Winners take all: A master class in contemporary philanthropy?

I’ve just finished reading** (aka listening) to a provocative new book —  Winners Take All: the Elite Charade of Changing the World by New York Times journalist Anand Giridharadas. For those of you who want a master class in how to interface with international donors in education, I think this may be the book for you. 

First impression: this is a compelling, if cynical, book about philanthropy.  It’s not about individual donors but about the entire complex of ideas, actors and behaviours that form the mental models underpinning contemporary US based philanthropy. The book literally gallops along, fueled by insider accounts of the Clinton Global Initiative, the Aspen Institute, the work of major foundations and consulting firms. It’s studded with a cast of star appearances from leading philanthropists and young professionals. Political scientist Dan Drezner,  economist Dani Rodrik, and even Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, are featured, adding to the fun.

Argument:  Building a layered account through short case studies, participant observation and interviews with major philanthropists, politicians and foundation staff, Giridharadas argues that that the culture of philanthropy in the US has changed and is increasingly narrow. 

He builds a convincing portrait of what does and does not count as good philanthropy and shows how these ideas have come to permeate the field: 

  • Donors increasingly frame what they want to do with their philanthropic funding as “win-win” – for the investors and the recipients/targets of the funding. A double bottom line is essential.
  • The only acceptable language is the language of market and entrepreneurship. And it’s all about innovation – disruptive innovation – – all the way down.
  • Out of bounds are topics like the potential role of billionaire donors and their corporations in the creation of social inequality; the need for progessive taxation; and the role of state policies in ensuring equity and democracy.
  • The “heroes” are always innovators from the business sector.  Problems of the poor are personalized and individualized – leading to the concentration of efforts on improving the resilience and adaptability of the poor to the social and technological changes affecting them. Collective action or state regulation is rarely on the menu.
  • Major consulting firms have codified how to make “win-win” proposals and programs using a set of analytic tools that is reproducible across almost any field of philanthropic endeavor (but often neglecting collective action, context and the political economy of forces that drive inequality).
  • A whole generation of young people are being trained to execute this philanthropic approach – including through their recruitment into major consulting firms. As Giridharadas hilariously documents, there are workshops, seminars and even cruises that provide “how to guidance” to young professionals encouraging them to be part of the “win win”.
  • The new culture of philanthropy is changing the role of public intellectuals and academics:   “thought leaders” who purveys win-win arguments are the new normal (building on Dan Drezner’s recent book). 

Winners Take All is at times hyperbolic and reads a bit like Jonathan Swift satire. This may come from the fact that, for Giridharadas this topic is very personal. He worked for a major consulting firm and spent time as an Aspen institute fellow. Not only was he  deeply immersed in the culture of the new philanthropy; his ideas were sharply critiqued when he presented them at the Aspen Institute. 

The upshot:  Read this book if you need a master class in the language of current donor discourse. Giridharadas describes a mindset that increasingly permeates work in educational development organizations. I don’t necessarily agree with his portrait of the motivations behind this culture nor would I dismiss the benefits of entrepreneurship and innovation as completely as he does. But I have learned some of the lessons he offers in this book the hard way. For example:  Arguments that work best with international donors are those that are framed as “win-win” innovations. Never start with any strategy with a zero sum argument.. And try using a major consulting firm to advance an idea or proposal, it almost always improves the uptake of an idea.   

However, if you are really interested in contemporary philanthropy, try something more grounded in research. Stanford University Prof and colleague Rob Reich’s new book “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it can do better” is on my holiday reading list. I’m curious to read his take on how to reform charitable giving. 

I’m also looking forward to a NORRAG sponsored workshop on the new philanthropy being held in Stanford California in April 2019, where Rob Reich will be our host, with collaboration from the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, and the Open Society Foundation. 

What to watch/read/listen to this week:

An update on the future of reading:  one of the questions I raised in a recent blog is: “is listening as good as traditional reading for knowledge acquisition”  Today a New York Times article by Daniel T. Willingham takes up my question. The answer is “it depends.”

Read Rob Reich’s new book –  or see this short piece by Rob in the Stanford Innovation Review.Rob Reich. 2019 (winter).  Philanthropy in the Service of Democracy. Stanford Innovation Review.

Rob Reich. 2018.  Just Giving:  Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it can do better. Princeton University Press

Take a look at Dan Drezner’s book on decline of the public intellectual and the rise of “thought leadership.”  Or listen to this podcast interview.

Dan Drezner. The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.. Oxford University Press.

Listen to Anand Giridharadas on the NYT Book review or NPR. Or just go all out and read** (listen) to the book. 

Learning and Human Futures: My Fall of “Reading”**

As many of you know, I’ve moved from a managerial role back to academia. Perhaps the most perplexing thing about changing tacks is that old habits have to be changed, and new ones developed.   It’s really, really, hard.  So, much of my “reading”** this fall has been focused on understanding the science of making change at the level of the individual (i.e. myself), which I like to think is my zone of proximal development.

But what if the changes to be made are part of a much wider societal shift?  Early in September, I realized that I had lost my ability to read longer texts (those things called “books”) with concentration. There I was, on sabbatical, time to spare –every day struggling to read about the science of human learning for any longer than 15 minutes without distraction.  

Slowly I realized this was not a Karen Mundy problem but something bigger — a problem that parents, schools, communities and workplaces are all facing at scale. Everyone is talking about it (see this from the NYT and this from the CEO of Apple). Happily I stumbled on one of NPR’s most listened-to podcasts, hosted by Manoush Zomorodi and captured in her popular book entitled Bored and Brilliant.” Manoush interviews leading thinkers on the challenges that new technologies and changing work patterns are imposing on the human brain – then she provides a series of “exercises” (she calls them challenges) to help us get things under control.   Nothing too difficult – track and limit your screen time, use the pomodoro method to rebuild concentration, drop all the notification functions on your social media, read more, and restructure your daily habits to maximize productivity (through line to Daniel Pink’s new book “When” /which I also “read”**/ and all the others trying to sell me on meditation and napping)! Ha!  

But re-learning how to read deeply is not a simple process, as neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf documents in her new book – “Reader Come Home– apparently motivated by the realization that she had lost the skill herself. Her book explores the evolution of the brain’s ability to read – showing how the “reading circuit” is unlike genetically hardwired abilities (vision, language), and draws on and builds the brain’s deep seated plasticity.  The book argues – implores – us to protect the reading brain and its capacity for deep thought, even while building out new brain circuits for learning through other media. With some irony I admit to “reading”** this book on audio, a learning modality whose efficacy is rarely researched.  

Now let’s take this problem up one notch – since I’m on sabbatical anyway. How should/can we steer learning systems of today so that kids and adults around the world are ready for a 2050 future?  Let me call this out as an area where “basic research” is much needed and not yet thriving. A vast literature on the future of work is emerging, which I’ll cover in later blogs, and another on using technology to disrupt learning.  But neither of these threads seem wide enough or interdisciplinary enough to me. Such research is delinked from other changes in world order – climate change, new geopolitics, rise of populism and decline of democracy, migration, bio-engineering, all intersecting with what some call the 4thIndustrial Revolution. Nor does it utilize what we are beginning to know about the science of learning and the brain itself.  Most importantly, how to tackle this level of “change” in a world where the ability to read is already polarized between children who are schooled to fail at reading and those who have moved on to digital alternatives.

The irony is that just when we need to think on a world-historical scale and build a basic science for change that stretches downwards to brain science and outwards towards societal structures, much recent funding for educational research has gone down the path of rapid loop experimentation to test “what works” in terms of discreet interventions – (see recent blog by the Curry School Dean, Bob Piantas on this problem in the US experience).  

To think forward I say we need to start by learning from history (I always say that –  history was my first degree) and then invest in basic research. That brought me to my next deep reading challenge of the fall – Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21stCentury.” In it he lays out possible futures for humanity based on lessons from his previous two histories of human society, Sapiens and Homo Deus.  Again, guilty admission:  I think I’ve picked up what is is basically a “Harari light” compared to his earlier books (this one is clearly meant for distracted readers); and even so, I’ve shamelessly supplemented the book with videos of interviews and talks by Harari (see Harari on education; discussing the book with IMF head Lagarde; and my favourite, with Christiane Amanpour).  Suffice to say that his futures are framed as extra-ordinary challenges to which only human creativity, deep learning, ethics and story telling (read education – which gets a whole chapter) provide solutions.  And he’s pretty funny about the story telling done by economists in the mix!

All of this “reading”** is helping me as I think through what research questions I will pursue now that I’m back to academe – but also what kind of writing I want to do. Epistolary writing (dear reader) is back in vogue, that’s for sure.

For now I plan to use Harari and Wolf in my redesigned course “Global Governance/Educational Change” (blog and syllabus coming soon here). Feel free to recommend more “reading” to me. 

What to “read”**  (listen, watch)

(**shout out to my dear friends the novelists Nino Ricci and Erika de Vasconcelos for pointing out to me last week we that need a new term for audio reading. For now I am going with “READING”**).

  1. Harari, Yuval Noah (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury.  Signal Press/Random House.
  2. Pink, Daniel.  (2018). When:  The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  Riverhead Books. https://www.danpink.com/books/when/or interviewed on NPR: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/17/578666036/daniel-pinks-when-shows-the-importance-of-timing-throughout-life
  3. Wolf, Maryanne. (2018). Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper Collins.  https://www.maryannewolf.com/reader-come-home-1/
  4. Piantis, Bob.  (November 2018) Blog. “Why Education Research Isn’t Improving Education Much.” https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2018/11/why_education_research_isnt_improving_education_much.html
  5. Zomorodi, Manoush. (2017). Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self. New York Public Broadcasting.



It’s all about youth

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, policy makers are paying attention to education and skills for youth. The coming crisis has at least four dimensions:  a large bulge of youth (the Economist); poor quality of learning in the primary cycle (WB); high demand for free universal secondary education; and a future in which non-formal employment and the gig economy remain the norm for most young people (CGD).

Embed this all in an uncertain future, one where the fourth industrial revolution threatens to make traditional pathways for economic growth through manufacturing and services difficult for Africa, and where climate change and conflicts will take their toll, and Africa has a youth challenge on a scale no other country or world region has faced in human history.

In Ghana last week, I had a special chance to look at these challenge up close. Hosted by CAMFED, I met with girls and young women supported to go to school and to engage in a range of leadership and community development activities. I also worked with an advisory panel on a report that the MasterCard Foundation will release in 2019 on youth, skills and secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here’s what I learned.

First, we must and can support the imagination and resilience of the young people themselves to craft their futures, and in doing so change the culture of schooling itself.  More prescient than the experts on the MasterCard advisory panel, the secondary aged girls I spoke with asked me cutting edge questions: will artificial intelligence replace our future jobs? How much will we suffer because our library has no computers?  Do you think free secondary education will help our country or will schools get worse? How does what we’re learning compare to other countries?

Remember these girls are selected for scholarships based on need, not academic merit. CAMFED’s model offers them training in budgeting, time management, leadership skills and community development. Alumnae of its programs become community “guides,” a fundamental part of the CAMFED ethos of giving back.  This community-focused model has been shown to be highly cost effective: for $100 USD, it delivers the equivalent of two additional years of learning to those children it supports with ripple effects to others at participating schools and communities.

At university level, I joined a room of young CAMFED women with an amazing range of propositional ideas about learning and the future of work.  Tagged initially as “poor scholarship girls” they told me they now sit in student leadership positions across the University Cape Coast. And they are using the leadership and self-management skills learned from CAMFED activities to identify problems they can solve – not tomorrow but today.  From retooling early grade learning by setting up literacy boot camps in primary schools to starting Ghana’s first network on mental health for young people, these girls are stepping up as social entrepreneurs – and creating pathways to a new economy .

Sources

The Economist on Africa’s youth bulge https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/09/22/africas-high-birth-rate-is-keeping-the-continent-poor

REAL Centre’s evaluation of CAMFED’s cost-effectiveness http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/real/downloads/REAL%20Policy%20Brief%20Cost-effectiveness%20Camfed%20A4_FINAL.pdf

The World Bank (2018) report –  Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa. https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/facing-forward-schooling-for-learning-in-africa

The Centre for Global Development’s new brief on the informal sector, gig economy and the future of work in Africa https://www.cgdev.org/publication/lets-be-real-informal-sector-and-gig-economy-are-future-and-present-work-africa

 

Education Aid and Creativity

What to read in global education this week.  CGD on IFFED and new podcast on Creativity and why schools kill it off.


Aid architecture: See this critical article on the  education aid architecture’s new international financing facility (IFFED). Note: one author was among the original proposers of IFFED. On the education impact fund authors argue that impact funding should be for governments – not only private providers – I agree.  However, I am skeptical about the drive to use multilateral aid for outcomes. The political economy of multilateralism makes true COD/results based financing unlikely (more in a later blog); and wide use of financial and other material incentives can undermine human motivation (except in a few settings).

I see other routes to same end:  make sure all multi-lateral aid is aligned to country plans  that are owned by governments; and that what is funded from the plans includes stronger accountabilities to national publics. Evaluate education aid properly and make sure that there is a go/no go for second stage funding based on results. Lets fix the fundamental problem in our own back yard: multi-laterals are still driven by spending pipelines –  not by longer term, consistent delivery of results.

Science of learning:  see the new Freakonomics series on creativity. I’m fascinated with the new sciences of the human brain, of human motivation, and what this can tell us not only about individuals but about how to get systems and organizations to change. I’m also crazy curious about how this is being used in popular media. Curious fact:  more 30 year olds are writing popular books, and other media  on human motivation than in any previous decade.   I will tell you more about this and my new mantra for foreign aid in coming blogs…. “autonomy, mastery, purpose.”

 

I’m back

I’m back from four years in my dream job (as Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education). Except I have a second dream job, which called me back to Toronto:   professor, presently on sabbatical, mother of three adolescent boys. I see myself as a wide ranging bricoleur who’s busy trying to find out why humans procrastinate (indeed!); and understand how we can improve our capacity to learn in ever larger and more complex systems – systems that seem to work against us at least some of the time.

Watch this blog sight – I’ll be rolling out a serious blog series come January 2019! In November and December we will just be having fun.  As I like to say for now:

“Gone swimming!”IMG_0420

Associate Dean – Research

FROM Julia O’Sullivan, Dean, OISE

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Karen Mundy as Associate Dean, Research effective September 1, 2012.

Karen Mundy is currently Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at OISE. A University of Toronto alumna, she holds an MA in Adult Education and a PhD in Sociology of Education and Comparative Education from OISE. Prior to joining OISE in 2002, she was an assistant professor, international and comparative education at Stanford University. Founder and Co-Chair of the Canadian Global Campaign for Education, she directs OISE’s Comparative, International and Development Education Centre (CIDEC). Her research interests include the global politics of “education for all” programs and policies; educational policy and reform in Sub-Saharan Africa; the role of civil society organizations in educational change; and global citizenship education in Canadian schools. A prolific scholar, she has published five books and more than four dozen articles and book chapters, including most recently an edited volume entitled “Public Private Partnerships in Education: New Actors and Modes of Governance in a Globalizing World.” Committed to playing an active role in policy dialogue about education and international development, she has contributed to many international policy papers and reports, and has acted as an external reviewer of the World Bank’s education activities in Africa; and an analyst of Canada’s aid effectiveness agenda in education. She has worked with foundations, international organizations and NGOs including the Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society (Soros) Foundation, the International Development Research Centre, CIDA, UNESCO and Unicef. Karen has an impressive record of service at OISE and the University (e.g. Interim Chair, Department of Adult Education and Community Development, CIDEC Director, and Co-Director of collaborative graduate program in Comparative, International and Development Education). An outstanding researcher and a CRC with an international reputation, Karen has an excellent understanding of trends in research funding, the pushes and pulls shaping research policy and research funding, as well as the commitment and tenacity to get out there and open doors for OISE.

I thank all nominators and nominees and the Appointments Committee: Peter Lewis, Associate Vice-President, Research, University of Toronto, and from OISE Susan Anderson, Ruth Childs, Jim Cummins, Esther Geva, Doug McDougall, Tricia Seifert, Suzanne Stewart, Rinaldo Walcott and Jeanne Watson. Most of all, my thanks toKaren for her willingness to take on this important role. I know you will give her every support and join me in congratulating her.

From Julia,

Julia O’Sullivan, PhD

Professor and Dean

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

University of Toronto

School Choice and Inequality: A showdown between the World Bank and the OECD?

I am just back from Chile, for some preliminary research on the World Bank and its policy advocacy for private provision of K-12 schooling. In the Chilean case (where a large proportion of K-12 students attend private schools funded by vouchers), “the World Bank had nothing to do with it” – to quote some of our informants. Still, it is fairly clear from discursive analysis that many recent World Bank reports trumpet private provision as a magic bullet for improving educational outcomes – including its new benchmarking tool for public private partnerships in education, SABER.

Chile – often touted as a model in earlier World Bank policy syntheses – is not much mentioned in more recent World Bank reports, perhaps because of the stunning evidence of increasing stratification of schools that followed on Chile’s introduction of vouchers. Popular  social protests have focused on this stratification:  national policies supporting private schooling were the target in 2011 for a “Chilean winter” of student protests across the country  (a play on “Arab spring”).  Yet the social stratification evidenced in the Chilean experience is not treated as a significant risk in recent policy advice from the Bank. For the Bank, privately provided schools continue to be described as likely to improve the quality of learning outcomes for children, despite the limited evidence that they’ve supported better learning in Chile. How come?

Today an OECD study on school choice comes to exactly the opposite conclusion from the World Bank about the value of publicly funded choice mechanisms in education.  This looks to me like a “showdown” between two the most important global institutions operating in the educational policy space.  We should all question how two global public institutions can derive such very different policy conclusions from “evidence.”  

I’m also interested in what the  OECD study has to tell us about Canadian schools, where school choice continues to expand. I’m sensitive to this issue – in the middle of “choosing” a high school in Toronto with my 13 year old son.  I’m grateful for the alternatives, but as a Globe and Mail story today summarizes:  “only a few studies found a link between school competition and student performance, and the gains were small. Most of the research – including international comparison of test scores – found that it didn’t improve schools or impact individual student achievement. ….[furthermore…] affluent parents were more likely to exercise choice.

My Chilean colleagues have, like the OECD, concluded that achieving good quality education for all is less about  choice, and more about  good teachers.