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What does philanthropy do next?

From the President

Now that this year’s elections are over – with all their attendant divisiveness and political rancor – it’s important for leaders and actors across America’s institutions, including the media, the business class, academia and think tankers, and civic organizations, to reflect deeply on how they will act and serve the public moving forward. And as national discourse and energy pivots from campaign mode into the realities of governance, philanthropy is particularly called upon to identify and actualize its values and missions to ensure that society heals and progresses in a positive, just, and affirming way.

We need, above all, to affirm, elevate and amplify the work that we and our nonprofit, public, academic, and private sector partners do. But we also need to be crystal clear about the values that undergird our reason for being. We need to anchor our aspirations and actions in the unalterable bedrock of what we stand for:

  • We stand for the thoughtful stewardship of our shared destiny, not for an invidiously corrosive social, economic, and political ethic that enshrines individualism and self-advancement as the ultimate public virtue.
  • We stand for deep, abiding, authentic respect for one another’s worth and decency, not for a denigration and marginalization – indeed demonization – of those whose skin pigment, physical conditions, sexual orientation, gender, or faith differs from our own.
  • We stand for the benefits of working in true partnership with individuals and organizations allied in common purpose for the advancement of the public good and the promotion of structures of mutual assistance, not for a hunkering down into silos of fear that attempt to deny the forces of equity and social change and wall off compassion for the less fortunate.
  • We stand for the imperative of a creative problem-solving that calls on community wisdom, intergenerational exchange, and bridging across difference, not for the false comfort of facile judgments about complex, interconnected problems or the bombastic certitude of rhetorical hyperbole.
  • And we stand for opportunity structures that dismantle, and substitute for, the persistent and pervasive racial, economic, and political barriers that so shamefully impede pathways to equality and justice for low-income people and people of color, not for the enshrinement of those barriers in public policy and the perpetuation of racial and ethnic division.

It is my ardent hope that the Trump administration, together with the leadership of Congress, will move unequivocally away from the tone and substance of the campaign cycle and toward an embrace of a constructive agenda that is, genuinely, about all Americans.

​We believe that the kind of work that Kresge and its peers do will help safeguard and advance so much of the progress we’ve witnessed over the last many years. I don’t mean to be naïve about the challenges or grandiose about philanthropy’s role. Nevertheless, if there is to be any hope of avoiding the deeper calcification of political ideology and personal attitudes laid bare by this election, it comes from philanthropy’s work in local communities – work that touches the everyday lives of everyday people regardless of political affiliation.

There simply has to be room in a Trump administration – in any administration – for ensuring that a child’s health is not predetermined by her zip code; for tapping the full potential of a first-generation student by enabling her to pursue a postsecondary degree; for making sure that front-line human service providers are sufficiently well-resourced to help low-income families take the first steps toward self-sufficiency; for building the musculature of communities to include those residents most affected by the adverse effects of climate change to chart a future course of mitigation and adaptation to those changes; for integrating arts, culture, and design into public decision-making processes as a means of reflecting community voice, building social cohesion, and injecting the unexpected and fresh into conventional and stale civic problem-solving; for applying the full spectrum of social investment tools to cracking the code of seemingly intractable challenges.

And there must also be room in the new administration to absorb the lessons we’ve learned – and will continue to learn –  in Detroit about how disinvested urban communities can reimagine and re-set their trajectory.

Clarity about the coming change remains elusive after such a turbulent, muddied, unsettling, and protracted political season. We at Kresge will watch and listen and think carefully over the next months about whether, and to what extent, we need to shift our bearings. And we know our peers in philanthropy will do the same.

What is clear is that the routines of America are defined by the ebb and flow of local life. So that’s a place to start. That’s the place we at Kresge start.