In several diverse settings at the Council on Foundations meeting last week, participants and panelists 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 endeavors. 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:
- 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;
- 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, 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 Foundation’s meeting optimistic about our capacity make connections that create change in the world.