30 May 2009
by Colin Greer
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No, This is Not a Test

Philanthropy has work to do. And it’s not simply to be charitable and feed the hungry.

The scale of United States national debt is so big – we’re talking $11-14 trillion – and there is national, state, and municipal deficits too. Meanwhile, the amount of money held in most foundations for social justice and community-based activism is growing smaller still.

The funds available are only a very small fraction of a $14 trillion GDP. Its edge lies in the ability to be nimble and highly strategic. Social justice grantmaking cannot add value to the execution of public policy, but it can bring the voices of the most unheard to the debates and conversations that lead to real social policy changes.

In a New York Times column earlier this month, Thomas Friedman implored to politicians who seem to be playing at politics as usual, “Friends, this is not a test. Economically, this is the big one.” Foundations may want to consider this themselves, before getting caught up in the Reagan/Bush concept that we need to chose between addressing social needs or addressing advocacy and capacity building for full democratic participation in the polity.

This is a time for those of us who support building power at the base in the philanthropic community to feel energized by the fact that the Obama election victory was made possible by the mobilization of a democratic base.

Those of us who recognize this must walk the talk. And for those who don’t, we need to help them recognize it now.

Many more philanthropic dollars must go to encourage and support leadership to evolve locally and grow nationally in order to activate citizens to advocacy and civic engagement. For too long this nation has been weighed down by mean-spirited and selfish management of our wealth through debt deceit and speculation, which now threatens to weigh down bailout and recovery efforts. The scales of a more just balance can be tipped by robust foundation grantmaking.



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