'Millennials and the Moment'

Entering the 'Millennials and the Moment' session, I scanned the room and noticed a much wider and well-distributed range of generations in the crowd. After a few days milling around in the Gaylord, I realized that I now recognized many in the once-indiscernible herd of philanthropists.

The panelists Cassie, Eddie, Andrew, and Carmen maturely reflected on their leadership experiences. Particularly striking points below:

  • Cassie started Campus Climate Challenge and hosted a conference of over 6,000 environmentalists featuring Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
  • Eddie started an organization for improvement of public housing in Oregon - at the age of twenty.
  • Andrew, a young City Councilperson from Tallahassee, wanted more opportunity to network with other young elected officials so he started an organization that now serves over 400 young elected officials.
  • Carmen is the Vice President of USSA a student-led and -run organization that advocates for educational equality.

Other than talking about their specific experiences, the students made the salient point that ours is the most diverse generation in US history and that it is up to us to reverse the polarization perpetuated by past generations.

Philanthropy 2.0

I'm blogging live from the philathropy 2.0 event sponsored by the Case Foundation, EPIP, and 3rd Wave. Packed, hot, techie. About to break a sweat hot.

Just a quick observation. In today's session on faith and feminism, the director of the Women's Funding Network, Chris, pushed me to present my small group's discussion points. Although the rest of the group urged her to speak, she clearly indicated that she wanted me to present because I am an emerging voice in the feminist movement.

This is not the only time this has happened. Today, in the session I co-designed, Luz gave way to Charles and Trista to allow them airtime. This level of collegiality and respect for the voices of young people in philanthropy is new to me. Just by creating it as a focus area of the summit and by hearing leadership frame the conference on Sunday, people are already taking action.

We are not just here to learn, existing leadership is not just here to teach. It is an exchange.

Gates' Thoughts on Complexity as a barrier to solving social problems

Bill Gates recently gave the commencement speech at Harvard. On Philanthropy did a great summary of this. Gates made an interesting point about complexity that I think is very applicable to our work at Foundations.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity…Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers any time an organization or individual asks “How can I help?” than we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares – and that makes it hard for their caring to matter.

He went on to recommend a four-point plan for addressing a complex problem: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and, until that discovery, make the smartest application of the technology you do have. He used the AIDS epidemic as an example, the goal being, of course, to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention, the ideal technology a single dose vaccine that gives lifetime immunity. Until that vaccine is discovered, however, the best prevention approach is to get people to avoid risky behavior.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

How often does the big idea get lost in the details of the work that we do with nonprofits?

New Philanthropy vs. Old Philanthropy, a false Dichotomy?

I listened to a variety of very interesting speakers at the Council of Foundations annual conference that have made me rethink my position on old philanthropy versus new philanthropy. In a previous post, “Are Foundations Becoming Obsolete”, I said that successful foundations are using new methods to be more effective. After listening to Melinda Gates describe how the Gates Foundation was developed after doing a systematic study of other successful foundations, I stand corrected. They made a conscious effort to harness the knowledge that had already been developed in the foundation field, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One of the detriments of being someone that is new to the foundation field is that you don’t have the benefit of history when you are thinking about effective models for moving the field forward. Sterling K. Speirn the CEO of the Kellogg Foundation said “don’t fall into the new philanthropy versus old philanthropy argument, instead take time to read philanthropic history to learn from past innovations.” Through the application of knowledge and the development of fresh ideas, we can change the world.