Philanthropy’s Role in Solving Today’s Challenges

June 16, 2010 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

Thirty years ago, as a child began to learn about recent history, he might have asked his father, “What did you do in the war, daddy?” The question was not only about family history but about involvement in the era’s most important challenges. Although the question would be worded more inclusively today, the concern might well remain: is the family a spectator or a participant in history’s big events?

I wonder whether that same question can be asked of the institutions of society – of organized philanthropy, for example. Should philanthropy be expected to be involved in addressing the major challenges of the day – or is this too much to ask of a sector that is inherently voluntary?

We are living through a period of epoch changing events: 9/11; the rise of aggressive fundamentalism; the Great Recession and now the biggest environmental catastrophe in our nation’s history. Will a future generation look back at these times and ask, “What was philanthropy doing to help the country address these huge societal issues?” Or is that really beside the point?

Personally, I think it would be a sad commentary on the state of philanthropy if our “love of humankind” didn’t result in actions by local foundations to confront the big tests of our day. I realize responses would have to be crafted to deal with the local manifestations of these macro issues, but I still believe that, if we exist for the benefit of the public, we need to do more than watch as our nation struggles to come to grips with life in very different world. “What did you do in the war, daddy?”

George E. Espy

Entry filed under: Commentaries.

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