Everything changes; everything stays the same?

Alliance magazine

Alliance asked Michael Edwards to comment on the debate from the perspective of a funder of civil society globally.

Did the world change forever on September 11 2001, or were the attacks on New York and Washington DC simply another chapter in an age-old cycle of violence and dispossession? Should foundations embark on radical new directions, or simply reconfirm the validity of what they were already doing to promote conditions of worldwide peace and security?

Reflecting on the varied contributions to this debate in Alliance, one is struck by the feeling that both sets of assumptions could be true, or perhaps that, as is normal, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The implications of September 11 depend on who you are and where you live, on what you believe to be the causes of violence and the best response, and what foundations can do through small-scale funding when set against the forces of realpolitik.

Certainly, the impact of the attacks in the US has been immediate and profound – in budget cuts by state governments, funding shortages for NGOs, challenges to civil liberties, and a welcome questioning about America’s role in the world. Their impact in Afghanistan has also been dramatic, but elsewhere it is difficult to disentangle the effects of these events from pre-existing trends, or to predict their consequences for the future.

At the very least the events of September 11 have provided a much-needed stimulus to our thinking about strategy and priorities – an opportunity, as Barry Gaberman put it in his editorial in the last issue of Alliance, ‘to deepen our work, bring new foundations into the picture, and build new funding partnerships’.  For that we should be grateful, but such opportunities have been missed before, and may be missed again. All of us share the responsibility to seize this moment in history to reinvigorate our work for peace and social justice. That would be a fitting memorial to raise above the ruins of Ground Zero, and the best response to terrorist threats of every kind in the 21st century.

Michael Edwards is Director, Governance and Civil Society, at the Ford Foundation, and author of Future Positive. He can be contacted by email at M.Edwards@fordfound.org

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