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Kellogg Builds on Lessons Learned in Acclaimed Fellowship Program with New Leadership Series

Kellogg Builds on Lessons Learned in Acclaimed Fellowship Program with New Leadership Series

Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Philanthropy
By Heather Joslyn
August 22, 2002 

For decades, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation worked to cultivate leadership through its fellowship program aimed at nurturing talented people in the nonprofit world and other fields — and blazed a trail for other grant makers in the process.

The Kellogg National Leadership Program, begun in 1980, became a model for such programs sponsored by other foundations and nonprofit groups. Fellowships were highly sought, with about 1,000 applicants each year for 40 slots. More than 700 people in a variety of fields are alumni of the three-year Kellogg curriculum, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Nancy Snyderman, medical correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America.

But the program ended last year, as a result of the foundation’s changing fiscal realities, its shifting priorities in the field of leadership development, and the program’s own success, according to Rick Foster, Kellogg’s vice president for programs. In its place, the foundation is starting a new leadership endeavor next month. While it spent $4 million for every three-year fellowship class (with usually three classes operating simultaneously), the foundation will spend a slimmer $2.4-million for every two-year session of Kellogg Leadership for Community Change, a series that will focus on cultivating a critical mass of leaders in six cities, rather than drawing people from around the country and guiding their growth as leaders, as the fellowship did.

With 150 participants per two-year session in the new series compared with the 40 who received each batch of fellowships, Mr. Foster says, the foundation will be able to affect more people with the new program than it did with the old. Stressing that the Leadership for Community Change series has not begun its work and may undergo tweaks in financing, structure, or curriculum as it grows, he adds, “We’re going to learn an awful lot.”

Taking Risks

Much of what Kellogg knows already about guiding nonprofit leaders it can credit to its experience with its fellowship program. It began as the foundation’s response, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, to what it saw as a growing need for leaders with a global perspective. Early recruits, Mr. Foster says, came mostly from academe, but as time went on, the net widened to include participants from other fields, with about 80 percent of its participants coming from the nonprofit world by the program’s end.

“By the late 1990s, it had transitioned totally, from primarily white, male academicians to people of color, primarily women, and very community-based,” he says. “At the end of it all, we were told many times that we were probably the greatest diversity leadership program in the country.”

Fellows signed on for three years and arranged for Kellogg to buy out 25 percent of their time with $35,000 stipends. They had access to mentors, were assigned reading on leadership issues, attended hands-on workshops to develop their skills, and asked to follow learning plans of their own design, which had to involve international travel and be outside the fellows’ professional disciplines. Moving fellows out of their career disciplines was essential to teach them to take risks, a key component of successful leadership, says Roger H. Sublett, who ran the Kellogg fellowship program for its last 10 years and is now chief operating officer of Union Institute, in Cincinnati. “Leadership occurs in a context, but it’s not necessarily within the context of a discipline,” he says.

However, many fellows initially feared making that leap, says Larraine R. Matusak, who led the program from 1982 to 1991 and is now a consultant to foundations on leadership issues. “They were scared to death because they had to do something outside the discipline in which they were trained,” say Ms. Matusak. “I think that’s a tragedy in our higher-education system. With change happening as rapidly as it does, people have to be ready to move, and to think, and to be problem solvers.”

Success and Its Costs

Leticia Pez, a health-care administrator during her Kellogg fellowship in the late 1980s, traveled to China, Central America, South Africa, and Europe to study the ways in which teenagers develop self-esteem as part of her learning plan. She praises the Kellogg fellowship for both its emphasis on practical skill development and the way it forced participants to stretch their vision of leadership.

Eight years ago, upon completing her fellowship, Ms. P ez, was recruited to run the Institute for Border Community Health Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, a program originally financed by Kellogg.

“I felt that I owed the Kellogg Foundation a great deal,” she says. “And as a form of gratitude, to deal with that indebtedness, I thought it was time to serve my community in a different manner. That was one of the practical lessons of the Kellogg fellowship.” When she took the reins, she says, the institute had grant commitments that covered only a year and a half of its operation, but she credits the skills she learned through the fellowship with helping her perpetuate the program.

Gradually, however, Kellogg began to weigh not only its benefits to its participants but also its costs to the cities and towns from which they came. Kellogg’s mission is to build the capacity of communities to solve problems, says Mr. Foster, and over time it began to realize that its leadership program was having the opposite effect. Fellows, fortified with new skills and contacts, came to feel that they had outgrown their peers at their pre-fellowship jobs, he says, and often sought new positions after their fellowships were complete — a phenomenon that other leadership programs also report experiencing.

“We were robbing the human resources out of the very communities that we were trying to build,” he says. It led the foundation to wonder: “Do you build leadership for the sake of the individual, or do you build leadership capabilities for the sake of the communities they serve?”

In 1996, Kellogg decided to terminate its fellowship program, and announced that no fellowship money would be spent after 2001.

“It wasn’t because it wasn’t successful,” Mr. Foster says. “It’s because it was so successful that we began doing the same things over and over again.”

It was also being imitated to the point of redundancy: The foundation inventoried the leadership-education field and discovered that other grant makers were sponsoring hundreds of programs focusing on individual leadership, many following the Kellogg model. Some of them were run by former Kellogg fellows. A study of the Kellogg program conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and released in November noted that Kellogg alumni have founded or expanded at least 40 leadership-development programs of their own.

“We took a lot of heat from closing down a successful program,” Mr. Foster says. “But we felt that if we were going to maintain our integrity by being cutting edge, that program was no longer cutting edge. It had become the mainstay.”

A New Approach

Meanwhile, the rise of high-tech companies in the booming new economy overshadowed the more traditional manufacturing companies — and had a detrimental effect on Kellogg’s endowment, which is built largely from Kellogg cereal-company stock. As the foundation began to make cuts, eventually eliminating more than 70 staff positions, downsizing that eventually resulted in a cut of 30 percent of its human resources, it began to look for other ways to trim costs. The fellowship program, which cost $4-million per three-year session at the end, was deemed too costly.

Some of Kellogg’s peers in the field of nonprofit leadership education were dismayed to see its fellowship program go. “The Kellogg fellowship program was really the tall ship in the harbor,” says Steve Vetter, executive director of Eureka Communities, which gives fellowships to nonprofit executives. “Even if they reduce expenses and cut back, they are a necessary, needed player in the field.” Kellogg, he says, has been important for years not only for its sponsorship of its fellows but for its support of other leadership-development programs and research, and its willingness to share what it learned. “They provided an important service to those of us working in this arena.”

The new Kellogg Leadership for Community Change series, says Mr. Foster, still hopes to groom people to be leaders, he says, but is more collaborative and more focused on communities and issues. “We still wanted individual leaders, but we didn’t want them going out and being John Wayne, heading out to settle the West,” he says. “We wanted them to go out and find people much like themselves who had passionate interest in an issue in a community and could get together to explore solutions.”

The new series, which Mr. Foster says will likely last for about 15 years, will consist of sessions lasting up to two years that will involve 25 participants in each of six cites and towns chosen by Kellogg. Each session will be devoted to a particular theme. The first session, he says, will include six “vulnerable” urban or rural places that are all facing public-education woes. The foundation will provide up to $200,000 to each of the six communities to cover the program costs, rather than distribute stipends to individual participants, as it did for the fellowships.

Kellogg will collaborate in the first session with the Institute for Educational Leadership, in Washington, which studies school improvement, and throughout the series’ duration with the Center for Ethical Leadership, in Seattle, which will conduct research on how leadership changes in each city or town as a result of participation in the program.

Subsequent Kellogg series, Mr. Foster says, will have different themes — the sustainability of nonprofit organizations, for instance, or land use and environmental regulations. The common thread, he says, will be an in-depth examination of the issue at hand and how leadership can be mobilized to deal with that issue, he says: “This is our way of saying, ‘We think the largest leadership issue facing us in the 21st century is leading across differences — and doing that in the context of helping people be viable in the community that they choose to live in.

Series participants will be selected by the local organizers of the new Kellogg series and will not necessarily come primarily from nonprofit organizations, says Mr. Foster. They will be required to attend workshops or other learning activities about four days a month, he says, be assigned mentors, and be given opportunities to interact with other participants (such as during at least two national gatherings during each year).

“The critical part of this is that they apply what they’ve learned to the issue — in this case, the education issue — within their communities,” says Mr. Foster.

The new leadership series, Ms. Pez says, will build on one of the fellowship’s strengths — creating a cohort of leaders. But while the fellows returned to their hometowns across the country, she notes, the new series’ participants will stay put and be able to work together on a continuing basis, which she believes will result in those communities undergoing significant change.

Mr. Sublett says that the new series builds on the fellowship’s lessons, and will have an impact on many more people per session and over time.

“Our board was willing to take risks when it created that program in 1980,” he says. “The freedom we had to experiment, to try, to back away from what didn’t work, and to change it — it was absolutely phenomenal. I think the new program will have that same experience. It’s part of the risk taking, the willingness of the foundation to step forward and say, ‘We’re looking at doing something differently, and want to build on what we’ve done in the past and have impact on even more organizations in the future.'”

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