Conversations in Public Service with Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners


On
Monday, November 8, NYU Wagner hosted a breakfast with Carol Thompson Cole,
president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners
(VPP). The event was part of the Conversations in Public Service series,
which, as Dean Ellen Schall explained, aims to give Wagner students a smaller,
more direct way to engage with leaders in the public sector.

The
breakfast was attended by about a dozen students, as well as Dean Schall and
Rogan Kersh, associate dean for academic affairs. Ms. Thompson Cole talked
about the work that VPP does in promoting effective leadership of nonprofits. Unlike
many other philanthropic organizations, VPP does not give money to improve
nonprofits’ programs; rather, they choose organizations that have achieved a
certain level of success and work to build up their capacity and
efficiency. Ms. Thompson Cole also discussed some of the challenges VPP faces in
taking this approach, including resistance from founding executives and a lack
of understanding of political environments among organizational leaders.

Perhaps
equally interesting to the students in attendance was hearing about Ms.
Thompson Cole’s remarkable career, which has included national policy making, city
management in Washington, D.C., private sector work with RJR Nabisco and, now,
philanthropic investment. She discussed some of the challenges that she has
faced in establishing herself in new positions and also gave insights into
marketing the work done in one environment in order to shift to another. Dean
Schall described some of the situations in Ms. Thompson Cole’s career as
excellent examples of “managing up.”

During
the question period of the breakfast, many students were interested in learning
more about the work that VPP does. Ms. Thompson Cole talked about some of their
upcoming projects and the issues that they face, including a $5.5 million
investment in the Knowledge
is Power Program
(KIPP) in Washington,
D.C. and VPP’s involvement with
the national Social
Innovation Fund
(SIF).

Click here for more information about the Conversations in Public Service breakfast series.

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Fizzle New York City’s Proposed Food-Stamp Ban for Soda?


Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long made it a paramount goal to
rid New York City of unhealthful foods, and he recently asked the Federal
government for permission to prohibit Food Stamp recipients from using stamps
to buy soda and other sugared beverage in the city. Supporters are cheering Bloomberg’s stance, saying he’s
striking a blow for better dietary habits and ultimately lower public health
costs and consequences such as obesity. But critics question the move, seeing
it as an example of big government, even patronizing toward the poor.

Research can be a valuable guidepost for public officials.
In 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg required restaurant franchises to put calories
counts on their menus, NYU Wagner professors Rogan Kersh and Brian
Elbel
 sought to measure the impact of the calorie labeling
initiative on consumer habits at fast-food restaurants in low-income
neighborhoods. Their survey of 1,156 adult found little direct evidence to
support the Mayor’s view that the posting of calorie counts causes fast-food
patrons to buy items containing fewer calories. Elbel’s and Kersh’s widely
discussed study, published in the journal Health Affairs,
underscored that follow-up studies are needed to determine the  value and
effectiveness of menu labeling as well as other obesity-related policies.

Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to
bar food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks “an extremely
innovative policy approach to tackle the complicated and multifaceted problem
of obesity. “It deserves a rigorous assessment, to evaluate its overall impact
on healthy food choice and obesity,” adds Professor Elbel, assistant professor
of medicine and health policy. “The rest of the nation can then learn from the New York City experience
as these and other policies to fight obesity are considered across the
country.”

What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is
it good public policy? Post your comment today.

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