Leadership

We in philanthropy often present ourselves as a beacon of enlightenment on the most important issues of the day. We pride ourselves on doing more than talk about making the world a better place – we walk the walk and invest real resources to make that vision a reality. Our websites feature inspiring, uplifting language about the values that inform our work – respect, accountability, diversity and empowerment. So it’s doubly important that leaders in our community reflect those values in everything we do, and be rewarded for doing so.

Over the past several weeks, the Outreach Committee of the Board has had the privilege of hearing from many of you about your hopes and ideas for the Council on Foundations. I’ve personally listened to feedback from members at the Public Policy Summit in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and at meetings in New Mexico, and I’ve talked with dozens of members and friends of the Council on the phone. Over the next few weeks, our committee members will be taking part in more in-person conversations in Los Angeles, Dayton, Minneapolis and Chicago, and I know there are other gatherings of philanthropic leaders in the works.

As we consider the road ahead for the Council on Foundations, “leadership” is a word that comes up over and over again. The question is how the Council can continue to serve the broader philanthropic field while also helping to define issues and bring our members together around solutions and approaches. And few areas are more important, and more in need of consistent, thoughtful leadership, than the topic of shaping a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.

By now you have heard the news that Vikki Spruill has accepted a position at the New England Aquarium and in June will return to the ocean conservation community, where she has deep roots. The Council appreciates Vikki’s leadership and wishes her well. As we turn to seeking a new leader, we want to hear from you. What are the most pressing issues for the next leader to focus on? What attributes are vital in the next person to head the Council?

On December 20, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the first recipient of our 100&Change competition’s $100 million grant: an early childhood intervention for children in the Syrian refugee region co-developed by Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. The Sesame/IRC project was selected over an initial field of more than 1,900 applicants through a multi-stage process that eventually identified four finalists.

This spring I traveled to Japan, where I had the opportunity to visit the Hosoo textile company in Kyoto. The company was founded in 1688 and has been passed down through 12 generations of the same family, still sitting on the same site. Formerly focused on textiles for traditional garments used in imperial households, the company has retooled itself for the cultural edge of the modern era. Now, they are working with MIT on innovative smart fabrics and providing material to fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Channel. This seamless transition between the ancient past and the near future was a frequent sight in Japan, and it struck me as a stunning metaphor for how we might not only adapt to momentous change, but use creativity and take risks to leap ahead of it.