Philanthropy in Turbulent Times
Posted on: January 8, 2019
On November 28, 2018, Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz accepted the Council on Foundations 2018 Distinguished Service Award. Below is a short excerpt from his remarks at the awards ceremony. To read his complete address, visit the Council on Foundations website.
A version of this speech also appeared in the January 2019 Chronicle of Philanthropy [paywalled].
In February 2001, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund offered me the opportunity to lead the foundation into a new century. Just a few months later, the future of that new century was irreversibly recast.
On a beautiful September morning, I was sitting on the tarmac at JFK when armed policemen boarded the plane and ordered us to evacuate. In the terminal, everyone was glued to CNN, horrified by the use of passenger airplanes as weapons of mass destruction and the murder of nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center.
I never would have imagined that, 17 years later, the anxiety of our age would have grown so intense. Much like the hurricanes that battered the East Coast this fall, with each passing day, the winds of social, political, and economic upheaval become more turbulent and disorienting.
In their breadth and complexity, the individual challenges we face today add up to something even greater than the sum of their parts. We are at the threshold of a fundamental, even civilizational, crisis.
Philanthropy certainly does not have all the answers we need. But together with our partners in civil society, we have much to contribute to the process of finding them.
New ideas, new leaders, new social movements, evidence-based civic discourse, and collaboration across sectors can reduce political and economic inequality, eliminate structures of embedded racism, avert climate catastrophe, and transform conflict into durable peace. They can rekindle social trust and reduce the anxiety of our age.
Philanthropy must move beyond business as usual. We must use all our assets—not just our grants budgets, but our investment portfolios, our intellectual resources, our convening capacity, our leadership and reputations, and our independence. Our boards and staff must reflect the diversity of the society we serve. We must be willing to take risks and willing to accept the necessity of failure. We must uphold the highest ethical standards, embrace transparency, and hold ourselves – and one another—accountable for doing so. And we must be resolute in our defense of tolerance, truth, openness, justice, and love.