Thoughts on a Session – Social Justice: From Here to 2030

Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Teri Behrens, Editor of The Foundation Review.

by:  Teri Behrens

Social Justice: From Here to 2030 had a large and wide-ranging group of panelists, primarily individuals who are actively working in the nonprofit sector for social justice. I learned a couple of new words:

Gerontocracy: One social justice issue is creating space for new leaders to emerge. Seven out of ten of the oldest heads of state are in Africa — a gerontocracy is standing in the way of social reform in many countries.

Foolanthropy: Social justice work needs to be grounded in experience.  Philanthropists engage in “foolanthropy” when they don’t keep grounded.

Of the many different themes that were addressed by the speakers, one that struck me was the issue of religion as one of the great taboos for philanthropy. Religion is core to the identity of many people. If you are asking how to build societies where people from different backgrounds live in mutual respect and mutual loyalty, you won’t get far with the answer without considering religion.

Many people engaged in social justice work talk about the values base of that work. One of the defining characteristics of social movements is the commitment to shared values. So – how does this relate to the focus on religion? It raised for me questions such as, What are core values across religions and cultures that could form the basis for a broad-based social justice movement? The values expressed in the U.S. Bill of Rights?  The “Golden Rule”? (That only works if you have shared culture so that what you want is same as what the other person wants. Do you share a meal or wonder how anyone can eat at a time like this?)

How can foundations take into account the role of religion in forming identity and transmitting social justice values? Can religion help us cross the great divide between American for whom independence and self-reliance are core values and those for whom interdependence is a core value?