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January is National Mentoring Month

January is National Mentoring Month. Much has been written about the value of mentoring and most of us remember mentors, in our high school or college days, who silhouette of person being helped up a mountainmade a difference in our lives. Mentoring takes many forms. It may have been a teacher, a coach or an employer. Anyone who took a particular interest in us and gave a piece of themselves. We can count those people on one hand and they each rendered a great service and made a big contribution to our personal growth and our future. We will never forget those people and the difference they made in our lives.

Often the greater value of Foundation scholarships is not in the money but in the human support that goes with it. That is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it we have no mission and no scholarships. But it is often the mentoring behind the money that reaches a student emotionally and is remembered long afterward.

The Foundation funds several scholarship programs, which are supported by mentoring. Mentor and mentee posing for cameraThe Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children program for example, prepares and mentors students during their high school years, and provides a scholarship to attend college. Once in college, these students are supported by a professionally staffed retention program, which is essentially mentoring.

Pathways to Education is another example of mentoring with the promise of a college scholarship. Pathways provides counselling, tutoring and material support through the high school years. This has more than doubled graduation rates and college access rates. A further example is the Johnson Scholarship for students with disabilities in the State University System of Florida. The State of Florida supports that program by providing a 50% match to scholarship grants. The program is also supported by the disability service offices in each of the 12 state universities. These offices take the students throwing their graduation caps into the airapplications, run the selection committees, award the scholarships and, most important, give personal support to the scholarship recipients.

Sometimes, the grant of the scholarship itself is in itself is a form of personal support. We have had many students tell us that our scholarship is a show of faith that helped them through difficult moments when doubted their ability to succeed. This show of faith coupled with the human face of mentoring can light the way forward. This has been a recurring theme in the feedback we have received from recipients, who typically say that it helped more than the money .

Mentoring helps to change lives and we salute National Mentoring Month. To mentors of every kind we say, “Keep going”.


Philosophy of Endurance During this era of Muted Returns

Our foundation uses an investment consultant who we pay on a fee for services basis and we use specialized managers to do the investing.  For some years now, they have been advising us that the years of investment returns being at least 10% or higher are a thing of the past.  We have maintained an investment philosophy that is very diversified.  Although we may occasionally be the “loser” in comparison to our peers, our goal is to be in the top quartile over the long haul which we identify as 10 years or more.  To accomplish students walking along a wet sidewalkthat we believe we must find and invest with the best managers.

But how can we endure as a perpetual foundation which was designated by our founder, if we earn only 5% or less in net returns and are required as a private foundation to pay out a minimum of 5% to our beneficiaries? What about the cost of living that continues to reduce the true value of our assets and our grants, even at a historical low percentage of 1% to 3% per year?  Our goal during the past 25 years of our existence has been to earn an average annual return that would be sufficient to pay out our required 5% in grants, cover the cost of inflation at say 3% and grow our assets a few points at say 2% for a total of 10% average which would include periodic dips in the world economy.

That goal was easier to achieve in the past than it is today and we are told for the students jumping up in the airforeseeable future.  So, what do we do in the face of this dilemma?  We have chosen to keep on moving forward by looking for the very best investment managers, by weeding out the poor performing managers, by keeping our assets well diversified, by questioning our investment consultants on every proposal they bring before us and by optimistically waiting for some better years when returns will return at a higher level.

We are constantly looking at the mix of Foundation assets with a view toward increasing returns while maintaining an adequate level of liquidity.  Given its perpetual mandate the Foundation can probably tolerate greater volatility in returns from year to year if over the long term this strategy produces higher overall returns.  With these thoughts in mind the Foundation is currently considering moderately reducing its weighting in hedge funds and fixed income in favor of equities and equivalents.

We know that the best and brightest economists, investment consultants and even womanpolitical pollsters cannot always accurately forecast the future.  As optimists, we plan to endure as a foundation and continue our work during this era of muted returns, realizing that although our asset base may be declining now, a brighter day is over the horizon when 10%+ investment yields will return.  We will just keep going.

In 2017 We will “Keep Going”

Phil Buchannan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, in his 2016 Essay, “Big Issues, Many Questions, notes that the fundamentals of good the center for effective philanthropy logophilanthropy are straightforward and timeless: define your goals, pursue them with focused strategies, execute with discipline and measure results. He goes on to opine, however, that the issues facing foundations change and present new challenges.

One of the new challenges that Buchannan identifies arises from the increasing financial disparity between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of society. Anger over this issue seems widespread and it will undoubtedly affect public perception of grant makers. More people will be inclined to see philanthropic foundations as private playgrounds for the privileged rather than serious enterprises investing in social change.

Given that JSF does not fund advocacy or public policy research, our response illustration of raised hands with a hand with a heart symbolto societal anger and skepticism must be simply to do our best and let our work speak for itself. Our mission is one of social justice. We help disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. Our grants assist Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities and the underserved. If we stay the course and communicate along the way, especially with our grantees, we can hope to be judged fairly and thereby play our small part in a larger debate about the role and efficacy of private foundations.

Communication seems particularly important because research shows that philanthropic grantees as a class feel that their funders often don’t know or care about their needs. We need to demonstrate, through our work, that we do know and we do care. That means, as we so often say, listening to our grantees. It is not for us to tell them, it is for them to tell us. What are the issues that they face? What do they need? The Foundation’s
upcoming Grantee Perception Report should help us to know whether we are sufficiently understanding our grantees and, if not, what further we need to do.

We must also listen to and connect with our “end users”, the people served by our non-profit schools, universities and institutions. Generally, this is one of young girl raising her hand in classroomthe most enjoyable aspects of our work and we ought to do more of it. At site visits (both staff and board) we can request more audiences and open exchanges with students. And we will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to attend events and speak to students. Meeting students and listening and talking to them makes a personal connection, which leads to empathy and understanding.

Investing in social change is a long term proposition and requires patience, focus and staying power. It often involves risk and, because results are not readily apparent, doubts creep in and it is easy to lose faith. It is important that we, and the society we serve, have confidence in our work and that we “Keep Going.”

Diversity in Health Care at Dalhousie University

Through the partnership with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Dalhousie University is advancing its commitment to increase Indigenous and African Nova Scotians find a pathway into a health career.

Summer Camps Creating Space for Students

student with mask and gloves working on an object

For the third year, Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) delivered a health science summer camp to African Nova Scotian learners from across the province.  In 2015, the number of applications increased over 300%.  This interest and feedback from camp participants and their families provided the necessary evidence to grow the camp.

In 2016, two summer camps were organized with one hosted at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the other at Cape Breton University in Sydney.  Both camps had the same goal of providing participants with hands-on interactive programming to introduce health programs and careers, post-secondary life, mentorship and an opportunity to meet new friends.  In total 48 African Nova Scotian learners took part in the 2016 summer program – 39 in Halifax and 9 in Sydney.

Current post-secondary students studying in the field of health and/or sciences were invited to apply as camp counsellors.   Six applicants were hired to facilitate learning, provide supervision, and mentorship.   This experience allowed the counsellors to gain leadership skills, become mentors, and receive mentorship from Michelle Patrick, PLANS program manager.

students playing drums and laughingIn 2017, there will be more support for African Nova Scotian students with an increase in mentorship programming, community engagement, and expanded summer opportunities to prepare for post-secondary education.

Advancing Indigenous Health Programs

A new Program Manager for Indigenous Program was hired to reinforce Dalhousie’s commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and to strengthen our pathways programs with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.  Joe MacEachern arrived at Dalhousie in November and has already identified strategies to incorporate indigenous content into the curriculum and attract more Indigenous students to the program.  Joe is also developing a mentor program to focus on retention and skill building for Indigenous students.