Unfinished Business

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two strategy issues will be on the Grant Program Committee’s Agenda in December, left over from the “Landscape” and “Program Linkage” discussions.

The first concerns our American Indian grant making. We have articulated the purpose of these grants “to provide opportunities for American Indian people to get post-secondary education in business and business-related areas and training in business skills to help spur business development in American Indian communities.” This has been the main thrust of our grant making but from the outset we have made investments outside of that strategy in cases where we felt that the investment served our mission.

We have made grants to the Lakota Fund, which had more to do with saving a venerable economic development institution than education. Similarly, grants to CAPE, Native CDFI’s and the National Native CDFI Network focus on economic development and not education. In a different kind of departure, we have included off reservation colleges and universities in our Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program. This decision includes a tacit acknowledgement that some of the students we support will not return to live on the reservation.

The Principal’s Course and Dalhousie University’s initiative to increase Aboriginal participation in the health science professions, two recent commitments, are not directly related to either business education or economic development. In the larger scheme of things, however, they are absolutely vital to both. How better to prepare Aboriginal students to learn about business than to improve their schools, particularly elementary schools? And training Native physicians, dentists, nurses and other health professionals undoubtedly contributes to economic development in those communities.

When considering the variance between its articulated strategy for American Indian programs and actual practice, September’s meeting decided to stick with its current grant making and amend the strategy document. We have been working with the program consultants to fashion something that will encompass our current grants and show the way for future investments. When considering this document in December, The Grant Program Committee will have to face issues that are fundamental to the Foundation’s American Indian grant making.

The second strategy issue concerns the Foundation’s grants that serve people with disabilities. The 2005 Program Advisory Committee (DPAC) concluded that the Foundation should address the issue of unemployment of people with disabilities. Since then we have funded programs focusing on education and on various approaches to employment on a “trial and error” basis.  The Foundation’s mission statement has been changed to include “employment” and in September, the Committee resolved to keep its dual focus of education and employment.

The Foundation’s portfolio serving people with disabilities needs restocking and December’s meeting will give direction for new investments.  What is our niche in the employment business and how best can we pursue and develop it? How much of our grant budget will we devote to it?

As already noted, the American Indian strategy questions are more fundamental. Should the Foundation help American Indians wherever they may be or should it focus primarily (or even exclusively) on Indian reservations? Should we continue to broaden the scope of our education based grants? What about “business” grants that do not involve education?

The strategy questions facing the Committee are difficult and it will never have all of the answers. As the Foundation becomes more experienced and knowledgeable new questions arise and grant making evolves and improves.

May we always have unfinished business.