Day Two of #GPF19

Our second day opened with a special breakfast session where a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation team shared lessons from the front lines about how their social entrepreneurs are working in communities around the world to develop creative and impactful solutions. Debra Cleaver of Vote.org, Natalie Bridgeman Fields of Accountability Counsel, Moy Eng of the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), George McGraw of the Dig Deep Right to Water Project and Kathryn Peters of Democracy Works were in conversation with Jim Bildner, CEO of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation to explore how true impact is realized.

The first full panel focused its attention on the importance of localism and how we in the philanthropic and civil society arena can help to rebuild trust in our communities. David Brooks, New York Times columnist and executive director of Weave the Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute, made an impassioned presentation about how our culture of individualism has led to separateness and chronic loneliness that can only be addressed person by person, locally. Ann Stern, president and CEO of Houston Endowment, echoed that message as she described how their work is focused almost exclusively on local community organizations, while also partnering with other foundations and national civil society organizations to ensure that “policy headwinds don’t undo everything we’re working on locally”. This multi-pronged approach – bottom-up power and top-down power working together – has become one of the consistent threads through all of our discussions. Dan Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector, articulated this imperative as well, telling us that “meaning-making” requires all of us to work together at every level of society. He added that “we are letting power slip through our fingers every day because we’re so busy with our own projects and engaged in parallel play, but you can’t just clean your side of the swimming pool!”

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Even though most foundations typically prefer to stay away from politics per se, there is still an important role for philanthropists who have the wherewithal to reach across the aisle while maintaining their independence and specific vision. The Charles Koch Foundation has been trying to play such a role over the last several decades, represented here at GPF by Charles Koch (Chairman) and Brian Hooks (President). While the Koch Foundation does work at the local level, especially with educational institutions and grassroots organizations with access to communities in need, they take a very broad systems view of the problems of our time.

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Hardly a day goes by without news of the immigration crisis, which Jonathan Ryan, CEO and president of RAICES, reminds us is actually “not our crisis, but the crisis of the people seeking safety at the border.” During this session on immigration we heard that many of the people fleeing violence in their countries and seeking safety in the US say that “the most difficult day of my life was the day I arrived at the US border.” Civil Society is responding at both the macro and micro levels. Las Americas Newcomer School, represented at GPF by its principal, Maria Moreno, currently enrolls 345 students who not only receive an education but get trauma support and legal help. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, shared the many ways in which his organization and affiliate legal groups are helping to address not only hundreds of specific litigation cases but also to facilitate a public outcry that has managed to shift parts of US policy. Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, has also been a key player in these on-the-ground initiatives while at the same time working at the policy level.

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Between panel sessions there was a special announcement of the inaugural Juliette Gimon Courage Award, which honors innovative grassroots organizations who have courageously taken on some of the most critical challenges facing youth around the world. Juliette Gimon herself was a co-founder of the GPF and also shaped the Global Fund for Children, which created this annual award with an endowment from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This year’s recipients are Mavi Kalem Social Assistance and Charity Organization, represented by Vice Chairwoman Gamze Karadag; and Associación Generando, represented by Board President Leslie Dalila Ovando Muñoz.

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One of the encouraging new trends in global philanthropy is the growth of foundations and philanthropic networks outside the West. Participants in the first afternoon working group, Philanthropy in the Global South, shared their local initiatives and discussed the value of giving at home. The second working group was on Building Resilience and Combatting Poverty in Smart Cities. The discussion cited that these have been cropping up around the world and provided examples of how data is being used to enhance philanthropic interventions at the community level. The working group on Collective Impact and Community Approaches to Poverty Reduction demonstrated successful ways to support joint initiatives through “backbone” organizations that provide a common platform in a community and can hold member organizations accountable.

Even as the data revolution provides easier access to information across the world, it is becoming more difficult to trust its veracity and intention. Karen Edwards, co-founder and CEO of Soap, provides media literacy education to people who have lost the ability to discern fact from fiction. When talking about the media’s role in democracy and the current polarization in our culture, she reminded us that even extreme differences in opinion are nothing new, but that “in the past, people at least had a shared understanding that the information they were receiving was truthful.” While that is certainly true, Mary Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief of OpenDemocracy, encourages us to focus less attention on the misinformation itself but more on the transparency of where it comes from, who is disseminating it, and how. As such it’s not just about “media literacy” but about “media wisdom,” says Govindraj Ethiraj, founder of IndiaSpend, FactChecker and BOOM. Since regulation of fake news is almost impossible, especially across borders, reclaiming the democratic role of journalism will take much more partnership between media and civil society, as is done by muckraking journalists like Premesh Chandran, CEO and co-founder of Malaysiakini.

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