Philanthropy & ‘The Circumstances of…Injustice”

By Susan Drake Swift

On December 17, 2015, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by contributing op-ed editor, IS board member, and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. Later that day, Walker spoke with ISQ about philanthropy and what the Grand Bargain means, past and future.

DarrenWalker122016What made the Grand Bargain Grand? What needs to happen now to keep the trajectory positive?

The Grand Bargain was a bold solution to an extremely complex problem. What made it grand was the constellation of actors involved in solving the problem and the complexity of the challenge the city faced.

Some of the root causes for the city’s problems have clearly been the need for better governance, the need for investing in jobs and in the structures and systems in the city that provide opportunity to residents. We have got to look at ways in which we have more inclusive policies and a more participatory civic life in the city, so that residents across the city are engaged, and that we are really encouraging employment, particularly employment of low income residents, in new job opportunities as well as support for education and culture. These are all critical ingredients to a successful city.

Your op-ed in today’s Times is titled, “Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough.” Please explain.

I believe that we Americans have every reason to be very proud of our culture of giving, which is unprecedented in the world. Individual giving by private citizens is simply remarkable. But it is insufficient to solve the significant social challenges we have today. We need to engage and interrogate some of the root causes that seemingly perpetuate bad outcomes for particular communities and people. If we are willing to do that, we will continue to give money for homeless shelters but it is important to look at a policy around housing that generates so much homelessness or the policy around our mental health system which generates so many people with mental health issues in prisons and homeless shelters. And I think we have all of that in Detroit. Detroit is a microcosm of America’s challenges. We need to invest in everything from an education system that works for all citizens to an economic system that delivers more shared prosperity. We need to ask the systemic question and not just accept that philanthropy’s role is to address market failure.

In your essay today you have a list of “voices most affected by injustice” starting with women.

Absolutely. Around the world women continue to suffer the consequences of injustice whether in the U.S. when we don’t have equal pay for equal work or in countries like India or in African countries where women face horrific marginalization, situations of sexual violence, and of cultural bias and discrimination. This is a global issue. My essay was not just written for an American audience.

In what way does the Grand Bargain show what philanthropies can do?

I think we in philanthropy can do a much better job of collaborating and integrating our strategies and priorities. The Grand Bargain is one example of an opportunity that required all of the philanthropies involved to step out of and beyond our normative, narrowly tailored guidelines. It shows the transformational power of philanthropy when we begin to solve a problem and not be confined by a program box. That‘s the kind of philanthropy that most excites me, one that demands more of us and requires us to be more disruptive and get out of our comfort zone.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: IS Board, IS Member, ISQ, Nonprofit Capital