Philanthropy must engage critical challenges facing the public

This article was originally published on the Latest from Alliance blog as “Council on Foundations conference 2014: Philanthropy makes the connection” on 13 June 2014. The original article can be found here. For more information about Alliance magazine, please visit www.alliancemagazine.org.

By Rob Garris

In several diverse settings at the Council on Foundations meeting this week, participants and panellists expressed concerns about potential gaps or oversights in fields where foundations work. During the panel on philanthropy in education the conversation focused for a time on the need to think of students as complete human beings, with social, economic, health and personal needs that must be fulfilled in order for them to be able to engage in and benefit from educational endeavours.

Audience members at the panel on the role of philanthropy in the post-2015 global development agenda, being led by the United Nations, expressed concerns on two fronts: (1) that each of the goals under consideration would emerge as a siloed area of activity, possibly connecting philanthropy and development agencies within that field, but missing the interconnected nature of the myriad challenges encompassed in the expansive post-2015 sustainable development goals; (2) that a global agenda might be disconnected from local challenges, capacities, potential and realities.

I’m convinced that these existing and potential gaps in planning, communication and execution are the reasons that philanthropy must remain engaged in critical challenges facing the public. The social, cultural and environmental challenges facing communities and the globe in the 21st century are all interlinked. Interlinked across challenges such as the environment, livelihoods, health and security. Interlinked across regions and national borders. Interlinked from villages up to global systems.

At its best, philanthropy can be the broker that brings disconnected parties and disparate entities together to create new bonds. Without the pressure of elections or markets, and by drawing on the insights and capacities of community foundations and global foundations, philanthropy has the potential to break down silos and connect local insights to global resources. Despite the well-justified concerns that individual students and small localities are overlooked by grand education or development schemes, I left the Council on Foundations meeting optimistic about our capacity to make connections that create change in the world.

Rob Garris is managing director, Bellagio Programs, at the Rockefeller Foundation.

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