (part 1)

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Starting up a series on Indonesia, the I in CIVETS, a group of countries tagged by a financial analyst as emerging economic powers. I’m wondering what kind of philanthropy there is in such countries, as a way of getting at the first of my two questions, “what is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?”

Basic facts for context: population, size of the economy, principal industries, political system, ethnic and religious makeup. Where would the country fall on the liberal market economy-coordinated market economy spectrum?

Let’s consult the CIA Factbook, a very handy online reference source.

Indonesia is the fourth most-populous country in the world with 243 million people (compared to 310 million in the U.S.) and has the largest Muslim population of any country. It’s a huge archipelago of islands that stretch across an area in the South Pacific comparable in size to the United States.

This past Tuesday was the 65th anniversary of Indonesia declaring independence from the Netherlands, of which it was a colony since the 17th century. For decades it was ruled by a dictatorship, transitioning to democracy in 1999.

Its legal system is “based on Roman-Dutch law, substantially modified by indigenous concepts and by new criminal procedures and election codes.” What does that mean?? Wonder how it impacts the possibility of a tax deduction for giving.

There’s a president who’s elected to a five-year term by direct vote (no Electoral College to worry about…); the current officeholder, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was elected to a second term in 2009 with 60% of the vote.

There are three houses of the legislature: one that’s responsible for national legislation, another that includes representation for each of the regions and is meant to consult with the other house on matters affecting the regions (what would THAT be like in the US?), and a third made up of members of the other two that deals with constitutional issues.

To be continued…

Agriculture as a metaphor for social change (part 2)

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

In a previous post, I wondered if agriculture might be a better metaphor for social change than engineering.

Amy Sample Ward has a nice piece in SSIR about gardening vs. landscaping as metaphors for building communities online. That’s an interesting alternative. The way she describes landscaping sounds akin to what I’m getting at with engineering, the idea that there’s a pre-determined schema that’s being implemented. And of course the term “social engineering” is one that’s used to express skepticism about trying to intentionally shape social outcomes (like, through government).

So, gardening, landscaping, and agriculture. Agriculture is gardening writ large, tied to a purpose beyond an individual family or community. It’s also a livelihood: people are professional landscapers or farmers, but gardening is usually a hobby. (Right?) Agriculture requires inputs and technology, and it’s connected to a supply chain. Hmm, starting to sound more like engineering. But there’s something inherently unpredictable that, while it’s present in engineering because complex systems have their own dynamics that we can’t always understand, sets agriculture apart. Also, the cyclical nature of the growing cycle and the idea of crop rotation and soil management I think are powerful metaphors for what it takes to cultivate (hey, guess where that word comes from) social change.

It’s funny, because agriculture isn’t really about change, it’s about constancy and regular renewal. Cyclical, not linear. Is agriculture an inherently conservative metaphor – not progressive because it goes around in a cycle rather than moving forward? Is agriculture a better metaphor for social continuity than social change?

And of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But I suspect not.

CIVETS (part 2)

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Previously, as a way of exploring the first of my two questions, “What is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?”, I wondered what philanthropy looks like in the CIVETS, the developing economies recently labeled by a financial analyst at HSBC as ones to watch in the years ahead: Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa.

My family’s from Colombia originally, so I’ll do the C last. That means starting with I, for Indonesia. As I embark on this series, here are some of the questions that will guide me:

  • Basic facts for context: population, size of the economy, principal industries, political system, ethnic and religious makeup. Where would the country fall on the liberal market economy-coordinated market economy spectrum?
  • Democratic status: Freedom House score, Transparency International score, number of political parties, current party in power. Has there been a transition to democracy in the recent past? What kind of regime was there before?
  • State of philanthropy: What is the presence of local NGOs? What is the presence of international NGOs? Are there provisions in the tax law for charitable deductions, or efforts to develop those? Is the level of individual giving? Is there corporate giving? Are there private foundations? Which are the leading funders? Is there research, domestic or international, on the state of philanthropy? What is the role of religion in individual or institutional giving?
  • Philanthropy and politics: How closely are philanthropy and giving regulated? Are there connections between philanthropy and electoral campaigns? Do the political parties have philanthropic arms? Are NGOs an independent political voice? Are foundations an independent political voice? If the country has experienced a democratic transition in the recent past, what was the role of NGOs and/or foundations in that process? Are NGOs or foundations seen as contributing to democratic consolidation?

Fundraising and campaigning (part 4)

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

In a previous post, I asked, “how are [nonprofit] fundraising and [political] campaigning related?”

A popular image is that members of the House, who have to run for re-election every two years, which is to say constantly, are judged by their constituencies for how much pork they bring back to their districts. This brings up an interesting parallel with nonprofits – if we think of donors as voters, how do they hold nonprofits accountable, or not?

The easy answer is that the information markets in the nonprofit world don’t function very well, because on some level, donors don’t hold nonprofits accountable – at least not in the sense of “throwing the bums out” when they don’t perform.

But it’s interesting that criteria for political anger and criteria for donor motivations to give can both be nebulous, in their own ways. What do voters want from politicians? That they bring home the pork? That they say the right things? That they have similar ideologies as voters? That you’d want to have a beer with them? The machinery of governing is so opaque, and how it’s actually connected with an individual politician’s performance (I’m thinking of legislators rather than the President here) is so unclear, that the mechanism of accountability, though stark (you win an election or you lose it), is also strangely arbitrary. Sounds a bit like concerns about most nonprofits not being able to show their impact to donors.

And yet people vote, and give to charity (I use that word intentionally). So clearly something else is going on besides holding politicians and nonprofits accountable on the basis of causal relations between individual efforts and impact.

Is it a proximity or halo effect (we work on this issue, so we must have something to do with it, even if no one can say exactly what or now)?

What about the role of parties in politics? Does the halo effect in politics come from that? Parties create a group identity or team affiliation that politicians can use as a proxy for their own impact. Nonprofits don’t have that, do they? What would it look like if they did?

CIVETS

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
Civet cat

What are CIVETS?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the BRICs, the “developing world” economies that are pretty well developed, and flexing their muscle on the world economic and political stage: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

Well, get ready for an even sillier acronym, courtesy of our friends among the financial analysts: CIVETS, the next BRICs. (That’s a civet cat to the left there.) Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the BRICs were coined by a Goldman Sachs analyst, but now it appears there’s a new cluster who are following in their footsteps. This time it’s HSBC that’s out in front on the creative acronym: Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa. Given that my family’s from Colombia and I just visited South Africa, I’m tickled. But how real is this grouping, and what kind of influence are the CIVETS going to have in the near future?

More to the point, what kind of philanthropy might we expect from the CIVETS? The BRICs have some pretty interesting giving trends going on: GIFE, the Brazilian analog to the Council on Foundations, has been going strong for years, and a Chinese billionaire made his own version of the Giving Pledge a few months back. What about the CIVETS? Colombia has had a robust corporate philanthropy sector for at least a decade; I recall attending a civil society conference while studying there in 1996 that had a good deal of domestic funding. What about IVETS? Might be a good place to start exploring the international side of one of my two questions: what is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?

Image from http://civet.berkeley.edu/~dstrubbe/civets.html

The data-driven, multi-method, context-sensitive life

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

In the wake of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, this op-ed from Van Jones struck a chord: how easy it is today to tear someone down based on a single utterance, divorced of context. This piece from Marcia Stepanek about danah boyd’s (yup, that’s how she spells it) reflections on privacy drove the point home:

“The material that is being put up online is searchable by anyone, and it is being constantly accessed—out of context and without any level of nuance,” Boyd told attendees of last week’s Supernova Conference at The Wharton School in Philadelphia. “That kind of spotlight on people can be deeply devastating, and a type of exposure that may not be beneficial to society.” Put simply, Boyd said, “we can’t divorce information from interpretation … or we risk grave inaccuracy.”

Where are the search algorithms that take a result and put it in context? Is this the next frontier Google should be exploring (rather than “being evil“)? Or is that function one that used to be called journalism?

Methodology for evaluation is like this; it needs to be put into context: what are the assumptions being made, what happens to the results if those assumptions are relaxed? The data-driven life is about more than just numbers; the data-driven, multi-method life has to be about context.