Blog: Amplify

Mobilizing Separate, but Equally — or can we Choose to Create a More Perfect Union?

Saturday was wonderful preconference kick-off to what will undoubtedly be another great Council on Foundations event. Collaboration, common agendas, and community engagement were key themes for both the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) and Global Grantmakers. Each group delivered thought-provoking, inspiring programming - but unfortunately I was forced to choose between sessions.  Similar to previous conferences, I was forced to make the mad dash between presentations and sneak politely in and out of conversations that were great independently but have the potential to be transformative together. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to mobilize to create a more perfect Council union.

Highlights from the ABFE schedule included a session highlighting a successful multisector, multigenerational collaborative by the African American Leadership Forum. It convened leaders from philanthropy, business, and government to champion a common African-American agenda across five states. The usual social issues were the focus:  education, economic justice, and health disparities. Additionally, the collaborative has been successful at diversifying the leaders to include not just African Americans but immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

The day culminated with the James Joseph Lecturer, Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, who challenged us to contemplate our community legacy and vision. The legacy of her work at the Minneapolis Foundation is what Emmett Carson described as “tombstone grants” - those worthy enough to be on one’s tombstone. The audience was full of ABFE members listening intently, but quite frankly it was a worthy topic for many grantmakers,  not exclusively African Americans.  

So why weren’t others in the in the room? Might the session and the programs benefitted from greater diversity?

Simultaneously, Global Grantmakers widened their philanthropic lens to discuss the human development of people of color around the globe. Participants explored the role African women play in society and culture. Their evening culminated with a presentation by actress Julia Ormond on her work with the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking. Ormond’s presentation was indeed eye-opening social justice work that is critical to the growth of black and brown people around the world. Yet noticeably absent were quite a few black and brown participants. So again I say, why weren’t others in the room? Might the session and programs have benefitted from greater diversity?

To quote Barack Obama, “We hold common hopes. We may not look the same, and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — toward a better future. We perfect our union by recognizing our different stories.”

Reflecting on my mad dash between sessions, I was reminded of what is imperfect about our union, the Council on Foundations. As philanthropists, we should shamelessly steal from Barack Obama’s playbook by creating a more perfect union - right in our backyard. And as a part of our responsibility, I challenge individual conference attendees to break out of your silos and join unique conversations, understand a new demographic, and find a convergence between these ideas and your daily work.  

And I challenge next year’s conference planning team to build a bridge between affinity groups like ABFE and Global Grantmakers. Perhaps the 2013 James Joseph Lecturer can be a recipient who has championed philanthropy across Africa and the Caribbean? Might the lecture and reception be a joint event between ABFE and Global Grantmakers? How can we create a more perfect union between the two groups? And I welcome your ideas, as next year I desperately hope to abandon the mad dash between sessions.

Nicole Robinson is vice president of the Krafts Food Foundation.

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