Higher Education Access and Equity: Why a Social Justice Approach Matters

Higher education and social change are inextricably linked: by providing access to education, a scholarship program provides access to knowledge, resources, and opportunity for not only an individual, but also a community. With many developing countries experiencing youth bulges and a growing young adult population, making higher education more accessible to underserved communities all around the world is a pressing issue. But who is responsible for driving and funding these efforts? As we can see from Candid’s Scholarships for Change case studies and platform, more and more foundations are playing a role in establishing and shaping scholarships as a means to create broader social change.

>>Learn more about how philanthropy is using scholarships to impact society in a broader way, aiming to change whole institutions, industries, and specific communities through these awards at Scholarships for Change.

Foundation philanthropic participation in higher education is not new, but why are they so interested, and what is driving the increase?

In the last twenty years, institutional philanthropy has played an increasing role in international development and aid. Problems of access and equity – and the gaps created between privileged and underprivileged communities – have made a solid case for necessary funding expansion. Foundations have traditionally been seen as fit players, certainly capable of contributing to this growing demand.

In a recent study by the Institute of International Education, we explored the link between philanthropy, higher education, and social justice by asking why foundations are investing more in international higher education and which endeavors have been successful in bringing about positive social change.

chart of philanthropic giving to education issues

So, if access and equity are driving forces behind foundations’ involvement in higher education, are these efforts effective?

The short answer? Sometimes.

Two preliminary findings emerged in our study. First, while foundation investment in higher education has increased overall, largescale efforts to break down barriers to pervasive education access are not widespread. While themes of higher education access and equity have risen to the top of the development agenda, outcomes differ considerably from one context to another. There is an evident need for more foundations to support these initiatives.

Second, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Exclusion factors span from the quality of secondary education, geographical isolation, differentiation within ethnic and racial groups, lack of access to information, or simply being born or living in a region characterized by chronic marginalization. Programs that tackle higher education should take a nuanced approach to understand the context of the populations they are supporting, not focus solely on blanket approaches to scale-up.

So how can foundations be sure they are investing effectively?

Let’s be honest: In today’s context, the provision of higher education in and of itself is not an effective or sustainable approach.

It needs to be the responsibility of every foundation working in higher education to ensure that their program includes a well-informed strategy to target underprivileged individuals. Programs that focus solely on academic excellence, for example, are more likely to select students from privileged backgrounds that will contribute to a growing gap in individuals from upper and lower economic strata. Without addressing the roots of inequality and systematically supporting those who are traditionally excluded, education and exclusion gaps will remain.

The second part of our recent study asked what we could learn from recent higher education programs that have been successful in bringing about positive social change through scholarships and fellowships. How can foundations working in the sphere of higher education ensure that their money is well spent? A few promising practices have been observed in different parts of the world and they deserve to be highlighted and duplicated.

How can we make this happen?

Make a Common Agenda with the Right Partners

Our study noted that higher education scholarship and fellowship programs that have common agendas, whether between donors and academic institutions or between government and international partners, often lead to sustainable partnerships and better program outcomes grounded in shared goals and visions. For example, one way to do this is to decentralize coordination and work with local grassroots organizations to understand marginalized communities, help identify individuals who need support, and provide the necessary context and nuance for long-term engagement. These organizations are often the most connected to the communities they work with; they have access and know how best to engage with them.

Provide Holistic Support

Let us also recognize that supporting students from underserved communities is complex and identifying and supporting these individuals takes considerable time and resources.  Our study found that programs supporting underserved communities were successful when they adopted an integrated program approach.

For example, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP), focused on the principle that higher education is an essential long-term investment for addressing major social issues. IFP’s alumni impact study has found that the integrated nature of the program – providing pre-academic training, funding and academic supports, and additional support through networks and services – created a holistic funding model that supported Fellows before, during, and after the program. This support has manifested itself in the success the Fellows have had beyond the Fellowship. Findings from the Ford Foundation’s IFP, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, Dell Young Leaders program, and the Moshal Scholarship Program provide evidence that a tailored approach — often centered on individual’s needs — extends well beyond financing the degree. It’s essential to provide financial, social, emotional, and job market support to further help people from disadvantaged communities overcome their challenges to completing their higher education.

Case Study Image     Case study graphic

Document Impacts for Decision-making

Finally, it is imperative to measure and document the impact of higher education scholarships and fellowships. Think ahead and plan for meaningful monitoring, evaluation, and learning strategies that will give you valuable data about your higher education scholarship initiatives. This will allow you to demonstrate the return on investments – particularly the social impacts of investing in individuals for social justice – to your stakeholders and promote an evidence-based decision-making culture.

In conclusion, higher education remains a key pathway for social mobility and economic opportunity. Equally important, providing educational opportunities for the most underserved populations continues to be a worldwide priority providing a key pathway for donors to make an impact. If individuals are not presented with the same opportunities, the equity and access gaps will widen, and social mobility and economic opportunity will be compromised.

Adopting a social justice approach to higher education is a win-win situation and, candidly, the one the world needs right now more than ever.

Higher Education Access and Equity: Why a Social Justice Approach Matters


About the author(s)

Evaluation and Business Development Specialist
Institute of International Education

Adapting to the Times: College Now Greater Cleveland Adjusts Scholarship Program for Pandemic Era

This blog is part of a new series focusing on how scholarships can be a force for greater change. Learn more about "Scholarships for Change," including tips for donors, case studies, and grant funding trends.


Founded in 1967, College Now Greater Cleveland has been adapting and evolving for over 50 years. However, for an organization that has, we thought, seen it all, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a new challenge for College Now. Here, we are glad to share some of the insights and lessons we have learned during this unprecedented time.

College Now Greater Cleveland was founded in 1967 as a scholarship organization designed to help students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) afford a college education. The organization’s founders, Robert Coplan and an anonymous donor, quickly realized that it would take more than just scholarship dollars to help prepare these students for a postsecondary journey – they didn’t even know what steps to take to begin to access education after high school!

It would, instead, take creating a culture of “college knowledge” in the CMSD to truly help students access college. This is how the concept of College Now as it is known today was created. Advisors were placed in CMSD high schools to complement guidance counselors and assist students in understanding the steps necessary to take to access college.

Our services have changed throughout the years to meet the needs of our students of all ages. We have expanded our work into five counties throughout Northeast Ohio and serve over 30,000 students each year. Our scholarships now serve both traditional college students and adults looking to restart or finish their degrees. We pair our scholarship recipients with a mentor to help them through their college journeys, and we recently served as a key partner in bringing the national initiative Say Yes to Education to Cleveland, to provide gap-closing tuition scholarships to Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduates. In short, College Now has constantly adapted its services as the needs of students, families, and the community changed.

This year has been no different. When the coronavirus pandemic hit Northeast Ohio in mid-March and resulted in the statewide shutdown, we knew that it was vital for our organization to continue serving students; that it was, in fact, more important than ever to let our students know we were there for them and would continue to support them in the ever-changing world of the pandemic.

As our work adapted to reach and serve our students during COVID-19, all our teams at College Now took time to adapt their own outreach methods, modify their programming, and truly find ways to reach students where they were.

Through virtual one-on-one and group advising, College Now’s team continues to ensure that students are prepared to pursue their postsecondary education in the fall. This includes individual virtual sessions with students who will receive a College Now or Say Yes scholarship next academic year to ensure they understand all elements of their scholarship, no matter what their fall semester will look like.

Shortly after institutions across the country made the switch to virtual learning this year, the team at College Now also began making individual check-in calls to all students in the Mentoring Program to ensure they received resources. Additionally, College Now staff continue to work virtually with adults in the community (non-traditional college-age students) who are interested in returning to school but who may be experiencing financial difficulties or loss of employment during this time. Knowing that education is a gateway to financial security, College Now staff are trained to help clients research in-demand careers and begin appropriate education pathways toward more certain futures.

Much of our work is, in essence, suited for a virtual world. Our Mentoring Program, started in 2011, is primarily an online Mentoring Program in which students and their mentors talk through an online platform about their college years. Our scholarships have always been flexible for students, and we work with them to ensure that the dollars are used to fill the gaps in funding where they are most needed, including room and board or books. But, of course, our staff has learned several lessons that will deepen our work moving forward, COVID-19 pandemic or not.

1. Diversify communication methods

Since so much contact with students is now dependent on electronic and virtual methods, our staff has found themselves having to learn new technologies and use new platforms to reach students. When, previously, an in-person meeting or quick phone call would work, advisors and staff members are now having to find students through alternate methods. We have used platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, GoToMeeting, and social media to reach students with important information.

While we have always known social media is important to reach students and families, it is now a more reliable way to communicate with students. Social media is key to reinforce parts of our messaging.

We have also found it vital to tailor our communications to the medium we are using. For example, the Mentoring Team hosted an Instagram takeover on College Now’s Instagram platform to share tips about online learning and mental health in an engaging and collaborative way that invited student input. Their team has also used texting for a summer melt campaign comprised of quick questions or simple reminders. To check in personally with students, phone calls were the method of choice.

Understanding different methods of communication better and how they work to reach students will continue to serve College Now in the future. We are hopeful that we will be able to invigorate our social media presence to reach more students after learning about how truly effective it could be during the pandemic.

2. Build empathy, care, and concern into all communications

Regardless of the goals of a communication – be it information gathering, or needing students to take a specific action – our team has learned how truly important it is to show care and concern in our messaging, and to be mindful of timing and frequency of messages. Too many messages when things are already stressful can make students feel overwhelmed and burdened, while waiting too long to reach out can give off the appearance of not being concerned.

Additionally, being cognizant of what is going on in the world and how it affects your students is vital. The racial injustice protests of late May and early June were an additional moment for our team to think about the importance of communication with our students and letting them know that we supported anyone affected by the movement. If possible, it also makes a world of difference to create intentional and dedicated messages designed to express concern and offer emotional support to students. The more personal a message, like a phone call, the better. This, again, lets students know that you are thinking of them and are there to support them if things are challenging.

3. Flexibility

No one can predict how things will play out with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to be ready to adapt to the changes affecting our students as they happen. For example, we know that we will need to wait longer this year to learn where students will be matriculating in the fall, as many are making last-minute decisions or changing their minds based on how campuses are handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Students usually meet with College Now over the summer for a session in which our scholarship team helps them understand their financial aid award and financial aid package for their schools. This year, we met with many students virtually, but understood that some students were unable to have a virtual summer meeting or would be unable to make a matriculation decision until they would be on campus. We are working with our college partners more closely than ever to ensure our students are continuing to receive supports on and off (?) campus and are able to address their financial aid and other questions that College Now typically helps them with over the summer.

Additionally, students in the College Now Mentoring Program are typically expected to have three in-person meetings with their mentor each year to supplement monthly communications via our online platform. We have always been flexible with what “in-person” can mean, and are adapting even more so this year as the pandemic makes traditional in-person meetings challenging. Zoom calls, FaceTime, and even talking on the phone can be considered “in-person” meetings for students and mentors who cannot meet safely during the pandemic, and we know this flexibility will translate into future years.

Serving as a Support System

The bottom line to the lessons College Now has learned during the pandemic, and how it will shape our future work, is that we understand at a deeper level now that we are more than a source of funding for students. We are more than advisors on the college-going process. College Now is a support system for students of all ages, and a resource for students to share their concerns, their struggles, and their fears. Our ability to find the communication methods that work best for our students, and to infuse our outreach with care and concern, showed our students that we remain in their corner, even if they may feel that everything else is in chaos.


About the author(s)

Director of Marketing and Communications
College Now Greater Cleveland

Can Students, Parents, and Higher Ed Survive a Global Pandemic?

This blog is part of a new series focusing on how scholarships can be a force for greater change. Learn more about "Scholarships for Change," including tips for donors, case studies, and grant funding trends.


As a philanthropy advisor who works with individuals to help them chart a course for making an impact with their giving, I can attest to the strong interest many donors have in supporting access to higher education.

Some do it because they themselves were scholarship recipients and want to give back to a system that supported them when they needed it; others do it as a way to level the playing field; some want to support the institutions that they hold deep affection for; and others because they see education as a way to improve outcomes for struggling communities.  In short, there can be as many motivations as there are donors. But what they share in common is a yearning to make a difference.

So, last year when Candid launched its new Scholarships for Change website, I was excited to dig into the data and case studies showing how scholarship dollars can be used to effect transformative change. The website, funded by the Ford Foundation and Mellon Foundation, provides funding trend data, case studies, and an interactive grants map with more than 680,000 scholarships.

The case studies highlight the kinds of strategies that funders with many years of experience in supporting scholarships are using to change the lives of individuals, and also change whole regions, institutions, and communities for the better. From Ascendium’s emergency financial aid for unexpected student expenses, to the LeBron James Family Foundation’s strategy of engaging whole families in supporting first-generation college students, the case studies provide an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at how funders are enabling transformative change for scholars everywhere.

So Many Unknowns

Reflecting on these ideas of emergency student aid and the plight of first-generation students, coupled with recent conversations I’ve been having with colleagues and friends, makes me realize the enormity of the need students, parents, universities, and philanthropists will be facing.

COVID-19 has changed everything. Though the full impact of a global pandemic on higher education is not yet known, the disruption that it is causing in the lives and futures of American students is undeniable. Nationwide, colleges and universities are trying to decide whether or not they can safely reopen campuses in the fall. Uncertainty is wreaking havoc in the lives of students, parents and faculty members throughout the country. Yet even in crisis, there are moments of clarity.

Despite the disruption, a whole generation of students is still forced to go through the motions of applying for colleges and financial aid, and deciding whether or not to make the leap to college in the fall. And those who are currently students have seen their college experiences uprooted, shifting from once-engaging campus interactions with faculty and fellow students to less than satisfying remote online instruction. Most students have had to move home, adding layers of emotional complexity to their parents' and siblings' lives as well as their own.

Shortly before sheltering in place began in the Bay Area, I’d joined a women’s incubator at the Hivery, a women’s creative workspace and community at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Every Friday for three months, this group of 21 highly motivated, talented women were scheduled to meet  in a beautiful workspace to help each other bring our passion projects to life. But just three weeks into the incubator, the coronavirus led to sheltering in place and all of our gatherings pivoted to Zoom virtual meetings. As we checked in with each other online to see how we each were doing, it became clear that the unprecedented challenges that their children now faced were taking a heavy emotional toll on the mothers in our group.

A catalytic bonding moment occurred for all of us who hadn’t known each other well before the incubator began, when one of the participants teared up and told us how she and her son were both struggling with fear. “My son’s clamming up,” she said. “I’m afraid for him to travel. We’re considering letting him take a gap year.” Others jumped in, noting that their finances were stretched now, yet tuitions remain the same. “No one wants to pay full tuition for an online experience,” someone added.

Another mentioned the sheer terror her child was going through. “She’s talking about death. We’re all watching too much news and get anxious when we constantly hear about people getting sick and dying.”

Participants commiserated over children concerned about looking for work as the economy crashed, frustration and confusion over credit/no credit grading systems, coveted internships that may no longer be possible, entering freshmen looking at their dreams deferred, and concerns that college may become even more out of reach for first-generation students than it already was.

Envisioning Philanthropy’s Role

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, higher education grantmakers, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina, Kresge, and others share these concerns and are focused on efforts to get more emergency aid directly into the hands of students who were already at a financial disadvantage and who will be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 economic turmoil.

The Scholarships for Change case studies also provide a helpful playbook for donors to follow when it comes to meeting the needs of first-generation and economically disadvantaged college students. The Ascendium Dash Emergency Program helps low-income and underrepresented students complete college by creating a safety net of small grants designed to help students overcome unexpected financial setbacks.

Aside from financial setbacks that low-income students may now be facing, another consideration is the change of educational setting as many college students have had to return home and access remote learning. How will first-generation college students get the educational support and mentoring that they need? The LeBron James Family Foundation's I Promise Scholarship case study provides some helpful insights for donors about engaging entire families and multiple generations in the effort to change life trajectories with access to education. The focus is not just on the student, but also on supporting educational attainment for parents and extended family of the student.

The Wall Street Journal (Colleges Ponder Fall Semesters) notes that the return to normal may take many years. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, a higher-education advocacy group, estimates that the number of students on campus will decline by 15 percent, causing $23 billion in lost revenue. Some colleges may not survive the financial shocks of the pandemic, particularly those with small endowments, less than $24 million.

For funders seeking impact in this challenging environment, it’s safe to say that approaches that were effective prior to the pandemic will be equally but more important going forward. The need for scholarship support, for instance, will be intensified as the economy and the job market slowly recover. Financial support will be critical for first-generation students and for those who were financially vulnerable prior to the crisis, who may no longer consider higher education an option without significant scholarship support. Graduation rates may decline as students facing new financial hurdles--whose college plans may be disrupted--need to take much longer to fulfill academic requirements. Plans may need to be put in place to lure back dropouts.

Going forward, colleges will need to be much more proactive in anticipating and addressing the needs of students whose lives have been impacted by COVID-19. As a funder, it always makes sense to keep in close communication with your contacts at a college you’ve funded, and it is especially critical now to ascertain as realistically as you can how colleges are addressing the specific needs of their students and faculty.

Approaches for Impactful Funding Going Forward

  1. Give unrestricted support that will allow colleges and universities the flexibility to meet students’ needs as they arise and to design programs that will bridge workplace and college learning, encourage entrepreneurialism in an age of diminishing jobs, or ease students’ transition from community colleges to four-year institutions, or from colleges that may close during the crisis to more viable institutions.
  2. Increase funding for support programs for first-generation and financially vulnerable students.
  3. Encourage other funders to join you and leverage your support. Tech philanthropists Jennifer and David Risher's #HalfMyDAF set an inspiring example recently by setting up $1 million challenge in matching grants for nonprofits whose backers pledge to donate half the money they keep in donor advised funds to nonprofits by the end of September. One hundred nonprofits will receive matching grants of up to $10,000.

Funding in a pandemic crisis and its unknown aftermath is uncharted territory. But now, as never before, it’s essential to communicate with your grant partners and to adopt a flexible mindset in addressing their evolving needs.

About the author(s)

Founder and principal
Centerpiece Philanthropy

New Scholarship Tool Maps the Landscape of Change

Providing funding for academic scholarships is often the most likely entry point for new philanthropists, and also very popular among small and family foundations. Large international foundations are also significant funders, alongside individual philanthropists, universities, and governments. Collectively, annual expenditures of academic scholarships in the U.S. totaled $2.2 billion (Candid’s 2017 foundation figures).

Perhaps you know someone who benefitted from an academic scholarship, or perhaps you were a deserving recipient yourself. Yet beyond the individual recipients, have you stopped to consider why scholarships are such an enduring staple of most donor’s philanthropic portfolios? Many of us believe in the transformative power of education, realizing that a scholarship will not only increase access to educational opportunities, but that the education may transform the individual, their families, their communities, and their society.

The United Nations agrees with these ideas. In 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals as a global plan of action for economic, social, and environmental improvement worldwide. As part of this ambitious agenda, higher education scholarships were mentioned as a tool to “substantially increase” by 2020, with special focus on the least developed countries and the science and technology fields.

I research international scholarship programs, with a particular focus on the influence of scholarships on social and economic development across systems, countries, and regions. My focus is on the ways that individuals influence societies. Yet in my research and consulting work, I am often asked questions about the programs themselves: How many programs exist? Where is the gap in funding? Aren’t all scholarships the same?

These kinds of questions just became much easier to answer, with the recent launch of the Scholarships for Change portal. Created by Candid, this resource is designed to help donors increase the impact of scholarship giving. The portal is incredibly comprehensive, including over 680,000 grants that result in countless more scholarship opportunities. Moreover, the site provides funding trends data, an interactive grants map, case studies from leading programs, and a curated knowledge center. Since its launch, I have already recommended the portal widely to those who are both looking for a broader view of grantmaking and deeper insight into the more plaguing questions in the field. It is also a valuable resource to scholarship seekers, who have access to insights and strategies from the donors themselves.

There are two aspects of the portal that I appreciate most. First, the funding map! The interactive map allows you to set criteria and search for grants by recipient profiles, funder profiles, specific geography served, or geographic area covered by the award. Even more exciting, you can search based on the “desired change” or outcome desired by the funder, allowing you to see who else is trying to achieve similar goals in the same place.

Based on my research, this aspect could be a real gamechanger. In 2019, Dr. Aryn Baxter at the University of Idaho and I published a study that showed that scholarship alumni associations that existed for 10 or more years shifted into social change organizations. In short, their main focus was on the social or community changes rather than individual recipients, and they had either partnered with other alumni associations or opened their membership to non-alumni to work together to reach these social change goals in their home countries. While the Scholarships for Change portal was not created to build a network for social change among alumni associations, the idea of mapping funders which have similar goals can surely lead to interesting and exciting collaborations and put the goal at the center of the conversation.

Second, the portal has a rich library of materials which include academic books and articles, program evaluations, videos, case studies, and think pieces. I am proud to see some of my own research there, alongside a case study of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and the Ford Foundation’s IFP alumni tracking study reports. To have access to these myriad resources is truly a treasure chest from which scholarship funders—big and small—can benefit.

As a researcher, I have partnered with others who administer, evaluate, and research scholarship programs worldwide to share academic literature and program evaluations through the Scholarship Program Research Network. We were happy to share our list of materials with this portal to bring greater attention and to share the lessons learned across time and organizations in this accessible, free platform.

One final note: Dr. Mirka Martel at The Institute of International Education, Dr. Aryn Baxter, and I started the Scholarship Program Research Network in 2017 (more information here) because as researchers of international scholarships, it was difficult to find materials; many funders do not publicly share their evaluations. I encourage any funders reading this post to consider submitting their materials to the site, so we—funders, administrators, evaluators, and scholars—can learn from each other and continue to improve these programs for future recipients.

About the author(s)

Assistant Professor
Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Case Studies Reveal How Donors are Changing the World One Scholar at a Time An Interview with Author, Jane L. Polin

Scholarships for Change is a new, open-access website created by Candid that explores how donors are using scholarships as a force to accelerate the broader change they hope to see in the world. Though all scholarships can change lives, some scholarships are also designed to improve institutions, communities, economies, industries and even whole regions. Scholarships for Change pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are achieving such change and guides funders in the practice of scholarship grantmaking.

Jane L. Polin authored a series of 12 new GrantCraft case studies for Scholarships for Change, spotlighting established programs with an impressive record of change.  She brings nearly four decades of innovative leadership experience within the nonprofit and private sectors in high-impact investment of philanthropic resources. Now serving as a philanthropic advisor, principally in the fields of the arts, education, and workforce development, she has completed complex assignments for a diverse set of national clients, including field-building initiatives, such as Funding Futures: Scholarships as Agents of Social Change (2016) for The Ford Foundation; Transforming Arts Teaching: The Role of Higher Education (2007) for the Dana Foundation; and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, an award-winning funder collaborative launched in 2007.

In this interview, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Candid, discusses Jane’s insights and reflections about the new Scholarships for Change case study series.

Janet Camarena: Jane, you’ve devoted much of your career to helping donors think through the impact they want to make with their education dollars. Are there any trends you’ve noticed in the field of funding greater access to higher education and how did those trends surface in the case studies?

Jane L. Polin: Yes, several trends can be observed in these case studies.  First, the traditional emphasis on college access has been replaced by a commitment to completion.  Too many students begin college, and do not obtain their degrees. Only 58% of U.S. college students complete their post-secondary degrees within six years. Second, high-need students require much more than financial aid to cover tuition expenses; recognition is growing that they require comprehensive assistance. Third, institutions are changing their practices and policies to better support scholarship students, but a more widespread use of proven practices is still needed. That’s why illuminating real innovations, such as the emergency grant program advanced by Ascendium Education Group, is so important. Fourth, the core issues and needs are global in nature. That’s why the Mastercard Foundation is facing many of the same concerns in African nations as the Kauffman Foundation has encountered in the greater Kansas City region. Making such connections between programs and sharing approaches across geographies are both of immense value to the field. Fifth, in speaking with the program leaders, I found an eagerness to learn from the experiences of others. That’s indicative of a healthy trend to learn from those with experience, a track record of change, and a willingness to share lessons learned.

JC: Since new donors often enter philanthropy by making a scholarship award, what do the case studies have to offer about the best way for these donors to begin to think about the impact they want to make?

JLP: Engaging in a learning process is essential. To begin, I would suggest donors to spend time considering their responses to the 12 questions posed in the Donor Resource Guide we developed for Funding Futures:  Scholarships as Agents of Social Change. The first three questions address donor aspirations: What is your goal? How will you define success? How will you measure progress toward success? These simple but not easy questions demand thoughtful deliberation.

I would then urge donors to explore the Scholarships for Change case studies; they will find both ideas and inspiration. Over 12 weeks or months, they can discuss: What are the key lessons we see here? What are the implications for what we want to do? Do we want to pursue our own program purpose, or perhaps join an established one, such as TheDream.US that’s working to support degree attainment for students with DACA status, or further increase achievement for students of color with The Jackie Robinson Foundation?

Allowing sufficient time for learning, planning, and relationship-building is necessary for success. As the case studies reveal, the donors both “learned by doing” and enabled their efforts to evolve over time. But a substantial investment of time and thought prior to program launch was critical to maximizing impact and minimizing missteps.

JC: The donors profiled in the case studies were intentionally selected to represent a wide cross-section of the field. Despite the variety, did you find any common themes or approaches across the case studies that might be helpful for those entering the field?

JLP: The most critical common denominator across the 12 studies is that careful attention to program design drives impact. Finding, defining, and refining a focus, and making design choices that support that focus, creates a “what” and a “who” for the program. In the LeBron James Family Foundation case study and in other instances, the definition of “where,” or a sense of place, is a primary focus factor. Another feature that distinguishes these cases is their time orientation: the “when” is viewed in terms of decades, not days. After creating consensus for the “why” through a learning process, and the “what,” “who,” where,” and “when” during a planning process, these programs have all excelled at the “how:” high-quality implementation. When challenges were encountered, or results were disappointing, they adjusted their approaches.  They also listened to all of their stakeholders, especially the scholarship students themselves.

JC: One of my favorite aspects of this effort is the many inspiring stories of change you were able to document. Can you pick one or two to highlight that give our audience an idea of the scale of change donors have been able to achieve through scholarships?

JLP: Fully agree, Janet. One of the myths concerning scholarship support is that the impact is limited, and matters only to the recipient. Not true! As with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, program beneficiaries are having a profound “multiplier” effect on other individuals, institutions, and issues. The STEM Scholars we featured are already increasing inclusion beyond the university and throughout the Middle East and North Africa region in ways that impact thousands of lives, yet they are just three of an anticipated 15,000 program participants. A vast scale of change has been well-documented by the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), a global initiative focused on developing social justice leaders. The associated 10-year tracking study is a rarity in the scholarship field. Having reached its mid-way point, the IFP alumni tracking study is documenting how 4,305 individuals, often overlooked by other higher education programs, are now leading change in their communities, nations, and fields of interest. Vo Thi Hoang Yen, the IFP fellow featured in the case study, has become an honored leader in advocating for persons with disabilities throughout southeast Asia. Her example, multiplied by thousands, shows how well-designed scholarship support can yield large-scale, transformational change.

JC: If you were to start a Jane L. Polin Scholarship Program in the future, what might you do differently than might have otherwise been the case, based on what you learned from your case study research?

JLP: Scholarship support is personal for both of us, Janet. I’ll always be grateful for the donors who made my undergraduate and graduate degrees possible. I’ve actually made an initial commitment to funding a Jane L. Polin Scholarship at Wesleyan University, designating my support for a student of independent status. Now, if I had the resources to fund an entire program, I’d put on my professional hat and consider various lessons from Scholarships for Change. For one, donors can influence each other, and leverage can be a powerful tool in creating greater and sustained impact, as we found in the Bonner Program. Among the exciting examples we explored is how the Los Angeles Scholar Investment Fund enabled existing resources to achieve greater impact through more effective use of pooled and aligned funds with a select set of higher education institutions. So, in designing any scholarship program, I’d be even more mindful of how coalitions of donors and institutions can come together to achieve even larger and more lasting impact.

Conducting the interviews and related research revealed the extraordinary range of scholarship program endeavors – they are as varied as the donors themselves. Donors can choose to be visible ambassadors who offer a personal presence, such as the Jonas and Soros families, or they can be unseen partners. Whether the donor is visible or invisible, their stories will be best told through the years by the students and alumni of the scholarship programs created during their lifetimes. As the closing song from the Broadway musical Hamilton asks us, “Who tells your story?”

About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning

Philanthropic Advisor

New Tools to Help You Create Change

The school year is now in full swing, which means as a working mom, when I’m not on Candid duty, I’m staffing my kids’ activities and coordinating carpools with other busy parents. I’m happy to champion their latest interests, but the time and energy I invest makes me aware of the embedded inequities of a system that relies on parental involvement for educational and enrichment activities. From the time and fees involved, it’s easy to see how the paywall to such activities is too high for many families.

This experience and awareness deepens my appreciation for the newest Candid tools that are designed to help philanthropy contribute to a more fair and just society. I’m excited to announce that today we launched Scholarships for Change, a new website that documents how donors are harnessing scholarships as a force for change.

Through scholarships, fellowships, and grants philanthropic institutions can and do work to increase access to enrichment and educational opportunities. As donors become more ambitious in tackling the world’s issues, some have developed strategies to create change that extends far beyond an individual recipient—from increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to creating an economic engine in struggling communities, and more.

Funded by the Ford and Mellon Foundations, Scholarships for Change provides a centralized place for donors to learn from peer strategies and funding trends. The site includes an interactive grants map, a curated knowledge center, and 12 new GrantCraft case studies that together serve to orient, inform, and empower donors with a road map to effective scholarship philanthropy.

The case studies, written by philanthropic advisor and friend, Jane L. Polin, cover the areas of change most frequently addressed by scholarship programs and identify strategies, approaches, and lessons learned by experienced funders. From Ascendium’s provision of emergency financial aid for unexpected student expenses, to the LeBron James Family Foundation’s strategy of engaging whole families in supporting first-generation college students, the case studies provide an inspiring and informative behind-the-scenes look at how funders are enabling transformative change for scholars everywhere.

I also want to highlight another important tool we launched just a few weeks ago, Investing in Native Communities. This interactive site aims to encourage greater philanthropic funding and support to Native American communities. It includes funding data, a new research report, and a GrantCraft case study on improving how we talk about and collect data in Native communities. One particularly unique and inspiring feature of the site is the rich history captured through a historic timeline developed from a Native perspective. This is a tool I look forward to sharing beyond philanthropy, including with my kids so they can understand more about the history of Native Americans and the land we live on.

Both of these sites are designed to support funders who are delving into this work for the first time as well as more experienced funders who want to increase their capacity and knowledge. Each site can help you understand your role in the field and highlight opportunities to collaborate or plug in. Even if scholarships and Native communities aren’t the focus of your work, the strategies and insights shared can be carried across the field.

At a time when institutional philanthropy is grappling with increasing criticism about how it wields its power and influence, both of these new sites present hopeful signals that philanthropy can be part of the solution. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I have.

This letter originally appeared in GrantCraft's newsletter. To stay updated with our newsletter and special alerts, sign up here.

About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning

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 kauffmanscholars.org, and for more on the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation visit kauffman.org.

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 iie.org/en/Research-and-Insights/ 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 pdsoros.org.

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 jonasphilanthropies.org/ 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