Alliance talks to Jonah Wittkamper about Nexus’s recent Congressional Summit


Jonah Wittkamper


The inaugural Congressional Summit on Next Generation Leadership, held on 1-3 December 2014 and convened by Nexus, Children Uniting Nations (CUN) and the Millennial Action Project (MAP), was designed to ‘bring together the next generation of policymakers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs to highlight emerging opportunities for post-partisan cooperation’, according to MAP president Steven Olikara. Over the three days a raft of causes and innovations on the theme of ‘youth’ and ‘the future’ were showcased.

Alliance talked to Nexus co-founder and global director Jonah Wittkamper after the event.

  • What for you was the most exciting thing about this event?

From the perspective of a young person trying to make a change in the political stalemate of the US Congress, this event successfully demonstrated millennial power and thirst for political progress over partisan loyalty. We managed to inspire some bipartisan legislation.

From the perspective of a movement of young philanthropists who are trying to innovate platforms of civic education, this was a major achievement. This first-of-its-kind event represents an innovation in public-private-partnership development, especially building upon our White House event earlier this year.

We believe that Nexus alumni all over the world can help sympathetic governments in their regions to develop similar programmes. By bridging communities of wealth, social entrepreneurship, and public service, we demonstrate how to transform the narrative surrounding successful business families away from materialism and towards generosity.

  • What was the most surprising thing about the event?

We received an overwhelming amount of support and praise from participants and congressional staffers. Anyone involved in grantmaking is always suspicious of the sycophancy that sometimes comes from grantseekers, but objectively the enthusiasm and praise that was expressed seemed to stem from genuine hope. I have long suspected that the leaders on Capitol Hill are mostly good people who are merely trapped in bad processes that incentivize conflict over collaboration. This event seemed to open a warp in space-time where traditional adversaries became friends and where the collective vision of post-partisan political culture could actually become a reality if ushered in on the shoulders of millennial donors and young, opened-minded and freshly elected officials.

At the risk of muffling enthusiasm, I fear there may be some intergenerational backlash. If so many people put their hope in rising generations of donors and change agents, who will defend the needs of elders? Maybe as a youth movement and youthful movement, we can prevent that conflict before it happens by pushing for greater intergenerational dialogue among our membership now.

  • Will anything you do in the future change as a result?

Will anything we do change? Or will anything the world does change? I am ambitious enough to suggest that some things at national and global levels will actually change as a result.

Through our encouragement, Senator Ted Cruz voiced his support for HR 1732, a bipartisan piece of legislation on human trafficking that originated in the United States House of Representatives that needs a champion on the United States Senate. This comes from a man who is not well known for his bipartisanship.

Congressman Aaron Schock and Conresswoman Tulsi Gabbard advanced legislation to proclaim Giving Tuesday a national holiday.

The first ever global index on government support for philanthropy was published by Nexus in partnership with McDermott Will & Emery LLP and the Charities Aid Foundation. Called the Rules-To-Give-By Index, it is a major step towards setting international standards for tax law that encourage civil society development and formal philanthropic giving. It also gives Nexus a benchmark and place to stand as it encourages a global civil society effort to pass a United Nations General Assembly resolution encouraging public policies that support a Global Culture of Philanthropy.

  • Were you personally inspired by any of the ‘emerging opportunities’ presented? Do you think you will be actively supporting any of them in the future?

The emerging opportunities presented in our session on Criminal Justice Reform inspired me most. William Ruger of the Charles Koch Foundation and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations, discovered a great deal of common ground in their dialogue about how to reduce the size of the American penal system, both to save money and to reduce the suffering of families affected by an over-zealous and out-of-balance penal system. The Koch family is, by any measure, the leading conservative philanthropic family in the United States. The Soros family is perhaps the leading progressive philanthropic family in the country. If the philanthropic institutions of both families have come together in good faith at our summit and discovered some real common ground on legislative proposals, then we have a real chance to transform the way that the United States deals with its population of nearly 2 million prisoners, nearly 50 per cent of whom are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.

  • Was there anything that was missing as far as you are concerned?

Nexus as a brand is only three and a half years old. We have been in dialogue with a huge fraction of the Forbes 400 families in this country. Until now few patriarchs of these families have joined us (plenty of their younger generations have joined us). Only a handful of patriarchs were present at this congressional event. We want more.

As a youth movement maybe they haven’t take us seriously. Maybe we are too humble. Maybe the impact of this summit will help. Maybe our movement has come of age and instead of millennial philanthropy being an idea in the hallway, it can become a centrepiece of the global agenda. With tens of trillions of dollars transferring from baby boomers to younger generations in the next few decades, you would think it was about time.

Jonah Wittkamper is the co-founder and global director of Nexus.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *