What the Farm Bill means for the Greater Washington region

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (a project of WRAG)

Valued at nearly $1 trillion dollars and covering everything from crop insurance to SNAP benefits (food stamps), here are just a few ways that the Farm Bill could impact food security in our region.

First, one of the most contentious issues in the Farm Bill was funding for SNAP benefits. The final bill cut $8.5 billion from the program. These cuts are tied to a heating assistance program (LIHEAP). In our region, LIHEAP is only administered in the District. In 2011, an estimated 25,532 households – or, about one third DC’s SNAP recipients – also received LIHEAP. It is not yet clear if all of these households will be impacted, but any additional reduction is of great concern.

A recent New York Times story spoke to the increased demand that food banks are already seeing in the wake of November’s SNAP reductions. Those reductions affected hundreds of thousands of recipients throughout the District, Maryland, and Virginia. This is a gap that anti-hunger leaders in the region don’t know how they can bridge and will be an on-going concern for our communities.

Here are some other provisions that could impact our region’s food system:

  • Funding was increased for the highly competitive Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Community Food Projects (CFP). In the past, a few of these programs’ grants have been secured by several nonprofits in our region doing innovative work on urban farming, increasing access to fresh, healthy local food for low income community members, and more. Anti-hunger efforts will also be newly eligible for the CFP program.
  • A new program, called the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program will help SNAP recipients purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. Those interested in integrated impacts across the food system will want to keep track of this program as it goes through the rulemaking process at USDA. Application to the program will require match funding, and it is worth pointing out that two of our jurisdictions (Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County) have recently included funding for farmers market incentive programs in their budgets. Philanthropy is also a key supporter of these programs.
  • Mandatory spending for outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and veterans was reduced. There are other provisions in the bill that they may benefit from, this reduction comes at a time when we must be thinking about not just building the next generation of farmers, but about diversity and equal opportunity in our nation’s and region’s workforce.

In sum, although there are potentially some bright spots in the bill for our region, there are some definite “cons” as well.

For The Advisory Board Company’s Graham McLaughlin, the Institute for CSR offers immediate benefits

Late last week, WRAG held the first class for the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility, in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. CSR leaders from our region and far beyond gathered for the first two-day session of the year-long program. Below, The Advisory Board Company’s Graham McLaughlin, a member of the inaugural class, shares thoughts on the first session.

By Graham McLaughlin
Director, Community Impact
The Advisory Board Company

With an incredible slate of speakers, faculty members who could teach both the practicalities of the work as well as big picture concepts, and participants from well-known global and regional companies, the bounce in my step as I walked to Johns Hopkins for day one of the inaugural Institute for CSR wasn’t just from the two cups of coffee I’d needed to fortify myself against the cold.

When I learned during introductions that our classroom had previously been the headquarters of the East German embassy, and therefore, due to their desire for secrecy cell phone signals would be unavailable, my appreciation for this opportunity to now truly take a step back from the day-to-day grew even further.

Below, I’ve listed a few takeaways from our (uninterrupted) focus on “The Business of CSR,” the first of four two-day sessions across the year, but my main takeaway from the session, and why I’m so grateful to have participated, was that while we may not have been able to share cell phone transmissions with the outside world, the openness by my fellow participants to share both their successes and challenges was incredibly valuable.

Rarely do we as CSR leaders get to engage in nuanced, thoughtful discussions on how to build a vision and execution strategy that will yield the greatest social and business impact.  Due to lead faculty member Tim McClimon’s brilliant facilitation, high quality speakers who were told to be provocative in order to push our thinking in different areas, and the expertise of fellow participants, we were able to have these types of discussions from basically 9-5 each day, leading me to have some immediate ideas for improving our “Community Impact” program as well as ways I need to alter my thinking to position us to drive greater impact in the medium-long term as well.  Below are three highlights relevant for any program:

Where There is No Vision, the People Perish

This biblical quote is courtesy of guest speaker Michael Smith, Director of the Office of Social Innovation, as he pushed our group to “be fearless.”  Thinking big and outside of normal paradigms is necessary to drive transformative change in society and your business.  It’s also critical to have a clear vision of what success looks like, what it takes to accomplish, and why your firm is uniquely positioned to execute on this transformative vision.

No Man is an Island…and the Same Principle Holds for CSR

CSR must be integrated into the business, and we as leaders are the ones who must make that happen.  Guest speaker Dane Smith, head of FSG’s North American consulting practice, emphasized shared value as a way to scale social impact and business outcomes.  Jon Spector, President of the Conference Board, outlined how to make the business case for CSR initiatives to your CEO.  In both cases, a critical point was that CSR is not a siloed division in the company, but rather an ethos imbued into the decision-making of the organization.

Multiply your Impact through Partnership

Depending on the size and reach of your company, you may be able to create a program that yields significant impact without deep and varied partnerships.  However, to fulfill your total potential impact, your company must become a force multiplier for good, not just partnering with organizations. As guest speaker Jennifer Kim Field from the UN Foundation put it, your company must “curate” these partnerships so they go from transactional to transformational.  Creating these types of partnerships requires discipline- in selecting partners, in communicating effectively, and in measuring impact- but yields significant reward for the extra work.

In addition to The Advisory Board Company, the Institute’s inaugural class includes representatives from the BP Foundation, Freddie Mac, the Freddie Mac Foundation, the International Monetary Fund, Washington Gas, Bank of America, Pepco, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, Hilton Worldwide, IBM Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Kaiser Permanente, Lincoln Financial Group, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Deloitte, and the Verizon Foundation.

What you should expect from WRAG in 2014

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Yesterday, as I sat at home looking at the beautiful snowfall, I had to think about a problem caused by the weather. This Thursday is the opening session for our new Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility. Many of the registrants are here in region, but others are flying in. Should we postpone? As I thought through this situation, I was reminded of how far we’ve come on this effort and how much exciting work is planned for 2014.

In just two years, the Institute has grown from an idea to a full academic program. It has benefited from the strategic thinking of philanthropic leaders in and outside of our region. And, it gained momentum as each new speaker was named and strength with each new registrant.

If all goes well with the weather tomorrow, the Institute’s inaugural cohort will come into the classroom at Johns Hopkins University and begin working toward their certificates in corporate social responsibility. What is our hope? That the Institute will make them even more effective stewards of their corporations’ investments in their communities. And that ultimately, their philanthropy, be it in volunteer hours or in dollars, will improve their communities.

That’s WRAG’s mission: to increase the effectiveness of philanthropy. That’s what we do, and the Institute is just one example of how we plan to do that in 2014.

This year, we will elevate the issue of our region’s food system. We want you to know what “local” means when you hear that something is “locally grown.” We want to let you know how local food gets from farms to tables, and how philanthropy can better ensure healthy food equity in our region. We are going to encourage grantmakers to come together more under the WRAG umbrella on the issues that you care about because we know that your resources are maximized when you share your knowledge and experiences and when you align your giving.

And, this year, we will launch our new website. It will be home base for philanthropy and for those who care about philanthropy in our region. It will be more vibrant, more interactive, and more current.

I’m excited about this new year and about the body of work that will unfold. Keep reading The Daily WRAG and following us on Twitter at @WRAGtweets and at @WRAGPrez. Meet with your colleagues and work on what you feel passionate about. Learn from thought leaders at our Brightest Minds series and at the annual meeting. And do what you have always done. Make a difference. It’s that simple.

I believe strongly in Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Philanthropy can’t wish its way out of inequality

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Unconscious Bias

“We can’t volunteer our way out of this, we can’t charity our way out of this, we can’t wish our way out of this.”

That was Dr. Gail Christopher’s message for WRAG members at a recent program on unconscious bias. “The work of creating opportunity for all is far from done,” she said. But nothing short of a transformation in how we relate to one another will allow our nation to truly become a place in which there is equal opportunity for all.

According to Dr. Christopher, who heads the America Healing initiative at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this starts with an understanding that centuries of racial injustices created inequities that persist today. While the laws that sanctioned segregation are gone, racism continues to exist, often manifesting itself in subtle and often unconscious ways.

To illustrate this, Dr. Christopher shared the story of a judge who didn’t believe that the sentences he gave the juvenile offenders could be influenced by bias. After taking an implicit association test and seeing the results, he carefully reviewed sentences handed down for similar offenses in his court. He found that, in fact, he had been giving harsher sentences to juvenile offenders of color. Although it may seem ironic that the judge was African-American, the story demonstrates that unconscious bias is pervasive.There is research that corroborates stories like this one.

Unconscious or implicit bias has been shown to impact the quality of medical treatment that people of color receive, treatment in the criminal justice system, and more. Given philanthropy’s concern for fairness and well-being for all, raising awareness and finding solutions to this problem is critical for the entire WRAG community.

Putting knowledge into practice

In addition to hearing from Dr. Christopher, funders had the opportunity to meet a surprise guest – La June Montgomery Tabron, present-elect of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Tabron has been with the foundation for nearly 27 years. Over the course of her career, she has witnessed firsthand the on-going journey that the foundation’s staff and board have undertaken to promote understanding and racial healing.

Over the last quarter-century, the foundation has worked to intentionally match their structure and behavior with their philanthropic goals. A key part of the process has been to build a staff and board that reflect the diversity of the country’s population. The goal, Tabron said, has been a careful reorientation of the foundation’s mission to reflect its support for racial equity.

As funders in our region continue the conversation, a key next step is for foundations to look at their own composition and policies and to make sure that they reflect their commitments to equity.

Three points

For those of you who missed the event, WRAG President Tamara Copeland sat down with Dr. Christopher after and asked her to summarize her most important points in two minutes. Check out the video here.

Lindsay Smith is the consultant to the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (WRCP), a group of grantmakers and WRAG members committed to advancing an understanding of the importance of including equity in the conversation about building our region’s food system. With WRAG’s help, the WRCP developed and co-hosted this session on unconscious bias.

Preparing Greater Washington for the fracking boom

By Megan Gallagher & Cecily Kihn

Shale gas is hailed as a bridge fuel, a path to national energy independence and an economic boon to localities, but the industry’s exemptions from the federal Clean Water Act, the rapid pace and scale of well development, and rising public costs to cope with negative impacts has overwhelmed many communities. New breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, allow drillers to use high pressure to force millions of gallons of water, some sand and chemicals a mile or more underground to break up shale rock and release gas or oil.

The East Coast fracking boom is currently underway in the Marcellus shale deposit in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio with oil and gas leasing in western Maryland and Virginia. In Virginia’s Tidewater, more than 84,000 acres is under lease in the Taylorsville Basin east of Fredericksburg, including 10,443 acres in King George County.

We suspect that this is a topic that many of our grantmaker colleagues in the Greater Washington region haven’t thought a lot about. There is no shale gas drilling underway – yet – in the communities served by WRAG. But many of the areas listed above will need to use our region as a transportation corridor to move the gas.

Fracking becomes a relevant local issue when you consider the great impact that this expected heavy increase in traffic will have on our already overused road systems.

So, to our colleagues who only fund in the region, we encourage you to consider supporting:

Academic and other research into health, environmental, economic, and other impacts of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, to guide planning and rulemaking to mitigate or avoid negative outcomes. We want to be prepared for any impact that may come to the WRAG region.

Enhanced federal, state, and local oversight to reduce or minimize impacts – restoring industry regulation under the Clean Water Act, state studies of the industry before fracking takes place, BMPs and other requirements for current wells, local zoning control over pace, scale and siting of well development.

Improved federal, state, and local planning and policies that acknowledge some places should not be subject to such an intensive industrial land use – such as the NYC watershed, George Washington National Forest in Virginia, and other critical drinking watersheds or natural lands.

We know that this is not top of mind for funders now, but forewarned is forearmed. If you are interested in learning more about this, join us on the Health and Environmental Funders Network Fracking Affinity Group*.

Megan Gallagher is a trustee of the Hillsdale Fund and Cecily Kihn is executive director of the Aqua Fund, a WRAG member.

* The Health and Environmental Funders Network is a national affinity group not affiliated with WRAG. 

Food Hubs 101 teach stakeholders about food hubs

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership

When Haile Johnston and his wife, Tatiana Garcia-Granados, moved to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in Philadelphia ten years ago, they first began using food to work with socially disadvantaged youth in their neighborhood as a metaphor for healthy-decision making. Realizing that learning how to find, grow, and prepare affordable healthy food can be a long term project, they started another venture with the hope of making additional impact on their community’s near term well-being. They founded Common Market, a nonprofit food hub connecting communities across the Mid Atlantic region to sustainable, locally grown farm food.

The USDA defines a regional food hub as a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” Today, with a diverse staff of 18 employees, Common Market does just this, working with 82 farmers adhering to a specific-set of environmentally-responsible production standards and 200 customers. They are further proof of the power of social enterprise to make a positive impact on urban and rural communities.

At the Food Hubs 101 event earlier this week, Haile shared this story on a panel that featured accomplished peers from institutions like DC Central Kitchen , the Local Food Hub (Charlottesville, VA), and the Rural Coalition.  The event brought together about 70 funders, government representatives, existing and emerging food hubs, policy experts, and advocates from the Greater Washington region.

Haile’s was just one of many experiences shared on developing food hubs of all kinds in or near the Greater Washington region. A featured presentation from the USDA and the Wallace Center at Winrock International confirmed that there has been an explosive amount of growth in these organizations and that more are under development to satisfy growing demand for local food. They argued that food hubs are critical to improving equity within the food system for participating small and mid-sized farmers who have faced increasing challenges to accessing wholesale markets in recent decades. They also shared data from a national bench-marking survey which confirmed that food hubs are helping to increase sales from these farms.

Haile’s parting words were that funders can play all kinds of roles in social enterprises such as nonprofit or cooperative food hubs through grantmaking, program related investments (PRIs), loan guarantees, and bringing in additional partners such as CDFIs. A first key first step in most cases, however, is getting the social enterprise to where it’s ready for investment. In other words, funders can play a critical role early in the organization’s development by investing in capacity-building.

The convening was hosted by the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (WRCP), a group of grantmakers committed to building a more equitable food system in the region based out of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG). Early next year, the group looks forward to hosting a WRAG wide event on how investment in the regional food system makes sense for funders interested in making meaningful impacts on health, workforce and community development, the environment, and more. For more information about the WRCP, please contact Lindsay Smith.

Why history matters

By Rebekah Seder, Program Manager

History probably isn’t a topic that immediately comes to mind when thinking about philanthropy. But, funders, activists, and others working toward social justice often frame their efforts in terms of addressing the “root causes” that have led to the conditions we seek to remedy today. This summer’s events in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington offered an opportunity to reflect on the long history of the fight for racial equity, from slavery and the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation, to the civil rights movement and the debates around equity that continue today.

At WRAG’s final Brightest Minds program of the year, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), discussed this history and its relevance to today’s society. To Dr. Bunch, whose day job is all about helping people understand and feel connected to the past, “history is as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday.”

According to Dr. Bunch, the March on Washington offers two key lessons that continue to inform social change efforts. First, it is a reminder that change does happen, but that it is fragile, it ebbs and flows and is not inevitable. The original March on Washington was a landmark event. But, as Dr. Bunch noted, while Dr. King’s speech was a resounding high point in the civil rights movement, just a few weeks later four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Reconstruction after the Civil War led to Jim Crow laws. And, the Voting Rights Act and other achievements of the 1960s are still grounds of contention today. The March on Washington was just one, very powerful, episode in a struggle that has gone on for centuries.

Secondly, the March on Washington – both the 1963 and the 2013 versions – underscores the importance of collaboration. The original March on Washington and the civil rights movement more broadly brought together civil rights activists with labor, Catholic, Jewish, and other groups. The success of the movement led to expectations of fairness and equality across racial lines, which can be seen in advancements in support of rights for gays, farm workers, Latinos, people with disabilities, and native peoples, to name a few. Anyone who participated in the events in August could see this reflected in the many groups marching in support of economic and social justice for all.

The idea of the enduring relevance of history is especially powerful right here in D.C., a city that holds such a prominent place in African American history and culture. At the same time, the social and economic disparities in this city are a stark reminder of, in Dr. Bunch’s words, “the unfinished business of the March on Washington.” For Dr. Bunch, helping the public understand the rich history of the black experience in America and how it informs today’s society is an important function not just of the NMAAHC, but of philanthropy as well. An understanding of historical forces is necessary to develop effective strategies to bring about positive social change today. Indeed, false notions of history all too often inform decision making at even the highest levels of government. Grantmakers can play a role in engaging the public and ensuring that everyone, especially young people, learn about, and feel a connection to, the past.

Local funders convene food policy councils for the first time

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership

When food policy expert Mark Winne was a member of the Hartford Food Policy Council, a clinic serving Woman, Infant, and Children (WIC) program participants closed. The clinic was a key resource for low-income women and children and provided critical support services, including food assistance referrals. The food policy council investigated and learned that the city’s entire WIC program had become quite dysfunctional. The council helped form a broader task force which found that the clinic’s closure had immediately resulted in thousands of the city’s most vulnerable going without needed services. They worked with the city to not only reopen the clinic, but to improve a broad range of services in Hartford’s WIC program.

This was just one success story that Mark shared as the featured presenter at a first ever Greater Washington Region Food Policy Council convening held on late last month at Pepco Edison Gallery Place. Food policy councils are organizations comprised of a range of community, public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders – ideally representing all sectors of the food system – who have come together to find solutions to food system problems.

The Greater Washington Region Food Policy Council gathering brought together fifty funders and food policy council/coalition members from seven different emerging or existing councils. It provided a forum for all to learn from Mark’s expertise and a space for advocates to connect to compare achievements and goals for policy change in their own communities.

At the event, Christine Bergmark, the director of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), shared a great local example of how food councils comprised of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders can promote more just and sustainable outcomes in the food system. When one of the Southern Maryland Food Council partners, SMADC, began to establish programs with local farmers’ markets so that low income community members could purchase more fresh local food with their federal benefits, a food council member from the Charles County government identified a need for transportation. With the food council’s support, he worked with colleagues to implement a bus route change which allowed more community members to get to the market in Waldorf.

By all accounts the event was a resounding success with participants conveying excitement about future opportunities for regional learning and collaboration.

The convening was hosted by the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (WRCP), a group of grantmakers committed to building a more equitable food system in the region. On October 22nd, they will be hosting “Food Hubs 101” for funders interested in learning from experts and practitioners about how these new enterprises are improving opportunity in the regional food system from land to fork.

For more information, please contact me at smith@washingtongrantmakers.org.

Supporting veterans as they transition to the office

By Rebekah Seder, Program Manager

These days, there is a growing call for public and private sector employers to commit to hiring veterans. Many companies promote their recruitment of veterans as a PR move. But despite this trend, there is a high level of job turnover, dissatisfaction, and unemployment among veterans. According to Emily King, an HR expert in military transitions at the Buller Group, these trends underscore the need for recruitment to be matched with effective retention strategies, especially given the inevitable challenges that veterans face when transitioning into new civilian jobs for the first time.
At a recent brown bag discussion with funders, King explored some of the specific challenges that veterans face in the workplace:

New workplace culture: You don’t need first hand experience to know that the military is radically different from any other work environment. But sometimes the more subtle norms and customs that contribute to workplace culture are taken for granted. Small things, like calling your boss by her first name or knowing when to bring your own lunch to a meeting, can seem obvious, but not knowing unspoken rules can make the workplace profoundly uncomfortable.

Negative stereotypes: Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often face stereotypes and assumptions about mental illness, which can make it challenging for them to find jobs. In addition, many people have the impression that while serving in the military, soldiers simply follow the orders of their commanding officers and therefore won’t be critically thinking, self-directed employees – a belief, King pointed out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Life skills: Many veterans, particularly young enlisted soldiers, come out of the service lacking financial literacy skills. Moreover, many are unfamiliar with the intricacies of employee benefits and therefore don’t always know the right questions to ask HR when they take new jobs.

So how can philanthropy support returning veterans? There are a number of nonprofit organizations that support veterans and military families in our region. Identifying effective organizations, sharing information among colleague funders, and connecting organizations with resources is one way. Funders can also help nonprofits position themselves to be employers of veterans. In fact, many veterans say they are happiest working at mission-driven organizations where they can play a variety of roles using different skills – much like they did while serving in the military.

Finally, funders can use their voice to raise awareness among companies – including among their corporate philanthropy colleagues – of the need for effective corporate policies and practices that support veterans in the work place over the long term.

Lessons unheeded, or how not to repeat a history of violence (Part 3)

This week, The Daily WRAG will feature a three-part series, titled Lessons unheeded, or how not to repeat a history of violence, from guest contributor Linda Bowen of The Institute for Community Peace. In this series Bowen examines lessons learned from past philanthropic investments in violence prevention and offers short vignettes about how funders can frame their thinking around addressing community violence.

By Linda Bowen, Executive Director
The Institute for Community Peace
(Formerly the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention)

Plan long-term. Public outrage over horrific violent incidents prompts quick reaction to create safety. But it is critical that our response to violence is maintained beyond the crisis that triggered it. Grantmakers need to conceptualize violence prevention as integrated into their long-term place-based work and indistinguishable from the development of healthy social networks. Creating safety is only the first step toward sustainable violence prevention.

Sustain funding. Violence prevention, like many social issues – poverty, education, and health—requires a generation of concerted effort to be effective and sustainable. When violence rates decreased in our country in the late 1990s and early 2000s (and the broader community no longer felt threatened), local, regional, state, and national funding for prevention decreased dramatically. Predictably, national as well as local efforts lost resources, power and momentum, and violence rates increased. Grantmakers who wish to engage on this issue need to overcome their aversion to multiple-year funding and collaboration in order to sustain a comprehensive focus on violence prevention efforts.

Focus on structural change. Our national and local problems with violence are a reflection of the relationship that Americans have with violence. Grantmakers should fund efforts that promote cultural transformation of the broader community and its norms if we are to realize anything like the structural solutions needed to address this problem. Mustering political will for policy change alone is not enough to prevent violence. Changing our relationship with violence will mean promoting values that challenge an ethos of violence.

Expect Resistance. Attempts at structural change always attract strong resistance. Grantmakers need to prepare their grantees, and their own Boards, to meet such resistance with strength, resolve, and concerted efforts to nurture public will. To paraphrase Congresswoman Gifford’s recent testimony to Congress: if we want to solve our national violence problem, we will have to work diligently and steel ourselves for a long, hard push.

Related: Lessons unheeded, or how not to repeat a history of violence (Part 1)

Related: Lessons unheeded, or how not to repeat a history of violence (Part 2)

Copyright 2013 Institute for Community Peace


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 47 other followers