When “Community Foundations” Go Global (Or Coastal)

Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Part Five

Here for the introduction and parts onetwo, three, and four.

Community foundations were established a century ago to aggregate assets from individuals, families and businesses and advance the activities of nonprofits operating in a particular geographic area, hence the “community” designation. The first example is generally considered to be The Cleveland Foundation, which was started in 1914. Today, some community foundations are revisiting long-held policies around local giving and transitioning to a globalized grant making program. Staff and leadership have dropped any pretense that community foundations exist to promote local wellbeing, instead fully embracing the structure as a tax shelter for the wealthy that gives them considerable influence over how social services are delivered worldwide. Community foundations are extensions of the social impact sector. Investors can more easily manufacture data-driven “impact” in the grinding poverty of the global south and among refugee populations. Perhaps that is why they are increasingly sending their philanthropic “patient” capital abroad.

As the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s assets ballooned, donors, staff, and board members expanded the foundation’s reach far beyond the Bay Area. In a 2013 article, “Redefining Community Foundations,” former CEO Emmett Carson stated, “ To some donors, community means their own neighborhoods. To others it is the town where they grew up. Still others see themselves as global citizens. Silicon Valley Community Foundation will meet donor partners where they are and support their personal definitions of building community—locally, nationally, and around the globe.”

In 2014 the foundation created a database that allowed donors to easily direct grants to international organizations. By 2017, two-thirds of SVCF’s awards were directed outside the United States with remaining going primarily to California-based nonprofits. The foundation’s 2017 990 tax form, shows this clearly. The list of international activities begins on page 37 and continues through page 66. Referenced on page 38 is an unspecified $875 million investment made in “Central American And The Caribbean” nations. I’d love to know more.

SVCF Investment South America 2017.jpg

That year SVCF’s international grants were directed to organizations pursuing projects in: education, human services, housing and transportation, youth development, workforce development, human services, environment, arts and culture, animal welfare, community development, civil participation, international development, sciences, health, general nonprofit support, food security, and religion.

Regional allocations were as follows:

$69 million: Europe, Iceland and Greenland

$12.9 million East Asia and Pacific

$4.4 million: North America (not US)

$2.9 million: Sub-Saharan Africa

$2.4 million: South Asia

$1.4 million: Middle East and North Africa

$1.2 million South America

$190,000: Russia and Neighboring States $190,000

$31,000: Central America and the Caribbean

Not all money channeled out of Silicon Valley went to such far-flung destinations. Some was simply directed across the country. An example of this is a series of grants, totaling tens of millions of dollars that flowed through SVCF to the New Jersey nonprofit Foundation for Newark’s Future starting in 2011. This money supported efforts by Mark Zuckerberg, one of the foundation’s largest donors, to turn the low-income school district into a laboratory to test “system transformation” and disruptive ed-reform policies.

Newark offered valuable R&D opportunities as Facebook refined its digital education offerings, which include Summit Learning. Most considered Zuckerberg’s foray a failure, but that would presume his goal was to actually improve learning conditions for Newark’s students. If “success” instead meant having free reign to move fast, break things, and use information gleaned to tweak business models and communication strategies, I expect the social media mogul probably considers it money well spent.

Families in Newark, NJ need to be comparing notes with Bridge International Academies’ families in Kenya and Uganda.