The central piece of the vision for the Council on Foundations 2013 Family Philanthropy Conference is found in our theme of “systems thinking.” To be most effective and find the right approaches given our capacities we need to understand how these systems are affecting the issues we care about, how to interact with those systems, and what their structure really is. I am extremely excited about the inclusion of this theme because I think it is a critical lens to being effective in manifesting lasting social change.
The rest of it I’d like to sum up with three I’s, an E, and a T. It wouldn’t get me very far on Wheel of Fortune but here it stands for interactive, inclusive, innovative, energizing, and thought provoking.
It was essential to me that this conference be interactive. I don’t know about you but after an hour or two of being talked at you are going to lose me no matter how brilliant you are being. We know adults don’t learn that way. One new solution you will find throughout the conference is the salons, where there is a topic and a moderator and the rest depends on you. It is just one example of how we hope to put this concept into action in a new way.
We also aim for this conferenceto beinclusive. Family philanthropy is diverse in many ways, including the roles people play, the perspectives or ideologies, the strategies we use for change, the issue areas we focus on, and the structures or vehicles we use to engage in philanthropy. This conference should provide a space in which all of you feel welcome and have representation. I ask that you listen and learn from people who are different from you and challenge yourself to keep an open mind.
This conference will be innovative. We are in San Jose and the Silicon Valley. This place is all about new ideas and we in philanthropy are uniquely positioned to support innovation and be innovative ourselves. My hope is that we all walk away with new ways of thinking about our work, new and unexpected connections, and at least a few actionable items that we can implement in our work.
Now onto the E, which stands for energizing. We want this conference to energize you and make you excited about your work and the possibilities that it has. The work we do is important and when I hear about some of the amazing work you are doing I feel inspired and reenergized about mine.
Under Vikki’s Spruill’s leadership, the Council on Foundations is putting a real emphasis on being a thought leader. That leads to the final letter, the T for thought provoking. We don’t want to shy away from the debates in the field. In fact, we want to tackle them head on. Our work does not lend itself to easy answers. If it did we would have solved all these things already, Poverty would be a thing of the past, education would be perfect, the environment would not be in danger, we would live in Utopia. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Together we will struggle with hard ideas and walk away better equipped to take on great and noble challenges. I am thrilled to be here with all of you and am so excited to see what the next few days bring.
Elenore Garton is vice chair of the Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation, director of strategy and philanthropic partnerships at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, and chair of the 2013 Family Philanthropy Conference Planning Task Force. This blog is excerpted from her remarks during the conference.