Welcome… to Foundation Island

(This is a guest post from Sandra Bass, program officer at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Sandra Bass

I’m sure I’m not the only one who peered out the window of their shuttle as it crossed the Potomac into the National Harbor compound in search of Tattoo ringing the watchtower bell and shouting…the shuttle!….the shuttle! (click here for a trip down memory lane) All kidding aside, this facility is truly breathtaking. I can only imagine how difficult it is to plan an event of like this and I am very grateful that others took on the task of making sure we are well-housed and well-fed. Thank you!

But what I really want to talk about is how I spent my Sunday morning. Even though I was still on West Coast time, I managed to roll out of bed before 9am to attend Hispanics in Philanthropy’s (HIP) breakfast meeting in celebration of its 25th birthday. In the spirit of full disclosure I should say that we are long-time members and funders of HIP.

True to its social justice roots, HIP is celebrating the occasion by launching a new initiative titled: “Nuestros Hijos/Our Children”, which will focus on the human rights issues of unaccompanied migrant children. To kick off the initiative HIP invited Gara LaMarche, President of Atlantic Philanthropies and Margarita Zavala, the First Lady of Mexico to present some background on the situation. Both Gara and the First Lady provided both evidence and anecdotes about the plight of children trying to cross the border solo in search of their parents in the U.S. or left alone when their parents were caught up in INS workplace raids and deported. Gara cited a Urban Institute report produced in partnership with the National Council of La Raza that studied the impact of workplace raids on children in three cities: On average, one child is affected for every two adults arrested in raids, in two of the sites studied over 2/3 of these children were under the age of 10 and some of these children were left in the care of babysitters for weeks or months as social service agencies tried to connect with family members. The psychological toll on children left behind was also devastating. Here’s a link to the full report.

Not only was I struck by the substance of the conversation, I also was impressed by HIP’s boldness in taking on this issue. Rightly so, our sector is in the process of redefining philanthropy. Market-based solutions, blurring the line between the not for profit and for profit sectors, utilizing new technology tools, and a sharpened focus on strategy development and outcomes measurement seem well on their way to becoming standard practices within philanthropy…yet I can’t help but wonder whether these tools, while enhancing our effectiveness in some ways might limit our vision in others. For example, are there market-based solutions that would address the issues of migrant children left alone because of INS raids? How can we be assured that philanthropy in its quest for rigor and measured progress doesn’t give up fighting the good fight on issues that are entrenched, multi-faceted, politically sensitive, and difficult to move the needle on? Even as I write this, I realize this is a bit of a strawman question as I know of some innovative usages of new tools to address human rights issues (Peter Gabriel’s Witness being one example). But how widespread are efforts like this and are they within the mainstream of philanthropy or relegated to the margins? Hoping this post will spur some comments and conversations about the “new philanthropy” and how it does or doesn’t address the social justice imperative of our field.