Andy Bryant of Segal Family Foundation

Aid, Evolved
Aid, Evolved
Andy Bryant of Segal Family Foundation

In 2022, Segal Family Foundation was the second largest US grant-maker in Sub-Saharan Africa by number of grants given (below Gates and above Ford Foundation). We speak with long-time Executive Director, Andy Bryant, about the radical changes he introduced to address the challenges of traditional philanthropy, and how he made it work in practice. One common theme emerges across Andy’s work: a deep commitment to localization and to empowering African visionaries to drive African solutions.

Conversation Highlights

  • 13m56s Hiring and talent
  • 15m06s Finding great opportunities
  • 19m30s Monitoring and evaluation
  • 22m35s Getting and acting on feedback
  • 27m29s Unrestricted funding
  • 31m07s Challenges
  • 45m22s Rapid fire questions

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This is an automatically generated transcript from the full interview. Like humans, machines aren’t perfect, so there may be some inaccurate or amusing transcription errors.

Andy: The first opportunity we seize, to answer your question, We started hiring up on the ground in East Africa, you know, uh, in the communities and countries in which we were looking to do some good with our capital and, and, and other forms of support.

Andy: Our first hire was to be fair, uh, an American lady named Ash Rogers, who’s now the, who now heads up one of our longstanding grantee partners, LOA Community Alliance in Western Kenya. Wow. I think, you know from other local times, yeah, I’ve heard great things about them. But quickly we started, we took that sort of initial toe in the pond of hiring up locally and started hiring up with locals locally.

Andy: I’m really, really proud to say that at this point, about three quarters of our staff, I mean we’re 20 deep, but three quarters of our staff are nationals of the countries in which we operate in east and southern Africa, and Wow. Holy cow. I mean, every time we’ve hired an additional visionary staff member Africa side, we’ve gotten that much.

Andy: And so that’s incredible. Where I felt sort of kind of irresponsible bringing back intel and diligence on partners in those early years when it was me doing the sort of A to z prospecting and diligence. Gosh, I felt a lot smarter coming back, carrying the, the, the diligence and insights and intel from our, from our program officers in Bja, Burra in, in the long way in Nairobi.

Andy: Suddenly, yeah, suddenly we got pretty clever . I think it incre and I think it improved our taste and, and, and probably most important, , it allowed us to seize on the second opportunity. That’s, I think, come to define the Siegel Family Foundation, which is it allowed us to find awesome, locally led organizations.

Andy: They, quite honestly, I could have never found, and we would’ve never found otherwise, because we didn’t have like the, the trusted informant networks. We didn’t, we had never sort of gone through, you know, we’ve never been part of the classrooms. We sought to transform the clinics. We sought to improve, like people who’d actually been educated.

Andy: Or, or engage the healthcare systems in these countries. You know, lo and behold, our best place to figure out who are the innovators and visionaries within those spaces, you know, looking to make them better.

Rowena: That makes so much sense to me.

But let me just voice some of the questions I’m sure our audience has, uh, which is.

Rowena: Hiring in general. It’s an insider’s club. You hire people, you know, you went to college with people who speak in a way that you understand, communicate in a way that you do. They say Americans are very outspoken. And so sometimes it’s nice to see that young, outspoken person and just, and say, okay, I’m hiring them because they’re an effective communicator and not because they’re American.

Rowena: I’m sure you’ve had to come face to face with your own biases. Uh, The lack of a pre-existing social network or professional network to leverage. When you embarked on your hiring effort, what are some of the things that you had to figure out along the way at, did you make any bad hires in that, in, in the first couple years?

Rowena: What are some things that you, that you figured out in that process?

Andy: Sure. I’m certain we made, we’ve definitely made some bad hires. I think it’s part and parcel of building an organization. No, we came to find, I mean, you, you mentioned sort of like this reliance on personal connections or old boy networks.

Andy: Yeah. I mean, , I think you find that network that is suitable for that context. And so yeah, we absolutely rely on old boy networks. They just happen to be these awesome, robust communities of grantee partners, right. And funder friends located locally. Right? So hiring has actually become pretty, I think relatively s.

Andy: Uh, straightforward for us because, um, by and large the folks do come with personal connections to our, to our grantee or, or local community of, of funder friends. The other way that I think that we’ve gained that system, so step three in our sort of localization journey, one, we started hiring up locally.

Andy: Two, that allowed us to find great local grantee organizations, the folks we funded. Number three is we started to build out more of that ecosystem, so service provider. . So we have a talent firm that helps us find great people to hire, uh, and helps us with those vetting processes that’s based in Nairobi, co-led by a Kenyan lady, and sort of trying to start to localize every link in that chain when it’s appropriate, right?

Andy: So like, I justify my existence still because I think there’s a good, there’s a, there’s a lot of value in having. You know, Western members of our staff, especially when it comes to engaging other Western funders. Time zone wise. Yeah. Like you said, sort of people that are look, act familiar. I speak familiarly like, you know, like there’s a lot of good reasons why, why I can exist in this, in this value chain still – though it’s something I do on a daily basis, look in the mirror, try to figure out do I have a place in this, in this space When we are an organization committed to sort of trying to localize as much of our, our, uh, sort of, uh, offering as we.

Rowena: Yeah, that makes sense. I think you said something really valuable there about the local networks and the inherent value that is created in building the network. I, there’s one thing saying that, how effective can you do monitoring a five year program in a week? Uh, but it’s a, it’s a slightly different thing to come in and say, okay, who are some of the key actors?

Rowena: in this community, how can I network out from them? How can I, how can I understand the dynamics of the thought leaders in this country, in this space? And once you have that network, then there’s a ton of follow on benefits on the hiring side, on the grantee side, and, and so on and so forth. So that seems, that seems like a, like a big unlock for you in terms of your hiring approach.

Rowena: What about on the giving side? So again, like part of what Siegel is so strong and so good at is having, uh, your, your African team and being able to fund local African organizations, but maybe the way that they work is a bit different or maybe the way that they track their indicators or their, there’s lots of things that western organizations that maybe come from a more culture of USAID expect, uh, that maybe you won’t find obviously in a local.

Rowena: African organization that hasn’t had to deal with USAID. What are some of the things that have allowed you to work effectively, uh, with the huge number of local organizations that you support? And it’s a lot, right?

Andy: Yeah. At this point, we have about 380 grantee partners on the books.

Andy: Wow. That’s crazy. . So we have about six, six and a half focused countries where the 95% of those grantees are reside. So what it boils down to is, is a countryside, you know, a country portfolio of 70 or 80 organizations. But to your point around, you know, sort of that network, that robust network being a, a positive, more so than a.

Andy: A lot of our diligence, a lot of our sort of housekeeping or oversight, is derived from that network, right? So I would challenge funders to figure out, you know, when they’ve heard about an issue of fraud or a safeguarding concern or any, or mismanagement or, or just some negative. You know, just kind of to figure out where they’ve sourced that from.

Andy: You know, for on our side, by and large, we hear about the stuff, the, the problem children or the issues that we have to deal with from that network, right? So the robust, the robustness of it is actually like a, a positive, and that’s really, really useful. Not through a, a report submitted by a grantee through our sales force, which is useful and in one way, but it’s not gonna be a way that you hear about sort of like the really good stuff or the really bad stuff that’s happening.

Rowena: That makes a lot of sense. In some countries, say if you’re operating in Burundi – Burundi’s not a big country. There’s only so many nonprofits that are doing significant work in this space. At some point or another, if one is misbehaving or misusing funds or not providing quality services to the community, the community knows it.

Rowena: And you just have to have the trust, have the right communication channel open to hear that a nonprofit is not, is not doing its thing correctly.

Andy: You hit it on the head. So trust, right? That is the ever elusive thing that all funders. , uh, and talk about it sort of the basis for their awesome grantee funder relationships and all grantees turn away and roll their eyes.

Andy: right? . They’re like, we’re ever gonna trust you when you hold like this, this guillotine above our heads in the form of, you know, continued funding or, or not. for us, like trust is a pretty simple equation. It’s, it’s time plus delivery on promises, right? And that time, like the longer the tenure of partnership, the more that there’s an opportunity for.

Andy: Honest trust to be built. So we’re with those 380 odd partners. The expectation is that we’re going to be, uh, making grants to them and, and I hope partnering with them in ways well beyond financial support for 7, 8, 10 years, you know, That’s a good, like you could, you could raise a, a feisty teenager in that time, nearly right

Andy: So like that’s a, that’s a decent amount of, of time equity to devote. And then along the way, we have to deliver on our promises and, and, and likewise our grantees do as well. And if you’ve got that, then you start to develop a modicum of trust that allows for, for them to be really great informants to how we can improve.

Andy: You know, and like that’s that related to that ever elusive trust is ever elusive honest feedback about what a funder can do differently. And like, that’s one thing that funders. are pretty challenged is to, is to receive honest feedback and then actually hear it and absorb it, right? We’ve been really fortunate that we have some, we’ve built some of those trust, uh, based relationships where we’ve got a lot of partners who I think will tell us when, when we’re way off

Andy: I would say a lot of our best, our best inventions, our best programs have been a result, have been heavily tweaked or informed. The reason they exist is because of good feed of challenging feedback from our grantee portfolio.