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As 2009 Nears, Stresses Vie with Opportunities for Atlantic and its Grantees

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

As 2008 draws to a close, organisations, just like individuals, should take a moment to reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of the year that is ending, and prepare for the one ahead. I’d like to do that, in this final column of an eventful year, by revisiting a few of the things I’ve written and reported on.

  • In July, I wrote about Atlantic’s support for the Health Care for America Now campaign – a $10 million grant, one of the largest foundation grants ever for an advocacy initiative – to press the Presidential candidates to commit themselves to comprehensive health insurance reform in 2009. I’m happy to report that, despite the grave financial crisis he is faced with – or perhaps because of it, since health care costs are a significant factor in the economy’s structural weaknesses, and insecurity about health coverage looms greater than ever as companies cut costs and more Americans face unemployment – President-elect Obama has endorsed HCAN’s statement of principles and given every sign that health care will be a major priority of his administration. For up-to-the-minute information on this critical effort to repair the most gaping hole in the U.S. social safety net, visit HCAN’s website.
  • On September 11, during the Service Nation summit, I wrote about Atlantic’s long history of support for citizen service, and the growing movement of younger people to give back to their communities and their country through participation in programmes like Teach for America, Public Allies and City Year – not to mention the contributions made by older adults in programmes like Experience Corps and ReServe. President-elect Obama has designated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, on the eve of his inauguration, as a day of national service, and we are joining with other funders to make sure the country rises to that opportunity – and to the increased avenues for citizen service and engagement that the new administration is likely to propose. For some further thoughts on this subject, particularly as it applies to older adults, take a look at the closing remarks I made at the Encore Careers summit of Purpose Prize recipients earlier this month.
  • In October, I wrote about the vital role played by nurses in improving health care for the underserved. I’m happy to report that this month in Cape Town, Atlantic announced a commitment of R70-million over four years to elevate nursing education and uplift the quality of healthcare delivery in South Africa. Four major grants and three “seed” grants will be made to a total of seven universities – the biggest single commitment of funds for nursing academia in South Africa from a single private funder. From 2009 to the end of 2012, the universities will use the awards to improve the health of South Africans by transforming nursing education, research, clinical care and specialties, and to advance current and future generations of nurses to the highest levels of doctoral study and beyond. More specifically, this investment will improve many areas of nursing specialisation, including maternal and child health, community health, and critical care nursing. The four institutions receiving major awards of between R16- and R17-million are the Departments of Nursing at the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Fort Hare, the University of Free State, and the University of the Western Cape. Seed grants of R1-million each are being awarded to three additional universities: North West University, Stellenbosch University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The grants were awarded through the University-based Nursing Education South Africa (UNEDSA) programme, managed by Inyathelo – The South African Institute for Advancement, a non-profit trust that promotes philanthropy and strengthens the NGO sector and institutions such as universities. “Through this programme, South African nursing will compete internationally, attract the best candidates for the profession and encourage nurses who have moved abroad to return to the country,” said Barbara Hogan, South Africa’s new Health Minister.
  • Also in October, I wrote about the early signs of impact on the work of Atlantic and its grantees as a result of the developing global financial crisis. As the year ends, the warning signs have turned to alarms in many communities in which Atlantic works. On the one hand, there are indications that the response of government in several places has sparked growing activism by affected communities. In my October column, I wrote about the success of older protesters in the Republic of Ireland in forcing the government to back down from its plan to end free medical care for those over 70; just last week, 60,000 students, teachers and parents took to the streets in Dublin to protest educationbudget cuts. On the other hand, the rippling effects of the budget crisis may cripple the capacity of many Atlantic grantees to carry out their work – most ironically, at a time when organisational strength could lead to real changes in public policy. The fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff has caused two of our colleague foundations, JEHT and Picower, to close their doors next month, and many shared grantees in the human rights, democracy and youth fields face gaps in their budgets from several hundred thousand to over a million dollars, as these foundations are unable to meet their existing commitments – all of this happening at a time when other foundation, individual, government and corporate donations are falling off, along with declining endowments. Atlantic cannot possibly cover all these shortfalls, but we will work with all our grantees to find ways to preserve as much capacity as possible in this difficult time. This will call on all of us to determine what is most important and to be as creative, innovative and tough as we can manage. Weathering the financial crisis in the smartest way will be an urgent priority in 2009.
  • At the same time, as I wrote about last month, 2009 will be a year of great opportunities presented by a new administration in Washington. There have also been changes of government in South Africa and the Republic of Ireland, as well as the restoration of a functioning partnership in shared government between Unionist and Nationalist parties, and all of these present opportunities for fresh approaches to advocacy on health, human rights, disadvantaged youth and ageing. In the U.S., where President-elect Obama’s cabinet and White House staff is now taking shape, we congratulate our partners in the Atlantic-supported middle schools Elev8 programme, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, designated as Secretary of Commerce, and Chicago public schools CEO Arne Duncan, also joining the cabinet as Secretary of Education. With pride, we note the appointment Atlantic board member, National Council of La Raza Vice-President Cecilia Muñoz, as White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. John Podesta, President of Atlantic grantee the Center for American Progress, co-chairs the transition team, and his CAP deputy, Melody Barnes, will assume a key White House staff position as Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Another grantee, American Constitution Society Executive Director Lisa Brown, will become White House Staff Secretary, and grantee, Nobelist and President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Harold Varmus has been tapped as a co-chair of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. At its meeting earlier this month, the Atlantic board, recognising the historic moment at hand, approved a proposal to commit $20 million to support of the new President’s economic recovery plan and related opportunities. After a holiday break and rest, we will return on January 5 with renewed energy and commitment to work with our grantees and funding partners to make the most of them.

From all of us at Atlantic, our very best wishes for a 2009 in which the moral arc of the universe bends more sharply toward justice.

Gara LaMarche