Council on Foundations President Focuses on the Future of Community

Monday, April 11, 2016 - 8:02 am
Christian Pelusi

In a special video created for conference attendees, Born This Way Foundation CEO Cynthia Germanotta stated the simple goal: “Support young people and empower them to create a kinder and braver world” for young people “are not only tomorrow’s leaders, but they are leading in tremendous ways today, online, in communities, on campuses and across our world.”

Addressing the conference, Germanotta laid out why youth are an untapped resource for community building.

“The stakes are too high, the work is too important, and the energy, passion, creativity and collaboration that our youth bring to this work must be leveraged. More than anything, the youth … are eager to get involved, are eager to make a change and are eager to stand alongside all of us build that kinder and braver world.”

To help foundations do their part in creating and supporting the “kinder and braver world” described by the youth of the video, Council on Foundations President and CEO Vikki Spruill talked Sunday to the 2106 Annual Conference about the challenges associated with “Resetting Our Framework for the Future.”

“First, the nature of community is changing in our globalized, technology-rich world,” Spruill said. “Second, this new understanding needs to be used to solve our common challenges. And finally, as standard-bearers for a new civility, we need the productive, mutual understanding it will take to get the job done, no matter the differences among us and in society more broadly.”

Spruill’s message takes on added significance during a presidential election year that has seen its share of acerbic proclamations from several candidates.

“Given the tone of our national politics, it’s hard not to be preoccupied with the future,” Spruill said. “I think often about the kind of world that my two daughters will inherit. I worry that the ties which have kept our national community together feel strained.

“There’s an old Japanese proverb that says: ‘Fire always makes room for itself.’ It captures the idea that fire finds ways to burn. It hungers for fuel. Today, it seems as though the fire of discord makes room for itself. It too hungers for fuel. Every group, every niche, every political perspective finds an audience, converts and a home.”

A new calibration of the philosophy of philanthropy can be that counterbalance to the “fire of discord.”

“Philanthropy makes real change possible in a changing world, and at the same time, it provides for the long-term vitality of communities,” she said. “Philanthropy is driven to create meaningful impact, using a wide variety of tools. We are able to resist partisan pressures and see past private interests.

“This independence provides indispensable social benefit and makes philanthropy a bedrock of civil society -- a critical force for positive change in communities across the globe. Philanthropy’s place is between and among those who want to build a world that is sustainable, safe and more just.”

And the best way to ensure that communities are gaining strength in a time of divisive speech is to exercise and exemplify America’s best qualities.

“Each of you is engaged somehow in the business of changing the world,” she said. “Which means each of you has learned that change-making is messy stuff. My charge to all of us as we go forward in this work of community building, is to be champions for a new and needed civility.

“Civility is an attitude which leads to discovery, and with it, our bonds will be stronger. Let’s challenge ourselves and each other to find common ground as we work to promote the common good.

“The Future of Community requires philanthropy to bring people to champion mutual engagement and to bring leaders together around important challenges.”

And some of those Future of Community leaders may just be those highlighted in the Born This Way video.

Click here to read Vikki Spruill’s entire speech. You may also learn why Vikki feels that the special friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia provides inspiration for The Future of Community.

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