Connecticut Philanthropy: Leaning Into Our Leadership

Monday, May 5, 2014

This blog post is created from my remarks at the Council’s 22nd annual luncheon and philanthropic awards program that took place on May 2, 2014. My hope is to support an active conversation about our collective philanthropic leadership and the important role of philanthropy. Following this post, my Colleagues, Lisa Walker from Newman’s Own Foundation, David Addams from the Graustein Memorial Fund and Frances Padilla from Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, who also led the conversation on May 2nd, will post their remarks as well.

We invite you to join the conversation and discuss how each of us can lean into our role as a leader working to improve the quality of life and use our resources and positions to focus on balancing the inequality that exist in Connecticut.

Connecticut Philanthropy: Leaning Into Our Leadership

This annual luncheon marks my first anniversary as president of the Council. It also marks the completion of our strategic planning process, so it seems an appropriate time for reflection on what I have learned about Connecticut philanthropy and a preview of where the Council is headed.

To begin, let me tell you why I came to Connecticut. I was drawn to Connecticut by the striking contrasts that it represents. Connecticut is both the richest and poorest state in the nation. We have the highest per capita income and some of the wealthiest communities in America—yet so many of our residents have fallen into deep poverty over generations, and their ranks are swelling, especially in our cities and in our rural towns. We are a state of celebrated diversity–for example, there are 87 languages spoken in the Hartford public schools—yet we remain deeply segregated by income, race, ethnicity, education, age and politics. We have 169 towns, each with their own distinct identity and fierce loyalty that binds their community together. They represent the rich history and character of our State. At the same time, these geographic boundaries divide us when we need to think and act regionally and deploy our assets for the greatest common good. And yet…

I was pulled here because I asked myself the question… if not in Connecticut, then where? This is a State that is small in comparison to others, where relationships are possible because we are small, where resources and assets are abundant in the private and philanthropic sectors, where we are known as a State with the ability to galvanize around issues of social importance. If not here, then where?

We have what we need, and I believe that philanthropy must continue to lean into its leadership role to make change happen in Connecticut. We can and we must use our hearts, knowledge, influence and assets, staying the course and taking a longer view to do our best for Connecticut and beyond. Philanthropy must do this because we have the luxury and opportunity to keep our eyes on the long-term prize and invest in the longer horizon of social change.

First we must acknowledge and embrace our compact with the public trust and be transparent in our work. We must engage in a dialogue that shapes our commitments and actions as philanthropists. What do we mean when we say “the common good”? What values do we share, and how will we hold ourselves and our partners in leadership accountable to those definitions and values? Each of our organizations, foundations, or personal philanthropy has in its DNA the responsibility to utilize our resources for the social good. Leadership demands that we accomplish not just some social good, but the most good possible. We come together as members of the philanthropic sector to learn from one another, challenge one another, collaborate and leverage our assets. We need to reach out to others across the State, people and organizations that do not see themselves as part of the Connecticut philanthropic community, and bring them to the table so that we move the work and our impact to another level, harnessing all the resources possible to shape and benefit the common good. As philanthropists and leaders, we have powerful streaks of individuality that fuel our passion and commitment for the things we care deeply about—but if we are to be partners in the patient revolution of social change, then we must be aligned over time in this work. We must learn from one another and rise to a level of empathy, expertise and strategic investment that will change the way we do our work, influence public policy and begin to truly impact the things we care about both individually and collectively.

Secondly, we must recognize the vital role of philanthropy in a healthy democracy. This demands that we support efforts to develop the most educated and engaged citizenry possible—where the majority of people participate in society, contribute to prosperity, benefit from shared social structures and have representation. If we do not play a role in the balancing of social structures that drive public policy, then we will continue to expend our resources to remediate the consequences of systems that do not work for the majority, and we will see opportunity continue to erode for ever- larger segments of the population. Philanthropy will never be able to make up for the lost economic opportunity and mobility that is eroding Connecticut’s prosperity. We must therefore take a leadership role in ensuring that the largest numbers of citizens participate in sustaining a healthy democracy, and work to shape public policy that will create economic opportunity and upward mobility for the people of Connecticut and beyond.

I believe that our proximity to one another allows us to know one another, develop trusting relationships and build bridges to learning that lead to collective action. The Council will continue to provide opportunity for philanthropy and our partners to come together and forge these compacts for learning, investment and action. We will seek to grow our membership so that new types of philanthropists and models of social change can be brought to bear on our work. We will equip our membership with the resources and relationships that will strengthen their work and help shape public policy. Our collective voice will grow stronger and be heard where influence is needed as we lean into our role as change agents.

This is philanthropy’s work; this is the work of the Council; and I look forward to our continued partnership.

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