Philanthropy is a Catalyst for Unlikely Alliances

Friday, January 12, 2024 - 5:37 pm
Mason Rummel

This blog is part of the Council's Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference? 

In the 1830s Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that he was astonished by Americans’ collective support for important causes and our spirit of equality. Today that is no less true. It is extraordinary that people in all levels of society can find themselves in the same rooms motivated by similar interests, working toward the same goals, and aligned in voluntary spirit. All of that happens, despite our differences. 

I believe philanthropy is at the core of that collaborative force. While our partners in civil society—the public and private sectors—are crucial for America to thrive, they can be constrained by profit goals and regulation. In philanthropy, we are aligned by mission and the desire to serve one another – and so we are uniquely poised to forge unlikely alliances in service of the greater good.

I see this play out each day from where I sit, leading the James Graham Brown Foundation in Louisville, a blue city in an almost entirely red state. Though Kentucky is largely rural, one can find similarities in small towns that our larger cities boast: marvelous cultural assets, diverse populations, and sophisticated businesses. No matter which political affiliation, race, or socio-economic status individuals may claim, our citizens share a profound pride of place, which is a powerful force for good for any community. My foundation has always recognized the importance of place, investing in parks and greens spaces in areas that formerly lacked places to gather. These amenities not only beautify our city but also bring people together.

And making this happen requires those alliances philanthropy is well-positioned to catalyze. As a foundation leader I work with a variety of organizations, from complex university systems to grassroots organizations providing basic needs to the most vulnerable citizens in our marginalized communities. Take, for example, the West End Opportunity Partnership, legislated by our state government to revitalize an area of Louisville that has suffered from decades of disinvestment. Philanthropic support of $10 million triggered another $10 million from the city, which unlocked $10 million from the state. Now, the partnership – which includes representatives of nine neighborhoods along with public, private and nonprofit officials – has full oversight of the $30 million fund and the authority to make decisions on its use. 

We didn’t get here without disagreement and negotiation. But with philanthropy leading, differences became opportunities to create a better future in which everyone was invested.

Dialogue Across Difference Blog Series

Read responses in our Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference?

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