October 15, 2014
Where Do You Find Hope in the World?

October 8, 2014


As I often tell our five children aged 18-22, “The quality of the choices you make depends on whom you hang out with.” This is just as true in philanthropy. My philanthropic decisions have been shaped by the countless invaluable conversations I have had with fellow members of New England International Donors, which is celebrating its fifth year partnership with The Philanthropic Initiative.

Just as our choices are influenced by those who surround us, our worldview depends on whom we stand with. When we stand with people who suffer a world away – from injustice, disease and deprivation — they show us the power of HOPE. When we claim their hope as our own… when we put our money and our privilege on the line to amplify their voices, heal their wounds, and expand their life choices… then their worlds become more just… and our lives gain greater purpose.

This was the awareness that inspired John Harvey and me and our first Steering Committee, including Diana Samarasan, to pilot a peer network in New England for globally minded funders. John, then Executive Director of Grantmakers Without Borders, devoted his extensive philanthropic experience, broad networks, and countless pro-bono hours to launch this initiative. There would absolutely be no New England International Donors without John’s vision and drive… When he moved away five years ago, we joined forces with The Philanthropic Initiative at The Boston Foundation.

We were propelled by the fact that 8 years ago only 2.2% of dollars donated to US non-profits were directed towards global challenges. Since then that number has doubled, but is still far too meager to solve the scourges of planet-change, poverty, pandemics and oppression – scourges that know no borders and often spark violent conflict. To tackle them we need deep knowledge, steadfast partners, and once again, hope.

 One of my favorite authors, Parker J. Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal, has described the most fundamental challenge of our age as “standing and acting with hope in the ‘tragic gap’”… in the gap between what is real and what is possible.

“On one side of that gap,” he writes, “we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities. Life as we know it could (simply) be because we have (chosen to) see it that way. It’s a chasm that will never be closed; so no one devoted to high values and significant purposes can stay the course… without learning how to stand and act in the tragic gap.”

“What keeps you standing and acting with hope in the tragic gap?” Parker asks. – Healing the Heart of Democracy

 What keeps me standing and acting with hope in that tragic gap is YOU! I draw HOPE from the staff and trustees of 20 foundations and firms and over 80 philanthropic individuals and families who now form this community. New England International Donors is not a massive organization… but look around the room… it is mighty! We are growing in numbers and in a profound sense of urgency.

 Last week NEID convened a forum, again with the magic number of 80 participants — to discuss how donors can help stop Ebola. Not surprisingly, the emergency response in West Africa is being marshalled largely by international and grassroots global health organizations headquartered in Boston. Based on input from our meeting, we will post where our members are giving, so we can foster collaboration; we will disseminate information about pooled Ebola Response Funds and requests from the Liberia Philanthropy Secretariat; and we will keep our fingers on the pulse of this explosive situation. Our members’ unparalleled access to preeminent medical and humanitarian organizations gives us an inside perspective that most donors lack. I am grateful to two global health experts and NEID members, Eliza Petrow of the JC Flowers Foundation and Tanya Jones of the Barr Foundation, who are the engines behind NEID’s Ebola Response.

Our panelists expressed hope that “TOGETHER we CAN stop Ebola! It can’t be stopped by governmental aid alone, which can be slow and cumbersome, and which rarely changes the underlying conditions that lead to such crises. Private funding is urgently needed. As NEID member Jane Gallagher warned, “Rome is burning, and we who can mobilize funds quickly – and wisely — have not a minute to waste!

Massive global problems like this can feel overwhelming as we stand in the “tragic gap” between reality and possibility.  Where do you begin? How do you learn? Where can your money make the most difference? Those questions are the reason for this network! We learn from each other. We inspire each other. We engage the top experts. And because of the mutual trust we have developed, we partner with each other for impact.

Beyond Ebola, some of us are working together to end malnutrition; some are coalescing around human trafficking and child slavery; others are promoting new models of financial inclusion for the poor; some are exploring together the world of impact investing for social and environmental benefit.

Some NEID members are educating future leaders in Africa; mobilizing disaster relief in the Philippines; restoring watersheds in the DR; preserving ecosystems in Mongolia; training community health workers in Liberia; linking Haitian peasants into worldwide movements; feeding India’s urban slum children; engaging Afghan women in conflict resolution; investing in agricultural coops and sanitation businesses; and I could go on and on and on.

NEID members embrace different places and pursue different missions, but we all know we cannot end poverty, spread peace, or preserve this planet by working in silos. We will not create lasting social change anywhere without our full-on, well-versed engagement. We cannot “stay the course in the tragic gap” without breathing in each other’s passion!

We in New England, live in a hub of global development with over 200 international organizations and institutes based here. We have access to some of the world’s leading thinkers, social entrepreneurs, healers and activists. We in this room have the relationships and the resources to support innovation, spread effective solutions, and get resources where they need to go fast. NEID members are “the multiplier effect” to international philanthropy and development.

But we cannot balkanize our investments in the future. Collaboration must start with us, with those who have the privilege and power to fund world-changing, world-saving work. This, too, is the reason for this network.

Since we first began talking about a network six years ago, NEID has achieved critical mass and gained momentum. I dare say NEID is now at a tipping point, and we have our wonderful steering committee and staff at TPI to thank for that!

Our ultimate impact in the world depends on your partnership. Whatever your vision, whatever your passion, come and enrich us with it! NEID members and staff will link you to knowledge and partners to further your mission — wherever and with whomever you choose to stand in this world!

As we all know, the choices you make depend on whom you hang out with. I feel so blessed to “hang out” with you! Thank you for your generous support and your partnership. “Let us celebrate where we each find hope in the world!