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Questions We Need to Ask in Philanthropy

By Leticia Peguero on July 26, 2017

A couple of months ago, while the weather was still cold, I jumped on an Amtrak train headed to an even colder Boston for the Center for Effective Philanthropy conference. One of the highlights of those few days was listening to one of my intellectual crushes—Bryan Stevenson. For anyone who doesn’t know his name, Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy. In my mind, he is a friend.

Stevenson told us stories about the injustice of young people who are incarcerated in this country. At the end of his talk, my eyes were watery and my heart was full. I was hopeful and filled with love. Stevenson’s message was one about drastic reality. As the great James Baldwin reminds us:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

The question is: How do we face the things that need to be changed when they can be so very painful?

My friend-in-my-head, Bryan Stevenson, left me with important questions to think about this summer and to challenge myself and those around me as we engage in our day-to-day work. 

What does it mean to “get close” to the communities we serve? How do we do this in the philanthropic industry?

Expanding on those questions, how does “getting close” translate to who we fund, how we fund, who we provide capacity to and how we provide the capacity in order for organizations to be well? How do we help the people of those organizations take care of themselves and their families?

Stevenson’s message of proximity—how to get close in this work that we do—is important for philanthropy to deeply explore. I don’t know the answers, but the questions are worth contemplating for all of us. I hope that some of you will join me in exploring these questions further.