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Interview: Anne Petersen

The senior vice president for programs at the Kellogg Foundation, Anne Petersen, has long experience in research and social programs. Having majored in mathematics, holding a Masters in statistics and a PhD in statistical analysis, evaluation and measurement, she has held prominent positions in academic circles and government in the United States since the 70s, while also working as a consultant for various foundations. In 1996, she was appointed to the position she holds today at the Kellogg Foundation. In this interview, Anne Petersen talks about the Foundation’s 75 years, programming for Latin America and prospects for the future.

During its 75-year history, the Kellogg Foundation has extended its programming, but its ideals and principles are still the same. How do you keep your traditions and principles but, at the same time, try to innovate and implement a programming approach that is always up to date?
We are fortunate to have a very thoughtful and innovative founder who gave us strong values that support maintaining our legacy and continuing to innovate. He was very innovative, and he was very clear about his basic values. Because of the 75th anniversary, and because we are about to go through a CEO transition, our board is working very hard to think deeply about these issues. We had the chance to talk with the board about this recently.  What was so remarkable about the discussion is that the values are enduring, and innovation is one of the values. So we are able to think modern, think towards the future and be true to a clear legacy at the same time.

WKKF and other similar foundations play a very important role in the fight against poverty, but they can’t work alone. How do you try to extend the results of your work beyond programming experiences? Do you think it is important to work with governments and other sectors of society? How do you do that?
We tackle big issues and cannot possibly address them alone.  It is very important to look for synergies beyond the work Kellogg can do. We increasingly try to look at how we can get more impact out of the work that we are doing by thinking more broadly and systemically about our work. We’ve been thinking about the partners that we have in our programming.  Especially the program team in Latin America, which I think is doing a great job, and has been working to systematically bring in other sectors as partners in our work. In our major initiative in Latin America, the comprehensive clusters, the formation of alliances is central. These alliances include all sectors. I really feel that it is extremely important and I think it is a lesson to be systematically followed by the entire Foundation, because it is the way to get the most impact from our work. In many of the Foundation’s other programs we will occasionally partner with government or occasionally partner with business. But I think the Latin American program is the one that most systematically does that partnering as a key part of the work. That has a powerful effect on those sectors. When someone from government is partnering with someone from the non-profit sector, on a program focused on reducing poverty, it helps them to think more clearly about the role of poverty in all the government work. And the same goes for the private sector. It can help the private partners begin to see more opportunities for achieving their goals, which typically are focused on making profit, as well as dealing with an important issue like helping people move from poverty. The mechanism is really all about people, and what we do is support them, working effectively together and finding a common ground. I think that is the secret. I think it is important to also bring the implication through to other levels. For example, our work in Latin America is at the local level. And it is important to make sure that people working at the state level and national level know about it. Another level beyond that is to make sure that multinationals that do development work know about the innovations of our grantees and how multinationals can achieve stronger results.

How do you compare Kellogg Foundation work in Latin America and the Caribbean with the other regions where you work?
I think the priority of youth as a wonderful source of energy and innovation is a great idea that is very strongly evolved throughout WKKF Latin America programming and it doesn’t exist everywhere. My own view is that it is a very powerful way to work. And, of course, Mr. Kellogg, our founder, showed the view that young people were a wonderful investment for the future. I think that in Latin America the approaches of alliances among people and organizations of people are really very powerful and provide important lessons for other parts of the world. Because Latin America is so broad we have a very rich diversity of experiences and knowledge that comes from different regions and I think that really strengthens our work in Latin America as well. We can learn from more variation and increase the likelihood that the work will be more broadly applicable to other areas.

In your opinion, what is the main legacy of the Foundation’s programs? What are the main highlights in terms of results?
One of the things I should mention is that the specific focus on poverty is much more strongly directed in Latin America that in other areas. We are going to have our strongest lessons from Latin American programs. I don’t think we are learning as much as that from the United States even though we’ve got our own programs working on poverty. We will have lessons also from Africa, but I think the work in Latin America is so clearly focused on poverty that it will be a very strong legacy providing lessons for the entire world. We have many, many legacies from past programs but I think they are becoming consolidated in the current efforts. The work on youth existed before the current effort. I think the current work is helping enrich past learning and see it used in a broader context. I think the current work will establish a powerful legacy. There are many, many legacies from the past too in terms of health programs and agriculture programs that certainly are alive in our current effort and will exist as important work emphases for a long time.

In terms of the US and Africa, what do you think are the main highlights?
In Africa the program is much newer. I think what they have been able to do is build from all the other lessons, from within the Foundation and without, to design a strong program. I think that what they brought was urgency. They all have such a strong sense of urgency about the issues, and so they are really trying to do things exceedingly well as quickly as possible. Their work will teach us a lot about how to do that, also under very difficult circumstances, in terms of political context and great poverty. In the US, the lessons stretch across 75 years. We probably, from the US, have many more lessons that deal with institutions, organizations, the more organized social approaches to things. But what I find interesting is that the whole Foundation is looking more at Latin America and Africa for community based work. In the United States we see the risk of losing touch with people in communities, yet we know how very important that is.

Where do you see the Kellogg Foundation in 75 years time?
The Foundation will continue to be one of the few biggest foundations in the world. I hope along with that we will continue to be known for our work with people who come from poverty, for people who have had fewer advantages. That’s been our niche for a long, long time. I believe that will continue to be our focus for the future – how to help people achieve their dreams. I also hope that the Foundation will continue to be the innovator and will really support innovation in the non-profit sector. We will always support new ways of doing what we do. That question that you started with – the one about our focus – will not change, and, again, our value for innovation will not change. And that will take us to new places.


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