When my class (The Philanthropy Workshop West) arrives, a light snow dusts the ground and U.S. President #44, Barack Obama, has just been sworn in for a second term. As we progress through a week of presentations, spring thaws early and soft rains fall, cleansing our cynical capital and washing away our prejudices against politics. Late in the evening, late in the week when no one is watching and we’re tired of propriety, we find ourselves falling into bed with the idea of advocacy. We just want to advance our causes . . . Is that so wrong?
On a warm and sunny day more than ten years ago, I visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the King Center in Atlanta. Having read and heard about the U.S. civil rights movement and struggle for freedom for black people in this country, I was excited to draw links and connections to the anti-apartheid movement. For me, it felt like visiting Robben Island, a place of historic magnitude and significance in my home country of South Africa.
As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, and a veteran myself, the challenges those who serve face when they come home are topics near and dear to my heart.
On one of the most storied streets in urban Native America, you can see a dynamic future taking shape. Colorful banners along Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis proclaim the only Native American urban business district in the country. Established in 2010, the American Indian Cultural Corridor features five Native-owned businesses, including a tribally owned bank. The Corridor, reminiscent of New York’s Little Italy or San Francisco’s Chinatown, spans a half mile of a previously crime-ridden, poverty-stricken neighborhood. Culturally relevant concepts and programs, rooted in the community, are making it possible for residents to build their assets by opening businesses, developing job skills, and owning a home.
When the mainstream media pay attention to Native American communities at all, they most often tell stories of trauma and tragedy. There is truth in many of those stories, of course, but we at Northwest Area Foundation see a different reality that also is true. When we meet with people on reservations and in urban Indian communities, we see energy and vision. We encounter a passion for self-determination in a rising generation of young leaders. And we see innovative Native organizations building assets for the future. We support Native-led asset and wealth building programs that have potential to nurture thriving economies in Indian Country. Job-building programs and wealth-creation models anchored in Native culture have track records of success that should be more widely known and studied. These approaches could help other Native and non-Native communities in their pursuits of lasting prosperity.
I first started working in the community foundation field more than 15 years ago. It goes without saying that I’m a big fan. I believe in this democratic model of philanthropy where the collective power of many creates powerful change. I’m also a fan because most community foundations understand that our work is constantly changing and adjusting to new needs. We cannot stand still. Indeed, the model of community foundation 15 years ago was vastly different than the one I see across the country now. The difference is the greater clarity about our leadership, and about our place-based expertise and connection. Community Foundation Week makes me reflect on that leadership.
As the practice of impact investing matures, evolving from a peripheral concept to a mainstream practice, the momentum around this nascent industry is growing. At a time when governments, foundations and donors look to do more with less, impact investing offers a means to generate social and environmental value with the potential for financial returns. However, this opportunity has often been limited by an overall weak capacity on the demand side of the equation and a resulting lack of investment-ready projects. These limitations undermine the impact investment industry’s quest to reach maturity, scale and sustainability.
Dear Philanthropy Community, I’ve been thinking about our relationship for months. I wasn’t really sure how to bring this up, because I’m really worried about offending you. Making you angry has real consequences for the kids I serve. But, as I continue in this work, I realize I also have a role in making the sector stronger. This means, I have a role in making our relationship stronger. And, to be sure, that means that hard truths must be spoken.
Our world has become increasingly dependent upon content to attract people’s attention. This content ranges from blogs on the Internet to television shows. Due to global shifts in our economy, economic developers have to work harder to attract companies and individual entrepreneurs. What used to be local efforts to attract job creators from neighboring cities and regions has shifted to competition with states located across the United States and foreign countries.
As I continue to reflect on the Council’s recent publication, Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Corporate Philanthropy, I am reminded of author Chris Pinney’s suggestion that this is a leadership moment for corporate philanthropy. There are at least three reasons for this: