Changing from the Inside Out: Calgary Foundation’s Journey to Strengthen Relationships with Indigenous Communities

This case study has been developed as a part of Investing in Native Communities, a joint project of Candid and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

“The key to our journey was the recognition that throwing money at the issue—in the same way that had been done—wouldn’t change much,” shares Eva Friesen, president and CEO of Calgary Foundation. “Instead, we realized that we needed to change who we were—even though at first we didn’t know what that meant exactly.”

Grantmaking is a key role for community foundations. And funding Indigenous-led organizations matters, particularly given how little funding goes toward Indigenous initiatives. Indeed, The Giving Report, 2018, published by the nonprofit CanadaHelps, found that Canadian charities serving Indigenous peoples receive only 1 percent of overall donations.

Effective philanthropy is about more than donations, however. Building authentic relationships, expanding community input and participation, and developing a commitment to systems change all contribute to deep, longer-term transformations. And, as Calgary Foundation learned, this work must begin by looking within.

More Money Is Not the Solution

The journey for Calgary Foundation began in 2010, when Environics Institute invited funders to support a landmark national Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, which focused on the experiences of Aboriginal peoples living in Canadian cities. The study enabled
non-Indigenous peoples to better understand the perspectives, values, and aspirations of urban Aboriginal peoples. A follow-up report was published about the experiences of Indigenous peoples specifically in Calgary.

Subsequently, representatives of Calgary Foundation attended a national conference where the governor general of Canada directly challenged attendees: “What population is not currently well-served by community foundations?” For Calgary Foundation, the answer was Indigenous peoples. The governor general also pointedly asked, “What can you do to extend the value of your work to those not presently well-served?”

These insights encouraged Calgary Foundation to commit one million dollars to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples, specifically youth, in Calgary. But a year later, after grants were awarded and the Foundation evaluated its efforts, it did not appear that any of the typical success indicators—e.g., increased graduation rates or decreased rates of poverty—had changed.

“None of these metrics got any better,” notes Friesen. “While we didn’t expect one million dollars from one funder in one year to drastically shift outcomes, it did prompt us to consider that just more money for programs that benefit Indigenous peoples in the city might not be the solution the community needs.”

Calgary Foundation’s next step was a crucial one. It affirmed that strengthening relationships with Indigenous populations was a priority for the organization and decided to form an advisory group of Indigenous leaders from Calgary to inform its next steps. Following a year of conversation and community engagement, the Foundation decided to hire someone to lead the work within the organization. A senior leader was hired, not to be the head of an Indigenous grants program, but to lead change within the organization with an Indigenous perspective and knowledge. The Foundation wanted to change who it was from the inside out. “We didn’t know what this would look like. We didn’t know where it was going,” admits Friesen. “We don’t know what we don’t know. But that was okay. We needed to be brave.”

A New Way of Seeing

In 2017, Calgary Foundation welcomed Tim Fox, a proud member of the Blackfoot Confederacy from the Blood (Kainai) reserve, as vice president of Indigenous relations. His mandate was broad but simple: “Teach us what we don’t know; show us a new way of seeing things.”

Fox approaches the work of reconciliation through systems change. His role not only focuses on ensuring that Indigenous initiatives receive funding, it’s also about designing new knowledge systems to help the Foundation understand why systemic disadvantages exist for Indigenous communities in the first place. “I was literally tasked to facilitate a change process and find ways to shift the culture of an organization and mobilize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. I quickly came to realize, there is no guidebook for this work. I also knew that before any shifts can begin to happen or any change can be realized, there is a level of context that is missing. I wanted to take the entire team—including board, staff, and volunteers—through
experiences that increase their knowledge,” shares Fox. “There is a common thought pattern about the Indigenous community that is very negative. We need to understand how history has led us to where we are now and how this thought pattern continues to cause harm for Indigenous communities.”

He has approached this work in a variety of ways, designing knowledge sharing based on themes he feels are important for his colleagues to understand. One of the ways he shares this is through a workshop he designed called Impacts of Intergenerational Trauma. This engaging experience touches on realities Indigenous communities currently face and explores the legacy that historical processes and policies continue to have on Indigenous peoples.

Fox also facilitates the Blanket Exercise for all stakeholders, which was a practice Calgary Foundation’s board initiated before he came on board. This interactive history telling guides participants through history from an Indigenous perspective. The goal is to foster truth, understanding, and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.(1)

Another theme that has emerged focuses on Indigenous women and girls. In June 2019, following a three-year national inquiry into the widespread deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, a landmark government report pointedly named “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses” as the root cause of this “genocide.” “We’re going to take some time to slow down and to unpack what that means and really understand the issue,” says Fox. “Things will then begin to emerge in how we grant or how we support charities that support Indigenous women and girls. And from there, more things will continue to emerge.”

Fox creates space and comfort in the Foundation to lean into topics as they arise. He recognizes that this process of learning, unlearning, unpacking, and understanding must happen throughout the entire organization. “It doesn’t matter what role you hold, we all have a responsibility to be a part of change,” says Fox. “It wouldn’t be enough to focus, for example, just on the programs team and spend all my time increasing their knowledge capacity. This would create a dynamic where only a select group of people hold knowledge, and it would be difficult for them to incorporate changes that the rest of the organization wouldn’t fully understand. So, it’s important that everyone in the organization gets to the same level of understanding.”

To that end, Fox has also organized staff retreats inspired by the Art of Hosting and systems change methodologies. These retreats take place on the land with a facilitation team that includes Indigenous elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous facilitators, and storytellers. This is an intensive learning experience that engages participants in conversation about many topics but is rooted in the framework of reconciliation. This unique experience provides each person with an opportunity to develop personal leadership and capacity to facilitate and lead both dialogue and engagement in complex situations. It is an effective way of harnessing the collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of groups and designing collaborative projects with impact. Staff of Calgary Foundation are joined by staff of a partner charity also committed to reconciliation, facilitating further relationship building, knowledge exchange, and change ideologies. The retreats enable participants to identify what their own work means for Indigenous communities and how they can navigate their journey of reconciliation.

The feedback from staff who have attended these retreats has been positive. One participant reflected, “By far, the most impactful insight was that I need not be ashamed or afraid of that which I do not know. This is a journey—with no destination—and each step I take is a step in the right direction. I will never have all the answers and may still say things that are wrong or misguided, but even in those instances there are learnings if I am open to seeing them.”

Just as everyone is afforded the opportunity to learn, all staff are also held accountable for their learning. In 2019, for the first time, the organization added to its annual performance evaluation the responsibility for staff to identify an area of learning tied to strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. All staff have self-identified a goal related to reconciliation, alongside other role-related performance goals.

For his part, Fox is responsible for communicating opportunities for staff to engage with Indigenous communities. He also makes himself available for one-on-one consultation, although most have not requested this support. Fox shares that “there are so many things happening, and so many opportunities coming up. Staff are at a level of knowledge where they’re confident that they know what they want to do and what they want to focus on.” Some are even making it personal. For example, one peer is using it as an opportunity to connect with family members who identify as Indigenous.

Fox and Friesen are eager to see how Foundation staff have met these goals and how the Foundation can continue to support staff development. “This journey should begin with an individual shift that hopefully informs and influences the practice of that individual in the workplace, thus leading to more significant shifts within the organization or system,” describes Fox. “Fundamentally, what was very important was the realization that we need to change ourselves,” adds Friesen. “It starts with individuals’ attitudes, and that leads to changes in organizational attitude.”

Embedding an Indigenous Perspective

Learning from the experience of the Foundation’s past, Fox knew that he did not want to create a separate initiative for Indigenous projects. “Rather than further silo-ing a community by creating a separate granting stream, I wanted to embed an Indigenous perspective and lens in the practices that Calgary Foundation already had,” he said.

For example, Calgary Foundation already had a collaborative grantmaking process, involving more than 100 community members in its decision making across all its community grantmaking priority areas. Twice a year, volunteers meet, review proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Foundation based on their knowledge of the community.

“Now, we are more intentional about how we invite and include Indigenous volunteers into that process,” states Fox. “Indigenous community members are not just providing their perspectives on Indigenous projects and proposals, but their perspectives are shared across all projects and proposals that come across our table. Indigenous participation is embedded in the mainstream practice of what we do.”

When Fox was hired, there was one Indigenous person on the Foundation’s board of directors who was instrumental in helping to guide the Foundation in this work. Now, there is an intentional strategy to recruit more Indigenous board members—and to recruit them for all committees of the board, not just the grants committee.

Incorporating an Indigenous lens throughout the Foundation’s established practices means that the impact extends beyond Indigenous peoples. The Foundation, for example, realized that the ways in which it received requests for funding did not consider traditional Indigenous storytelling practices. Now, the Foundation invites oral applications and oral reporting, in lieu of written documents. This practice is available to all grantees and applicants.

“We are not fundamentally changing who we are,” explains Friesen. “We are simply improving how we serve the Calgary community by incorporating legacies from an Indigenous perspective. And this is, in turn, benefiting the entire charitable sector.”

Working Without A Guidebook

As the vice president of Indigenous relations, Fox’s position is a first among the 191 community foundations of Canada. “There’s no guidebook on how to do this,” Fox reflects. “It’s new. It’s emerging. And it’s exciting.”

Thus far, Fox has defined his role as supporting the collective reconciliation journey by:

  • supporting the current practice of all teams at Calgary Foundation
  • building Indigenous paradigms of thought and practice into the internal culture
  • providing awareness and context-setting experiences internally and externally
  • offering capacity-building services for community partners
  • developing resources for internal and external use
  • offering guidance to the charitable sector and other community partners

His role requires staying attuned to emerging conversations and issues. Networks like the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada provide inspiration and inform the work he brings to Calgary Foundation. At the same time, he wants to build his team’s capacity so that he is not the only source of Indigenous wisdom at the Foundation. He is empowering others to engage with greater understanding as they meet with Indigenous community members, visit First Nations communities (reservations), and think through how the organization should move forward.

In this process, Fox, Friesen, and the entire Calgary Foundation team have had to operate with an abundance of trust and flexibility. “I learned that in a team of 35 staff and 14 board members, everyone will go at different speeds on the learning journey,” observes Friesen. “We have bumped into discomfort. But we must acknowledge the varying speeds with which people travel on that journey and the discomfort people may have. It reminds us to slow down a bit and wait for people to catch up in their own way, on their own time.”

As the organization has developed its practices and processes, it is also building a library of knowledge and resources, available to all stakeholders. The Foundation created a video about land acknowledgment, explaining that honoring the authentic history of the land and its original people is an important step in building respectful relationships and is an important part of reconciliation. It has adapted an Indigenous ally toolkit, specific to Treaty 7 where the Foundation is located, highlighting the role and responsibility all individuals play in recognizing every person’s right to human dignity, respect, and equal access to resources.

“After we released our land acknowledgment resource, organizations have been contacting us asking if they can use it in their trainings. We say yes to these requests, but we also advise them not just to show the resource but to add context about what land acknowledgment is, where it came from, and that it exists to inspire acts to build an understanding of the original people in this territory. I would include that caveat to anyone who’s asking to use our resources,” shares Fox. Setting the context is important because, for Fox, the ultimate goal of raising awareness is to build deeper relationships that are based on mutual respect.

Indicators of Change

Deepening understanding and shifting internal culture takes time. “It’s incremental,” describes Fox. “Reconciliation is about inspiring and facilitating a process and less about working toward a deadline and outcome.”

There are promising signs of change. Calgary Foundation has seen an increase in the number of funding requests for projects that focus on strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. This growth has enabled the Foundation to understand better the challenges and opportunities and improve its role as a steward working to benefit the entire Calgary community.

Increasingly, more Indigenous peoples are present at public events hosted by the Foundation. “This indicator is an exciting one, because it shows that our work to invite and include Indigenous communities around Calgary to engage with us has been effective,” shares Friesen.

In 2019, the Foundation published an impact report using what it calls the “Outcome Harvesting” evaluation model.(2) The report identifies qualitative shifts toward strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. “Rather than measuring progress towards predetermined goals,” the report states, “outcome harvesting collects evidence of what works, what’s changed, what’s in the way, and what’s ahead.” This model involved gathering feedback from key community stakeholders at a workshop facilitated by an elder. The report identifies progress in four specific areas: 1) an increase in local programming for engaging and empowering Indigenous youth; 2) the development of strategies in charitable practices to engage Indigenous communities and individuals; 3) changes to Calgary Foundation’s organizational practices; and 4) changes within the broader Calgary community, with the municipal government and charitable sector investing in the planning stages of action toward reconciliation.

Encouraged by these changes, Friesen and Fox feel strongly that they are on the right path. In order to have lasting impact on the broader community, they believe the work needs to be woven into the organization’s fabric. And as Calgary Foundation moves forward, with guidance from and engagement with Indigenous communities, ultimately, the entire Calgary community will reap the benefits.


  • What from Calgary Foundation’s story resonates with how we approach relationship building with our grantees? What is something we might consider doing differently based on this approach?
  • What populations are not presently well served by the organizations where we work? What can we do to extend the value of our work to those not presently well served? What can we change about our process to bring in populations whom we might not currently be reaching?
  • How is our funding strategy informed by our relationship with our grantees? What are the barriers to knowing the communities we work with better and how might we address them?
  • How do we ensure that there is a common understanding of the communities we work with across our staff? What biases, misconceptions, or misunderstandings might we hold?
  • How can our organization engage in cross-cultural learning internally? How can this impact our grantmaking strategy?
  • How can we incorporate diverse voices from the communities we serve in our decision making? Or, how can we begin a process of actively listening to the communities we serve?

(1) The Blanket Exercise was originally created in Canada in response to the 1996 report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. An adapted version is conducted in the United States, facilitated by various groups, including Native Americans in Philanthropy.

(2) The Outcome Harvesting evaluation method collects evidence of what has changed and works backward to determine whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. This method is particularly useful in complex situations when the goal of an intervention is not possible to define concretely.


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About the author(s)

Director of Global Projects & Partnerships

Global Partnerships and Projects Associate

A Regional Approach to Prosperity for All

Some philanthropists are highly identified with place. Whether their names are visible or remain anonymous, these donors decide that growing up, living, or working in a particular place was a defining factor in their lives, and the impetus for their giving is to make that beloved place even better.

Such a proud, place-based donor was Ewing Marion Kauffman (1916–1993), known as Mr.K, whose defining place was Kansas City, Missouri. His largess can be found in the numerous Kansas City institutions and organizations he made possible, including the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the primary vehicle for his giving; the Kauffman Stadium that is home to the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team; or the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Most of all, his legacy can be found in the people he supported in the place he loved: “My greatest satisfaction is from helping others.”

After earning his associate degree at Kansas City Junior College, Kauffman enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served during World War II. Following his service, he returned home and became a pharmaceutical salesman, an early professional experience that led to his founding of Marion Laboratories. The success of that entrepreneurial venture enabled him to establish the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 1966. Marion Laboratories, an industry leader, was sold to Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals for $930 million in 1989, and Kauffman devoted his later years primarily to his philanthropic endeavors.

Kauffman believed two elements were essential to a thriving Kansas City economy that worked for everyone: education and entrepreneurism. Applauded by many for more than 50 years of encouraging innovation in local philanthropy, the Kauffman Foundation has supported a wide range of programs to offer opportunity to all those who call Kansas City home.

Experiment into Entity

What began as an experiment in 1988 grew into an entity in 2003, and the largest and longest philanthropic commitment in the history of the Kauffman Foundation. In 1988, Project Choice was created to reduce high school dropout rates for low-income Kansas City students by offering them full college scholarships if they graduated high school on time and met other “good behavior” program criteria, such as avoiding substance abuse. Project Choice operated from 1988 to 2001 as the signature program of the Kauffman Foundation. Over the years, the program grew to include students from six different Kansas City schools, funding nearly 1,400 “at-risk” students to attend college.

While more than 30 percent of Project Choice students graduated with a bachelor’s degree within five years, a rate exceeding the national average, nearly 70 percent did not. Those results caused the foundation to realize that the incentive of a full scholarship was a necessary but insufficient condition for low-income students, many of whom lacked the adequate preparation and full support necessary to navigate and complete a college education. The Kauffman Foundation realized much more than a scholarship was needed for students to succeed through college graduation.

After 13 years of the Project Choice program, the Kauffman Foundation applied the learnings from that program toward a revitalized approach to supporting college completion. In 2003, the foundation applied what they had learned toward the creation of Kauffman Scholars, Inc. (Kauffman Scholars), a $150 million initiative launched to improve college access and completion for low-income Kansas City students over the next two decades. Instead of aiming for reduced high school drop-out rates, the Kauffman Scholars program defined success as nothing less than college completion. As described by Aaron North, Kauffman Foundation vice president for education and Kauffman Scholars board chair, “Our ability to grow, learn, and evolve enabled us to recalibrate, and invest in people, programs and systems.” By also using the latest national and state-wide research and examining why students were and were not successful through college completion, the Kauffman Scholars program leadership created a more comprehensive, data-driven effort that yielded dramatically improved results: the program’s overall college completion rate is expected to reach 65 percent, with later cohorts seeing a graduation rate above 70 percent.

Perhaps the biggest shift made from Project Choice to Kauffman Scholars was that rather than offering support at the end of high-school, Kauffman Scholars were awarded scholarships in the seventh-grade. With eight class cohorts producing an overall roster of just over 2,500 students, from public high schools in Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas City, Kansas, the program offered students the opportunity to participate in collegepreparatory programming from a younger age all the way through high school. These Scholars are predominantly students of color, first generation college students, and come from lower-income households. The Scholars receive highly personalized guidance from a team of skilled postsecondary retention specialists (called coaches) employed by Kauffman Scholars through funding from the Kauffman Foundation. These coaches provide year-round support and give guidance on both academic and personal issues. According to North, “We meet the students where they are, and those relationships stay in place through college.” Starting in their junior year of high school, Kauffman Scholars began working with a postsecondary advisor who led them through the admission process with a goal of achieving the “best fit.” Initially, scholarship support was provided for students to pursue post-secondary education opportunities across the U.S. After seeing lower graduation rates than anticipated in the first three cohorts, a post-secondary network of colleges and universities in Kansas and Missouri was established and most Scholars were required to attend those schools in order to receive more direct completion supports.

More than Money

A critical component of the Kauffman Scholars program design is an emphasis on parents. In most cases, Scholars’ parents never had the opportunity to attend and/or graduate from college, so the Kauffman Scholars program represents a chance to change the life trajectory for an entire family, not just a daughter or son. Parents are engaged as essential program partners and are present at milestone events. Through regular meetings (or summits), parents become informed about college-going, a journey outside of their own educational experiences, and can then better support the counsel provided by Kauffman Scholars coaches and advisors. Parents also guide and inform the program by providing feedback and sharing observations about what they see working or not working for the students. This engagement is facilitated through strong communication vehicles. Parents receive quarterly program updates via email and postal mail, and intentional reminders utilizing a mass text system. They are also able to send and receive individual messages through parent Gmail accounts and check the status of student engagement through the use of a student and parent portal.

Another distinguishing aspect of the Kauffman Scholars program is its emphases on career-readiness, not just college-preparedness. Kauffman Scholars are given many opportunities to explore a wide range of career options with local and regional professionals from private, nonprofit, and public sector employers. With enlarged perspectives, they can start to imagine their lives after college, and what they can do for themselves and others while building a network that will open doors to career opportunities. A highly-structured set of career development activities is available to the Kauffman Scholars and alumni, including a “shadow day” in work settings, interactive professional roundtables, and the JIVE (job, internship, volunteer, education) Fair. The Young Professionals of Color Network is a new resource that reaches beyond the immediate Kauffman Scholars network to better construct and grow racially diverse workforce pipelines.

Scholars Persevere

While the critical lesson from the Project Choice initiative was that more than scholarship money was needed to ensure student success, the necessity and efficacy of other program resources became even more apparent through Kauffman Scholars implementation. Access to college is one thing; persistence is another. When the inevitable life challenges confront these students, how will they respond? How are they supported?

One such Kauffman Scholar was Autumn Bryant, who faced lifechanging challenges, including pregnancy, while attending Howard University in Washington, DC. She sought support back home in Kansas City and she chose to persevere, not only for herself, but also for her daughter, earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri– Kansas City. As a proud program role model, Bryant now serves as a career and alumni coordinator for Kauffman Scholars, where she is responsible for the Alumni Leadership Council and the Career Development Series. Autumn is the second alumna to join the Kauffman Scholars staff as a full-time employee.

Bryant is just one Kauffman Scholar success story. There are many Kauffman success stories available here where you can learn about how Scholars and alumni are giving back to their community.

Next Stage of Evolution

With the final cohort of Scholars entering the program in the 2011–12 school year, and expected to graduate in 2021 or 2022, Kauffman Foundation leadership chose, once again, to apply what was learned and seek an even higher-impact objective for its scholarship funding going forward. To do so would require financial and human resources beyond the means of any single foundation. The next program evolution led to the development of KC Scholars, a partnership to increase college access and completion for low- and modest-income, high-achieving students throughout the Kansas City region. The KC Scholars collaboration involves public, private, and nonprofit partners who are fully committed to improving educational outcomes as well as economic prosperity for the region. The agreed-upon objectives mobilizing these community partners are:

  • 8,000+ ethnically and racially diverse college-educated employees
  • 13 percent increase in the region’s college attainment rate for individuals identifying as students of color
  • $6.4 trillion in increased wages for the region
  • $2.2 trillion into the local economy

To achieve these ambitions, KC Scholars supports a growing pipeline of at least 500 awards annually in the form of 250 traditional scholarships, 200 adult learner scholarships, and 50 college savings matches, and provides seed funding for up to 500 college savings accounts. An evaluation plan is part of the overall program design, and the collaborative partners meet quarterly to monitor progress. KC Scholars is also offering individual donors the option of supporting the initiative through a named scholarship.

What was started by Ewing Kauffman as a college access program evolved a decade after his passing into a college completion program by the Kauffman Foundation, and has now grown into a full-community mobilization to improve education and economic outcomes for everyone in the greater Kansas City region. Local leaders have combined the critical success factors from their own experience, such as deep engagement with caring adults, along with lessons learned from other regional initiatives.

Ewing Kauffman is often described as a common man who did uncommon things. Through the Kansas City-based scholarships, he encouraged young people from his hometown to become educated, and excel in work, life, and community service. To nurture the next generation of Kansas City learners and leaders, his namesake foundation now asks students and all their community supporters to be uncommon. Acting together, their aligned efforts are leading to an uncommon legacy for Ewing Marion Kauffman.

For more on the Kauffman Scholars visit, and for more on the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation visit

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Leading Change

Are social justice leaders born, or can they be developed? Life-defining events occur even in earliest childhood. Born in a remote village in Vietnam’s Dong Nai province, Vo Thi Hoang Yen contracted polio when she was only two years old. For Yen, the physical constraints imposed by this infectious disease became a driving force for change, rather than a limitation to her life. Education was the essential vehicle for advancing Yen’s journey, and what has enabled her to become a formidable Vietnamese leader for the rights of people with disabilities (PWDs).

The transformational efforts led by Yen exemplify the most audacious ambitions of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), a 10-year initiative that began in 2001. The single largest grant program in the history of the Ford Foundation, IFP aimed to further the development of social justice leaders, such as Yen, who could change institutions, communities, nations, and, indeed, the world. Through IFP, Yen earned a master’s degree in human development at the University of Kansas in 2004. She has since earned her doctorate in social work from La Trobe University in Australia. She is one of 4,305 IFP alumni now advancing social justice around the world.

Yen’s achievements were recognized recently with the Ramon Magsaysay Award, a prize established in 1957 by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in honor of the revered former Philippine president, and now considered the highest award given to Asian leaders. The 2018 Award was bestowed upon Yen for the work of Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD), a nonprofit organization she founded in 2005 to expand opportunities for the differently-abled. According to the Award citation, Yen’s own desire “to be able to live independently, and to see this in other people with disabilities, is at the heart of her advocacy. Autonomy, inclusion, a sense of dignity, releasing and enhancing the capacities of the differently-abled—this is what she is about.” DRD has aided 15,000+ PWDs while also working with the public and private sectors in addressing PWD-related policies.

Program Creation

Starting in 2000, former Ford Foundation president Susan Berresford led the board and organization in an 18-month planning process to conceive an institution-wide, unifying initiative to utilize a sharp increase in grantmaking resources from unexpected endowment gains. According to Berresford, Candid president Bradford K. Smith,

then a Ford Foundation program director, proposed the initial idea that evolved into IFP. The Ford Foundation had a long, productive history in scholarship support that had strengthened academic institutional capacity and nurtured new fields of knowledge. The vision was that Ford Foundation’s expertise in scholarship programs and global presence through its field offices could be mobilized to further the professional development of social justice leaders from vulnerable and under-represented communities around the world. The Ford Foundation board insisted that IFP be a leadership development initiative, and not just “another” scholarship program. Berresford said that the IFP concept “captured the energy and imagination” of her Ford colleagues, who were “determined to show the world that a scholarship for social inclusion could succeed.”

With a core commitment of $420 million, IFP was designed as an independent entity with its own governing board and situated at the Institute of International Education (IIE). Under the dynamic and dedicated leadership of executive director Joan Dassin, IFP was constructed as a decentralized network of 22 local nonprofit partners that found, recruited, and selected the IFP Fellows in each region. Integrity was preserved through the utilization of a consistent program framework developed by Dassin and her colleagues; the framework defined common criteria, transparency, independent panels, and regular reporting of results. A subsequent Ford Foundation commitment provided financial resources to conduct a 10-year tracking study and create an archive at Columbia University.

About IFP Fellows

IFP made a compelling case for the belief that talent, often concealed by circumstance, could be found everywhere. Advanced educational opportunities were made available to students from the world’s most marginalized populations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Russia—including women, indigenous people, and individuals from rural regions. To ensure greater inclusion of populations underrepresented in higher education, the selection criteria sought candidates who were typically overlooked. IFP fostered greater inclusion by going beyond traditional selection criteria in assessing leadership potential, such as academic achievement, and instead looked for action-oriented evidence of commitment to social justice. The ensuing roster of 4,305 IFP fellows from 22 countries was evenly comprised of men and women, and represented 6 percent of the eligible candidate pool. The IFP Fellows studied at 615 institutions in 49 countries, and possessed the following characteristics:

  • 79 percent: First-generation university student.
  • 73 percent: Parental income below national average.
  • 68 percent: Born in a rural area or small city/town.
  • 57 percent: Mother did not progress beyond primary school.

Early Criticism

In general, graduate studies supported by traditional fellowship programs reward individual accomplishments and the leadership preparation associated with privileged circumstances. With its focus on identifying and supporting those emerging social justice leaders who were usually excluded, IFP was a dramatic departure, even for the Ford Foundation. When IFP was launched and the first fellows named in 2001, the

Ford Foundation’s announcement was met with skepticism, if not outright cynicism. According to Berresford, attendees to the press conference questioned the basic premise that a large pool of such emerging social justice leaders existed and could be readily identified; the ability of such individuals to complete their graduate-level studies; the potential corrupt diversion of resources to further enrich the elite, and not those striving at the edges; and the likelihood of “brain drain” by fellows who would chose not to return to their home countries.

Ultimately, IFP defied the skeptics and exceeded many of its ambitious goals. The IFP applicant pool was even larger than anticipated, resulting in a 6 percent acceptance rate. In aiming to develop social justice leaders at unprecedented scale and scope, IFP affirmed that “equity and excellence are not mutually exclusive.”

Lessons Learned

When asked about the IFP critical-to-success factors, Berresford noted the following characteristics of the IFP Fellows:

  • They had lived with hardship and were familiar with institutions outside of the mainstream.
  • They were resilient and could endure challenges.
  • They had a sense of responsibility to their communities and possessed a commitment to return home.
  • They were resourceful and could cope with unforeseen issues.
  • They were smart and could problem-solve effectively and efficiently.

The “Linking Higher Education and Social Change” final report issued in 2013 offered the following IFP lessons:

  • First, a large pool of qualified fellowship applicants could be identified, even in the most remote regions.
  • Second, small supports for personal needs, such as travel to see family, made possible large individual success.
  • Third, greater inclusion could be achieved through flexible admissions policies that recognized leadership potential and did not eliminate worthy candidates who lacked full preparation.
  • Fourth, local sourcing and selection by the regional nonprofit partners played a crucial role.
  • Fifth, graduate fellowships can be an effective use of global development resources.

Measuring Change

During their studies, the IFP Fellows utilized their abilities and developed the skills that would propel them into leadership positions upon completion of their graduate degrees. As intended, they were becoming agents for change, and activists on behalf of the most vulnerable within their communities. According to the findings of the 2015 IFP Global Alumni survey, the reported individual and collective impacts of IFP were extraordinary:

  • Despite all obstacles, 96 percent had completed their advanced degrees.
  • Of those responding, 84 percent were living in their home country, and 52 percent were living in their home community, so the fears of IFP leading to “brain drain” proved to be mostly unfounded.
  • The program’s stated goal of leadership development had been attained: 79 percent held senior leadership roles in local organizations as well as national and international social justice organizations.
  • Over 900 IFP alumni have created new social justice programs and organizations, and 48 percent were established by women.
  • IFP alumni had generated nearly 35,000 social justice products and various forms of outreach, including conference presentations, books, reports, and works of art.

For more information, see the 2019 Leveraging Higher Education to Promote Social Justice: Evidence from the IFP Alumni Tracking Study and other studies examining regional impacts.


In reflecting on this unprecedented venture, IIE president Allan Goodman acknowledged that many of the lessons of how IFP re-invented a traditional funding mechanism—the fellowship—were as applicable to undergraduate education as to graduate education. So-called “bridging” experiences, such as English language immersion, were often critical to individual success, especially for those Fellows who had gaps in preparing for the rigors of graduate studies. In considering how IFP could have been improved, Berresford noted that the re-entry of IFP alumni to their home communities and countries could have been given greater consideration to ease what were often difficult transitions.

As envisioned nearly 20 years ago, Yen and 4,304 other alumni are now leading both visible, award-winning initiatives and less-visible, yet significant local efforts to increase social justice. Around the world, IFP alumni continue to support each other through regional networks and gatherings. In some cases, they are also being aided in their local efforts with IFP Alumni Incentive Awards.

As current Ford Foundation executive vice president Hilary Pennington has written, the lasting impact of IFP and other scholarship programs designed for greater inclusion is to “help recognize and cultivate untapped talent, empowering young people to become strong leaders who are equipped to challenge inequality around the world.” In doing so, the Ford Foundation’s IFP has proven to be a powerful force in developing social justice leaders.

For more on the International Fellowships program and the Ford Foundation, visit IFP-Alumni-Tracking-Study.

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Fulfilling the Promise of New Americans to Shape A Nation

The impetus for an individual’s philanthropy is often a desire to “give back,” and express gratitude to an institution, community, or cause. The late Paul Soros is an example of an immigrant who expressed his gratitude through philanthropy. Born in Hungary to a wealthy family, Soros was an accomplished scholar-athlete who survived the Nazi occupation of his homeland and Russian captivity before arriving in New York in 1948 on a one-year student visa. With limited financial means, he eventually enrolled at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, an engineering college. Upon earning his master’s degree, he began a successful career in civil engineering, and married Daisy Schlenger, who would also become his partner in philanthropy.

Known as ‘the invisible Soros’ in contrast to his more famous brother, financier George Soros, Paul had his own improbable journey. According to his obituary in The New York Times, he made his way “from riches to rags to riches again. I was lucky to survive. The rest was relatively easy.” His path to renewed riches began when he created Soros Associates, a leading international provider of port planning, engineering, and installations. Soros is credited with several shipping innovations that transformed the industry. Yet, according to a The Wall Street Journal profile, “Paul Soros never forgot arriving in the U.S. with boundless educational ambitions but limited options.”

Inspiring Immigrants

In 1997, a charitable trust was created to support the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a merit-based fellowship program to assist young New Americans at critical points in their education. Paul and his wife Daisy Soros created the charitable trust to give back to the country that had afforded them opportunities as immigrants, and to call attention to the diverse contributions New Americans bring to the United States. An initial commitment of $50 million was made to the trust for this purpose, and in 2010 the Soros family added another $25 million.

According to Craig Harwood, the current Fellowships director, the program’s Theory of Change is to “help New Americans succeed at the highest levels and underscore their contributions to society.” He said that Paul and Daisy Soros saw the start of graduate studies as an “inflection point” in the lives of these New Americans, a time when high-achievers become fully committed to a professional field of interest, and recognized that significant support could help promising individuals focus on their studies and be encouraged about their future prospects. “They hoped to build a unique community of New Americans who were high achievers within their respective fields and committed to giving back to the United States,” said Harwood.

As true partners in life and philanthropy, Paul and Daisy Soros were also addressing an unmet need: far fewer resources are available to pursue graduate studies as compared with a much larger, although still insufficient, set of scholarship and financial aid programs to support undergraduate studies. Guided by academic advisors, including Warren Ilchman and Stanley J. Heginbotham, they came to understand that the potential threat of staggering debt often inhibits and can halt even the most able and talented candidates from pursuing graduate degrees.

While many promising students take on the debt of graduate school knowing that they will be able to pay off the debt with lucrative jobs, those jobs don’t always align with their interests. The Fellowships would allow recipients to take on prestigious internships and jobs in their field that would help accelerate their careers and their ability to make an impact. Additionally, the Fellowships would give Fellows and their families reassurance that their chosen field, regardless of its prestige or stability, is one of worth.

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program is highlyselective: Only 30 Fellowships are awarded each year out of an applicant pool of nearly 1,800. According to The Wall Street Journal, Soros stated that he “was hoping that this fellowship would make a real contribution to American culture, the economy and the citizens of this country,” and recognize the immense contributions of immigrants. Over the past 20 years, the Fellowships have supported 625 immigrants and children of immigrants. These New Americans possess heritage from over 80 countries; the most-represented homelands are India, China, and Mexico.

Each Fellowship award provides up to $90,000 (limit of $25,000/year stipend and limit of $20,000/year tuition support) for up to two years of fulltime graduate study in any field at any graduate degree-granting institution in the United States. Online graduate programs are excluded.

A Fortunate Few

The program seeks applicants under the age of 30 “who have demonstrated and sustained accomplishments that show creativity, originality and initiative.” A wide range of New Americans are eligible to apply: children of immigrants, Green Card holders, naturalized citizens, individuals who have refugee or asylum status, and immigrants who have graduated from both high school and college in the United States, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. What is essential: identifying as an American who has the desire and potential to change the world.

In assessing applicants, the program looks for evidence that graduate studies will enhance a Fellow’s future creativity and accomplishment, and that his or her accomplishments are “likely to persist and grow.” In addition, the Fellow must show “a commitment to responsible citizenship in this country.” In summary, the five selection criteria require the candidate to demonstrate:

  • Creativity, originality, and initiative in one or more aspects of their life
  • Commitment to and capacity for accomplishment that has required drive and sustained effort
  • Commitment to the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including “support of human rights and the rule of law, opposition to unwarranted encroachment on personal liberty, and advancing the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society.”
  • Promise of continued significant contributions
  • Graduate training is relevant to career goals and of potential value in enhancing creativity and accomplishment

Fellows are selected through a rigorous review process that is led by an expert team with extensive professional experience in higher education admissions and talent identification. Financial need is not a selection factor. Each application is looked at from a holistic perspective. Recognizing the vast differences in privileges afforded to applicants, the Fellowships considers “the distance traveled” by each applicant. For example, while one applicant may have had a prestigious summer internship, another might have stayed home and taken care of a family member—each is considered a major accomplishment. Key questions in the application process include: What does being a New American mean to you? How does being a New American shape your worldview?

The program identifies 77 finalists each year. The finalists have two in-person interviews, all expenses paid, with a team of panelists comprised of highly accomplished New Americans working in a range of fields.

The selected Fellows immediately become part of an undeniably “unique community” of doers and dreamers. Personal connections are established for each Fellow within his or her cohort, and with surrounding cohorts. Each Fellow is expected to attend two of the program’s annual Fall Conferences, which take place over a weekend in late October in New York City. Most Fellows stay involved with the program through regional dinners, volunteer service with the selection process, and through an alumni program, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association. Since the passing of Paul Soros in 2013, Daisy and other members of the Soros family remain actively engaged and are a familiar and personal presence to the Fellows.

Each Fellow is visited at their graduate institution by the program’s leadership. According to Harwood, these visits include the director or deputy director spending time on campus with the Fellows, their mentors, department faculty, and other institutional figures—even including the university president or chancellor. The program also organizes alumni dinners as part of the campus visit so that new Fellows can meet alumni in their region.

Fellows Thrive

As envisioned, the Fellows have gained from their graduate studies the ability to contribute as leaders through the arts, business, education, government, law, nonprofits, science, technology and other areas—often through boundary-breaking careers that move across sectors. Noteworthy examples of Fellows from the early classes are:

Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., class of 1998, who served as the U.S. Surgeon General during the Obama administration. He was born in England; his Indian parents settled in Miami, Florida when he was three years old. A graduate of Harvard University who holds both M.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Yale University, Murthy is a serial entrepreneur who cofounded Trial Networks, a software technology company dedicated to improving the quality and efficiency of clinical trials, and is the co-founder and president of Doctors for America, a national organization of medical professionals committed to creating an affordable, high-quality health care system.

A current Fellow, Wendy De La Rosa, is pursuing her Ph.D. in consumer behavior at Stanford University. Born in the Dominican Republic, she immigrated with her family to the Bronx, where she experienced and examined the struggles of the working-class poor. After earning a B.S. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked for investment firms Goldman Sachs and Centerbridge Partners. Shifting her attention to research, she helped create Google’s behavioral economic research unit, and cofounded Common Cents Lab, a research-based effort to improve financial well-being for low-to moderate-income Americans. For these accomplishments, De La Rosa was included in the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Fei-Fei Li, Ph.D., class of 1999, who serves as the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision Lab, and previously was the chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Google Cloud. Born in China, Li immigrated with her family to the United States when she was 15. She earned her undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton and her doctorate in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. An author of more than 100 scientific articles in top-tier journals, Li conducts research in machine learning, computer vision, and cognitive and computational neuroscience with an emphasis on Big Data analysis.

Lasting Legacy

Harwood emphasized that the design of the program reflected the early life experience of Paul Soros. He and Daisy conceived of a way to fulfill a young adult need that Paul had known himself. Harwood urged others to focus on identifying an unmet need, and ask “where are we going to be of value?”

In its two-decade history, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans has become a visible vehicle for recognizing the “extensive and diverse contributions of New Americans to the quality of life in the United States.” The initial goal of creating a unique community of New Americans has also been achieved, and perhaps even exceeded—the Fellows, past and present, now constitute an active learning community. To foster greater interaction among the Fellows, Harwood noted that a focus on digital communications “has been a game changer.” For example, a weekly newsletter brings news stories of the Fellows to the entire community.

Appreciation for the life-changing impact of the program was evident when about half of the Fellows—300+ leaders from diverse fields—attended the 20th year celebration. Along with other praise, the Fellows credit the program with “doors that were opened” and “connections that were made.” As a result of their Fellowships program, Paul & Daisy Soros have indeed brought honor to New Americans, and who in turn, continue to contribute in extraordinary ways to the entire nation.

For more on the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans visit

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Improving Healthcare by Investing in the Future of Nursing

Creating a Legacy

What is a legacy? How will you be remembered? Such questions tend not to be asked early in life. How they are answered, at whatever stage of life, can be the defining elements of transformational philanthropy—giving that truly changes individual lives or communities, or addresses more global concerns.

As lifelong New Yorkers, Barbara and Donald Jonas combined professional success along with community service. Starting in the mid-1970’s, Barbara and Donald Jonas began to invest in art, focusing on Abstract Expressionism, and eventually amassed a collection of great consequence and value. In 2006, they decided to sell select works from their art collection to establish the Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund at the Jewish Communal Fund. According to The New York Times obituary for the Bronx-born Barbara Jonas, she said at the time of the sale, “we decided that we wanted to do some things in our lifetime, especially for New York City where we have lived our whole lives."

Having generated the liquid financial resources “to do some things,” Barbara and Donald Jonas were left to determine the purpose of their philanthropy. They asked themselves, where could we make a big difference with a limited pool of funding? Together with their philanthropic advisors, they reviewed a wide range of program options, examining the context, data, proposed intervention, and anticipated impact for each one. They wanted to make a social investment that would generate high social returns. They also expected to be personally engaged as philanthropic partners, and visibly associate their names with the selected cause.

The fulcrum is the point where the greatest leverage can be induced; Barbara and Donald Jonas were looking for a proverbial philanthropic fulcrum. According to former Jonas Philanthropies CEO, Darlene Curley, they chose to focus on doctoral education for nurses “because they believed such an investment would be the most effective way to improve health outcomes.” As Donald Jonas told The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2008, “We were looking for an uncrowded beach, something that we could be very deeply involved in, because that’s what we wanted to do, not just write a check.”

Barbara and Donald Jonas were not the typical “grateful patients” who identify with hospital philanthropy, or the “cure seekers” supporting research to address a specific disease or condition. With their program choice, they were aiming to do something with a larger purpose that would improve the quality of front-line healthcare by elevating the quality and quantity of highly-skilled nursing professionals. To make a meaningful difference, they were aiming for a fulcrum, where their resources could be highly-leveraged, and they saw the funding of nursing education leadership at the doctoral level as such a point. The idea was to “care for those who care for us.”

With an estimated four million employees nationwide, nurses represent the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce. Yet the profession’s talent pipeline is notoriously weak: U.S. nursing schools rejected an estimated 64,000 qualified applicants in 2016 due to insufficient levels of faculty, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. In addition, there is an expected 30 percent turnover rate of faculty by 2024. Between the growth in new positions and the need for replacements holding current positions, the U.S. nursing shortage is expected to surpass one million by 2024. Without an infusion of faculty who could address the profession’s new and increasing skill requirements and research to advance the field’s science and practice, the nation’s demand for nursing professionals would remain unfulfilled.

A seminal 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs: NIH Research Training Program called for “nursing to develop a non-research clinical doctorate to prepare expert practitioners who can also serve as clinical faculty.” A subsequent 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), called for a doubling of the nursing population with doctoral degrees. The philanthropic response by Barbara and Donald Jones to these two compelling calls-to-action was the creation of Jonas Scholars, the signature effort of what became known as Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare (JNVH).

Developing Nursing Leaders

Today, the Jonas Scholars program provides scholarships of up to $10,000 to support tuition of a nursing doctorate. Scholars are also given access to leadership development and professional networking opportunities. The Jonas Scholars program is implemented in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the Scholars are selected by partner Schools of Nursing using specific criteria provided by Jonas Nursing and a competitive review process. Since the program’s launch in 2006, 1,000 Jonas Scholars have earned their doctorates at 157 higher education institutions across the nation; about one-third of these Scholars are focused on improving veteran healthcare. Being designated a Jonas Scholar generates a special source of pride for these doctoral candidates, who also benefit from becoming part of a national learning network that is helping to transform the nursing profession.

JNVH also created partnerships between nursing schools and healthcare institutions to bring greater attention to other pressing issues and unmet needs in the nursing profession. In the early years, partnerships were initially supported with three-year grants ranging from $200,000 to $500,000. Two New York City examples illustrate these partnerships: In the first case, the nursing department of the City University of New York (CUNY) Lehman College worked with Bronx-Lebanon Hospital to increase their number of Hispanic nursing students and provide mentoring and tutoring to help improve their completion rate. In another instance, the nursing school at Pace University worked with Mount Sinai Medical Center to train nurses from communities of color on how to provide better care for mentally ill patients.

JNVH hosts a bi-annual leadership conference in partnership with the Association of Colleges of Nursing. Perceived as a must-attend event in the nursing field, the 2017 Jonas Scholars Leadership Conference brought together more than 400 of its doctoral nursing scholars. During this three-day convening, Scholars examine hot topics within the nursing profession such as patient safety, and network with industry and policy leaders. The 2017 Leadership Conference was also supported by other funders, including the Cornell Douglas Foundation and Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, plus sponsorships from Schools of Nursing from across the country.

Jonas Leaders

To “build the brand” for the Jonas Scholars, the program founders targeted promotion of their efforts with nursing profession leaders and influencers; they also sought out candidates across the nation with the explicit goal of having Scholars represent all 50 states.

One such Jonas Scholar was Wanda Montalvo, a community health expert, who had worked across the nation with federally qualified health centers, professional trade associations, public health, and federal agencies. Having grown up in an upper Manhattan neighborhood that is home to a large low-income, predominantly Hispanic population, Montalvo entered the nursing profession with a strong desire to address health disparities in primary care. Her hands-on efforts to improve outcomes for such chronic conditions as asthma and childhood obesity earned her numerous recognitions, including awards from the U.S. Surgeon General. Following a lifechanging experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Nursing Fellow, Montalvo began studies in 2012 toward a Ph.D. at the Columbia University School of Nursing, where she was selected as a Jonas Scholar.

Jonas Scholars are expected to complete a Leadership Project that addresses a need identified in the 2010 IOM report and meets criteria determined by their respective school of nursing. In 2013, Montalvo’s Jonas Leadership Project focused on the need to develop greater numbers of transformational nurse leaders in New York City. By collaborating with several nursing organizations, she was able to launch a new mentoring effort for nurse leaders; as a result, 177 individuals pledged to help mentor an emerging nurse in leadership and health policy. In further recognition of her professional accomplishments, Montalvo was selected in 2018 as a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine for its Nursing Section and in 2019 as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Lasting Legacy

During JNVH’s first decade, Barbara and Donald Jonas made gifts totaling $25 million to prepare the next generation of nursing education leaders across the nation. They enjoyed supporting Scholars they got to know and were pleased with the program’s distinguished reputation. But they were then confronted further with the question of legacy: In what form would this work continue after they were gone, if at all? They considered several alternatives and determined that their mission of advancing nursing education leadership development would best be realized through a more formal organizational approach. In consultation with family members and various professionals, they decided in 2015 to establish The Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, an independent entity to be located at Columbia University’s School of Nursing under a 10-year, $11.1 million grant.

In announcing Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, Donald Jonas said, “Together, we will create and support excellent educational opportunities for nurses and, as an interdisciplinary, collaborative entity, enhance public focus on the health of our country’s veterans.” Then Jonas Philanthropies CEO Curley said at the time, “The decision to move Jonas Nursing was equal parts pragmatic and visionary.” She added, “At Columbia Nursing, and together with all of our valued partners, our mission to develop outstanding faculty, advance scholarship, and spark innovative practice will not only endure, but will be enhanced.”

In 2018 the evolution of the Jonas Center into the Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare continued when the Jonas Philanthropies was launched. While remaining focused on improving healthcare outcomes, the Jonas Philanthropies program portfolio now includes Vision and Children’s Environmental Health to support efforts that address low vision and blindness, and the impact of environmental factors on prenatal and child health outcomes. Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare is now led by one of its own, Jonas Nurse Leader Scholar Dr. Wanda Montalvo, who has returned to serve in a pivotal leadership role that her younger self could not have imagined. Dr. Montalvo said that the essence of JNVH was to be “an investment that pays forward,” and she herself was a beneficiary of this long-term mindset. She is aided in the work of the Jonas Philanthropies by a growing network of Jonas Scholar alumni, who are becoming the transformational healthcare leaders envisioned by Barbara and Donald Jonas at the outset.

As cited in her The New York Times obituary, “Barbara Jonas had a deep understanding of the value that doctoral education could have on health policy outcomes,” and how influential that could be in nursing, said Professor Bobbie Berkowitz, dean emeritus of the Columbia University School of Nursing. Together with her husband of 65 years, she was able to both advance and advocate for a vital yet undervalued profession and achieve a lasting legacy.

For more on Jonas Philanthropies and the Jonas Scholars program, visit nursing-and-veterans-healthcare.

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Strengthening A Region Through Education

The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) was established in 2015 by Mashreq Bank founder and chairman Abdulla Ahmad Al Ghurair, who was born in the Emirate of Dubai and descended from a family renowned for their business leadership in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Gulf region. With a financial commitment exceeding $1 billion, one-third of his personal wealth, Al Ghurair was guided by his religion, faith, and service to his community to formalize in a foundation what had previously been family philanthropy. At the time, he said that “seeking an education is not only about personal achievement, it is our civic and religious responsibility as Arabs and Muslims. I hope this foundation will help deserving young Arabs fulfill their education quests and that they in turn will help others.”

The Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region’s need to strengthen its educational infrastructure at all levels is unquestionably urgent. According to a 2015 UNICEF report, 13 million children in the region are unable to attend school due to conflict in their home countries. The MENA region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world: 28.2 percent in the Middle East and 30.5 percent in North Africa. With ambitions of providing a high-impact response to this situation, the Al Ghurair Foundation plans to support educational opportunities for 15,000 underserved youth ages 15 to 30 from throughout the MENA region. In its first phase, spanning 10 years, they will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) scholarships as a primary approach.

In describing the launch of AGFE, former program manager of the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program May Wazzan cited a recognition of “education as a tool for empowering young people,” and that scholarships offer a concrete opportunity to “see the impact on an individual.”

STEM Focus

MENA leaders in the private and public sectors are looking to STEM disciplines as the critical vehicles for enabling sustainable economic growth, and STEM graduates are in high demand, given a widespread skills shortage. In urging youth to pursue STEM education, AGFE describes to them the versatile personal life skills as well as the potential for world-changing innovation:

“The world is changing, but you won’t be left behind. STEM is about basic skills that will never grow obsolete and will always be valuable. From numeracy to critical thinking, from analysis to application, you’ll be equipped with expertise that will help you every day. You’ll also get to use your talents in ways you would never imagine.”

With scholarship support from AGFE, students are pursuing degrees in STEM at the American University of Beirut (AUB) as Al Ghurair STEM Scholars. Rasha, Abdel Hameed, and Badriyeh are examples of students who recognize both what STEM offers to them not only personally, but also in service to others. In particular, they represent the kind of “master learners” the foundation aims to nourish. Their early accomplishments also demonstrate the value of STEM education as applied across several sectors. Read about them in the box on the left.

STEM Scholars

Rasha is a young Jordanian social entrepreneur who launched MindShift, a nonprofit academy with the mission of providing life skills training to Jordanian girls, when she was eighteen years old. Majoring in architecture, Rasha is determined to give back to her community through networking, entrepreneurship, and leading a life of true purpose.

Abdel Hameed is a Lebanese national studying mechanical engineering; he also has a passion for social good. Abdel Hameed invented The Virtual Eye, an electronic cane designed to help visually impaired individuals detect their surroundings and assist them in navigating independently. His life-changing invention has received a patent and has won awards at several national/regional competitions.

Badriyeh is a Palestinian who settled with her family in a Lebanese refugee camp. With her own experience of the unhealthy living conditions she encountered there, Badriyeh dreams of becoming a change agent for her community. Studying environmental science, Badriyeh hopes to tackle the most pressing health issues inside and outside the camp, especially garbage disposal and access to clean water.

Program Design

According to Wazzan, a focus on impact was present from the outset of developing the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program. Their initial impact framework highlighted the “big themes” of increasing access for underserved populations to high-quality education; elevating college and career readiness; improving system responsiveness to student and employer needs; promoting the development of future skills, whether within or outside formal education; and accelerating the ability of institutions to address skill gaps in the labor market.

To achieve high-impact, AGFE chose to deploy a partnership model that would provide the well-established components of high-performing college completion programs, such as creating student cohorts. Wazzan stated that their STEM Scholars receive support to cover “the hidden costs of education,” and that the scholarship add-on components AGFE has designed are often “over and above what ordinary students require so that our scholarship can be transformational for underserved youth.”

Internally, the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program has developed and refined a five-stage pathway for their candidates involving youth outreach, application support, a centralized online application, competitive selection, and university placement. Upon selection and entrance to one of its partner institutions, the STEM Scholars Program offers a wide range of personalized supports to ensure student success, and transition to employment. Key features of their evolving operational model, now in its third year, include:

  • Surveying, evaluating and selecting potential partner universities;
  • Sharing an outreach toolkit with non-government and other organizations across the region to promote the STEM Scholars Program to potential candidates;
  • Applying a paperless online process of student application, award, monitoring, requests, and payments;
  • Utilizing a toolkit for selection, contracting, and onboarding of Scholars;
  • Having one full-time dedicated success coach/coordinator per 50 Scholars;
  • Establishing a framework that lists pre-defined attributes, skill sets, and experiences around which each Scholar plans the university journey.

The STEM Scholars program is a competitive merit and needs-based scholarship for young Arab citizens who possess no other citizenship. Financial support includes university tuition, health insurance, housing support, and living/travel expenses. Additional forms of support include being part of a global network of Al Ghurair Scholars, community service opportunities, internships and employment experiences, leadership and skills development, academic advising, career counseling, and mentorship. For many applicants, their main obstacle to pursuing higher education is not financial, but rather preparedness of basic skills, such as language facility or time management.

The Al Ghurair STEM Scholars program now provides comprehensive support to undergraduate and graduate scholars who qualify for admission to 15 partner universities across MENA and abroad, including but not limited to American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon; American University in Cairo in Egypt; American University of Sharjah in the UAE; Arizona State University in the U.S.; and McGill University in Canada. Jointly with AGFE, these leading institutions are working with local nonprofit organizations to identify and recruit qualifying candidates, including refugees, during and after the admissions process. The Al Ghurair STEM Scholars have also become program resources as both Scholars and alumni operate program “ambassador” offices at the country level.

Early Results

Two years into its journey, the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars program strategy has made measurable progress on three student outcomes: expanding underserved youth’s access to education, improving their college and career readiness, and increasing skills development; as well as three community outcomes: cultivating a new cadre of young leaders, empowering youth to rewrite the Arab story, and encouraging scholars to take part in regional philanthropy. To date, the program has attracted 50,000+ applicants, and awarded 600+ scholarships to students from 17 Arab states. Those selected fulfill the promise of increasing representation in higher education and voluntarism for underrepresented groups:

  • 33 percent are first-generation university students
  • 40 percent are female Scholars
  • 17 percent are refugees or conflict-affected
  • 70 percent have gained meaningful work experience
  • 50+ hours of community service per year on average

After obtaining a robust proof for their program concept, the next challenge for the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program to meet their ambitious STEM-centered goals is scaling their efforts using technology while supporting the individual needs of thousands of Arab youth annually. They must also provide consistent and comparable experiences for students across a diverse set of higher education institutions. At the same time, the Al Ghurair Foundation is encouraging their higher education partners to better “connect the dots” with their institutional missions, and not treat the STEM Scholars Program as a “separate effort,” but rather as a model for how universities can be more inclusive, and how foundations can do more than provide financial resources. As a result, the foundation continues to refine the expectations and terms of their partnerships and offer an “intermediate testing ground” for systems change by insisting upon institutional change.

In reflecting on the early days of the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program, Wazzan posed the central question of “How do we design scholarship programs to be more transformational?” She urges other donors to start with high standards and to be unafraid of setting ambitious goals. She’s learned that we can’t always wait to have a perfect design to get started, and it is important to recognize that each context is different. Also, there is only so much we can do independently; this work requires collaboration, partnership and technology to achieve greater program effectiveness. As a result, the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars program is starting to address the immense, growing, and fast-changing talent needs of the MENA region in the early 21st century.

For more on Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education’s STEM Scholars Program visit content/stem-scholars.

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Community Philanthropy Ensures Regional Resiliency

Los Angeles is a leading location for U.S. higher education, and home to institutions ranging from world-class research universities to fine arts conservatories and technical institutions. Many are part of California’s extraordinary system of public higher education; they include UCLA and several Cal State campuses as well as community colleges. Others are private institutions, such as the Claremont Colleges. Yet a sad irony exists: despite the depth and diversity of higher education institutions throughout California, too few students, particularly those from low-income families and underrepresented in higher education, have the support or resources needed to pursue post-secondary education at these highly regarded institutions closest to home. In order to ensure a vibrant, economically competitive future for California, the California Community Foundation and College Futures Foundation believe it is essential to raise college success rates for these students.

One of the oldest community foundations in the U.S. is The California Community Foundation (CCF). Founded in 1915, CCF now has more than 1,600 donor-advised funds and is responsible for one of the largest portfolios of donor-endowed scholarships in the nation. Until 2012, CCF’s scholarship work focused on traditional stewardship and utilization for those scholarship funds. But over the past few years, CCF has raised the bar for how all community foundations can leverage such scholarship funds, gaining greater impact, acclaim, and increased resources in the process.

The transformation of CCF’s approach to scholarships began years ago when two new foundation leaders, CCF president and chief executive officer Antonia Hernandez and then College Futures Foundation president Julia Lopez, forged a professional relationship that led to an institutional partnership. The College Futures Foundation (previously known as the College Access Foundation of California) was established in 2005 as a result of the sale of CHELA, a nonprofit student loan company. With an endowment of $500 million, College Futures awards nearly $20 million annually to catalyze systemic changes in higher education in support of college success for California students from low-income families, who comprise about 60 percent of the state’s K-12 students. In partnership with organizations and leaders across the state, College Futures pursues increased college degree completion and closing equity gaps through a three-part strategy: student-centric practices; leadership; and finance and affordability.

Hernandez and Lopez conceived an ambitious philanthropic initiative that would leverage the financial and knowledge resources of the College Futures Foundation while enabling the California Community Foundation to achieve greater impact with its scholarship resources. Such a partnership was created to enable Los Angeles students from low-income families or students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education to not only access local higher education institutions, but also to complete their degrees. To strive toward this game-changing goal as institutional partners, they created the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund (LASIF) in 2012. Recognizing historic and continued disparities in access to postsecondary degrees, Joanna Saracino of College Futures stated that their shared vision was “a thriving California through greater postsecondary education success.”

Three strategies would be deployed through LASIF:

  • First, build regional education planning capacity by connecting the local stakeholders in structured processes and relationships.
  • Second, improve pipeline “throughput” of regional high schools to colleges by increasing graduation rates and creating more effective post-secondary education pathways.
  • Third, align policy and practice for student success by removing barriers, facilitating data-driven decision-making, improving institutional performance, and reallocating resources.

CCF’s Kelly King acknowledged that even their large portfolio of scholarship funds was “a drop in the bucket” relative to identified student need for 120,000 Los Angeles high school seniors each year, but as a community foundation, they had local knowledge and access to expertise—both essential factors in leveraging its scholarship capacity to drive larger-scale impact and change.

Mutual Fund Model

LASIF is “part high-performing mutual fund, part innovation incubator,” and partners with nonprofit organizations to provide scholarships and services that get students to and through college. By establishing LASIF, CCF was able to bring together separate unrestricted scholarship funds as a pool of scholarship resources, and restricted funds as aligned resources. While some CCF scholarship funds had restrictions reflecting specific donor intent, such as support for students pursuing a specific major, others were defined in more flexible terms.

LASIF became the prototype for the Community Philanthropy for Student Success initiative, a College Futures effort to improve outcomes for students from low-income families in various regions across California. Through this initiative, CCF and other community foundation partners have strengthened their roles as local leaders in promoting college completion; provided scholarship and other forms of support; and encouraged new donors to fund need-based scholarships. As their strategic funding and knowledge partner, College Futures provides grant support to CCF and other California community foundations to increase need-based scholarships and program staff capacity; technical assistance, such as guidance on how to build robust data systems; and research and evaluation to help track progress, measure impact, and address areas needing improvement. As local capacity is increased and college-going and completion rates of students improve, College Futures and its California community foundation partners co-determine their next measurable objectives and methods for achieving them.

Selected LASIF Scholars receive a minimum of $500 per year, and a maximum of $5,000 per year to pursue either an associate or bachelor’s degree at an accredited two- or four-year postsecondary institution in the United States; the scholarships cannot be used to reduce or replace any public or institutional aid. Saracino explains that the LASIF scholarship serves only as a part of what is required for college success: “Our scholarships are intended to be structured as incentives, as part of a comprehensive college advising strategy to increase college attainment for students from low-income families or students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education.” Even the LASIF title emphasizes Scholars, not scholarships, as the program’s focus is centered on the success of each and every student through the pairing of financial resources with essential services like college application assistance and long-term mentorship.

Scholar Spotlight

Local nonprofit organizations, familiar entities to the students and their families, become a friendly “front door” to college. One such student was San Gabriel Valley student Jeffrey Castro, who was supported by LASIF partner Upward Bound, starting in 10th grade, soon after his father passed away, leaving his mother a widow with three sons. Upward Bound provided Jeffrey with comprehensive college preparation services, including academic, financial aid, and college application assistance—they even brought him to college campuses to visit. With strong preparation from Upward Bound, Jeffrey headed to Pasadena City College, a two-year institution, with ambitions of eventually transferring to a four-year institution. To help others, he’s now working for Upward Bound between classes. As Jeffrey said in a CCF profile, “This program takes you beyond your house, beyond your neighborhood. The most important thing is the potential it unlocks in you.”


The sophisticated infrastructure of LASIF is largely invisible to the Los Angeles high school student who aspires to attend college but lacks the necessary financial resources or support. Through LASIF, CCF has assembled a diverse set of community-based nonprofit organizations that have histories of improving college access and success for underrepresented students. They include organizations working exclusively on this purpose, such as the Southern California College Access Network or Project GRAD Los Angeles, and other comprehensive youth-serving entities, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. Organizations that serve specific populations, such as Walking Shield, which serves Native American families, are also included in the roster of LASIF nonprofit partners.

The LASIF nonprofit partners are not simply funding conduits. These nonprofit organizations agree to participate in a collective data system, share best practices, and contribute in other ways to ensure student success and program effectiveness. They are expected to provide, either directly or through referral, pre-enrollment services such as academic preparation, college application and selection guidance, and financial counseling, and post-enrollment services including academic advising, interventions to strengthen social engagement, and continued financial counsel.

Collective Impact

To date, LASIF has achieved impressive results for its Scholars, and is rapidly growing its impact in the Los Angeles region. One telling success statistic: 90 percent of the inaugural class of 2013 persisted to their fourth year of college. In just five years, LASIF has granted $22.5 million, and served more than 35,000 students. So far, nearly 7,000 scholarships have been awarded to students from 158 high schools in the region; 91 percent are first-generation college students. Consistent with the region’s diverse population, the reported demographics for the LASIF Scholars show students who are 75 percent Hispanic or Latino, 9 percent Asian, and 4 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native.

Instead of disconnected, isolated scholarship efforts, LASIF has created a unified vehicle for achieving what has become known in philanthropy as collective impact. The CCF donors, community nonprofit partners, and higher education institutions are now coordinated and supported in their common goal to drive college success for low-income Los Angeles students.

Given the greater percentage of women (66 percent) than men (34 percent) among the LASIF Scholars—as is consistent with the national pattern of enrollment for women in higher education—LASIF launched a new initiative in 2017 to address this gender disparity. A two-year, $2 million “learning process” is now focused on Young Men of Color and is designed as an action-oriented set of projects for an inaugural cohort. Current and new LASIF nonprofit partners are engaged in this targeted effort to improve outcomes for this underserved Los Angeles youth population.

Scaling Success

According to CCF’s King, LASIF is not considered “a time-bound initiative— we now have a new mode of operating.” She and other LASIF leaders are committed to “staying on the cutting edge” of ensuring college completion for students from low-income families. To achieve even greater impact, they are adding new program components, such as the Young Men of Color initiative, which addresses the underrepresentation of young men of color among both college preparation and scholarships programs and higher education more broadly, and the RUSH Fund, a new emergency grants pilot to provide one-time funds to offset unexpected student expenses, such as car repairs or medical care. She also reported that the LASIF experience has influenced other funders, donors, and organizations in the region, especially regarding the relative impact of merit-based vs. need-based scholarships. “We’ve all done a lot of soul-searching. We’re all thinking differently about scholarships,” said King.

Given LASIF’s strong and growing results, College Futures has been able to replicate core elements of the model in partnerships formed with six other community foundations across California. But how can they scale effectively across an entire state? A regional approach to scaling is necessary since most students enroll in a college within 50 miles of their home, whether because of financial, familial, or other personal reasons, and often start at community colleges. Based on the lessons of LASIF and other regional partnerships, Saracino sees how California community foundations are uniquely positioned to “marry donor intent and needs on the ground” in ways that will transform the lives of countless Californians.

As proud alumni of California colleges and universities, LASIF Scholars are likely to remain in the regions that supported them as they pursue their California college dreams, contribute to the cultural and economic vibrancy of the state, and perhaps eventually become LASIF donors, too.

Learn more about California Community Foundation at and College Futures Foundation at

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

A Legacy of Breaking Barriers

Some athletes become legends for their achievements on the playing field. A rare few become legends for not only changing the playing field, but also for changing the game of life. One such athlete was Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), who changed the game of baseball as he paved the way for the inclusion of people of color in America’s national pastime, and then became an advocate for equal rights in all professional and personal settings.

Jackie Robinson’s guiding principle was that “a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” The Jackie Robinson Foundation was created in his name to perpetuate his impact and remembrance. The Foundation’s programming has grown considerably over the past 45 years, yet the Scholars Program remains at the center of its mission.

Legendary Impact

The Scholars program started modestly in 1973, operating out of the living room of the Robinson family home in Stamford, Connecticut for its first five years. The foundation knew scholarship support focusing on students of color was scarce, and those involved understood that it would take more than financial resources to level the playing field. Even for the most accomplished candidates of color applying to the leading institutions of higher education, the obstacles to admission, let alone completion, were considerable. Jackie Robinson himself had been the first varsity athlete in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and track) while at UCLA, but even he failed to earn his undergraduate degree due to financial circumstances. His widow, Rachel Robinson, started the foundation soon after Jackie’s death as she understood the value of higher education in lifting up individuals along with their families. She herself had earned bachelor and master degrees in nursing, and eventually taught at Yale and other institutions.

Its hands-on, four-year program includes peer and professional mentoring, internship placements, leadership training, travel and community service opportunities, practical life skills development, and networking opportunities. Since its founding, the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) has provided more than $85 million in scholarships and direct program support to over 1,500 students of color, representing 45 states and the District of Columbia. These JRF Scholars have attended 260 colleges and universities and have achieved a nearly 100 percent graduation rate—more than double the national average for African-American college students. About twenty selective higher education institutions have served as key program partners, including Cornell, Harvard, Spelman, UCLA, University of Michigan, and University of Minnesota.

Seventy-five corporations, foundations, and individuals sponsor the annual group of 242 JRF Scholars in keeping with Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodger uniform number “42”. These sponsors range from corporate entities associated with Major League Baseball, such as New Era and Nike, to funders of college success, such as the Strada Education Network, to private foundations and other Fortune 500 corporations, many of which commit to multi-year funding.

An Evolving Effort

While the JRF Scholars program has remained at a relatively small scale in comparison to other national scholarship programs, the design features of the program center around long-term commitment. Each JRF Scholar receives a total four-year commitment of $30,000 in financial assistance so they are not left to wonder what would happen to them after freshman year. This core financial support is then reinforced by JRF’s year-round Mentoring and Leadership Development Program, a sophisticated, research-based approach to nurturing the essentials skills for success in college, work, and life.

JRF’s four-year mentoring curriculum is delivered by JRF professional staff, JRF Scholar Advisory Committees (a volunteer corps of 90 professionals across the country organized into nine regional committees consisting of approximately 10 members each), JRF Scholar alumni, and various program partners. By tracking each JRF Scholar’s college career in a personal file maintained over four-years, the JRF Mentoring and Leadership Development program is able to customize services to meet the needs of individual scholars. Over the past 45 years, the opportunities and services have been adapted and refined to meet the diverse needs of these students.

The components experienced throughout the Scholar’s college journey include:

  • A four-day mentoring, learning, and life skills conference held each spring in New York City prior to the JRF’s annual black-tie fundraising gala. The conference features the JRF 42 Strategies for Success curriculum that is organized around seven key areas: academic excellence; leadership, service and civic engagement; health and wellness; personal and character development; financial empowerment; and career and professional development;
  • Internships and employment opportunities;
  • Career and mentoring services delivered in-person and online;
  • Engaged year-round adult and peer mentors;
  • A three-day New Scholar Orientation conference;
  • Community service requirement and facilitation.

Measurable and Visible Impact

The JRF Scholars program has benefited from careful monitoring of student progress, refinement of its model, and a willingness to adapt its model based on changing student needs. As JRF president and CEO Della Britton noted, a wide range of challenges can interrupt or end the journey to a college degree for even the most committed Scholar; for these students, “life often happens more harshly.” By providing ongoing and comprehensive support, the JRF enables nearly all Scholars to more than survive the rigors of elite academic environments—they thrive and contribute to the success of others on campus.

Attentive tracking of individual student progress—and the ability to intervene—generates a powerful evidence base for the foundation. Based on the past 10 years of data, statistics that demonstrate the impact of the JRF Scholars program include:

  • 98 percent graduation rate, compared with an overall 41 percent rate for African-Americans;
  • 62 percent graduate degrees attained, compared with an overall 8 percent rate for African-Americans;
  • 63 percent participation in community service, compared with an overall 19 percent rate for African-Americans;
  • 84 percent participated in a campus club or organization, and 67 percent held a leadership role.

Originally established in order to increase access to higher education, The College Board, a strategic partner of the foundation, is now placing a greater emphasis on student inclusion and success and is looking to the JRF Scholars program for guidance to inform its own new scholarship program.

In considering the added value of the JRF Scholars program for these high-achieving students of color, Britton categorizes the different degrees of support received by students. For about half of the students, the JRF Scholars program enables them to feel fully supported and obtain strategies and opportunities to excel beyond what ordinary institutional aid would provide to students with high financial need. For approximately a quarter of students, the JRF Scholars program serves as insurance against drop-out; in other words, these students will attain degree completion despite confronting obstacles, benefitting from JRF’s early identification of and response to such obstacles. For the most academically-prepared students, the JRF program provides networking opportunities, career guidance and practical skills that allow them to both “self-actualize careerwise” and better navigate environments that can be intimidating or perceived as unwelcoming. According to Britton, “Black students too often do not reach out to professors and internship supervisors to ask for help. They don’t go to office hours; they don’t want to reveal any weakness. But the JRF Scholars know they can come to us with any problem.”

Scholars Stories

Grateful for the impact of the program on their careers and lives, past JRF Scholars from more than four decades are now active as alumni and serve as role models for the next generation of Scholars.

As a committed and engaged network, both the JRF Scholars and alumni are a growing resource for the program. JRF board chair Gregg Gonsalves, class of 1989, graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University; after working at Mobil Oil, he earned an MBA from Harvard, and eventually became a Goldman Sachs partner.

Victoria Lamothe ’21, a current JRF Scholar at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has described her own experience as lifechanging: “Thanks to JRF, I have been given so many opportunities that I never imagined I would have; I feel so blessed. I have been able to travel abroad for the first time to Tanzania, receive the opportunity to intern for AT&T, and build connections with successful mentors. Additionally, JRF has given me a second family that supports and cares for me. I am truly grateful to be a part of this organization.”

Expanding Impact

The JRF has added complementary programs in recent years to further enhance opportunities for its Scholars. Starting in 2006, JRF began the “Extra Innings” Fellowship to provide fellowship support for Scholars pursuing graduate studies. To date, nearly $1.6 million in “Extra Innings” support has been awarded to 95 JRF Scholars.

In 2007, JRF established the Rachel Robinson International Fellowship Program (RRIF) to promote and fund international service and study opportunities for JRF Scholars, with the help of a matching gift that established an endowment for the program. Once selected, every JRF Scholar is assisted in obtaining a U.S. passport to encourage students to think about traveling abroad during their college careers. Since 2007, 136 JRF Scholars have traveled to 40 countries, and, beginning in 2017, the entire rising sophomore class of JRF Scholars travel together to Tanzania for a two-week service trip.

The JRF Impact scaling initiative is the foundation’s ambitious effort to expand the impact of the JRF Scholars program beyond their annual cohort of 242.This new venture, now in the testing phase, aims to bring key elements of the Mentoring and Leadership Development Program and its “42 Strategies for Success” curriculum to tens of thousands of college students of color through a dynamic online platform, a set of institutional and organizational partners, and a network of participants.

During a three-year development period (2017–2019), JRF will pilot the JRF Impact offerings with cohorts of Scholars, applicants not selected as Scholars, and students reached through university partnerships. A research agenda is also envisioned, utilizing the program’s activity data to better understand patterns of minority student success. Through this scaling initiative, JRF expects that they will be able to dramatically increase the number of African-American college students who:

  • Attain a bachelor’s degree
  • Graduate from college with a full-time job or admission to a graduate school program
  • Align their skills and interests with career selections
  • Benefit from JRF’s on-line job portal developed with corporate sponsors and other partners
  • Grow professionally and personally through JRF’s mentoring curriculum.

The Legacy

The JRF is guided by five core values embodied in the life of Jackie Robinson: integrity, discipline, courage, compassion, and humility. He was a trail-blazer as an athlete, businessman, and humanitarian. Thanks to the steadfast support of his family and admirers, Jackie Robinson is remembered not only for what he accomplished in his lifetime, but also in what he still inspires in the lives of so many others. As JRF president Britton heard from a recent Scholar, they “are part of an amazing continuum.”

For more on the Jackie Robinson Foundation visit

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Transforming America Through Community Engagement

Bonner Scholars and Leaders are changing the world, one campus at a time. Despite a relatively small presence on each campus of between 30 and 120 students, the Bonner Scholars and Leaders are making an outsized impact. Through both program intent and implementation, students in the Bonner Program are leading a revolution through “Bonner Love,” a term they coined themselves to describe how their lives as college students are defined by service. Bonner Foundation president Robert (Bobby) Hackett has written that the phrase Bonner Love “spread throughout our network as a way of articulating who they are and what they do. They seek to emulate Martin Luther King’s goal of creating a beloved community that shows ‘understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies.’” Thanks to an extraordinary act of donor generosity and faith placed in these students, Bonner Love is indeed changing the world.

Building a Movement of Service Leaders

Since its experimental start at a single institution, according to Hackett, the Bonner Program has become “the largest privately-funded, service-based college scholarship program in the country,” now present on 66 campuses nationwide and engaging over 3,000 students each year. The scholarship targets high financial need students—85 percent are Pell-eligible, and one-third are first-generation—and affords them the opportunity to serve 280 hours during the academic year, and another 280 hours through paid internships with nonprofit agencies during the summer.

Real estate developers recognize that lasting success requires much more than location, location, location. They also understand that building for enduring value requires the ability to leverage resources—financial and reputational, for starters—and, perhaps most of all, you need to engage trusted partners in your ambitious endeavors. Bertram F. Bonner (1899- 1993) was a real estate developer who brought his considerable business acumen and his most trusted partner, his wife Corella, known as Billy, to his philanthropy pursuits. Bonner is credited with building more than 30,000 homes and apartments during his real estate career, leading to unimaginable success for someone who was born into poverty. Upon her marriage in 1942, Billy gave up her career in the hotel industry, but she never forgot her rural South roots and the poverty she experienced in the coal-mining towns of Appalachia.

In 1989, deciding to deploy his fortune to “displace despair with opportunity and help the person who is hurting,” Bertram Bonner turned to Wayne Meisel, a recent college graduate, to help him convert his aspiration into action. Bonner was impressed by what Meisel and his friend Bobby Hackett had accomplished since graduating from Harvard. Meisel and Hackett were leaders in a growing movement to engage college students in community service and had created the Campus Outreach Opportunity League (COOL) as a national vehicle for this purpose. COOL was the realization of their belief that “young people should be key leaders of a youth service movement.” They even produced a handbook, Building a Movement: Students in Community Service.

The Bonners were hands-on in the early days of their namesake foundation and were learning by doing. Initially, they focused on food insecurity, creating the Crisis Ministry Program, which continues to support anti-hunger organizations working in partnership with local congregations of all faiths. At the same time, Bertram Bonner and Wayne Meisel started to shape the vision of what would become the Bonner Scholars Program. Meisel coined a defining motto: “Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve.”

Bonner Scholars

Now in its third decade, the Bonner Program continues to grow with 3,000 active students and an alumni network exceeding 18,000 members. In 2018 a project was started to track the stories of Bonner Scholar and Leader lives after graduating from college; an initial set of 30 alumni profiles shows the breadth and depth of their accomplishments. Bonner Scholars include:

  • Bonner Scholar Hannah Gibbs, class of 2019 at Centre College in eastern Kentucky, who has led various efforts to address poverty and homelessness. She described in a campus publication that a culminating week-long initiative offers “a chance for our campus community to engage with our own values of servant leadership and global citizenship on an accessible scale for students, faculty, staff.” She said that “the week is designed so that everyone has a chance to learn, and everyone has a chance to teach.”
  • Bonner Community Fellow Rainbow Chen, class of 2021 at Brown University in Providence, RI, is working with Youth in Action, an after-school program for disadvantaged and underrepresented high school students. She is leading these students in an effort to tell the stories of residents living in a low-income, majority Hispanic neighborhood in “Humans of Providence.” She said in a campus profile that “this is not just a job for me. I am so lucky that I get to spend time with these youth who are going to make such a big difference in the world.”

An Early Experiment

Through financial support for scholarships at Berea College, an institution in rural Kentucky known for its work-based learning model, and dialogue with Berea’s president, Bonner and Meisel considered the potential for including service-based work as a part of the institutional focus on work-based learning. What if a student’s work requirement in their financial aid package was replaced by community service work? What would be the impact on the student, the institution, and the community? With this focus on service, the Bonner Scholar Program was formally launched at Berea in 1990.

Pleased with the early Berea College student success stories, and impatient to grow impact, the foundation quickly expanded the Bonner Scholar Program to 11 other campuses the next year, and then 11 more in the second year, mostly supporting colleges in the Appalachian region, birthplace of Corella Bonner, and other schools in the South. Bonner was said to have believed in “fast nickels, versus slow quarters” to grow the program—in other words, provide small current-use dollars to test institutional interest, and then make larger, endowed gifts if a true commitment to student-led service was evident.

In 1992, Hackett, Meisel’s college friend and colleague at COOL, joined the Foundation as Vice President. Hackett was driven to “empower communities with the best thinking on how to tackle the problems they face” by engaging students as community-based researchers. He believed that given adequate support and training, students could “inspire and inform action in communities across the country.”

Program Design

According to Hackett, “while the Bonner Scholars program targets high-need students, they are also recruited based on their commitment to making the world a better place, and that this is what defines them rather than their socio-economic background.” The Bonner Scholars are known as the “service stars,” and this campus identity “makes an enormous difference in how they experience college.”

The intensive, four-year developmental and cohort-based Bonner program model was in place from the outset in 1990. But the approach has been refined and expanded based on the first-hand experience of the students, staff, faculty, and community partners engaged in implementing it. The model emphasizes:

  • A Community Engagement Framework that describes community partners (service providers, collaboratives, and campaigns), student roles with them (client service, service leadership, capacity-building, and social action) and the campus infrastructure required to guide the linkages among student, institution, and community.
  • Transformational Goals that depict the units of change as concentric circles, moving from individuals and places to programs to organizations to systems.
  • A Four-Year Progression that shows how time and resources adjust over a student’s college experience to enable him or her to develop as a service leader from a “personally responsible citizen” to a “participatory citizen” to a “social justice citizen.”

Each campus is responsible for supporting a Bonner Program director and coordinator. In turn, the Foundation staff ensure support and accountability through campus visits, resource development, national meetings, and professional development opportunities. To ensure consistency and cohesion across diverse higher education institutions, the individual Bonner Scholars are also bound together by the program’s Common Commitments: Community Building, Civic Engagement, Social Justice, Diversity, International Perspective, and Spiritual Exploration.

The funding model for the Bonner Scholars program is unusual and relies heavily on leverage. Twenty-one of the original 22 institutions support their respective cohorts of 30 to 100 Scholars through restricted endowments provided by the Bonner Foundation. A match of roughly four to one in foundation to institutional cash resources was required to establish the endowments, which now have a combined value of $225 million, and support 1,500 students annually. Under the Bonner Endowment Agreements, the Bonner Foundation reviews fund usage on an annual basis to ensure full compliance with donor intent. Since 2009, an additional 45 schools have started the Bonner Program using a combination of Federal Work-Study and institutional funds. Six of these institutions have received Bonner Foundation endowment funding to support their Bonner Leader programs, which have a lower level of start-up and financial aid requirements.

Various national efforts were launched in the mid-1980s to encourage what has become known as service-learning, including efforts by Campus Compact and Youth Service America. During the 1990’s, the creation of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the AmeriCorps Program provided financial aid support for students in the Bonner Program and the Learn and Serve Program. These Programs also allocated funding for service learning, including nine years of funding to a Bonner Foundation-led consortium that supported faculty to integrate community-based research into academic courses.

Higher education institutions interested in starting a Bonner Leaders Program are guided through a structured application process. Three to four new schools typically join each year. Foundation staff support them in developing strategies to recruit service-oriented students with financial need, provide service-based scholarships or stipends, and form deep community partnerships where students complete service and capacity building projects. According to Hackett, the participating higher education institutions represent a growing “coalition of the willing and able.” With an “open source” approach to its knowledge, the foundation encourages those institutions that do not have the resources to join the Bonner network to adopt its philosophy and adapt its methodologies.

To better understand the effectiveness and multiple impacts of the Bonner Program, the Foundation funded a 10-year longitudinal study across 25 campuses in 2010. The Student Impact Study found that the Bonner Program model did contribute to student success, leadership development, and lifelong civic engagement. The Foundation has published this study and other articles and books that have contributed to the service-learning research base. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated the first 25 years of the Bonner Scholar Program with a special publication saluting its entire national network.

Campus Change, Program Continuity

Constancy and continuity in vision for a foundation’s leadership over three decades has undoubtedly contributed to the steady evolution of the Bonner Program, despite inevitable change and succession on partner campuses. Following her husband’s death in 1993, Billy Bonner took charge until her passing in 2002. She visited campuses throughout the growing Bonner Network, and brought her “firm handshake” and personal commitment to service to all she met, especially the Bonner Scholars. Meisel described her interactions with Bonner Scholars as “spiritual, if not magical.” After 21 years in the founding leadership role, Meisel was succeeded as Bonner Foundation president by Hackett in 2010.

The values of founders Bertram and Billy Bonner also endure in the defining concepts and characteristics of the Bonner Program. They include recognizing service as a transformational act for students, campuses, and communities; promoting service by everybody, everyday; building the infrastructure to enable that service to become a common, student-led commitment; and encouraging a national learning community that collaborates to make best practice become common practice. Most of all, Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve remains the guiding principle for spreading Bonner Love.

For more on Bonner Foundation visit

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor

Increasing College Completion for Generational Change

“We are family” is all one really needs to know to understand the I Promise program created by the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF). The foundation’s focus is on family, and family is much, much more than relatives or the people in your home. Family is anyone and everyone who can help a young Akron student succeed. If that student happens to live in a low-income, single-parent home, as did the young LeBron James, then that student does not need to be limited in achieving his or her dreams by household circumstances. All students in the program become part of a much larger family—teachers, mentors, tutors, after-school program directors, coaches, college counselors, community partners and all the other caring adults who engage in the I Promise program. Everyone becomes part of the “We” in “We are family.”

The young LeBron James, one of the most accomplished athletes of all time, needed much more than his considerable talent and a devoted parent to survive, let alone succeed, growing up in Akron, Ohio. He needed family, and he created one along the way. Now James, his immediate family, and his closest colleagues are focused on creating a family for a steadily growing group of low-income Akron-area students with a clear goal in mind: tangible, transformational change in the region, not only for these students, but also for their families. As described by LJJF executive director Michele Campbell, “We’re creating a model for generational change here in Akron.”

Generational change cannot start in high school. Campbell, a former assistant dean of student life at the University of Akron, understands that preparation for college success begins in the earliest grades. Generational change also does not occur through isolated acts of generosity and kindness, but rather, needs to be connected to a larger action-oriented agenda for what can be.

Akron students who participate in the I Promise program are not alone in their journeys. The I Promise family supports them at every step in their journeys. Students can feel their extended family cheering them on—in the classroom, on the playing field or stage, on the University of Akron campus, and other familiar Akron sites. The I Promise family is always there, all the time.

I Promise

LeBron James established his family foundation in 2004, during his early career years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The LJFF started out by undertaking traditional charitable and educational activities. For example, beginning in 2008, the LJFF sponsored an annual “Bike-a-thon” to bring together Akron families for a day of service and fun. The “Bike-a-thon” was a visible reminder of how a bicycle gave freedom to a young James, who would explore Akron beyond his own neighborhood, play basketball with students from other schools, and imagine a life beyond the one he knew. The “Bike-a-thon” was a typical “one and done” event with only short-term expectations and limited impact.

Then James made the decision to move his professional basketball career from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. However, James was highly-identified with Akron—his image was everywhere. James and his foundation team did some soul searching to understand his responsibility to Akron and how the foundation could make a more meaningful difference. Hosting events was great for community-building, but were they really contributing to consequential change in Akron?

James saw education as “the driving force of change,” even though his own formal education had not included college. James recognized that most people need college degrees to pursue professional success. So, to ensure such success for young people in Akron, he created the I Promise program in 2011 and focused his attention and the foundation’s resources on a class of Akron Public School third-graders. The goal: stay in school. With a keen appreciation of the “life-changing power of education,” the I Promise program brought comprehensive resources, incentives, and support to these students and their families.

Within four fast years, the I Promise program continued to grow—adding a new class of third graders each year. Its programming and interventions also matured along with the students, who are now in middle and high school. In partnership with the University of Akron, the LJFF then made a bigger commitment to these students: A guarantee that all eligible I Promise students will be awarded four-year college scholarships. By 2016, the LJFF established the I Promise Institute at The LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education on the University of Akron campus. As a year-round, around-the-clock resource center, the 7,000 square foot I Promise Institute is a critical vehicle for acquainting younger students with life on a college campus. After all, the goal is not simply to get students to college, but to help them graduate from college. A group of experts, known as The Bureau, was also established to advise on the I Promise program’s research and development needs, and strengthen Akron’s post-secondary pathways to college, military, or workforce.

Knowing that the I Promise program was changing the life trajectories for now over a thousand third-graders led to the LJFF’s most ambitious effort to date: The I Promise School. Created in partnership with Akron Public Schools, Campbell describes the I Promise School as nothing less than “an effort to remake urban education.” The I Promise School’s motto: “Nothing is Given. Everything is Earned.” The inaugural class of 240 third- and fourth graders were selected by lottery from a pool of qualifying students based on need. Now, LJFF is working to grow the program and extend to eighth grade by 2022. Along with a STEM-focused curriculum and an emphasis on experiential learning, the I Promise School provides comprehensive academic, emotional, and career support for its students. The LJFF has also worked with the Tech for Social Good team of JP Morgan Chase to develop software to track student progress as they work towards earning their college scholarships.

I Promise students receive steady support from their teachers and program-related staff; such consistent, positive attention contributes to the self-confidence of students, especially those who have experienced adult abandonment or neglect. James is their chief cheerleader, and he communicates directly through letters, phone calls, and video messages throughout the year. In his “I’m Just a Kid from Akron” messages, he urges the I Promise students to excel, and gives recognition to those who do so; they know he’s paying attention to their efforts, and that he cares.

Families Matter

Families were an integral part of the I Promise program design from the start. Through the school’s Family Resource Center, parents can earn their GEDs, gain language proficiency from English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and access career development support. In this way, the I Promise School is educating entire families. No longer deterred by expenses, parents can access the resources to earn GEDs through the I Promise Too program.

One such parent is Emily Ross, a high-school drop-out and single mother of four, who was working hard to support her family with a minimum-wage job. After her daughter Morgan joined the I Promise program, Emily entered the I Promise Too program, where she was paired with a mentor from the JP Morgan Chase partnership “Chase Your Dreams.” The I Promise Too program covers expenses such as course costs, laptops, and exam fees. Having earned her GED, Emily is now working as a Chase bank teller, earning more, and seeing potential for career advancement. Through I Promise Too, prospects for Akron parents are also improving.

Pathway to College

From its early days as a single class of third-graders, the I Promise program has grown to more than 1,300 students from third to tenth grade and will continue to grow as classes are added. The first class of I Promise students will graduate from high school in 2021. A pipeline of I Promise college-ready students is being filled in Akron and will continue to expand exponentially each year. The LJFF and the University of Akron have committed to obtaining and providing full, four-year scholarships for all of the eligible I Promise students who meet both academic and community service requirements. In-state tuition and fees currently total about $10,000 per year. On its 218-acre campus, the University of Akron offers more than 200 associate, bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees, and serves a diverse population of 21,000 students via full-time, part-time, and online courses.

The I Promise Institute at the University of Akron is gearing up for the arrival of the first I Promise high school graduates, who will receive ongoing support there. Most I Promise students at the University of Akron will be first-generation college students and will need personalized guidance to ensure degree completion. Over the next few years, the Institute will test and refine interventions with current students at the University of Akron, where half the students are Pell-eligible and a reported 15 percent are under-represented minorities.

In constructing the entire pathway for I Promise students from third grade to college degree completion, the LJFF is not trying to create the perfect model for success but instead is embracing iteration. Realistically, a sense of urgency prevails. In responding to critics, Campbell says “the students can’t wait until we have all the answers. We have them for a very brief time.” To better meet student needs in the here and now, Campbell urges others to simply listen to current students and their families, and “ask, what more do you need?” Most of all, she implored others to “know who you are serving. Just taking the time to listen requires no dollars.”

The LJFF is also bringing I Promise program elements to 38 other Akron public schools, often through the Hard Work Club, an afterschool initiative. To fill other program gaps, the LJFF is working with local institutional partners to build new community capacities, such as tiered mentoring programs. As part of for-credit courses, University of Akron education students learn effective mentoring skills, and then work on-site with middle school students. This intergenerational approach is also used with 330 Ambassadors, a resource comprised of Akron High School students who mentor elementary students. One 330 Ambassador, Aaron Brown, described his mentoring experience through all four of his high school years as “life-enriching,” and said, “it impacted my mindset to work harder and give back.”

To bring its resources to the neighborhood level across Akron, the LJFF has created multiple advisory boards and established relationships with twenty-three (and counting) community partners. To find community partners that are a “good fit” LJFF engages them in a multi-step review process. Campbell has learned that “the We are Family approach is not for everybody.” The community partners that “fit” fully understand that the entire family is always there for the I Promise student—for not just the victories, but, even more importantly, for the disappointments.

Long-term Orientation

In approaching their work as “generational change,” the LJFF distinguishes itself in planning for the long-term while acting effectively and intensely in the short-term. The organizing design principle of We are Family says that the relationships are for keeps, and not to be taken for granted or tossed away. The promise in “I Promise” is one that is meant to be kept—by the students, and by James, his family, friends, and everyone else engaged in this endeavor to transform Akron lives.

Regardless of where he plays, Akron is home for LeBron James, and, through his family foundation, he is helping young people in Akron achieve their professional and personal dreams. They, too, hope to be champions, and agents of change.

For more on the I Promise program and the LeBron James Family Foundation, visit

This case study is one of 12 in a suite of case studies focused on how donors are supporting scholarships to create change. The case studies have been developed in companionship with Candid’s project Scholarships for Change, a dynamic hub that pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships.

About the author(s)

Philanthropic Advisor