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The idea behind FSG Social Impact Advisors

Mark Kramer: The idea was that solving social problems is different than solving business problems. It takes strategy, it takes research, it takes careful analysis but it also takes a different set of tools and we saw a lot of terrific tools being developed in the business context to make companies competitive and profitable and successful. We didn’t see a similar set of tools being as widely developed in the nonprofit sector and so we wanted to create a firm that brought the same kind of analysis and strategy and reasoning and research into solving social issues for foundations, for nonprofits and for corporations.

We often deal with funders, charitable funders whether it’s private foundations or corporate foundations or even individual philanthropists and one of the first barriers is the fact that people don’t really expect to solve social problems through their philanthropy. They would like to pick a good cause, a worthy organization, give that organization money and that’s a great thing to do. But there’s a real problem with our nonprofit sector today in this country. We have the most vibrant, most creative largest nonprofit sector in the world and yet, when you look at where the United States stands on social issues on things like education, things like healthcare, things like the environment, we’re at the bottom of the list of developed countries.

So somehow on the one hand we have this wonderful nonprofit sector and on the other hand, we’re not solving the problems that the nonprofit sector is supposed to be solving. So there’s a real basic problem there and we believe the problem really has to do with the behavior of doors, that donors are not expecting or demanding results, they aren’t being realistic and strategic in their giving to actually try and solve the problem.

And without that incentive, nonprofits respond to the way donors think currently, rather than focus in on how can they actually achieve a meaningful impact on an issue.

 

Question: How do you advise donors?

 

Mark Kramer: The first thing of course is there may not be an organization that they should choose. I guess the best way to think about it is we did a very interesting engagement for the Gates Foundation and they came to us and they said “We’d like to help encourage more effective philanthropy, not more money, but more effective practices, but we’re not really sure what that means.”

So what does it mean to be effective in philanthropy? They asked us to go out and interview a couple dozen donors, high net worth donors, people who give away at least a million dollars a year, but people who are perceived as being highly effective in their philanthropy. And to be honest, we didn’t think this engagement was going to work because we were talking to all kinds of donors: men, women, young, old, inherited wealth, real estate, new technology all across the country.

But we actually found something very interesting. All of these donors came into philanthropy, they were responding to requests, they were being a good citizen, they didn’t really see any impact for their money. They could give away millions of dollars and nothing seemed to change and they were kind of discouraged. At some point, they came across an issue that had real urgency and real personal significance to them.

So in one case, someone’s son had a rare brain disease and there wasn’t much research. In another case, there was a beautiful theater downtown that was going to be torn down as a development.

What happened was they stopped thinking about how do I give away money and they started thinking about how do I solve a specific problem and it changed completely how they went about things. So instead of saying which charity do I write a check to or so on, they said what would have to happen for this problem to be solved and how can we take responsibility for making those things happen. It’s really this problem-solving approach to philanthropy that we see as the core difference between effective philanthropists and most of the very well meaning, well intentioned people out there who’d given away a lot of money but aren’t really seeing results.

 

Recorded June 4, 2008.

 

Kramer explains the reason why companies need help giving.

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A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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