CEP’s 2011 Conference: Learning from the Veterans and the New Players

CEP’s conference will include perspectives from outside the world of organized philanthropy, such as those of Esther Duflo and Michael Mauboussin, but we can also learn from those among the ranks of foundation leaders. Today I am announcing two more confirmed speakers for our May 10-11 conference in Boston: Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Christine DeVita, CEO of the Wallace Foundation.

Jeff will address the topic of strategy in philanthropy in an interview conducted by Nadya Shmavonian, president of Public/Private Ventures and a member of the CEP Board. Jeff is still relatively new in his role, having assumed the position of CEO of the Gates Foundation in September of 2008 after a highly successful career at Microsoft. Many in philanthropy have been surprised by his candor about what he thinks the Gates Foundation can do better: listen, for example, to these recordings of conference calls the Foundation had with all their grantees after receiving a Grantee Perception Report (GPR) from CEP.

At our conference, Jeff will focus on strategy. He’ll discuss what’s different about strategy in philanthropy relative to business, including the challenge of remaining focused while addressing problems as complex and multi-faceted as U.S. education and global health.

Chris, who is retiring from Wallace Foundation after nearly 24 years, will discuss the remarkable transformation of the Foundation to one that is highly strategic and data-driven. Wallace is one of the (too) few foundations with a scorecard of measures against which its board gauges progress, and one of too few that routinely makes public data about how it is doing. In a refreshingly candid annual report released today, Assessing a Decade: Report ’09, Chris discusses the Foundation’s successes and failures.

For each of Wallace’s areas of work — Education, Arts Participation, Arts for Young People, and Out-of-School Time Learning — the report provides an overall assessment. Each summary outlines “successes” and then segues to a “but” that candidly reveals shortcomings in the foundation’s work.  It sounds simple, but this kind of openness remains more rare than it should be — both because foundations frequently decline to share those reflections and because foundations too frequently haven’t defined their goals or strategies clearly enough to be able to candidly gauge progress. This is the kind of transparency and accountability we should see more of, as CEP’s Ellie Buteau argues in this recent op ed.

As Wallace Board Chair Kevin W. Kennedy puts it in his opening letter:

We have … spent a great deal of time trying to identify metrics to assess how well we are producing social benefits. These metrics are tough to develop and can be ambiguous. But they are absolutely necessary. The surest way to do better is to measure and analyze results.

At our conference, I will interview Chris, exploring both how she defined the right measures and how she created a culture of data-driven decision-making.

Registration is not yet open for our conference, but it will be on September 29. Check our conference page for regular updates.

Full disclosure: Both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wallace Foundation are users of CEP assessment tools and both also provide some grant support to CEP.

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