Empathy and partnership building—lessons from the EVPA Conference

Leading side by side is less about forging a hierarchy than about learning, sharing and drawing on unique strengths from within the group to achieve common goals.

Community-iStock_000012181088Medium-269x300By Chris de la Torre

The recipe for successful leadership includes knowing how and when to work together. Interconnectedness grants us the power of partnerships. Embracing technology opens up new ways of learning and sharing, giving us a collaborative lens through which to confront the most persistent of problems. And of course, empathy is an essential ingredient.

When the English poet John Donne wrote “No man is an island” he made a lasting case for empathy. The ability of understanding the feelings of others has become the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and is, one could say, the fuel that drives philanthropy. “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

While Donne’s inspiration came from his own anxiety around death, the goal of learning from the suffering of others to live a better life and in turn make the world a better place is an admirable one. It’s something we can all do individually and it’s worth considering how partnerships can up the ante when it comes to making significant impact—keeping in mind that leading together does take a fair amount of effort and introspection.

In her reaction to the 2013 EVPA Conference in Geneva, Jennifer Stout (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) speaks to the need for new modes of collaboration, particularly in areas where policy change can make a difference. Stout draws on the words of André Hoffman (WWF International) and Kristian Parker (Oak Foundation), both environmental advocates she calls “impressive examples of leaders in philanthropy.”

A big part of responsible leadership (also the theme of the conference) is partnership building. Stout suggests that philanthropy itself plays a unique role in bringing various actors together, in that it encourages creativity, risk taking and entrepreneurship to achieve what other sectors can’t.

[Take a look at this video on risk from Bellagio Initiative.]

As a thought leader, WINGS encourages its members to take up shared issues, so they can help advance the culture of giving through policy and practice. We also set a standard for said collaboration. A great example is the Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative (GPLI).

Launched in 2010, GPLI began as a two-year experiment in international collaboration aimed at advancing the role and effectiveness of philanthropy in a global context by developing actions and recommendations in three priority areas, one of which is strengthening cooperation between foundations and multilateral organisations.

Just as we had hoped, the spirit of the initiative has remained well past the pilot period, as we forge new partnerships with the UNDP and others around global issues affecting our members. But who leads when leaders work together? How do leaders collaborate without getting in each other’s way?

[See our interview with Doug Miller, EVPA co-founder.]

Perhaps most importantly, Stout’s article reinforces the idea that philanthropy is about walking side by side—a comparison made by Rodrigo Jordán, a social entrepreneur whose work with Chilean earthquake victims reinforced the advantages of building human links. Stout:

[Collaboration] extends beyond individuals working together on specific issue areas and also includes sharing experiences and lessons learned. … The problems that philanthropy seeks to address are so large that no single organization can solve them on their own—but while leaders in every field seek to inspire others to follow them, perhaps leaders in philanthropy uniquely seek to inspire people to stand side by side.

Leading side by side then seems less about forging a hierarchy than about learning, sharing and drawing on unique strengths from within the group to achieve common goals—the true “competitor” being the issues at hand. Learning and sharing is a big part of what we do, and we’ll be talking more about this as we count down the days to Istanbul.

Chris de la Torre is Managing Editor for WINGS. Follow him on Twitter @urbanmolecule.

Road to Istanbul—A journey through networked philanthropy charts the course of global philanthropy over the weeks leading up to WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks. Co-hosted by Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV), diverse actors from the world of philanthropy will converge on Istanbul from 27-29 March to discuss emerging trends and other important issues. Follow on Twitter with #WFnetworks. Register for the event here.

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