Into the New Year: The Center for Civil Society Studies and the Global Sustainability Agenda

By on January 13, 2015

In 2012, the United Nations began to explore how best to build upon its Millennium Development Goals, the set of objectives that has guided international development work over the past 15 years. With environmental degradation and global warming increasingly prominent on the world’s agenda, and new concerns about the durability of improvements in living conditions and quality of life for the world’s growing population, a new watchword has been chosen to guide the next 15 years of development work: “Sustainability.” The upshot is a new set of “Sustainable Development Goals” designed to ensure not only that the global community address the problems of poverty, ill-health, inequality, and environmental degradation, but that it do so in a way that produces sustainable, permanent, and environmentally sensitive change.
Meeting these goals will require not just the efforts of governments and the private business sector, but also of the civil society sector, which offers unique renewable and sustainable resources for social and economic problem-solving and for the promotion of democracy and civic engagement. Throughout 2014, our Center planted a number of seeds designed to help foster and sustain a robust nonprofit sector in a position to play its part in promoting this sustainable development agenda. As we begin the New Year, allow us to describe some of these seeds that we expect will bear fruit during 2015 and beyond.

Given the growing mismatch between social and economic needs and the resources available to meet them at the global level, it has become increasingly clear that new models for financing social and environmental objectives are urgently needed. Fortunately, an enormous proliferation of new actors and tools is emerging on the frontiers of traditional philanthropy that could usher in a new phase of social purpose finance. However, these new developments have remained nascent and largely uncharted, limiting their reach and their ability to make the jump to a broader network of participants. To overcome this, Center Director Lester Salamon and a team of colleagues has been at work on a major volume designed to introduce a much broader array of stakeholders to these new actors and tools. This past June this work came to fruition in the publication by Oxford University Press of Salamon’s New Frontiers of Philanthropy: A Guide to the New Actors and Tools Reshaping Global Philanthropy and Social Investing. As a companion to the full edited volume, Oxford also published Salamon’s introductory chapter as a stand-alone volume under the title Leverage for Good: A Guide to the New Frontiers of Philanthropy and Social Investment. Both volumes are available through Amazon at the links above, or can be purchased directly from Oxford University Press. These books have already gained widespread exposure and presentations have been organized or scheduled in London, Moscow, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and several U.S. venues.

Also completed last year was another body of work designed to boost sustainable funding for social and environmental purposes, this time by identifying a strategy for capturing in foundation endowments at least a portion of the enormous resources generated through the privatization of government-owned or -controlled assets. Called Philanthropication thru Privatization, or PtP, this strategy is now the focus of a new book, published in September 2014 by il Mulino, a prominent Italian publisher of social science books. Entitled Philanthropication thru Privatization: Building Permanent Endowments for the Common Good, this book reports on a project carried out by Lester Salamon and a team of associates to provide the first-ever documentation of this PtP phenomenon around the world as an initial step toward promoting this strategy as a highly feasible way to expand the pool of permanent charitable assets, particularly in countries where endowed foundations are in short supply but significant privatization of public assets is under way. Focusing on five different forms of privatization, from the sale or transfer of state-owned businesses or property to debt swaps and lottery or mineral-rights proceeds, the PtP Project identified nearly 550 existing examples of such PtP foundations, including some of the largest and most reputable foundations in the world, such as Germany’s Volkswagen Foundation, Italy’s foundations of banking origin, New Zealand’s network of “community trusts,” Belgium’s King Baudouin Foundation, and close to 200 health conversion foundations in the U.S. The book then draws on 22 case studies to identify the factors that seem most conducive to PtP outcomes, the most effective ways to structure PtP deals and foundations, and the track record that PtP foundations have achieved.
At a time when privatization is facing stiff citizen resistance yet governments are increasingly looking to privatization to relieve heavy indebtedness, PtP offers “win-win” opportunities for governments, businesses, and citizens alike. The result is an extraordinarily promising idea for bringing important new resources into the support of civil society organizations and into the solution of long-term social, economic, and environmental problems.

Another kind of contribution to sustainability during the past year was our involvement in work with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to institutionalize a process we initiated a decade ago to extract data on nonprofit employment from the Bureau’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). This source covers an estimated 97 percent of nonprofit employment but historically has not broken nonprofit employment out of overall private employment. Through a technique that our Center developed for our Nonprofit Economic Data Project, we have been able, with BLS help, to extract the nonprofit data from the BLS files. Now the BLS has agreed to generate such data itself on a regular basis using a slightly modified version of the procedure we developed, thus creating a sustainable source of state-by-state data on nonprofit employment. We are grateful to the Aspen Institute’s Cinthia Schuman for assistance in convincing the BLS to take this step and to our Center’s Wojciech Sokolowski for the technical wizardry that helped make this process possible. The BLS is accepting comments in support of an annual release of these data, and we encourage you to let them know that you would like them to continue this in years to come.
To ensure the widest possible use of this data source, we are now in the process of creating a robust, interactive web site that will give interested parties the ability to fine-tune tables and charts using this database. This will vastly increase the ability of state nonprofit associations, nonprofit umbrella groups, and others to track the size and economic impact of the nonprofit sector in their own state or region and draw useful comparisons to other states, regions, and fields of nonprofit action. Look for the launch of this site by spring 2015.

As another example of the creation of a sustainable source for the rich resource represented by timely information on the scope, contours, and financing of nonprofit institutions, 2014 also witnessed the delivery to the UN Statistics Division of the first four chapters of a revised version of the United Nations Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts. This Handbook is one of two important additions our Center has helped to make to the official statistical machinery used globally to portray aspects of national economies, the other one being the Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work issued by the International Labour Organization in 2011. Taken together, these documents are already generating a vastly expanded body of basic data on nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and volunteering in countries around the world. However, recent reforms in the overall System of National Accounts (SNA), with which the UN Nonprofit Handbook is connected, has made it necessary to undertake a revision of this Handbook, first, to bring it into alignment with the changes made to the broader SNA system; second, to incorporate the internationally sanctioned definition of volunteer work and the procedures for measuring it outlined in the ILO Volunteer Measurement Manual; and finally, to take account of the experiences of the nearly 20 countries that have already implemented the original UN Nonprofit Handbook.
A draft of a substantial portion of the updated Handbook is now being reviewed by the UN Statistics Division and our goal is to have the revised version issued in 2015.

In addition to updating the tools available to statistical offices for generating nonprofit data going forward, our Center is working to make these data more widely accessible by integrating them into a larger database through a partnership with TechSoup Global (TSG) and its affiliate, Guidestar International. The overall goal of this partnership is to help civil society institutions around the world become more sustainable by: first, boosting their visibility, and hence their credibility and transparency, and improving the policy environment within which they operate; second, providing vastly improved access to these organizations on the part of potential supporters and those in need of their services; and third, making available to a far wider array of these organizations free or reduced-price technology software and hardware that TechSoup Global distributes on behalf of hardware and software producers. In the process, this partnership promises to generate at least a limited stream of sustainable revenue for our work to promote the implementation of the UN Nonprofit Handbook and the ILO Volunteer Measurement Manual around the world. This partnership entered a new phase during 2014 with the acquisition of the first two national nonprofit databases and the formulation of procedures for their delivery to Guidestar International for scrutiny and integration into their data-sets and their technology contribution program.

Our Center is also engaged in two projects contributing to the sustainability of the civil society sector in two Central Asian countries. In Kyrgyzstan our Center is partnering with the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in a five-year project designed to foster a stronger civil society sector and promote effective collaboration among civil society, private business, and the Kyrgyz Government. Under the able management of Megan Haddock, our involvement in this Kyrgyzstan Collaborative Governance Project builds squarely on the sustainability theme and involves helping to establish a permanent, university-based capability for training civil society leaders in this country. Sixteen universities have joined this collaboration and, and the first two courses were put into action in the Fall of 2014.
In Uzbekestan, we are working in cooperation with the Independent Institute for Monitoring the Formation of Civil Society to help it and the Uzbekistan Government strengthen the country’s civil society sector in line with the government’s recent policy initiative entitled “From a Strong State to a Strong Civil Society.” In recent meetings with representatives of the Institute and the National Democratic Institute in Tashkent, Center Senior Research Associate Wojciech Sokolowski recently explored a number of ways that our Center’s involvement could contribute to such civil society strengthening in Uzbekistan, including working with statistical authorities and/or local researchers to better measure the scope and structure of the Uzbekistan nonprofit sector; implementing some version of the Center’s Nonprofit Listening Post Project in Uzbekistan; and developing a “training of trainers” program for civil society leaders in Uzbekistan modeled after similar programs that the Center conducted in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

Working through the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Bologna Center, Center Director Lester Salamon and Senior Research Associate Wojciech Sokolowski have been involved in an exciting project to understand the scope and scale of the third sector in Europe, its current and potential impact, and the barriers limiting its ability to have even greater impact. Salamon serves on the management committee of this Third Sector Impact Project (TSI) and, along with Sokolowski, is leading the work to conceptualize the Third Sector in Europe in a way that embraces more than just nonprofit institutions while still retaining operationalizable distinctions from other sectors, and then to the measure the scope, scale, composition, and funding of this broadened Third Sector set of institutions and behaviors. The first Working Paper, “The Third Sector in Europe: Toward a Consensus Conceptualization,” was released on December 23rd.

Another, even more direct, contribution to civil society sustainability in 2014 was the paper that Lester Salamon, Wojciech Sokolowski, and Stephanie Geller prepared for the World Bank’s Global Partnership on Social Accountability outlining a set of sustainability strategies for social accountability organizations. After acknowledging the special challenges that organizations promoting government accountability have in achieving sustainability, the Center team outlined a variety of “new winds” blowing in the government accountability and social-purpose finance fields that are opening new sustainability options for such organizations. Against this backdrop, they outlined five strategies for social accountability organization sustainability: (i) Building the Brand; (ii) Selling Social Accountability; (iii) Selling Byproducts of Social Accountability; (iv) Selling Savings to Government; and (v) Securing and Managing Assets.
A Brown Bag Lunch Session to unveil this report was held at the World Bank offices in Washington on December 17. The report, entitled “Navigating the Future: Making Headway on Sustainability for Social Accountability Organizations,” is available for download from the World Bank here.

Another of our ongoing bodies of work — The Nonprofit Listening Post Project — underwent a reconfiguration in 2014. Instead of launching new surveys, we have been busy exploring with our partners how we can support their key research needs in the years ahead. Several promising such areas have surfaced that we will be pursuing in 2015.

Finally, we are happy to launch a new and improved website for our Center, which has been redesigned with accessibility on all platforms in mind. We hope that this redesign will make it easier for you to follow our work, and we encourage you to explore our publications database, and to learn more about our projects. Please let us know what you think!

In conclusion, we are thrilled with the seeds of sustainability we have planted in 2014 and look forward to their blossoming in the year ahead. Please follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with our work as we harvest the outputs and use them to strengthen the civil society sector in the U.S. and around the world.
From all of us at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, best wishes to you for a rewarding year full of joy and fulfillment!

Original artwork by Nolan Cartwright of EMP Collective, Baltimore, MD.