Feeding the Philanthropic Imagination
This post originally appeared on The Whitman Institute Blog.
In a recent blog, the Whitman Institute’s Pia Infante explores a new genre of philanthropy and counts Open Road Alliance among those re-writing how funding is approached.
May 21, 2015–Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Octavia’s Brood, which is an anthology of science fiction stories by amateur writers who happen to be seasoned activists for social change. I’ve been carrying one of its premises in my heart since I read the introduction: those working to bring about social, political, and economic equity are imagining new narratives to carry the whole of us forward.
With that as inspiration, I do not want to blog today about my quibbles with traditional philanthropy in the U.S. In the vein of lifting up new narratives, I want to point out a couple of creative catalysts in the field – Open Road Alliance and Kindle Project.
What I love about both of these efforts is that they look for gaps in the philanthropic landscape and aim to bridge them. Open Road Alliance was created because its founder noticed a recurrent pattern. Because life is unpredictable, grant goals and outcomes are often thwarted by the unexpected, e.g. a leader transitions, a recession changes economic conditions, an earthquake hits. Open Road Alliance was designed to provide fast flexible funding at critical, unpredictable junctures. The kind that leaders and organizations face all the time.
In talking with Maya Winkelstein, Open Road Alliance’s Executive Director at Ashoka Future Forum last week, she talked about their strategy being “demand driven.” It reminds me of other funders who listen to their constituents and actually shape programs to meet real world needs. The Sabbatical Program at the Durfee Foundation is a powerful example of a foundation integrating feedback from the leaders they funded and generating a solution to help sustain their longterm impact. When funders listen first before acting, creating, and leading, we believe what unfolds is infinitely more powerful.
Another group I was introduced to recently is Kindle Project. Here’s a description in their own words: “Kindle Project is an outside-the-box grantmaking organization supporting wild solutions, by unusual suspects, in the attempt to move mountains.” I love the spirit of their initiative, and the notion also reflected in Octavia’s Brood – that one small, passionate, renegade effort just might leverage the liberation of the planet from ______ (choose your own malady).
Kindle Project just helped launched a new resource – Indie Philanthropy Initiative – which shares resources and tools for reimagining funding. On this site, folks can explore methods and resources for creative disruption to the status quo funding models that are intended to reshape the field of philanthropy.
The following paragraph from Indie Philanthropy jumped out at me: “Indie Philanthropists are looking closely not just at WHAT gets funded, but also WHO makes decisions and HOW funding is done. We care about philanthropic culture–and want the WAY we give to mirror the healthier world we seek.” This statement resonates very much with TWI’s own aspirations, and I can think of no better company than Open Road, Kindle, and Indie Philanthropy’s core partners (e.g. Bolder Giving, Edge Funders, Resource Generation, Unleashing Generosity) in re-imagining a philanthropic sector that listens better, partners more, and shapes more broadly experienced and lasting social, political, and economic change than the these.
I’m heartened by the parallels between stories in an anthology of science fiction and the narratives that are being pollinated through platforms like the ones I name here.
We’d love to imagine with you. What narratives are lifting you up? What creative disruptions are expanding your imagination, and making the impossible seem imminently possible?