By Steve Kelman
With a season of giving approaching, I want to share a version of an idea I heard recently at a dinner for a charitable cause that seems to me to be a nice mixture of an opportunity to give, to learn and to share good times with good friends.
My host at the dinner, and one of my tablemates, are working together to establish an organization aimed at women with considerable financial resources but limited experience with philanthropy. (Readers without "considerable financial resources" -- please read on, I am going to adapt their idea to people with somewhat less money to give!) Their idea is to have, say, 100 women each give into a pot a fixed sum of money, say $5,000. This would give the group total resources of $500,000. The group would decide in advance that these funds would be dispersed in grants of $50,000 or $100,000 each to a limited number of charitable organizations, based on votes by group members. The group would then solicit various charitable organizations of its choice to apply for these grants, in paper and/or with in-person presentations.
The idea of the organizers is not only to disperse money to worthy organizations but also develop a network of women who have gotten to know each other better and to give new philanthropists greater experience in evaluating proposals for help.
As I listened to this fascinating idea, I thought of a much more modest adaptation to my own less grandiose circumstances. I am actually thinking of trying to do this, and want to put the idea out to others as well.
My modest version: Get together a group of five couples who are already friends. Each couple contributes $2,000 each year, creating a pot of $10,000. Choose five small local service organizations as possible grantees. Set up five dinners at the homes of each of the five couples, where the group hears presentations. After the five presentations, the group votes on which organization should get the $10,000. (One could alternatively imagine five larger charities about which group members could gather information on the Internet.)
I tried this out on a person at the dinner experienced in the world of local social service organizations, and he said that:
- There would definitely be in most large cities a number of local organizations for whom a contribution of $10,000 would be significant enough to make it worthwhile to make a presentation to a small group; and
- In most large cities, there would be places to go to learn about possible organizations a group would want to consider.
He added that versions of the idea I was suggesting are spreading, under the moniker "group giving." I think of it as a sort of application of the idea behind book groups -- which have become a staple of American life -- to charitable giving.
Anybody want to give it a try?
Posted on Nov 27, 2012 at 11:06 AM2 comments
I have introduced two classes this year in my introductory course on management and leadership for our master’s students at the Kennedy School. They pertain to the challenges of managing teams that are from several countries and native languages, and that work in virtual (dispersed) settings rather than face-to-face.
In one class, we do a computer-based simulation, using real-time chat, of a dispersed team trying to communicate with each other in English when some members of the team have English as a native language and others don’t. In the other class, we discuss a situation where a four-nation 24-7 IT support team for multinational corporations has run into problems of inter-country hostility and finger-pointing about problems.
In connection with the second class, I did a class poll, and the results were, to me, really amazing.
I asked the students – most of them in their mid-20s and about 30 percent non-US – about their experiences at jobs before they came to Harvard (not at school) how many of them had themselves been in groups or teams that were in some or all ways like the ones we were discussing in class. Specifically, I asked them whether they had been in groups with different native languages (whether or not at the same location). Then I asked them whether they had been in virtual groups working from different locations (even inside the same country or same native language). Finally I asked them whether they had been in groups that were both multi-language and also virtual.
The answers I think will amaze anyone over 50, maybe even anyone over 30.
Of my students, a full 79 percent had worked in groups with different native languages. Seventy-three percent had worked in virtual groups. And 54 percent had worked in groups that were both virtual and also composed of people with different native languages.
I told my students that if I had asked my class this same question 30 years ago – maybe even 15 years ago – hardly a single student would have answered yes.
I am certain most people older than my students have no idea just how fast the world is globalizing for bright young people today. In some sense, this reminds me of the post-presidential election discussions about how America is changing.
This internationalization has implications for our future as a country – by and large, I think, good ones. But it also has implications for those who are going to be employing today’s 20-somethings. Actually, for parts of the government – State, USAID, Defense, the intelligence community – this may be good news. But federal managers ought to be thinking about this. Any reactions or ideas from federal managers?
Posted on Nov 14, 2012 at 8:18 AM3 comments
With aggregated budgets of about $2 billion and a total of 12,000 employees, the Offices of the Inspector General (IGs) are not a tiny presence in government. Their amazing ability to attract media attention for various lurid exposes (even when, as is typical, on closer inspection by knowledgeable people there is less there than meets the eye) gives them influence in Washington even beyond their budgets and numbers.
IG’s certainly do good work, particularly on the criminal and fraud-detection side. Their audits of wasteful spending – the bread and butter of their media coverage – are a mixed bag, sometimes on-target and sometimes merely sensationalistic. Many of their other audits are basically reports on agency compliance with various rules. These are again very much a mixed bag – partly, the rule violations are often trivial, and partly, obeying the rules is typically only a small part of what it means to have a good, effective program.
Now, however, voices are beginning to be raised suggesting that diversification of the IG role could increase their ability to contribute to effective and efficient government. In a recent column called "Making the IGs Part of the Solution," Gadi Dechter of the Center for American Progress – a Democratic-affiliated think tank that has shown an admirable interest in improving public management – urges that IGs should not just be exposing what doesn’t work but also what does work.
The purpose is not (certainly not just) to give a more balanced picture of government, but to point out practices being applied in one place in government that could usefully be transferred to other places in government. (Full disclosure: My wife Shelley Metzenbaum, who is in charge of federal performance measurement out of OMB, is quoted several times in the column.)
Dechter’s column cites two examples – a Commerce IG study of telework in the Patent and Trademark Office concluding that this could save money while maintaining quality, and a State Department IG study of efficient practices used at some U.S. embassies. In both cases, the information would be valuable to other organizations, or other parts of an organization, trying to improve their own performance.
There is another way I think IGs could contribute to improved agency performance. The more performance measurement becomes part of the way the government does business, the greater the temptation to cheat on measurement reporting. The auditing industry in the private sector (which provides a role model for IGs) grew up there to police companies on behalf of shareholders, given the incentives to game profit or other business performance measures, because those performance measures were so important. IGs should take a cue from the commercial audit industry to make auditing of the quality of government performance data an important part of their mission.
Will this ever happen? It is sadly hard to be optimistic. Getting headlines for sensationalize waste reports is so much more fun. In Dechter’s column, the Project for Government Oversight, the interest group advocating IGs uber alles, poured cold water on his suggestion.
But I have to assume most IGs actually believe in good government. The British National Audit Office follows the kind of approach advocated here – criticizing, but also seeking to praise and spread good practice. There have to be more IGs out there who would rather be more effective at improving government, even if it meant a few fewer headlines, right?
Posted on Nov 09, 2012 at 10:37 AM1 comments