January 15, 2021
From the President

2021: Will it Be 2020 Redux for Philanthropy?

Jean-Marc Mangin, President and CEO of Philanthropic Foundations Canada

In early January 2020, I wrote about the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the possibility of a SARS-like virus from China shaking our world. I had no idea how prophetic this blog would prove to be.

The philanthropic community continues to respond to the crisis with empathy and generosity. As Zia Khan from the Rockefeller Foundation highlighted in our first #WebinarWednesday of 2021, “we got more creative with assisting communities in need more responsively. The importance of setting the stage for a longer-term reset became all the more clear.”

Our webinar took place while a violent mob stormed the U.S. capitol and the urgent COVID-related strains on our health system led to new restrictions. Even with mass vaccination on the horizon, the nightmare of 2020 remains with us still. The economic “shecession” is hitting particularly hard the charitable and not-for-profit sector, notably cultural and community-serving organizations where women often constitute most staff and volunteers. Public trust in our democratic institutions and in the media is shaky. Although our cleavages are not as deep as they run in the U.S., Canadians can ill afford to be smug. A significant number of our fellow Canadians reject science-based health guidelines and what they hear in the mainstream media about climate and politics. Systemic and other forms of racism against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour persist. After all, one of the founders of the Proud Boys is Canadian. We also had a riotous mob burning down our Parliament in 1849 and chasing down public servants at a critical time in the history of our nascent democracy.

Are you discouraged and overwhelmed yet? I was struck by the hopeful and resolute tone of our two webinar panellists. Despair is a luxury that we simply cannot afford – lest it becomes self-fulfilling. Philanthropy – and foundations in particular—have the opportunity, if not the obligation, to help society pull back from the brink and to strengthen the ecosystem for a more inclusive society. As Joanna Kerr from MakeWay said during the January 6th webinar: “If ever there was time to do philanthropy dramatically differently, … it is now. Let’s take more risks. Let’s collaborate more.

I am heartened by the willingness of many PFC members to both dig deeper and explore new ways of working with their civil society partners, with other foundations and with governments. Collaboration is frequently hard and messy, but it is also often essential to achieving meaningful and lasting impact. PFC will continue to accompany its members on this difficult but hopeful journey throughout 2021 and beyond. By closely listening to partners, foundations can collectively contribute their nimbleness, their can-do approaches, their independence, their capacity to innovate and stay engaged for the long term, their networks along with their financial resources to support creative solutions in building a more humane, inclusive, democratic and sustainable world.

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