Leading gently towards the big global tent

Barry Gaberman

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there was in the United States a philanthropic explosion. Vast sums of private wealth were directed to the establishment of private independent foundations. Fast forward 100 years and you see the same thing happening at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. This time, however, there are important differences.

The phenomenon is global and it is not restricted to the single model of an independent foundation. In some parts of the world, corporate giving provides the philanthropic energy, in other parts of the world it is community philanthropy that looks much like a developing global movement, and everywhere new forms of philanthropy like venture funds are cropping up.

In this context it seems almost natural that any national conference on philanthropy would seek to broaden its substantive content and its international participation. That is one of three things that are being attempted at the Council on Foundations annual meeting this May. The other two, just as important, are to infuse the meeting with the perspectives of emerging leaders in the field and to bring the philanthropic community together under one ‘big tent’ rather than segmenting it into a series of mini-meetings of constituency groups stitched together by plenary sessions. Two of these concerns, bringing a global perspective and the big tent, have resulted in significant pushback from within the US.

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