A session titled “Navigating the Crossroads of Global Social Justice Issues” that included the likes of Van Jones, Eboo Patel, Deepak Bhargava, Kumi Naidoo, Constance Rice, Avila Kilmurray, and Ana Paula Hernandez delivered on its promise. It was a powerful exchange of enlightening and inspiring messages that left me needing more.
The themes emerging from the session have stuck with me. They include a recognition of our obligation to those who are the most vulnerable; equal opportunity and equal protection; structural change; moving from transaction to transformation; giving a voice to the underrepresented; creating spaces for conversation outside the constraints of our own institutions; and empowering people to engage in civil disobedience. The session was successful in providing some profound reflections while enabling participants to engage in digging more deeply into some of the major questions regarding philanthropy’s role. It was not an easy task for the facilitators to then come back with some common themes, yet they rose to the occasion.
I was struck by the forward-looking attitude of the activists who have dedicated so much of their lives to addressing intractable problems. Rather than looking around in angry despair, their message to the philanthropic community was clear: Look at this moment as the intersection between the past and the future and seize the opportunity to rearrange philanthropy to effectively deal with the problems of poverty, land rights, immigration reform, climate change, human rights, etc., through a more sustained and comprehensive approach. They urged us to envision the world we want to live in, in 10 years, and ask, “What is it going to take to get there?” They also acknowledged that tackling these critical issues will indeed require us to get out from behind our own protective walls and engage with “unlikely bedfellows,” those unlikely allies that are necessary for the approach to be more comprehensive.
One last item of interest was the recognition of the importance of messaging and investing in more visible and constant communication. In addition to supporting the work of reform, philanthropy ought to also invest more heavily in getting the message out there and keeping it out there. Interestingly, some of the organizations that are putting the “wrong” messages out there are spending 30 percent of their operating budgets on communications and marketing. This question was asked: “How many of our foundations are doing that today?” Not one hand went up.
Eliana Vera is the managing director of Global Philanthropy for the Council on Foundations.