As part of our 20th birthday celebrations, we are sharing 20 interviews with leaders in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Matthew Moss, Associate, Global Philanthropic, interviews Hans Pung, President, RAND Europe.

RAND Europe is a not-for-profit public policy research organisation that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. Hans and Matthew discuss the long term impact the pandemic could have on education for this generation of youth and the impact of mental health on society during the pandemic. Research shows the inequality for both education and mental health for disadvantaged communities around the globe. But it’s not all bad news, there’s some research highlighting steps we could take to mitigate some of the long term impacts.

Full Transcript: 

Matthew Moss 00:01
Hello, we’re here as part of the #Global20 series of interviews celebrating global, philanthropic, 20th anniversary. I’m here with Hans Pung, President of Rand Europe, research organization based in Cambridge, which is where I am to. Hans, welcome. Thank you so much for spending the time to do this interview it.

Hans Pung 00:24
Great. Well, thanks, Matthew. It’s really great to be here and speak with you.

Matthew Moss 00:28
So it seems to me that RAND Europe is a really, really interesting organization. It’s a, it’s a research institution, not for profit, that is outside of academia, but dealing with practical problems in public policy for a wide variety of clients. Is that how you describe it?

Hans Pung 00:48
Yes, yeah, I think so very much. How do you do empirically grounded fact based research and analysis, but applying it to real world problems?

Matthew Moss 00:59
Absolutely. Thanks. Right. So they said the outcomes are important, but the methodology is important, as well.

Hans Pung 01:05
Both, you know, so it’s not only evidence and facts, but it’s then how you then apply that and how that that that looks to solve, you know, some of these global challenges we have. And we certainly have a number today.

Matthew Moss 01:18
Thank you. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about yourself, before we get stuck into what some of those global challenges might be.

Hans Pung 01:26
Thanks, Matthew, and very happy to do so. I as you can probably hear from my accent, I grew up in the US. But I’ve largely lived in Europe for the last 25 plus years. I’ve been with RAND for the last 20 of those. Starting as a policy researcher, largely around the field of Industrial Economics, I stood up RANDs first Defence and Security Program, as well as other programs of work at RAND Europe, employment education at their social policy work. And I’ve been effectively the chief executive, although my job title is president, for the last nine years. Prior to around, I was an engineer in the United States Army, and I had a number of different roles all over the world.

Matthew Moss 02:09
Great, thank you. So let’s, let’s turn to some of those global challenges. I mean, as as we speak, the world is on fire, we don’t have a shortage of global challenges to choose from, there’s a devastating war going on in Ukraine. Climate, the climate emergency is constantly with us. But what we want to focus on in this conversation is the COVID 19 pandemic. And in particular, some of the outcomes that we’re seeing from that in education, in mental health, and, and how each of those intersects with with inequality. And also, of course, to consider how philanthropy is playing a part in dealing with some of those challenges.

So let’s start off with education. Ban Ki Moon in the talking philanthropy conference last year, gave us some pretty startling facts. He told us that 90% of all students worldwide were kept out of schools, and 500 million students were unable to access remote learning at the beginning of this pandemic. So it’s easy to imagine from that, how disadvantaged how disadvantage might be exacerbated in education. But your organization deals with facts rather than assumptions. So does the does the data bear that out?

Hans Pung 03:41
So I think it does, Matthew, I mean, in a whole range of areas, we can focus on education to start, I think it’s pretty clear that the pandemic has driven a lot more inequality, or at least exacerbated the inequalities that have already been there. And then I think, as a number of people have pointed out, we’ve, we’ve all been in the same storm of this pandemic, but we’ve often floated through it in very different boats. And I think what we’re seeing now is a more unequal world. And that applies not only locally and nationally, but also globally, you know, particularly through access to vaccines is probably the best global example of that. Um, the other thing to maybe say, though, is this is still a work in progress in terms of trying to understand this. So there’s still a lot of data that’s been collected and analyzed, and we’ll get a fuller picture over the, you know, the months and years ahead, but I think your premise is backed up by the evidence that we see now, you know, we’re seeing rising inequality in education spaces.

Yep. If you look at you talked about Ban Ki Moon and talking about the effects of people, kids not being in schools at the start of the pandemic, I had two that were not in school at the start of the pandemic, and then they were not in school for a lot of the other parts of the pandemic but You know, we estimate that school closures in the certainly around the first part of the pandemic, first wave, so to speak, probably typically took students back two to three months behind the academic milestones that you think their cohorts would have been expected to reach. And that’s just in the first phase, not only and you know, the subsequent ones, if you look at that in a bit more detail losses were greater in mathematics. So generally, kind of three month loss for typical student, rather than in reading and literacy were typical students only last a month and a half. But this wasn’t equal across communities.

So in most studies, we find that disadvantaged populations, regardless of how you define that, and they’re defined in different ways, they experienced above average losses, so more than just the two to three months. And there’s also some evidence that younger students tend to be more adversely affected than older students. Although, again, there’s some variation there. And if this is really, I think, helpful to look out, because we’ve got a lot of studies that have taken place across different countries, and being able to be studied internationally. So if you look at students being out of school, what are the effects in terms of the length of school days or student absences, teacher strikes, whatever it looks like? I mean, in general, I think is one would expect, a reduction of the time that kids spend in school is associated with a reduction in student test scores, which is kind of a proxy for learning. If individual students are absent, rather than whole classes are absent that has a greater effect on those individual students. Probably because it’s easier for teachers to facilitate whole class learning, if the whole class is out, it’s easier for them to teach the whole class remotely than to make specific provision for one or two individuals. And again, I think in all of the context, certainly that I’ve seen, mathematics is a lot more severely impacted in restrictions than literacy. Probably, because it’s a lot easier to practice literacy outside of the classroom than numeracy, you know, I could read books to my kids, they could read to me, it’s a lot harder to sit them down to do long division, multiplication, you know, algebra, and whatever. But I think what we also see is that students that tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are also much more impacted by this.

So again, a general theme is the pandemic has made learning losses greater than you’d expect, but even more so in disadvantaged communities. It actually reminds me a bit of some work that my US colleagues have done not around the pandemic prior to that, in documenting what in the US is called the summer learning slide. And that’s because in the US, the summer holidays are a lot longer than than in the UK, so three months, probably on average, rather than six weeks. That’s a long time. And of course, what happens is that if kids aren’t in school for three months, they tend to lose learning, they don’t remember as much, they then get back to school in the new year, there’s a little bit of a catch up period, they do regain that relatively quickly. But what you see in the US is that disadvantaged students lower socioeconomic backgrounds, they lose more learning over the course of the summer than their more affluent peers. That’s why we call it the summer slide. And what’s really worrying about this is that it just doesn’t happen in one summer, and then they catch up, and then they lose it in the next summer, it tends to be cumulative. So they don’t quite catch up as much as their other peers, they’ve lost a bit more. So over time, you see them falling farther and farther and farther behind. So and there’s a little bit of a risk, I think, with the pandemic, that we may see similar examples where as you have successive waves of school closures, disadvantaged children fall farther behind, it’s hard to catch up.

Um, it’s not all bad news. I think it is promising that Rand has found it certainly in the US context, with summer learning loss. If you can identify who some of the vulnerable students are and get them to participate, particularly in targeted summer learning programs, you can reduce the slide significantly and you can catch up significantly. So we don’t have a whole generation of children that are condemned to perpetual learning loss, but we do need to be thinking hard about how to drive interventions to try to recover that.

Matthew Moss 09:53
Okay, and is round Europe involved in helping to shape those interventions to to craft them.

Hans Pung 10:02
Yeah, so so we have that. We do a lot of work with the Education Endowment Foundation, which you may know was was set up by the Sutton trust, and now the Impetus Foundation, with some money from the UK Department for Education a number of years ago. And their whole raison d’etre is how do you reduce inequality and help disadvantaged children? So right, so we’re one of their evaluation partners and intervention design partners, at RAND. And we’ve done a number of studies for them trying to help empirically show what works around closing some of these gaps.

One recent one that we looked at was the Nuffield learning education initiative. So this is trying to get kids who are behind in their verbal learning to catch up with their peers. We did a big randomized control trial, gathered lots of evidence and actually found that over, I think it was a nine month period, these kids kind of caught up three months relative to their their peers. This is now being rolled out by the Department for Education in the UK, across all schools, and it’s actually a specific part of their COVID recovery program.

Matthew Moss 11:15
Right, thank you. So, obviously, the pandemic has impacted education, it’s had many, many other effects as well, I want to turn very briefly to to mental health, I’m sure we can all collect examples from our own lives, our own friends and family of how mental health has suffered. Either in small or large ways over the last couple of years. But again, what is the data showing us? Is there? Is there an effects of inequality in that picture, too?

Hans Pung 11:47
Yeah, so I suppose in some senses, you see similar patterns than what one sees with education. So mental health has gotten worse for everybody during the pandemic. And it tends to get worse, when we go into lockdowns and have more restrictions. When those ease mental health recovers a bit. If then there’s more restrictions, it gets worse. This is a pretty universal phenomenon. But some people’s mental health seems to have suffered more, women in particular, young people, people that have pre existing mental and physical health problems, those living in deprived areas, and certain ethnic minority communities, you know, the mental health challenges they’ve had been greater than their, their peers and society.

Maybe a little bit surprising thing, at least to me is there’s mixed evidence about the impact of the mental health impact of the pandemic, on well being by ethnicity. So, the challenge there is I think associations between ethnicity and mental health are influenced by a whole number of other factors, you know, things like employment, income protection, communities, they live in, gender deprivation. And of course, there’s strong associations between racial and ethnic background groups with a number of these other factors. And part of the challenge, certainly, that we see in the UK is a lot of the population studies that measure mental health don’t have sufficient ethnic minority respondents to give them a detailed look.

So here’s I suppose I my part a real plea, for the the importance of making sure when we’re gathering data and evidence, we gathered it in a way that allows us to comment about all groups in society, not just generally. So it’s, it is still a mixed picture, but but not a great one with respect to inequality.

Matthew Moss 13:49
Yeah. Understood. Thank you. And I’m turning now to philanthropy. How has philanthropy stepped up in these challenges? Has it stepped up enough?

Hans Pung 14:01
Yeah, well, I think that’s that’s a hard question to answer, but at least the relative part of it. I mean, I think one sees that trusts and foundations have largely maintained their charitable giving an outputs over the period. Perhaps they’ve tended to focus in some areas on their existing beneficiary base rather than opening up to new applications. But by and large, I think spending is kept up even if income has dropped. So what you also see is the depletion of reserves of some of these organizations. Um, but I think you also can’t rely on philanthropy for everything, in the same way that I don’t think you can rely on public or private sector funding for everything.

I think one of the big changes that I’ve seen over the last 20 plus years is that to solve a number of these big problems, we do need a real wide widening of the coalition of stakeholders to meet those challenges. So that’s not just Government. It’s not just commercial funding, but it’s also philanthropic contributions, you know, whether that’s individuals or charities or family foundations. I think philanthropic funding can do different things than public funding. And in some cases, I think sometimes the magic happens when you get that multiplicity and in different combinations of the funding.

You know, I think the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine may be a good example of that, you know, over time, there’s been sustained public funding of research at Oxford and within the AstraZeneca context, but there’s also been a lot of philanthropic contributions to the University that’s allowed that science base to be maintained. Obviously, AstraZeneca have some of their own private contributions, the government had a very specific tranche of money to go in to develop the vaccine. And so I think it’s actually quite a nice little case study of how this multiplicity of efforts can really help solve a problem. And you know, when we talk about global inequalities, let’s not forget that the Oxford it, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is going to be the world workhorse in vaccinating populations. You know, a lot of us in the West have had the mRNA, vaccines, Pfizer, Maderna, etc. Most of the developing world is going to be vaccinated by Oxford AstraZeneca.

Matthew Moss 16:31
Yeah, no, thank you for pointing that out. That’s the workhorse, as you say, and tell it tell us a bit more about this idea that philanthropic funding can do different things than public funding and corporate funding. That’s a really interesting idea. Can you unpack that for us a bit?

Hans Pung 16:50
Yeah. So maybe there’s two aspects to it, Matthew, I think one is around continuity of focus. And maybe it’s others around the focus of specific funding. So I think one of the advantages, and the real benefits of philanthropic funding is if you have a funder who’s very passionate about something and is committed to it for a long term, the continuity of that focus can really make a big difference.

So for example, in one of your previous #Global20 interviews, you talked to Lady Edwina Grosvenor about some of her work around philanthropy of prison reform. Well, the fact is, she’s been at this for a long time, and the fact that she is continually able to focus philanthropic funding efforts on such an important issue, particularly on women in prisons, she’s going to be able to make a real difference in that environment, when public attention on this might ebb and flow of it. Depending on who the Minister is, what flavor of government we have, you know, whatever that looks like.

Um, I think it’s also true that public funding sometimes gets very focused on specific issues. And that’s good, because you need the data and evidence to do that. But a lot of times the philanthropic funding tends to be broader, which means it may be about building networks, it may be about bringing people together, it may be about looking at kind of raising awareness of an issue.

So they can do slightly different things, which leads to greater effect.

Matthew Moss 18:21
Got it. Yeah. Thank you. And And what about corporate philanthropy? How how do you see that corporates are thinking about some of these global challenges? Are they are they focused on on their own workforce and their own the productivity? Or some of them starting to look at the as you might hope, in the broader societal effects that we’ve been talking about?

Hans Pung 18:48
Yeah, no, it’s a good question, Matthew. And and I think the answer is they’re doing both. I mean, you would hope that private companies would look to promote the health and well being and productivity of their workforce. It’s not only good for them, but their shared value. It’s also good for their employees. But I think there’s plenty of examples where we can see corporates are having a greater effect on some of these wider social issues.

So for example, if you look at a company like timpson’s, they explicitly recruit people from the X prison offender community, with really good results, you know, reduces recidivism, but also has been really good for their business.

KPMG has a current effort really focusing on social mobility and how they by bringing people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds into their organization, they can try to increase outcomes more broadly.

Other companies sign up to schemes like the Armed Forces covenant, which then allows them to better support reservists service leavers and their families, as they as they make the journey out of the armed forces.

So I think there are are good examples where we do see corporate philanthropy or corporate programs starting to have effect. It’s just important to keep highlighting where you see those and highlighting the impact of that.

Matthew Moss 20:14
Sure. And it sounds like some of the best and most impressive effects that you’re talking about when the the corporation if there might be philanthropic money from the corporation involved, but it also speaks to how they run their own organization and what they feel is important in their hiring practices and in how they how they conduct themselves as an organization.

Hans Pung 20:37
Yeah, no, it’s a really good point. Because I think where philanthropy can become really powerful is when it then becomes integrated into the purpose of the organization. So you don’t do health and well being programs just because you want to make more money, because they don’t always lead to that action, the evidence is pretty clear, probably the subject of another podcast. But actually, if they can incorporate their philanthropic philosophy into the purpose of the company, you it then becomes part of the identity and becomes part of the culture and you can then be there’s a much greater impetus and drive to take these things forward.

Matthew Moss 21:15
And Rand Europe has started its own experiments, I might call it in philanthropic income, I think it’s an experiment that is going to last at last, because I’m sure you’re doing the right things in the right way. But tell us a bit more about why RAND Europe is getting into the space.

Hans Pung 21:35
Yeah. So it’s for me, it’s really about how does Rand, how can we improve and increase the impact that we have through our research and analysis? Yeah, there’s lots of examples of how we’ve done this in the past, where we’ve been funded by public bodies, or done work for private companies, or even in some cases, you know, charities and foundations who are who have commissioned us to solve specific problems for them or do specific evaluations. But I think what we find in growing and doing that work, is there some problems, or activities that public sector partners just are not either willing or able to fund. Because they’re not interested in it, they think it’s too difficult, it’s too politically sensitive, too risky, or it just doesn’t fall into that kind of balance of activities.

But they are still problems that need to be solved. And I think, from my perspective, problems that are best solved if you can get good data and evidence to help drive good solutions to them. And so I think in these cases, this is where we’re looking to partner with a wider set, you know, of individuals, individuals, charities, foundations, corporates that have an interest in these public good challenges.

And so there’s, there’s kind of three priority areas we’re looking at at the moment. The first is we’re calling kind of retooling policy and decision making. So it’s looking at future challenges trying to anticipate what they are, how do you counter the use of misinformation and disinformation in public discourse, a phenomenon that we at random are calling truth decay.

Our second priority is around building resilience, you know, that’s largely around communities. And how can you withstand shocks to the system, like we’ve seen with COVID, like the Ukraine is seeing at the moment with with the conflict there, and then the third area and focuses around addressing inequality.

And we’ve already talked quite a lot about that today, and how you can bring research, analysis, and wider decision making to bear on that. And of course, we can do that, because we also have substantive expertise around health and education and employment and climate change and migration.

So I think it’s really looking out to build those partnerships with others, that will allow us to make a real meaningful and profound difference to you know, the communities that we live in, you know, whether they’re local communities or or the global comments more broadly.

Matthew Moss 24:15
And it clearly goes back to that original thought that philanthropic funds can simply do some different things than other income streams.

Hans Pung 24:24
That’s right, very, very different. Different sorts of impact than perhaps traditional public funding.

Matthew Moss 24:32
Got it. Hans, thank you so much. That’s been a really fascinating discussion. I feel I’ve learned a lot. Just in the in the last seconds of this interview. Do you want to sum up? Leave us with a couple of thoughts that are top most in your mind?

Hans Pung 24:50
Yeah, so there may be two that sprang from the conversation. I think the first for me how important it is to gather data and use evidence to try to help solve these problems. Because if you don’t understand what the problem is, you don’t know what the solution set looks like, and you’re not monitoring and evaluation, evaluating to see how well that works, you’re not gonna be able to move these issues forward. So for us, that’s why we exist.

But then the final point is perhaps the one that you alluded to just now. And that’s the benefit of having this diverse ecosystem of funders for pressing societal issues, because everyone has a slightly different role to play in this. But they’re all important. And if we can combine them in the right, mutually reinforcing way, then you can really multiply their effect and really drive that that benefit. That benefit for all of us, for our communities, for our nations, you know, and for the world more broadly.

Matthew Moss 25:49
Fantastic. Thank you so much. Hans Pung, president of Rand Europe, thank you for being part of our #Global20 series.

Hans Pung 25:58
It’s been a pleasure and an honor. Thanks, Matthew.