How often do any of us in philanthropy hear someone say that they do not need our “money”? Even if it has happened to us, how often can we say that we believed the person when it was said? As the federal overseer of nearly $800 billion of ARRA stimulus resources, Ed DeSeve from the White House Recovery Implementation Office was such the believable messenger today. He does not need our money.
Not only did Ed mention the catalytic impact of philanthropy, but Secretary Shaun Donovan of HUD cited numerous examples of where philanthropy had asked the tough question, assembled the necessary data and research, convened the critical conversation, demonstrated the potential of a powerful idea, and solved local problems.
It was inspiring to hear our partners at the federal level remind us of the power we have to be agents of transformation in ways that are not always connected to the grants we make. These are not the flushest of times for philanthropy, and it was good to have someone engage the full toolbox of philanthropy by reminding us of the value we bring to “think,” “engage,” “convene” and “build.”
One such example of philanthropy using its full toolbox is the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI). Secretary Donovan and Ed DeSeve both made reference to this effort today, and I have the privilege of being a part of this unfolding public-private-philanthropic partnership.
As Steve Gunderson mentioned in his remarks, the tone was set early, but the invitation to partnership came even earlier, in fact, before the inauguration. Valerie Jarrett spoke to a group of foundations in December 2008, and her comments resonated much like our speakers today. Back then, we were experiencing the euphoria of a historic election, hoping that the promise to engage philanthropy was real.
As I have witnessed through GHHI, it has been real. We mobilized a group of pilot sites to engage their communities on the opportunities and challenges, barriers and innovations to realizing the vision of Green and Healthy Homes. We knew that ARRA would provide the moment for us to think about cross-agency, cross-silo work. Much of the last part of Secretary Donovan’s speech about “breaking through silos” is a tribute to the work of numbers of foundations, federal agency leaders, White House officials, nonprofits, and others who have partnered in new relationships. We have witnessed together what we can do when we bring our full toolbox of resources to the challenge.
The challenges persist. Children and families are being left behind. Jobs are being shed. Much work remains. However, the ambition is large, and it is met by the resolve of all of us in partnership. I am looking forward to the conference, to the Green and Healthy Homes track of sessions and, moreover, to our work when we return.
Salin Geevarghese is a senior associate at The Annie E. Casey Foundation.