Philanthropy’s Lessons from the Pandemic by Hilary Pearson

15 April 2020

Author of numerous articles on foundation philanthropy, founding President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada for almost eighteen years, Hilary has worked with many of the largest private charitable foundations in the country. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of KBF Canada. Hilary Pearson writes as follows in her recent blog :

I am learning some unexpected things as I look for news about the effects of the pandemic and lockdown. The bad news is all too easily found through print and other media. Watching CNN is a frightening experience right now.  But I am also finding much good news, especially through social media. Imagine this lockdown five or ten years ago without such media.  We would not be connected to a wider human community that is actively sharing and creating and thinking out loud through a world-wide network. I am learning information that I would simply not have known if I stuck to one or two traditional media sources. Even better, I am discovering creative responses through poetry and music. And I am coming across eloquent reflections on our shared condition that console and inspire me.

Social media pointed me to one of these eloquent reflections by Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Heinz Endowments, a private foundation in Pittsburgh. Oliphant is a thoughtful and articulate practitioner of philanthropy.  No surprise then that he has responded to this crisis with some important reflections on the situation that we find ourselves in and the meaning that we can take from it. In The Rescue We Seek, Oliphant summarizes five lessons that he believes this crisis is teaching us all:

  • This pandemic’s impact underlines social injustice; the least-well paid, least healthy and least privileged will suffer most
  • Science and evidence are the most important tools we have to cope with and overcome the crisis
  • Strong public leadership and focus is essential to our collective well-being
  • A degraded natural environment increases human vulnerability
  • Collective and shared action is as or more important than individual initiative

In my opinion, Oliphant provides a valuable framework for foundation leaders thinking through and beyond this crisis. “It turns out,” he says, “that justice matters, and so do knowledge, government and nature; it turns out that only by embracing our shared future can we be confident of reaching it.”

How could foundation leaders translate this statement into concrete action?

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