Jenn Hoos Rothberg“You’re in the Problem-solving Business”

By: Jenn Hoos Rothberg In: 2010 Family Philanthropy Conference| Family Philanthropy

3 Feb 2010

What a treat to hear Jeff Jarvis speak via Skype at the Council on Foundations’ Family Philanthropy Conference! The delivery vehicle was ideal given the topic; Jarvis navigated his talking points on his computer monitor in one window, while speaking directly to the Council’s live audience of hundreds in another.

“It’s a new world, Golda,” Tevye said in The Fiddler on the Roof.

Jarvis’ recent book, What Would Google Do?, was the grounding for his talk on Tuesday, as our moderator, Kari Dunn Saratovsky, vice president of Social Innovation at The Case Foundation, brilliantly contextualized Jarvis’ universal points of Googliness within the field of philanthropy.

I was encouraged to hear Jarvis speak about the philanthropic sector not just as a network of foundations and funders, but as a platform—like Google. In this capacity, we have the opportunity to work collectively and strategically to highlight and promote social responsibility and bring about real systemic change in our communities—all to help solve our greatest societal problems.

Jarvis argued, however, that to do this, we need to think like Google; this means, ultimately, giving up control and “giving it to the people.”

Jarvis stressed that philanthropy needs to provide the platform where people can collectively solve problems in new ways. “You’re in the ‘problem-solving business,’” he eagerly informed us.

I don’t know about you, but if I had super powers like Samantha in Bewitched, I would have stopped time for a moment to let each of us soak in what felt like such a refreshing reminder of what we’re trying to do every day, but is so rarely articulated.

It took an onlooker, like Jarvis, to restate the obvious and tell us as trustees and practitioners of family foundations what business we’re actually in. And guess what? It’s not grantmaking. We’re problem solvers.

The moment Jarvis repositioned our profession as such, Googley Philanthropy began to make much more sense to me.

There’s no doubt that the hurdle in family philanthropy to reach googlelification will be our ability to rethink and re-imagine what openness and transparency really means. But I’m energized by this ideal (not just the semantics) that as a platform and a sector, we’re here to solve problems.

It’s absolutely clear that there’s no way we can do this alone. The only way we can achieve success is if we learn to be open and listen to the ideas from the very people whom we’re trying to serve. Then, ultimately, our job will be to harness the power of those collective ideas and turn them into actions that bring about real change to our world.

Jenn Hoos Rothberg is a director at the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust.

1 Response to “You’re in the Problem-solving Business”

Jeff Jarvis

February 4th, 2010 at 11:26 am

Thanks, Jenn,
I also liked the idea discussed at the end, that you are in the business of optimism. We hear so much about what could go wrong. You all try to make things go right. Amid the handwringing about change we hear today, that’s important.

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