Mae HongDiversity That Does Not Divide

By: Mae Hong In: 2011 Annual Conference| Diversity and Inclusion

12 Apr 2011

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
At this morning’s breakfast plenary on the closing day of the 2011 Annual Conference, Ambassador James Joseph reminded me of this statement from French poet and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His observations on the matter of “Philanthropy and Pluralism: Diversity That Does Not Divide” exhorted 1,000 “ship builders” to pause, put down our tools, look out, and yearn once more for that which got us into the ship-building business in the first place.

Lamenting that today, 40 years after his history-making action at the Annual Meeting of members to oppose a slate of board candidates for its lack of diversity, he said we are still “a badly divided nation in a badly divided world.” At the heart of any discussion about diversity and inclusion in philanthropy is “a struggle for the soul of democracy,” he suggested. Back then, pluralism meant inviting “others” to join and assimilate the dominant culture. Today’s pluralism is more egalitarian and produces “a creative tension that enriches rather than divides.” But in our never-ending quest for better tools (policies, practices, strategies, data, etc.), we have neglected to replenish the yearning needed to fuel our efforts—a relentless discomfort and dissatisfaction with our inability to connect diversity in our field to our broader role in strengthening democracy and fostering equality for all.

Heeding Ambassador Joseph’s call, we are at a point where diversity is in fact not dividing but uniting the very sector itself. In 2010, foundations and philanthropy support organizations came together to form an unprecedented coalition of 18 infrastructure organizations (collectively representing thousands of foundations) and set a strategic agenda to help philanthropy become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This five-year national collaboration, known as the D5 Coalition (, not only responds to but embraces the fact that the world is changing. We believe philanthropy should change with it. The ultimate goal of this work is to help foundations achieve greater impact in an increasingly diverse landscape.

Ignoring this painfully obvious imperative as a field puts us at risk not only of criticism, disdain, and external meddling, but—more frighteningly—irrelevance.

Mae Hong is director, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

2 Responses to Diversity That Does Not Divide

James Posner

July 12th, 2011 at 9:55 am

The speech by Ambassador Joseph was one of the most insightful and thought-provoking that I can easily recall. He delivers his points with passion of a preacher, as well as the realism of a veteran of civil rights efforts of the past decades.

I plan to show the COF video of his speech at our next trustees meeting and recommend it to others.

James Posner

July 12th, 2011 at 10:01 am

During my collegiate years, the “melting pot” metaphor of Nathan Glasser was about as mainstream and “conventional wisdom” as could be within the liberal community.

Ambassor Joseph questions the appropriateness and relevance of that concept. He articulates brilliantly a vision of “diversity that does not divide,” which he defines roughly as, “I want to be comfortable about being me, without making you uncomfortable about being you…and vice versa.”

In recent years, a metaphor used by friends in Israel is that our societies should be viewed as a “mixed salad with lots of vegetables” rather than the false homogeneity of a “melting pot.”

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