Bridging Our Divides Begins with Building Trust and Finding Common Ground with Each Other

Monday, August 16, 2021 - 9:30 am
Jenn Hoos Rothberg

We are in a moment of dramatic change and re-imagining, what my friend and futurist Ari Wallach calls “The Intertidal”: a significant shift in global human culture and narrative, where what has been gives way to what will be.

As we witness this profound shift, we also bear the responsibility, as actors and stewards of social change, to ensure this inflection point becomes one that ultimately leads to a better future, one that helps us live up to our collective ideals, to build vibrant communities where everyone feels they belong.

While many of us likely agree with this sentiment, the questions it raises for how best to go about it are not ones any of us can effectively answer alone.

As individuals, as a sector, and as a society, one of the strongest currents pulling on us right now is the one pulling us apart. Our history and culture of racial and social inequity, which today manifests as distrustful othering, disrespect, and dehumanization, undermines our ability to work together to tackle challenges large and small.

It seems if we are to make the most of this moment, it is on us—in philanthropy—to upend this pervasive divisiveness, present in every root and vine of the problems each of us is seeking to solve. And if we are to do this well, we must deeply evaluate our own organizations and modes of operating, with our grantees, with the communities in which we work, and with each other. Whatever your philanthropic focus, intentionally bringing together diverse leaders and funders who have different priorities and shared interests can help heal our culture of divisiveness and deliver better outcomes.

Solving our most complex and urgent problems becomes harder if we don’t see, hear, and understand each other first. When we bring empathy, mutuality, vulnerability, and curiosity to our interactions, we’re able to appreciate what makes us distinctive and what we have in common. Relationships become a source of sustenance, and differences our strength, both of which can help us better solve the problems in our midst.

For our team at Einhorn Collaborative, a strategic review of our past decade helped us understand the vital importance of not just helping Americans practice and develop critical skills around bridge-building, but actively bridging differences ourselves. We uncovered that both what we do and how we do it are intentionally and inextricably linked, every action guided by the principles and practice of collaboration and mutuality.

If we want to help others build stronger relationships, embrace our differences, and rediscover our shared humanity, as a foundation, we also need to find ways to listen to and embrace the views and perspectives of a wider range of actors. Instead of simply “helping people get along better,” as had previously been our mission, we refocused on the deeper goal of curbing the crisis of connection that is eroding our faith in our institutions and each other. Working across lines of difference ourselves in order to help foster a more relational and pluralist culture became a key pillar of our new strategy.

Around the same time, we noticed that a growing number of funders were seeing and investing in the critical need to strengthen a culture of pluralism in America. Through conversation and relationship-building, together we began to wonder: what if a group of us—funders with different vantage points and different core priorities—worked together with pooled resources and shared decision-making to support pluralism and bridge-building in America? Together, we realized: if we want to help build a more socially cohesive society, one where people connect and work together across multiple lines of difference, then we in philanthropy must do the same.

The upshot is New Pluralists, a new funder collaborative that launched this spring to support the growing field of pluralism in America. With the aim of investing at least $100 million in this broad and diverse field over the next 10 years, we joined with more than 10 peer funders and 40 field leaders to address America’s crisis of division, distrust, dehumanization, and disconnection.

The funders and Field Builders involved with New Pluralists are vital allies and collaborators in strengthening and expanding this growing field in service to a profound culture shift in America. The diversity of this group—as individuals and institutions, funders and field leaders—cuts along many lines of difference. It includes living donors, family foundations, independent foundations, and corporate philanthropy, each with a different risk tolerance, ideological view, organizational priority, and philanthropic approach. Some come to help build a healthy democracy, others to perpetuate a culture of spirituality and universal love.

Whatever our differences, we all believe that embracing them, understanding them, and finding ways to weave them into the tapestry of our work—and our nation—is vital to our shared success.

Both the healthy friction that comes from our diversity of views and the camaraderie that has developed through our shared work together will help us better address the challenges we face as a nation. As one of our Field Builders, Rev. Jen Bailey, brilliantly reminds us: “Social change happens at the speed of relationships. And relationships move at the speed of trust.”

In our sector, co-creation is far more easily proposed than realized. Trust doesn’t emerge overnight. It demands intentionality, time, nurture, and care. Shared decision-making with a large, diverse group can become a bureaucratic nightmare, or it can be the necessary proving ground for a healthy democracy.

Making time to find common ground across our differences provides the essential foundation from which healthy, effective collaboration can arise. I hope that New Pluralists can serve as a prototype of funder collaboration, transparently offering up the lessons we learn along the way to help foster a new way of working in our sector.

It will take time to fully address the challenges of our time and doing so will ask us to reckon with the wounds of our past as we seek to repair the fractures of the present. But we have to start now. This is the moment to embrace the beauty, power, and wisdom of relationship—of fully seeing and knowing one another, in all of our exquisite and imperfect humanity—to appreciate how each of us is responsible for all of us.

I am excited and inspired to see the Council on Foundations calling on us to Build Common Ground. Making this shift as a sector can help all of us fuel the broader shift in culture our country so desperately needs.

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on all
2021-2025 Strategic Direction
Reimagining the Council