Let’s dance! The role of philanthropy in the age of disruption


Jennifer Thomas


‘Diversity is being invited to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance’ – Mohamed Huque, Director, Inspirit Foundation

Mohamed spoke these eloquent words during a session on diversity, equity and inclusion at the PFC Conference Connect. Create. Change, a gathering of close to 300 leaders in Canadian philanthropy.

Inclusion requires connection. Connection to the earth and its sustainability. Connection to each other. Listening to all voices – even from those that don’t look like us, young and old, that we might not trust and we don’t agree with.

In its basic definition, philanthropy is a love of humanity. What is more human than wanting to belong? It is this common need to feel connected that is currently being perverted through political rhetoric that is dividing us, leaving us desperately searching for a greater connection and vulnerable to simplistic slogans and unfortunate policies that isolate us even more.

In the conference opening conversation Populism, Citizen Engagement and Philanthropy, Michael Adams, presented social research from his book Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit. The research in his view suggested that Canadians embrace multiculturalism in a way that might insulate us from the populist sentiments that are surfacing in other parts of the world.

But that is not what co-panelist Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, Civic Action and others in the room are seeing on the ground. Two of the largest provinces in Canada have recently elected governments that echo the populist rhetoric we are hearing around the globe. Canada may be better at inviting a diverse group of people to the party.  But unfortunately – not enough are dancing.

So what is the role of philanthropy in an era of mistrust and lack of connection?

Gerry Salole, Chief Executive, European Foundation Centre summed it up as a need to be bold. ‘Sometimes in foundations there is too much pretention and too little ambition’. Katja Iversen, CEO, Women Deliver, reminded us that change starts with each of us. We have the power, within each of us, to ask someone to dance and to make the connections that will help us cope with new forces of social change; economic disruption, climate change, digital transformation, the clamor for recognition of individual identities and rights.

I would like to see philanthropy take more risks. Foundations are in a unique position to act as conveners but that is not enough. Let’s stop inviting everyone to parties and organize a RAVE. At a rave, no one even needs to be asked – everyone dances.

Jennifer Thomas is Director of Communications at Philanthropic Foundations Canada.

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