Council on Foundations Conference: A Call to Action

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Council on Foundations Conference in Denver under the theme of “Intersections: Social Change, Social Justice, and Social Innovation.”  I got to hear great presentations and to network with some inspiring people, and the conference was filled with a stunning cadre of speakers like Al Gore, Geoffrey Canada, Ben Jealous, and more.

I started the conference with a session starring the Kapor Foundation’s Mario Lugay on ‘Organizing for Impact: Making the Case for Advocacy and Organizing.’  During the session, I listened to various foundation folks talk about their organizations’ efforts to integrate advocacy and social justice into their missions.  One foundation told a horror story of program staff wanting to do more progressive funding but having to ‘hide’ their social justice agendas in conservative language that got presented to a conservative, high-powered board.  Most of the board members had served 15-20+ years with no term limits. The board finally approved a 16-year term limit this year, but existing board members start the countdown anew.  After hearing this story and others like it, I am even more proud to work for a foundation that wears social justice on its sleeve!

I got to witness three great individuals get awarded by the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), including Rashid Shabazz and our own Cedric Brown!  The third person was Crystal Hayling, ABFE’s James Joseph Lecture Award recipient, who mentioned the following ‘5 Things We Know But Keep Forgetting‘ in our work efforts.

1) Take more risks. Heart-stopping risks.
2) The time is now. Re-envision relationships and communities. The problems we’re facing are big and require new, outside-the-box approaches, conversations, and partnerships.
3) Design matters. Hayling mentioned the power of design in the example of an innovative $20 blanket solution to the high death rate of third-world low-birth-weight babies due to the unavailability of $20,000 incubators.
4) Technology is just a tool, but it’s a power tool.
5) We need new leaders. Hard power is getting people to do what you want.  Soft power is convincing and inspiring people to want what you want.

These are just a few nuggets I took away from the conference that I wanted to share with you.

Image source: Council on Foundations website

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