Generating funding for university civic engagement

The importance of long-term planning and investment in higher education were stressed by major funders of university civic engagement – the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Santander Bank – in a session on “Strategies for Generating Financial Resources” at the Talloires Network 2014 conference.

“We hear constantly about the financial challenges facing people who have responsibility for community work,” said session moderator Professor Rob Hollister, executive director of the Talloires Network.

Almost everybody says that civic engagement is a high priority at their university, some say they receive some money from the university and a lot say that they have had some support from foundations, development assistance agencies or government agencies.

But, said Hollister, people working in civic engagement also say there is a big gap between their aspirations, plans and commitments and the financial resources they have. The gap is in terms of the overall amount of funding needed to do the work, and in terms of instability – there is not a steady flow of resources to support the work.

“Are there ways of bridging that gap? What are strategies for being more effective in generating financial resources for our work?” asked Hollister.

The idea was not to learn how to get money from four different types of university funders – Santander Bank, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the MasterCard Foundation and the MacJannet Foundation. Rather, it was to “tap the expertise and experience of our colleagues about these challenges”.

The case of Santander

Spain-based Santander Bank provides extraordinary support for higher education, and its work was described by David Gutierrez, executive vice president and deputy head of Santander Universities, a global division of the bank.

He stressed several factors that are key to Santander’s funding for universities – a long-term approach, support from the corporation’s leaders, a focused approach to projects, communication, and multi-year programmes with ‘review and renew’.

Starting in 1996 with three people involved with universities, there are now 2,130 people in 17 countries working for Santander Universities. The bank has invested US$1.3 billion in collaborative projects with universities and research centres worldwide, and has signed agreements with more than 1,100 institutions.

Mirroring the global growth of the bank, there is support for universities in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Chile, China, Colombia, Germany, Ghana, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Spain, the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

One interesting engagement initiative is in Brazil, where the bank has been working with 10 universities to recover and improve lives in six favelas – slums – in Rio de Janeiro.

But Santander Universities primarily works to “encourage international exchange of students and lecturers, to facilitate access to universities for economically underprivileged students, and to promote specialist research and education through the Santander Scholarship Program”.

Santander scholarships support more than 21,000 university students each year and last year the bank awarded more than 37,000 study abroad grants and professional internships to students worldwide – the largest investment in grants and mobility programmes made by any private institution.

“We were a bank in 1997 that was growing overseas and we wanted to feel local. We wanted to demonstrate to the countries where we were investing and buying banks that we were there for the long-term and we wanted to be considered as a local bank that cared for the future of those societies,” Gutierrez told the session.

“So first is long-term perspective. You’re there to stay and you want to commit to society.”

A second crucial factor, he said, was support from the top of the company. In 1997 a new chair came in who decided that the university would be the focus of the bank in future.

“Even though he was the chair, he had to convince every country manager, every unit, that investing in the university was worth it. Perhaps 400 agreements have been signed personally by the chair of the corporation. He devoted two or three days a month to visiting universities, talking with the presidents and asking ‘what can I do for you?’”

Third, said Gutierrez, was a focused approach. “We want to be focused and doing the best things we can do. If we only do three things, be the best in doing those things, and that’s the message we convey to universities – don’t try to do everything; focus, focus, focus.”

Fourth, communication was crucial, both for the university and for the sponsor. “If you don’t communicate, you don’t get the relationship effect.”

Santander Universities, Gutierrez continued, funds four-year programmes that are reviewed – “We want to measure effects. We invest €135 million (US$166 million) every year. We have to report to shareholders, who want to know what are we doing with their money.”

It is essential to have all the information and answers. “We also want universities to measure themselves and what they are doing. We review and then renew. That’s our policy.”

Carnegie Corporation

The Carnegie Corporation of New York was started in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie. It currently has an endowment of about US$3 billion and by law it must give out 5% of the endowment every year, said Claudia Frittelli, program officer for higher education and libraries in Africa.

“The president of the Carnegie Corporation was a president of a university and so he very much understands the sector,” she told the session. Vartan Gregorian has also been president for 17 years, which has also given the foundation a stable, long-term strategic direction.

“We’ve been funding in about seven countries in Africa. The programme started in about 2000, so we really do have a long-term relationship with our partner universities.”

Three aspects were stressed by Frittelli – the importance of indicators, the institutionalisation of good practices, and strategic, long-term planning of initiatives.

Carnegie’s current programme in African higher education is in postgraduate training and research. “It’s about trying to build the next generation of academics. So it is very focused,” she said.

While the corporation left community engagement up to universities, which were already heavily involved, it has funded research into African higher education and one project has been developing indicators for community engagement – “How are initiatives leading back to the core functions of the university – knowledge production, teaching and curriculum”.

Francois van Schalkwyk mapped the engagement activities of universities to see whether and how they were linked to research and contributing to knowledge production, the curriculum and teaching.

If they were only providing a civic service, “we would rather fund a development agency or an NGO. It doesn’t really make sense to fund these kinds of activities at a university”.

A second key area, said Frittelli, was funding activities that contributed to strengthening a university and improving the climate within it. “How do you change practices in institutions, or in our particular case, change research environments and establish practices that are long-lasting.

“It is important to think about how funding impacts on the institution rather than just benefiting individuals.”

Third was long-term planning. “What is the longer term trajectory of the initiative and how do you see it developing over the years? We’ve really seen big changes just by working with the same institutions over time. We’ve seen different practices embedded.”

In talking to funders, she concluded, it was extremely important to see initiatives over the long-term and think about the larger picture.

MasterCard and MacJannet

Koffi Assoun, a programme officer at the MasterCard Foundation, concentrated on two points.

The first was the power of a good agreement, which was beneficial both to the institution and the funder and could be used to leverage or generate additional funds.

Second was the need for organisations seeking funding to be a lobbyist. “A good lobbyist knows about a special interest project coming up, before it comes up. If you’ve read about a project in a newspaper, you’re already too late to apply.”

Wenke Thoman is a board member of the MacJannet Foundation, chairs a non-profit that places student volunteers in schools in New York, and is involved in a scholarship fund for women around the world who want to study business at INSEAD in France.

She echoed the importance of institutions focusing on what they do best. Also crucial were having a clear mission statement, diversifying income streams – “little streams make a big river” – and asking institutions for support “over and over and over again”.

A strong governing group was essential, as were transparency and communication, finding champions and “staying small, lean and mean because bloated structures are not sustainable”.