I Found the Globe in my Backyard

Ellen Remmer
Global Philanthropy
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Just in case you fell asleep thirty years ago and didn’t notice, we are a truly global society and even the most local philanthropist ignores that reality at her own peril.  Just to be clear – I am not critiquing the donor who says “We have problems at home – why don’t we just give in our own backyards?” I think giving locally to your communities is terrific.  You have an understanding of what is needed; you know the effective leaders; you can bring stakeholders together to craft solutions that are more likely to stick; you can see the results (or absence) of your investments.  Giving locally can be incredibly effective and meaningful. 

What I am talking about

 is the interconnectedness of our global society, a theme we hear all the time, but conveniently forget sometimes even in philanthropy.  A week or so ago, I was immersed in a few conversations that drove this point home.  The first was a panel discussion I moderated on community foundations and global giving at the Council on Foundations Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Charlotte.  We had representatives from Seattle, Greensboro and Boston talk about how community foundations found themselves in the business of giving internationallyThe Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro’s CEO, Walker Sanders, told us about how it began with a decision by the Board to simply become a more relational foundation.  Their proactive outreach to the Hispanic credit union led to the formation of a charitable purpose fund with a Mexican hometown association who wanted to build a clinic in their city of origin.  The relationships and trust built through this initial transaction led to a bunch of other great results including the first donor advised funds by local Hispanic business leaders and families of wealth at the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and a partnership with a Mexican community foundation.  The Boston story involved a local donor couple who offered a $1 million challenge grant for Haiti relief.  Not only did the community response surpass the $1 million challenge, but it built unprecedented bridges to a very large Boston-based Haitian community.  The chair of the Haitian relief grantmaking committee is Haitian.  In both communities, the globe is now not only in their backyards, but in the offices of the community foundation.  And that’s a good thing in a nation that looks like it is getting increasingly polarized.

Second meeting.  A courtesy visit with the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), with whom TPI shares a board member.  What sounds more local than that?  Yet our conversation was all about a major state department grant awarded to a consortium of arts foundations, to be managed by NEFA.  The grant will allow local US arts foundations the opportunity to build cross-cultural arts exchanges in a number of key interest countries around the world.  Artists from places like Pakistan and Indonesia will come to New England for residencies and performances, introducing our local communities to the global language of dance and the cultural beauty of their home countries.  And New England performers will do the same.  The goals:  strengthen the arts abroad and at home, increase cultural understanding and build cross-cultural relationships.  What could be more global-local than that?

Nearly everything in our local communities has global linkages.  Our jobs, the arts, interest rates, the air we breath, safety and our education system.  And so every philanthropist will benefit from a local/global perspective.