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CEO Message: Radical Hope

Thursday, February 15, 2018

I am not gonna lie:  the world is some tricky s**t right now. All around us, we are confronting myriad, urgent challenges: to the safety and well-being of our loved ones and neighbors, to the vitality of communities undermined by disparities and inequities, to the fabric of civility that can feel at times like it is shredding. At home and at work, we labor to discern what most needs our attention, energy, and resources so we can attend to it thoughtfully and well.  We look for allies, we do our best to take care of ourselves and our loved ones along the way, and we search for reasons to hope. 

That last one – hope – is key.  The (astonishingly talented and accomplished!) author Juno Diaz had this to say about hope in late 2016:

“[A]ll the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.”  Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.”

I love this. 

Radical hope is the flame that warms us from within. It lights a path when times are tough. Reasons for radical hope abound in our world and in our philanthropic community right now:

We are putting our social capital to use. “What's the purpose of building a reputation if you're not willing to risk it?" said Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, at Justice Funders’ recent State of the Movement event last week. Philanthropy is increasingly emboldened to deploy the social capital it has amassed.  Leaders like California Endowment CEO Bob Ross, Irvine Foundation CEO Don Howard and California Healthcare Foundation CEO Sandra Hernandez are lending their voices to the growing chorus of leaders who seek to protect and defend hard-won gains in our communities.

We are recalibrating to tackle the growing wealth gap. Funders are grappling with the dramatic wealth and equity disparities manifesting throughout our region, and beginning to recognize the role philanthropy can play in helping to overcome these injustices. Examples include Advancing Wellness, Economic Security, Family Economic Success, Human Rights & Economic Justice, and Arc Toward Justice.

We are breaking away from “business as usual.” Funders are getting money out the door quickly with rapid response funds, and digging in with new approaches to support and partner with nonprofits so they are robust, vibrant, and sustainable. Examples include the Nonprofit Displacement Project, Rapid Response Fund for Movement Building, 11th Hour Project, Full Cost Project.

We are uniting. The ever-strengthening alliance between Northern, Southern, and San Diego Grantmakers – a partnership we are calling Philanthropy California – is a national model for innovative and effective collaboration.  We are gathering steam, and expect to be ever-more fierce and formidable together in the coming months and years.

We are generous. Over 70% of donations made to support relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California fires came from outside the region.

We are keeping our sights on social justice. The North Bay fires last fall tested our mettle in ways we could not have ever fully prepared for.  It was daunting and difficult, and will remain so for months and years to come.  Still, even in the midst of so much loss and devastation, the local community – and philanthropy’s equity and social justice-focused response – affords us the radical hope that we can do things differently and better even in our toughest moments.

We are finding inspiration in our children.  Just this week, two mothers who work in our field shared stories with me about their kids.  One told me about her teenaged son, who recently got out of the car at a stoplight to help a man who needed assistance crossing the street. Said another, “I felt hopeful when I saw my usually cautious kindergartner bravely navigate an unfamiliar situation under the tender care of a new fifth grade friend.”

We are giving of ourselves.  People are finding ways to contribute from the heart, offering their talents and time to engage in acts of kindness, like this hair stylist who spends his days off offering free haircuts to the homeless

We are coming together. On April 16, we will gather at the NCG Annual Conference. The event embodies the spirit and drive of our member community, and has for the last several years provided much-needed ideas and inspiration to fuel us.  Hope is in the air at that meeting. The theme of this year’s conference, “What’s It Going To Take?” will provide a powerful springboard for learning, connection, and inspiration.

At a dinner the other night I was fortunate to hear an extraordinary discussion among several spectacular women about the critical moment we are in with respect to gender justice: Saru Jayaraman, Sarah Eagle Heart, Crystal Hayling, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Surina Khan, and Beatriz Solís.

When talking about what we should aspire to – and hope for – in the moment we find ourselves in, Crystal said this:

Parity is not enough.  We have to dream the world we want into being.” And then she reminded us: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Yes we are, Crystal.  And that is major cause for radical hope in these times. 

Here’s to dreaming the world we want to make together.  And imaginative excellence.  And community.  And possibility.  And relentless, resplendent, radical hope.