GHC Conversation 2012 Scenarios


In this scenario, we worked to envision a strong, robust future where there will be deep, systemic, long-term responses to pressing social issues amidst where tight limits, siloed, and traditional approaches to philanthropy continue to dominate. The following graphic (produced by Ken Hubbell) and narrative description begin to tell a story of our images of possibility in this scenario.

By the year 2030, a growing movement of non-traditional, individual, community-based efforts offers efficient and effective responses to our current challenges. The previous two decades have been turbulent. European debt and Asian markets and competition have contributed to continued economic volatility. While major wars have been averted, several natural catastrophes have also stunted stable economic growth. Emerging industrial countries have not adopted strong environmental regulations, improving quality of life at the expense of the environment.  U.S. politics remain paralyzed by polarization, except in immigration and health care policy, where pragmatic approaches have prevailed, including mass amnesty for illegal aliens in the US. Aging Baby Boomers have largely retired, driving increased demand for health care and other services. There are more women in the workplace.

In the U.S., education reform has been driven by local and state government, aided by business in its need for an educated workforce.  Education is increasingly segmented, with multiple alternatives to public education including home schooling, online education, charter schools, and combinations of these.  Large corporations have set up their own systems, starting with preschool, to develop a workforce that will meet their need for skilled workers. Students remaining in public education systems face increasing challenges and have fewer resources. This has increased the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The response to turbulence has been a new kind of local initiative—“tribalism” in the best sense—not narrow, self-interested defensiveness, but a positive mobilization of local talents informed by international sources of knowledge, with technology as the fulcrum.  Tribalism has become the source of the most creative, long-term solutions, a way to drive responses to social challenges. It is embodied by local, sustainable food economies; local policies and technologies reducing demand on nonrenewable energy sources; and multiple creative avenues for access to education, finance and best practices serving local needs.

Pressing social and economic needs are met by emerging localized and personalized strategies made possible by technology and new models of social benefit organizations.  Optimism and hope in philanthropy stem from an increasing number of very wealthy people signing onto Warren Buffett’s pledge. Multi-billionaires are increasingly coming together to solve huge challenges using such informal, “off the grid” means as giving circles, personal (rather than institutional) philanthropy, or advised funds at community foundations and financial services companies. Individual philanthropists, not institutions, are the drivers of change. Nonprofit organizations are conduits, rather than sources of knowledge and drivers of what to do and how to do it.

Even people with modest resources feel empowered, because technology gives them access to networks of like-minded people who can pool their resources to create impact. The Millennial generation is following in the footsteps of the Baby Boomers with philanthropy marked by advocacy and active involvement.  While some use traditional structures to carry out their own philanthropic purposes, the prevailing sense is distrust in institutions, including government, corporations, and large nonprofits that have remained siloed and slow to change.

Re-Imagining the Future of Philanthropy

In late April, a dozen social sector and philanthropy leaders from North America joined me for Conversation 2009. Prior to convening this think tank format, each of us wrote an essay on one of the four topics we co-developed. Those essays and a synthesis of our conversation will be published this fall by On The Cusp Publishing. Until then, I’ll post a snippet from each of the four topics over the next few weeks. Today’s post reflects our discussion on re-imagining the future of philanthropy. My thanks to these gifted colleagues for sharing the best of their experience and wisdom.

By whatever name, we’re in a crisis that demands individual behavioral change.

Illustration by Ken Hubbell
Illustration by Ken Hubbell

A societal shift is taking place (transformation/sea change/evolution…) that is both influencing and influenced by generational personalities, fostering a shift in what people value, and pulling us to reframe our approaches.

Development officers and philanthropists are being drawn to more “whole” thinking rather than through the silos of a single organization or through the lens of immediacy. Philanthropy professionals and philanthropists (volunteers and donors) will be more focused on what is relevant and right and what is good for the community (the system). They will increasingly bring together allied professionals to ask questions about whole change. Organizations with the courage to have both, integrated, and shared visions will lead. Philanthropy professionals and philanthropists will ask less often “how should we” and more often “should we”, which will subtlely change the look, feel, practice and language of philanthropy (influenced by the Millennials).

Senior professionals are being called upon to provide leadership to the longer view and asking the “right” questions…..called upon to help lead organizational leaders to new ways of thinking…..called upon to engage philanthropists (people with a giving heart) to partner with them for positive change.


Full disclosure: On The Cusp Publishing is owned and operated by Gary J. Hubbell

Illustration by Ken Hubbell