June 6, 2014
Nearly 70 government and philanthropic leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. on June 6, 2014 for a roundtable hosted by The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy to discuss the emerging infrastructure within the federal government to catalyze partnerships with philanthropy and business. The roundtable, co-hosted with the Council on Foundations, included representatives from a wide variety of federal agencies with offices working on partnerships including the State Department, Education, Housing and Urban Development, the Peace Corps, NASA, the EPA, and FEMA, among others, as well as decision-makers from philanthropy and business.
“While philanthropy and government have a history of joining forces to address issues that range from education and public health to the environment and economic development, such efforts have often been informal and episodic with a good dose of happenstance,” said James M. Ferris, Director of The Center. More recently, Ferris explained, “Offices have emerged at various levels of government to engage with other sectors in a more formalized and continuous way, thereby lowering the costs of partnering. These offices help to bridge institutional differences between government, philanthropy and business by sharing sector knowledge and information, identifying areas of potential partnership and leveraging resources to support them.”
The roundtable was informed by The Center’s study on offices of strategic partnerships. It examines the efforts, structures, and strategies of 21 federal agencies that catalyze, facilitate and accelerate partnerships with both philanthropy and business. This work also builds on The Center’s previous work on such offices at the local, state and federal levels.
Suzanne Immerman, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education and Director of Strategic Partnerships, framed the day’s conversation around the value proposition of cross-sector partnerships, discussing both their emergence, as well as the opportunities and challenges they entail. Ari Matusiak, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Business Engagement, highlighted the importance of partnerships with businesses in the roll out of the Affordable Care Act as well as to reduce long-term unemployment. Melissa Bradley, Chief Strategy Officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service, referenced the development of partnerships with philanthropy to enhance community safety in Detroit and other initiatives to significantly expand the size and scope of the AmeriCorps program. And, Matt McKenna, Investment and Foundation Officer Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, pointed to opportunities for partnerships with banks and other financial institutions to provide loans traditionally made by the federal government to rural communities for a wide range of development projects, as well additional engagement with foundations to partner on agriculture-related research.
Panelists and audience members from the federal government, philanthropy and business pointed to challenges in making cross sector partnerships work, including complex and outdated federal rules and regulations; finding and retaining staff with the right skills and experience; measuring impact; and the inherent differences in how each sector operates and approaches public problem-solving. Roundtable attendees emphasized that partnerships are not something that can be done well on a part-time basis and require a certain level of sophistication for them to become effective tools.
In highlighting successful partnership offices and efforts, Ana Marie Argilagos, Senior Advisor to the Ford Foundation and former Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy and Development, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, shared how offices of strategic partnerships have gone about instilling a partnership mindset and culture within the federal government. Leaders of these offices including Jim Thompson, Director for Innovation at the State Department, Kris Pierre, Program Manager for the E3 Initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Corey Griffin, Associated Director for Strategic Partnerships at the Peace Corps, emphasized a “listen first” approach that focused on leveraging more than just philanthropic or corporate dollars, and on helping to identify the touch points within the federal government – the people and the places – where a partnership can be most impactful and have the greatest chance of succeeding.
Ferris closed by noting that “federal offices of strategic partnerships are a work in progress, and they will undoubtedly evolve, and hopefully will become institutionalized as a new collaborative culture takes hold.”
The Center plans to release a report detailing the results of the research, interviews, and roundtable discussions and implications for practice later this summer.
James Ferris, Director, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Sol Price School of Public Policy, USC
Nicholas Williams, Associate Director, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Sol Price School of Public Policy, USC
Suzanne Immerman, Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of Strategic Partnerships,
U.S. Department of Education
Melissa Bradley, Chief Strategy Officer, Corporation for National and Community Service
Ari Matusiak, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Private Sector Engagement, The White House
Matt McKenna, Investment and Foundation Advisor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Stephanie Powers, Executive Branch Liaison, Department of Public Policy and Government Relations, Council on Foundations
Ann Cramer, Senior Consultant, Coxe Curry & Associates and Board Member, Council on Foundations
Tom Leigh, Director of Programs and Partnerships, Chesapeake Bay Trust
Ben Starrett, Executive Director and Founder, Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities
Ana Marie Argilagos, Senior Advisor, Ford Foundation and Formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy and Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Corey Griffin, Associate Director, Strategic Partnerships, Peace Corps
Kristin Pierre, Program Manager for E3, Pollution Prevention Division, Environmental Protection Agency
Jim Thompson, Director for Innovation, Global Partnership Initiatives, U.S. Department of State