Janet Mountain, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Children living in urban poverty in the U.S., India, and South Africa

CONTACT: 512-329-0799

IP TAKE: Michael and Susan Dell trust Harvard MBA and former Dell, Inc. executive Mountain to carry out their philanthropic visions as the head of their foundation. The majority of Dell's giving goes to projects and organizations in the United States, but Mountain still moves million dollars worth of investments a year in India and South Africa.

PROFILE: Based out of Austin, Texas, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation typically makes between $45 million and $65 million in grants annually. Most of the foundation's grants are domestic, but over the past five years, Dell awarded in the vast range of $7.5 million and $30.8 million annually to organizations improving education, health, and family economic security for children in India and South Africa's urban areas.

Previously an executive on Dell's corporate side, Janet Mountain now directs and oversees all giving at the foundation, and creates strategy about its overall direction.

The philanthropic legacy of people who made it big in tech and business, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation believes in the power of data. Dell looks for projects that stress measurable results. Mountain herself was a Harvard MBA, and brings her corporate sensibilities to the charitable work she does for her employer. Prior to taking over at the foundation, Mountain managed the U.S. consumer division at Dell, Inc., after serving for some time as company VP. In other words, the Dells trusted Mountain to execute their corporate vision, and have now placed her in charged of their many millions of dollars worth of global charitable efforts.

Mountain works closely with Dell's Director of International Programs Barun Mohanty. Like Mountain, he's a product of the business world, having spent more than a decade consulting for McKinsey in various countries around the world. Together, Mountain and Mohanty make sure the foundation's goals actually happen via their grantmaking efforts in India and South Africa. 

While Dell funds work in its stated program areas in both India and South Africa, how those programs are implemented varies somewhat by geography. What follows is an overview of Dell's priorities in the countries where it does work internationally.

  • Urban education - A full two-thirds of the foundation's expenditures go toward expanding educational opportunities for children in cities. In India, Dell focuses its efforts on children growing up without access to basic schooling. In South Africa, Dell's funding interests lie in creating pathways to college for vulnerable and impoverished urban youth, and in ensuring that those students actually complete degrees and obtain employment upon graduation. Dell has a thing about data, so would-be grantees would do well to emphasize metrics in whatever education proposals they put forward.
  • Childhood health - In India, more than 250 million children live in urban slums. The lack of available clean water, sanitation, and healthcare results in many problems, immediate and long-term. To counter these trends, Dell supports school-based health programs, as well as clean water and sanitation interventions in cities nationwide. In South Africa, Dell concentrates its philanthropic energies on a different set of problems plaguing children in metropolitan areas— namely, those associated with HIV/AIDS. The Dell Foundation supports organizations that provide services to AIDS orphans and children whose families are affected by HIV/AIDS. Also in South Africa, Dell gives grants for projects that deliver vaccines, clean water, sanitation, and better nutrition in urban areas.
  • Family economic stability - Poverty is often a cycle perpetuated through generations. Dell recognizes this unfortunate truism, and wants to fund projects that can not only lift individuals out of poverty, but that can also disrupt the multi-generational burden that poverty imposes on families. To accomplish its anti-poverty goals, Dell concentrates on whole-family programs, reasoning that if parents are able to educate, house, and financially support themselves, their offspring will emulate this behavior, and pass on similar values and opportunities to their own children. In both India and South Africa, Dell's family economic stability grants relate to urban microfinance, consumer protection standards, vocational skills, and affordable housing.

Grants range in amount from several-tens-of-thousands of dollars to more than $1 million. The foundation's investments usually occur in conjunction with other sources of funding, so that the projects and organizations Dell supports have greater impacts than anything Dell alone could fund. The foundation usually doesn't make grants that account for more than 25 percent of a project's costs or, where funding for general operations is concerned, 10 percent of an organization's operating budget.

Among foundations, Dell's application process is relatively grantee-friendly. Any organization whose mission aligns with Dell's program and geographic priority areas can apply online at any time. But prospective applicants should be mindful that whatever they submit should be very detailed, with the kind of data emphasis that appeals to a team of long-time business executives.

For illustrative purposes, a short list of recent Michael & Susan Dell Foundation grants in India and South Africa:

  • $378,401 to the University of Pretoria in South to refine standardized tests for high school students and train teachers in using student performance metrics as teaching tools.
  • $103,840 to the Vikramshila Education Resource Society to provide underserved youth in Calcutta with employment skills training and job counseling.
  • $736,608 to support disadvantaged students succeed at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
  • $487,496 to India's Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness to expand access to toilets for urban, low-income families.
  • $1.9 million to the Naandi Foundation for management of and educational delivery in Mumbai's public schools, with an emphasis on services for underprivileged children.
  • $1.1 million to international consulting firm McKinsey & Company's South Africa Branch for data collection and analysis designed to improve student outcomes in South Africa's urban school districts.

Dell is one of the more accessible large foundations and accepts grant applications on an ongoing basis via its website

VIDEO:

Janet Mountain - 2010 Annual Giving Report Video (HD) from Dell Family Foundation on Vimeo.