In 2013, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation inaugurated the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative with a goal to enhance the vitality of Catholic sisters globally to advance human development. To evaluate the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative, the Hilton Foundation selected the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) at the University of Southern California as the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) partner in 2014. Because the Hilton Foundation is committed to employing best practice approaches, CRCC conducts an annual evaluation of the initiative’s progress against its strategic goals.

Now at the end of our first five-year phase, the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative is pleased to share the first summative evaluation report on Phase I, which provides key learnings, challenges, successes and opportunities that inform future directions of the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative. Our future direction will focus on a vision of Catholic sisters as global leaders of sustainable human development grounded in their spiritual witness. Our theory of change posits that strong, sustainable and skilled organizations—in addition to educated, experienced and spiritually well-formed sisters—are more able to develop, lead and implement human development efforts.

This MEL report also includes recommendations that will help the Hilton Foundation to continue to strengthen and scale its impact, as well as maintain its leadership through its investment on the Catholic sisters and partners. The report’s recommendations speak to the changing global landscape of the religion, church and religious life. The findings from Phase I, listed below, are timely as they will continue to inform the future of Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative:

  • Strengthening awareness of sisters’ leadership: The report indicates that the Strategic Initiative’s investments significantly contributed to an increased awareness of the uniqueness of sisters, their firm prophetic witness, and their commitment to service and prayer. Catholic sisters continue to minister and accompany disadvantaged and vulnerable people, and with the support of the Foundation, sisters’ leadership has the potential to be leveraged to conceptualize and implement solutions at a larger systemic level.
  • Leveraging sisters’ networks and knowledge bases: Sisters are perceived as resourceful, efficient and powerful agents of social change and continually advance global human development through their ministries. Over time, the Strategic Initiative has evolved: we have developed partnerships and built a knowledge base on the needs of sisters and their congregations around the world. Globally, sisters need capacity building in human and financial resource management, addressing intercultural and generational differences, collaboration and networking, and data management systems.
  • Redefining evaluation metrics for sisters: This report explicates that a focus on number of vocations is not necessarily a strong indicator of success for the Strategic Initiative; instead, it could focus on strengthening lifelong capacity, health and well-being of sisters to enhance vitality of their congregations for continued service delivery to vulnerable communities. Focus on lifelong formation could potentially lead to strengthening the quality of religious life, sisters’ work in human development services, increased global awareness that sisters are differentiated from development workers through their vows, and elevate sisters’ leadership and capacity to attract both financial and human resources for their ministries to disadvantaged people.

The above video illustrates the unique role sisters play in promoting sustainable and holistic development, with a focus on women religious in Africa. Video courtesy of University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Through this evaluation framework, CRCC highlighted opportunities for the Foundation and its partners to focus in Phase II of the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative. Through elevating global awareness of sisters and their work; building strong networks and collaboration within the church, congregations and other organizations; and increasing data and knowledge management, we can make a significant impact on enhancing the vitality of Catholic sisters globally to advance human development.

Summative Evaluation of Phase I of the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative

Developed by USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture

Read the report here