Obama-launched Group Seeks to Make Economic Case for Its Existence

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Marisa Lee

Marisa Lee, managing director of MBK Alliance

WASHINGTON — Before the decision was made to launch My Brother’s Keeper Alliance — a newly formed independent nonprofit inspired by the White House initiative known as My Brother’s Keeper — organizers researched the field to see if there was really a need for another player to take up the work of improving outcomes for young men of color.

Using donated staff resources from government contractor Deloitte, organizers did “extensive analysis around what we should do, why we should do it and how we should do it,” said Marisa Lee, managing director of MBK Alliance.

“And for us, after we did all of our research and landscape analysis and stakeholder interviews, we ... felt there’s a place where we can make an impact,” Lee said.

Whether the MBK Alliance — announced by President Barack Obama in the Bronx this week — will actually make an impact remains to be seen.

But observers were mostly enthusiastic about the alliance’s chance to make a substantial impact if it focuses on its mission and doesn’t get caught up in raising funds to keep itself in existence.

Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr.

Amachi

Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr.

Wilson Goode, Sr., former deputy assistant secretary of education under the Clinton administration and director and organizer of the nationally acclaimed Amachi Program, a national faith-based mentoring model for children of incarcerated parents, said it’s important to see MBK Alliance as a movement, not a program.

“It’s a way to mobilize the private sector, which includes the foundation sector, to do more and to encourage and inspire people who are active in this work and those who are not active in this work to get involved, because more involvement is needed in order to do what needs to be done,” said Goode, who also served as the first African-American mayor of Philadelphia.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “But I think we need to keep focus on what it is that we’re being asked to do by the president ... do more, give more, bring in more resources, involve more young people and save more lives of these young people who may otherwise end up in harm’s way.”

Goode said MBK Alliance differs from America’s Promise Alliance, which has been criticized for absorbing millions of dollars, high operating expenses and producing questionable, vague outcomes, such as “awareness.” He serves as a board member for America’s Promise Alliance, started nearly two decades ago by Colin Powell, former secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.

MBK Alliance has already secured commitments of more than $85 million, press materials say.

Goode said he thought the two organizations — America’s Promise focuses, among other things, on improving high school graduation rates— would “complement” one another.

“My Brother’s Keeper is a bit different in that it is really asking people to invest more resources not in a single organization but in a number of organizations on the local level,” Goode said. “I think that’s a key difference here. There’s no one superorganization. I think My Brother’s Keeper is a movement rather than a program.”

The organization, to be headed by former Deloitte CEO Joseph Echevarria, will provide support for the “six key life milestones,” press materials say.

They are:

  • Entering School Ready to Learn (Early Childhood)
  • Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade (Middle Childhood)
  • Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career (Adolescence)
  • Completing Post-Secondary Education or Training (Adulthood Transition)
  • Successfully Entering the Workforce (Adulthood)
  • Reducing Violence and Providing a Second Chance (Throughout Life)

“Over the next three years, the organization aims to improve the lives of more than 275,000 boys and young men of color,” MBK Alliance press materials say. “In the longer term, it plans to directly affect at least five million boys and young men of color.”

Irv Katz

Irv Katz, president emeritus of the National Human Services Assembly

“My reaction was mixed, but mostly positive — very positive,” said Irv Katz, president emeritus at the National Human Services Assembly, and founder of Civic Sector Strategies, a consulting practice in the human service sector. “People and communities rally, often because it is a way of getting some lift for issues they are already trying to address,” he said.

However, based on having seen government and mixed-sector groups challenge communities to commit to a certain alliance or model, he also felt some skepticism. “The alliance is often temporal, and the organization created tends to follow the money, and/or morph to stay alive as an institution,” he said. “The fact that it is raising money can, frankly, lead it astray when the solutions are really long-term and require fundamental changes in how we develop and nurture kids, including how we invest public and charitable dollars.”

Lee, the MBK Alliance managing director, said the nonprofit thus far has operated in a “superlean” manner with donated staff time from Deloitte and hasn’t spent any money on overhead yet.

Plans exist to measure MBK Alliance’s impact.

“One of the big ones for me is around how much support we are able to mobilize from the private sector for this work,” Lee said. “The big thing for us is that we show there is a genuine business and economic case for this work. There’s obviously a lot of emotion … around what’s happening in the country right now,” she said in apparent reference to protests that have engulfed American cities over deaths of young black men.

“We want to focus on the business case and economics of the work,” she said, explaining that MBK Alliance can tap into private-sector dollars to support the mission.

In the coming months, Lee said, MBK Alliance will release $7 million in innovation grants to programs and organizations with “proven, innovative intervention programs.” The applications for those grants go live on the MBK Alliance website later this month, she said.

Next year, she said, MBK Alliance plans to release $15 million to $25 million in community grants. The community grants will take longer because MBK Alliance wants to be thoughtful and strategic about how to target them, she said.

Lee downplayed concerns that there could be a conflict of interest with launching an Obama-inspired initiative while the president is still in office. The Obama administration will have “no role in deciding how donations are screened and what criteria they’ll set at the alliance for donor policies, because it’s an entirely separate entity,” a White House spokesman said, according to a published news report.

Obama reportedly will not be involved in the nonprofit’s operation.

“I just look at what’s happening around the country right now. We can’t afford to wait,” Lee said. “We feel like starting this organization gives us the opportunity to do a number of big and important things now.”