With the Camelback Mountains behind us, a clear blue desert sky above, and surrounded by the beautifully manicured grounds of the Westin Kierland Scottsdale, 12 social sectors leaders joined us last week for Conversation 2009. We came together in search of some respite from our respective professional treadmills and the desire for more critical thinking and a deeper dialogue about philanthropy and the future.
Four topics provided the framework for original essays submitted in advance and for the ensuing conversation. Our first full day of discussion explored “Re-imagining the Future of Philanthropy” and “Demonstrating and Communicating the Impact of Philanthropy.” Central observations included:
- The two most important and uncertain driving forces are the length and impact of the recession on the economy and the levels of innovation and collaboration in philanthropy. How these forces combine may produce a significant sea change in society and in philanthropy.
- A renewed belief that we must ask “should we” rather than simply “can we” as we seek to discern the right solutions and harness the power and energy of philanthropy.
- Impact is greatest when there is authentic alignment with our hearts, values, and missions coupled with the courage to ask what are the highest and best uses of philanthropy.
The second full day saw the discussion move to “New Perspectives on Leadership” and “Philanthropy in a Systems Context.” Among the powerful ideas that emerged were the following:
- Leaders are the bridge between vision and action, between being and doing. They liberate people, create community, and foster trust, a shared identity, and coherence.
- Multi-institutional systems and any organizational system tends to exhibit constant tension between negative and positive recurring loops of behavior. Finding the right place to intervene in the system can break the negative reinforcing loop, bringing greater alignment and new opportunities for philanthropy.
- Who leaders determine comprise their “first team” largely determines the freedom and their capacity to have a more strategic and integrated conversation that fosters change.
Many personal comments by participants affirmed the value of the gathering. Among them, one person felt Conversation 2009 had reinforced the sense of philanthropy as a noble professional. Another individual likened the learning and professional transformation to the result of studying Zen: “Before studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. After studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. The difference is that I now view each with my feet a few inches off the ground.”
The rich and diverse talent in the room made for a truly insightful gathering. Without question, the Conversation mandala created by Ken Hubbell in real time during our discussion became a visual map of our discussion and a great opportunity to see the connectivity of ideas.
My many thanks to the participants/contributors. From left to right, they are:
- Mary Reinders – Reinders Research (Wisconsin)
- Yvonne McCoy – Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)
- Susan Ruddy – Providence Alaska Foundation (Alaska)
- Marv Baldwin – Foods Resource Bank (Illinois)
- Megan Olson – University of Alaska-Anchorage (Alaska)
- Bruce Karstadt – American Swedish Institute (Minnesota)
- Joe Zanetta – Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation (California)
- Shari Scales – George Fox University (Oregon)
- Pearl Veenema – Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation (Ontario)
- Ken Bartels – Elmhurst College (Illinois)
- Ken Hubbell – Ken Hubbell & Associates (Arkansas)
- Cathy Girard – Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin (Wisconsin)
- Tom Soma – Ronald McDonald House Charities (Oregon)
- Gary Hubbell – Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)