Exchange of Rings
One of the more useful powers granted to foundations is that of convening. It’s not forcing people to show up or collaborate but inviting people to a useful exchange of ideas and stories, such as the conversation we are hosting tomorrow with Michael Wear, author of Reclaiming Hope.
Preparing to talk with Michael started me thinking about who I would like to invite to future conversations to share of the stories and experiences that have shaped us. If you examine the trunk of a tree when it has been cut down, it is the rings that tell the story of its life – the years of growth and struggle. The times of drought and plenty. Those are the things I would like to hear about in these future conversations.
First, I would invite Senator Ben Sasse. His book, The Vanishing American Adult, is not completely about raising kids but also what it means for us to be a nation of adults with an understanding of the truly exceptional birth of America. I never fully understood the term “exceptionalism” until I read Ben’s description. It is not about greatness or power but about the ideas behind the formation of our country being unlike any other in history: ”American exceptionalism is not some claim to ethnic or moral superiority; rather it is a claim about the American Founding being unique in human history.”
I would also invite Heather and Blake Mycoskie. Blake, the founder of TOMS, would not only share the story of what led up to such an extraordinary success, but also they could talk about what is next in their lives. Every entrepreneur has another chapter, and Blake’s is still being formed.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan would be a part of this conversation – not because of Facebook. I think we would all like to watch the progression of their lives and what they are learning about not only in philanthropy but also in finding a sense of purpose. In a recent New York Times article, Mark says, “Purpose is that sense that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for.”
I would like to hear from Judy O’Connor, the mother of Marty, a quadriplegic. Judy attended every class and took notes for Marty when he went back to Chapman University to earn an MBA. After pushing Marty across the stage to receive his degree, she was surprised by the school giving her an honorary MBA in recognition of what she had done.
Jean Case would be on my list. As co-founder of the Case Foundation, Jean’s influence in the growth of impact investing is part of the future of philanthropy. She sits on the advisory boards of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation, the Brain Trust Accelerator Fund, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library Center’s Women’s Initiative Policy Advisory Council.
And I would want Gret Glyer there to push the boundaries a little. Gret served as a missionary in Malawi for three years where he worked on sustainable farming but soon grew frustrated with how inefficient international charities are at solving local emergencies. In response he created DonorSee, a crowdfunding platform built to bypass big international aid organizations. It is a business model (not a charity) so it collects a fee for donations. The unique feature (and reason for DonorSee) is donors get video updates from the people they fund.
I would invite a couple of “saplings” as well.
An invitation would go to a 15-year-old student in St. Louis, Missouri. Gabe Fleisher, the originator of the blog “Wake Up To Politics” has 2,000 subscribers including a number of top journalists in the country. Gabe has been writing the newsletter since he was 8. Gabe says, “I feel a sense of responsibility. Not everyone reads it every day, and it’s obviously not the only thing people read. But some people tell me that it is.”
I don’t know if Scotty Parker, a 13-year old from Charleston, South Carolina, could take a break from his bike ride across the country to raise money for Water Mission but I would hope so. As a 10-year-old, Scotty rode his bike across South Carolina and raised $50,000. At that time his mother said, “We’re a little nervous about what he might do next.” Now they know.
Finally, I would ask Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life,” because he is quirky, funny, inquisitive, articulate and the creator of my favorite podcast. Well, it’s really a tie between him and Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s The Thing” but Ira Glass takes such an interesting slant on everything that he would be perfect for helping pull out the best parts of everyone’s story.
For sure, some of us have more rings than others but what an opportunity to see both the forest and the trees.