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Mott Foundation revamps Civil Society grant program

Shannon Lawder has been a member of the Mott Foundation's Civil Society grantmaking team since 1995, and she was named program director in 2007. In March 2011, Mott's board of trustees approved a revamped Civil Society program plan that will guide grantmaking through 2018.

In this question and answer, Lawder talks about the new plan, how it will affect grantmaking and some background on Mott's work under this program.

Mott: Your team has spent the past two years refining and refocusing its grantmaking plan. How does this new plan differ from the past?

Lawder: In the new plan, we have identified two central themes — encouraging philanthropy and supporting citizen participation. These will run throughout our Civil Society grantmaking in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, the United States and the global philanthropy and nonprofit sector.

We believe that having two themes allows for greater sharing and learning among our grantees and among our own staff. Also, on a very practical level, we worked to reduce the number of focus areas in which we are working, so we have only seven grantmaking objectives across the program as opposed to 14 under the old plan.

Mott: How will the new plan affect grantmaking in the program's four program areas?

Lawder: Perhaps the most dramatic change in our programming is taking place in the Central and Eastern Europe and Russia program area. Having phased out of new grantmaking in the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), we now work in only two subregions — southeast Europe and the western former Soviet Union. As part of our southeast Europe subregion, we will explore grantmaking in Turkey, which is a new country for the foundation.

In South Africa, we are narrowing our objectives from three to two — one related to philanthropy development and the other to the community advice office sector. In the United States, we now have two objectives. The first will focus on ensuring the nonprofit sector's vibrancy and responsiveness to social needs through maintaining a robust infrastructure, and the second will encourage philanthropy to promote vitality and resilience in local communities.

While we changed the name of our global program area from Special Initiatives — International to Global Philanthropy and Nonprofit Sector, this program area is perhaps the least changed overall. We will continue to have one broad objective that relates to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. However, the main emphasis of this grantmaking will be fostering a global support system for philanthropy.

Mott: Would you provide a little background on the development of the Civil Society Program and how it's evolved?

Lawder: Although Civil Society Program did not become an official Mott Foundation program until 1992, we have been making grants in support of philanthropy and volunteerism in the United States since the 1970s. Our interest in global work began through our support for international exchanges in the community education field. Then, in the 1980s, we started exploring grantmaking opportunities in South Africa and Eastern Europe because of the historic democratic developments in these important parts of the world. Today, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa and the United States remain core areas within our Civil Society Program. Our grantmaking, however, has evolved as we have learned from our experience, and as the capacity of our grantees has developed. For almost 20 years, we have supported increasing the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector and the field of philanthropy to engage people in their communities and societies.

We are currently seeing the fruits of our investments, as well as areas of opportunity and challenge. The world is very different than it was 20 years ago, and our grantmaking has evolved to reflect many of these changes. At its core, however, is the enduring belief that a healthy civil society promotes a culture of respect, freedom and opportunity among, and for, its people.

Mott: What countries are served through the new plan and what went into the selection of these?

Lawder: While our global philanthropy and nonprofit sector grantmaking area plays out in countries and regions all over the world, we currently have in-country grantmaking programs serving 14 nations — Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States.

When determining what countries we would work in under the new plan, one of the most important factors to consider was our own knowledge and experience. The challenges we are addressing in these countries are long-term, fundamental issues that cannot be resolved quickly. It takes many years to build strong relationships and establish trust with local institutions. Therefore, the Mott Foundation tends to remain engaged in a country for a long time.

We recently phased out of grantmaking in the Visegrad countries, but this was only after implementing an exit strategy that took several years and included increasing our investment in these countries during this period.

As I mentioned earlier, we decided to explore grantmaking in Turkey under the new plan. This was a big step for us and it was the result of careful consideration during the past few years. We believe that there are unique opportunities there right now. While grantmaking in Turkey is new to Mott, we already have peers in the country because of our European networks, so we can learn from them and, hopefully, complement their work.

Mott: Your grantmaking plan is built around the concept of "civil society." What does that term mean to the Mott Foundation?

Lawder: Civil society is often used interchangeably with the nongovernmental, nonprofit or voluntary sector. However to us, it is a broader concept. Civil society is an arena for open dialogue and debate. At the same time, it is a platform for associational and institutional collaboration.

At Mott, we believe it also refers to a set of basic human values — dignity, freedom, civility, equity and peace. This broader concept encompasses all three sectors — government, business and nonprofit and voluntary — working together around shared interests, purposes and values. In our grantmaking to promote civil society, we place a special emphasis on the role of a healthy and vibrant nonprofit sector. However, we also realize that no single sector encompasses all the necessary knowledge, skills or capacity to fully meet society's needs. Together, the three sectors constitute the fundamental infrastructure of a balanced, effective and healthy civil society.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

 

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