February 28, 2017 From the President

Raising Philanthropy’s Voice

We are hearing a rising babble of angry voices in communities across North America and in Europe. Over the last year, these voices, unlocked and enabled by some political leaders, have created fear, hate and divisiveness to a troubling degree. Canada isn’t immune, even though our politics are not as polarized. Even here, in our communities, we are hearing of more reported verbal attacks on Canadians by other Canadians based on differences in religion, race, dress and belief. The recent tragic killings in Quebec City in a place of prayer are just the worst manifestation of this anger. While this act was condemned strongly and uniformly by our political and community leaders, it must give us pause to think about what more any one of us can do to counter the noises of hate.

In these times, philanthropists, “lovers of humanity”, are arguably both compelled by moral values and enabled by financial resources to raise our voices more loudly in support of peace and social trust. Do we counter the voices of anger and fear more effectively by raising our own voices as donors? Can we give more strength to the voices of those in community who are speaking against divisiveness and violence? Can we as foundations and individual donors redouble support for the work to address the roots of this anger and fear – income inequality, economic and technological shifts, racism and the legacies of colonialism in Canada?

The answer, in our view, is yes to all of the above. Canadian foundations are already acting to counter racism, inequality and divisiveness.  In the community of Greater Toronto, just to take one urban example, private foundations such as Inspirit, Metcalf, Maytree and Atkinson are engaged in sponsoring community conversations about Islamophobia, reconciliation and equity, and funding initiatives to promote decent work, inclusive economic growth and the safeguarding of economic and social rights for all in community.  The Toronto Foundation has made Canada 150 grants of more than $300,000 to community organizations across Toronto to support new programming that promotes inclusion and reconciliation.

There is even more that PFC as a network of private and public foundations and corporate donors can do to lend collective strength to the work of individual foundations and donors.  At a global gathering in Mexico City in February we joined organizations from 41 countries which share the mission of advancing human welfare through more effective philanthropy.  At that gathering, we heard about the forces of inequality and political repression that are shutting down philanthropic voices around the world.  We and these organizations from around the world decided to raise a collective voice as networks representing in many cases powerful philanthropic interests. In a joint statement as leaders, professionals and allies in the field of philanthropy, the organizations said:

“We can no longer assume that the shared values of our community – respect for cultural diversity and global collaboration, reducing human inequality, protecting the natural environment and promoting development – are gaining ground.  Instead, we note with alarm that each of these aspirations is under threat from political events around the world.

We condemn the rise of hate speech and the closing of civic space. We oppose those trends, whether in the form of attempts to vilify ‘the other’, spread misinformation, silence rights advocates, or use fear as a tool for manipulating public opinion. We commit ourselves to oppose trends wherever we have influence.  We will use the growing power of philanthropy to mobilize the social, intellectual and material resources of our global community and leverage those of our partners.  And we call on all people of good will to do the same. Finally, we signal our support and solidarity with those who feel threatened by the rise of prejudice or national supremacy movements wherever they appear around the globe.”

These are powerful words. We will need to remember and repeat them as often and as loudly as we can to turn back the voices of anger and fear and replace them with hope.

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