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April 18, 2007

Is the New Philanthropy Wise?

Thumbnail image for philanthropy.jpgFor a thoughtful look at what may lie ahead for philanthropy, particularly venture philanthropy models, check out this keynote speech recently delivered by Katherine Fulton, President of the Monitor Institute for a Stanford Social Innovation Review audience.

She says these are times where "our perceptions lag our reality" -- a "mixing up moment" full of rapid change, ambiguity, and new convergences. What's needed, she says, are entrepreneurial, cross-sector approaches to solving problems. One line in particular I liked is that "We are not just thinking our way into a new way of acting, we are acting our way into a new way of thinking."

At the end of her talk she says the question that has been bothering her for a while is "Will the new (venture) philanthropy be wise?" She thinks wisdom is scarce right now and wonders whether new philanthropy with its emphasis on business plans, benchmarks, evaluation models, etc. would fund something like the Civil Rights Movement today. It's a good question.

She cites those who did fund Civil Right initiatives back then as being funders who evidenced the qualities she associates with great philanthropy: risk-taking, empathy, stamina, and humility. Not a bad list. And a good signpost for philanthropy as it moves in new directions.

April 17, 2007

This From the Critical Thinking File

Last year, security expert, Bruce Schneier, published a piece in Wired News entitled Refuse to be Terrorized. It is still current today.

His thoughtful analysis very clearly lays out how much being terrorized is a choice, one possible outcome in the wake of terrorist acts. He cautions against over reaction, and shows how such over reactions actually play directly into the hands of the terrorists.

On a national and international policy level, he points out that:

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

And in the final paragraph he suggests that we acknowledge that living involves taking risks, and living fully involved thinking clearly about managing those risks.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.
The article is a rich field of hyperlinks, each one leading to more interesting nuggets. Worth a read.

April 11, 2007


The Blue Green Alliance is a new strategic partnership between The United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club that aims to “lead a national effort to fight for Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, and a Safer World.” Recently, I heard Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club and David Foster, Executive Director of BGA (formerly with United Steelworkers) talk about this promising new effort.

Pope opened by saying he feels like he is “skiing an avalanche” these days because events in the world are moving so fast in regards to global warming. Both he and David Foster spoke of the need, and the challenge, of being pro-active, rather than reactive, in such an environment. They then linked being pro-active with being collaborative, with building strategic alliances that can lead to new conversations, new thinking, and new action. They ended by talking about how trusting relationships built over time--such as between The Sierra Club and The United Steelworkers--are key to being able to do “heavy lifting.”

These comments linking social change to being proactive, to fostering collaborative dialogue and action, to building trusting relationships, have stuck with me. Certainly, they resonate with a lot of the work TWI’s grantees are doing and what I’d like to think is the approach TWI brings to its support of them. And that got me to thinking: maybe we should drop the language of grantmaker/grantee and start talking about each other as allies instead.

April 2, 2007

The Problem With the Internet and Social Change – Its the Tubes

Two postings (Part 1 here) and (Part 2 here) that may well serve as the beginning of some conversations with other activists. But if the postings are correct – and I suspect they are – those conversations may well have to take place in the old fashion way, that is, face to face.

I am still convinced that change is possible when two things occur: a small group of committed people show up a.) on time, and b.) stay on task.

“The Internet is not a truck”, or so said Senator Ted Stevens (alas the video is no longer available), but it may not be the best place for social change either.