Sea Change 2010, the Council on Foundations’ Family Philanthropy Conference in San Diego, drew a crowd of 500. The first of the ‘changes’ was the opening with Arthur Brooks, the controversial conservative at the helm of the American Enterprise Institute and author of Gross National Happiness. Brooks offered an amusing account of his failed attempts to disprove what he reluctantly conceded that his research has borne out: when individuals, businesses and even countries give, they end up with more income than those who don’t. Perhaps it was these remarks that contributed to a trace of optimism at the conference.
While concerns about economic instability remain, attendees none the less embraced the opportunity to explore new paradigms. One of the main themes, ‘Catalytic Philanthropy’, focused on entrepreneurial givers leveraging their resources to catalyse bold change. The concept of catalytic philanthropy inspired two plenary sessions, highlighting the successes of a small family foundation that was able to expand microfinance in the Arab world 75-fold and the collaboration of funders with Detroit public schools to stealthily crack down on systemic corruption.