Impact investing has been on a lot of people’s minds lately in philanthropy, including ours. We are curious about how different foundations imagine and develop their strategies, and the Heron Foundation is one funder that’s been a real leader in this area. As we’ve previously reported, Heron is working to move its full endowment of some $300 million into investments that align with its mission by the end of 2017.To learn more about what Heron is up to, we got on the phone with Toni Johnson, who is a vice president charged with forging the path for Heron’s long-term public influence and engagement strategy.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) provides grants and educational tools for children to develop financial skills with its Earn Your Future program.
As the economy continues to recover and social movements directed at addressing inequality continue to gain steam, one field of philanthropy that is in ascent is asset building, which helps low income people build up savings to expand their economic opportunity.
For children, one feature of the asset-building strategy is child savings accounts, with the goal of getting more children to start saving and building a nest egg for the future.
Scholars like Benjamin Friedman have demonstrated that economic growth helps drive any number of positive trends: improved human rights, better health, women’s empowerment, higher education attainment, and on and on.
Historically, though, explicit efforts to foster growth haven’t been all that high on the agenda of a philanthropic world that cares about all the things I just mentioned. In particular, funders haven’t tended to do a lot in the way of supporting entrepreneurs, whose new businesses create many of the new jobs that propel growth. Meanwhile, small business has been on the decline in the U.S. for the last decade, a trend that was greatly accelerated by the Great Recession, with new business creation plunging by 30 percent in the wake of the economic crash.
The high percentage of U.S. children living in poverty—one in five, at last count—hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. And while you’d think that would be a national scandal, this issue has just never had the political traction advocates have hoped.
Lately, though, things seem to be changing. Early childhood education is moving up on the national agenda and a new book by Robert Putnam on the deeply unequal lives of American children has received wide attention. Amid a growing debate over inequality, and also race, fresh opportunities are emerging to improve the lives of kids.
Youth unemployment is a national problem that is now squarely on the agenda of funders. Just the other day, we wrote about a new initiative spearhead by Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz to provide jobs and opportunities to 100,000 young people. We’ve also written about a range of other philanthropic efforts to bolster the work readiness of young people.
Two themes stand out in these initiatives: One, most look beyond the concrete skills of young Americans, or what jobs are available to them, to a deeper, more complex problem—the alienation of many young people from the mainstream world of work and the challenges they face in engaging with this world.
Attention to race keeps growing in the United States, and that’s true for a bunch of reasons. But, for sure, philanthropy has played a role in elevating race to the top of the national agenda.
Well before the events in Ferguson last year, a number of top foundations were already investing in new work to address racial inequities and empower leaders of color. Most notably, ten top foundations partnered with the White House in February 2014 to address the challenges facing young men of color. And nearly a year earlier, 26 foundations had come together in Chicago, pledging new work in this same area. As we’ve also reported, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched a big initiative on young men and boys of color, Forward Promise, in 2011. Looking even further back, the Open Society Foundations began its Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008.