Following upon the first-ever North American Community Foundations Summit held in Mexico City February, we invited nine travel scholarship recipients who attended to write about their experiences and observations. This is the second compilation of blogs in that series. We are especially thankful to the Knight Foundation, International Community Foundation, Resource Foundation, Arizona Community Foundation, and Hispanics in Philanthropy for sponsoring these scholarships. The Summit, co-hosted with Comunalia and Community Foundations of Canada included over 200 attendees who spent two days focusing on how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. To learn more, visit here.
SDGs Challenge Us to Do Better
By Betsy Covington
Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley
You know how sometimes you hear a new term and suddenly it’s everywhere? Turns out there’s a name for that: the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. (You’re welcome.)
I’m a little ashamed to admit that, prior to receiving an invitation to apply for a Knight Foundation scholarship to attend the North American Community Foundation Summit, I was unfamiliar with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I looked them up and immediately saw how the SDGs provide a framework and structure to the “improving our communities” work that I and our donors do every day. And, they challenge us to do it even better.
I’m honored to have been selected for a scholarship and add my attendance at the conference to the long list of opportunities for which I’m immensely grateful that Knight makes available for my community.
Three things struck me about the conference:
- Diving deeper into how diverse communities throughout North America are addressing the SDGs gave me a great vantage point from which to consider deeper action in my own community. There’s lots of great work being done out there!
- Those of us who work with community foundations understand—perhaps uniquely—the sense of being “part of something larger.” Our sector understands the power of connectivity and coming together to accomplish something collectively that we might not be able to tackle on our own. Time and again at the conference, I was awed by the great work of a small organization. As Margaret Mead so famously observed, it’s the power of “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” who can and always have changed the world.
- It was a great time for me as an American to be in Mexico. I’m sure it would have been far easier for the organizers to have held the conference centrally, in the United States. But this is a good, maybe even essential, time for all of us to be reminded of our collective commitment to improving our world—and that, as always, the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us. I drank in the hospitality, kindness, and patience of Mexico City as I navigated an unfamiliar language and culture. And, as I am every time I travel outside of my comfort zone, I’m better off because of it.
But back to Baader-Meinhof. Since my return, I’ve done my best to share the SDGs with others. We included a copy of the SDGs and the community foundation support resolution in our quarterly fund statement mailing to all CFCV Fund contacts, and our staff has discussed the ways in which our work supports various goals (and how we can touch more of them). At my recent Rotary meeting, a professor from Georgia Tech presented impressive work that they’re doing through the Carbon Reduction Challenge. My response? “Great work toward an SDG.”
Of course, sensitivity toward something isn’t enough, but the conference has empowered me to be a better grantmaker by helping our donors see purpose behind the great work that they’re doing. And hopefully it will stretch them—and all of us—to expand our generosity even more.
NACF Offered Incredible Cross-Border Interaction
By Courtney Lopez
Santa Fe Community Foundation
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Wow! What an experience had by all at the North American Community Foundation Summit. It was incredible to not only interact with, but learn from, my peers across borders. And, it was even more powerful to share a common belief in the opportunity that lies within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the goals might be lofty— such as the very first goal: no poverty— the vision for the future has never been brighter. We have changemakers dedicated to seeing this agenda through and that, in itself, is motivating and inspiring.
Oftentimes, when nonprofits like a community foundation are tasked with “adopting” something such as a set of shared goals, it seems daunting and sometimes even impossible. People think, “How are we going to make time for this?” The great thing about the SDGs, however, is that they aren’t something new to implement, per se— instead, they should merely complement the work we’re already doing. And, there is power in numbers, so the greater commitment we have across the government, the private sector, the philanthropic sector, etc., the greater our likelihood of success.
The opportunity to attend the NACF Summit was made possible by the generous travel scholarship I received from the Council on Foundations. I am incredibly grateful for the Council’s investment in the growth and development of young, diverse professionals like myself because conferences like this are crucial professional development experiences. Having a global perspective that, in part, informs local decisions is a new way of thinking for me. It takes a lot of little advancements to make big change. We all have a role to play in making our world a better place.
Connecting Local Everyday Work to Global Partners
By Lisa Adkins
Blue Grass Community Foundation
“I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.” Margaret J. Wheatley (American author, professor and management consultant).
As I reflect on the first North American Community Foundations Summit (NACF), this is exactly what the organizers of the summit accomplished on behalf of more than 200 community foundation leaders across Canada, Mexico and the United States. The convening in Mexico City created the space and opportunity for community foundation leaders from three countries to learn together from a broad array of experts, as well as one another. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate as a scholarship recipient, thanks to the generosity of the Council on Foundations and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
I’ve often heard that if you’ve seen one community foundation, you’ve seen one community foundation – meaning that each organization is markedly different from its peers. While it is true that community foundations differ dramatically in terms of geography, age, asset size, annual grant-making and areas of focus, what we have in common is that we care deeply about creating more generosity and improving the quality of life in the communities we serve. Given our distinctions and commonalities, the framework for the summit, the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, strongly resonated with me and many other colleagues in attendance.
In 2015, countries around the world, including the United States, Mexico, and Canada, adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new global agenda to “leave no one behind” by 2030. The summit provided the “place and processes” for community foundation leaders to explore how our organizations can focus their energy locally and globally to support progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
While the opportunity to dig deeply into the SDG framework was new to many at the summit, in terms of our day-to-day work, community foundations are already invested in many of the goals related to health, education, climate change, economic development and more. The summit was the perfect opportunity to connect our local, everyday work to cross-border partners and a global agenda (learn more at: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda).
As Meg Wheatley noted, “Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren't there before.”
Thanks to the NACF Summit for giving us the space and time to gather new information, exchange ideas, build connections and generate knowledge, enabling us to work together so that we “leave no one behind”.