Notes from the Field: From the White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation
Thanks to Jonathan Greenblatt and his team from the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, I spent a day discussing philanthropic innovation with over 100 nonprofit and philanthropic leaders from across the country. While the program tilted to discussions focused on impact investing and other financial and technological innovations, my takeaways ran the gamut.
A reminder that at the heart of philanthropy are people (from the greek phil meaning “loving”, anthropos meaning “mankind”):
Paul Shoemaker, executive connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle, asserted that unlike financial capital during these uncertain economic times, human and social capital remain abundant and growing.
Later, with characteristic humor, Lucy Bernholz, managing director at Arabella Advisors, stopped herself from using the term “human capital” a second time and reminded all of us that we’re talking about people and the contributions they make beyond providing money.
Meghan Kashner, founder and CEO of Benevolent, illustrated how technology now allows many individuals to help many other individuals, scaling up helping “the one” person in need. Her description of herself as a “social worker with an MBA” made me smile as I think of our Center’s founding by a small group of Wharton MBA’s and the dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice (formerly, School of Social Work).
On the often invisible role of government behind everyday private sector offerings:
Tessie Guillermo, a member of The California Endowment’s Board of Directors and president and CEO of Zerodivide, gave the example of the weather channel as an application by the private sector of government-sourced data from the weather service. She quipped that few are aware of that connection: “Why do we need the weather service when we’ve got the weather channel?!”
On walking the walk:
Clara Miller, president of the F.B. Heron Foundation, described the choices the foundation is making after deciding that all its money will serve its mission, including invested endowment. Among the choices—no separate PRI/investment staff as distinct from program/grant staff.
On the need for practical knowledge:
Emmett Carson, CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, in urging university-based centers to think outside a narrow research box, articulated the rationale behind the broad definition of evidence that has guided our Center’s work from the beginning.
A final thought
Perhaps the most eloquent call to action for our team here at the Center came from our own Judith Rodin, now president of the Rockefeller Foundation and the former president of our home, the University of Pennsylvania. Rodin reminded us that universities have a powerful role to play as physical and intellectual anchors that strengthen communities through positive social change.