Philanthropy and Pluralism: Diversity That Does Not Divide

Philanthropy411, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Lee Draper, President of the Draper Consulting Group.

by Lee Draper

On the final day of the 2011 Council on Foundations Annual Conference, we were treated to a plenary lecture by Ambassador James Joseph, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies and Executive Director of the United States–Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values, Duke University. What Council President Steve Gunderson didn’t mention in his introduction of Ambassador Joseph was that Jim Joseph served as COF Board Member and President for over twenty-five years and through these leadership roles shaped the vision, role, and relevancy of the Council.  Most importantly, he invigorated philanthropy and positioned the field at the center of critical societal issues such as human rights, diversity, and social justice in deeply challenging times.  All of us engaged in these issues today stand on his broad shoulders.

While he praised continuing progress and affirmed good will, Joseph issued important challenges to penetrate niceties and dig deeper into the opportunities and complexities of diversity to achieve a more just and equitable democracy.  This is a core responsibility and contribution of philanthropy.

In particular, the vast majority of grantmakers have become preoccupied with the custodial responsibilities of financial capital, a role exacerbated by current national and international economic circumstances.  This preoccupation leads to the underutilization of four other powerful resources of our foundations:

  • Social capital – our broad, easy access to powerful and influential leaders in diverse sectors
  • Moral capital – our ability to mobilize and champion not only on the needs side of the equation but also the supply side (including embracing the rich traditions of philanthropy among other cultures and nations)
  • Intellectual capital – access to research, evaluation, and innovation that can benefit decision makers and practitioners
  • Reputational capital – perhaps the most underutilized of all grantmakers’ sources of “capital”, the reach of our names and esteem that can contribute much when deployed in service to mobilizing attention and harnessing talent for social change

We are complacent, Joseph suggests.  We complain about the rise of fear of differences, when we are really allowing a few loud and bullying voices to deny the dignity of whole classes of people. We embrace slogans of diversity, but we want diverse people to join us and simply assimilate to traditional norms, behaviors, and goals.  We equate blindness to race/gender/religion with real acceptance of different perspectives and experiences, but it is not unless the differences are acknowledged and incorporated.  Most of racism is not intentional or conscious, but rather laissez faire adherence to old ways and the status quo.

Can we change the paradigm from sharing communal space (i.e., looking good because we have met the demographic diversity goals) to sharing communal power….actually integrating diverse people into decision-making, policy development, planning, and authority for implementation?  Can we act according to a new ethic that I can only be myself if I enable others to be treated with dignity and self-determination?  To say:

  • I want to be a Christian without making it hard for you to be a Jew, a Muslim, or a Buddhist
  • I want to be an American without making it hard for you to be an African, a Central American, or a Middle Eastern
  • I want to be a Caucasian without making it hard for you to be a. African American, a Latina, or a new immigrant

Diversity isn’t always pleasant, “It’s a Small World” Disney dreamland.  Embracing pluralism is to move through a series of stages that involve chaos and conflict.  Finally, with greater knowledge and humility, we emerge with a deeper sense of community built on the strength of our differences as well as our shared commitment to the health and wellbeing of the whole body politic.  With this commitment, we can achieve diversity that does not divide but nourishes and sustains.

On a personal note, Jim Joseph inspired me as a young program officer in the mid 1980s.  He emboldened our field in the height of apartheid and racial clashes through the 1990s.  He continues to challenge us to be better, do more, look inward, and act outwardly with all of our strengths and with all of our partners.

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.