A recent issue of InsideHigherEd.com features a fascinating article about the Ford Foundation‘s trials and tribulations funding higher education in Russia. What’s most intriguing about the piece (aside from its superior reporting) is the frankness of the Foundation’s admission that its efforts to "scale up" improvements in Russian higher education ran aground–and the surprise we all feel at hearing someone in philanthropy tell that particular truth. "Scaling up" is often the death of promising initiatives, as an idea gets out of the hands of the people whose commitment made it work in the first place. Ford’s assessment of its own decisions and their unanticipated consequences is particularly refreshing because it includes proposals about how to try again.
But the most delicious observation comes from Ford’s Russia maven Steven Solnick, who said
that amid all the talk of the glories of “new philanthropy” (in other words, the Gates Foundation), there was much to be said for the traditions of “old philanthropy.” And although he said Ford hated being thought of as “old philanthropy,” he said there is “a lot to be said for stable philanthropy” where you think less about “reinventing” everything and more about “protected zones” for efforts that need time.
Imagine that: a foundation officer who understands the need for sustained general support, and that chasing the latest rainbow gets you mostly worn-out soles. Do you suppose his understanding could be "scaled up" so that it penetrates throughout the sector?