Update From the Foundation

Moving slow and fast at the same time!

October 28, 2011

There is a saying in martial arts that you have to “go slow to go fast.” I have been thinking about that a lot as we dive into planning about how to create a strong and compelling new grants program for the Compton Foundation.

It is an amazing time to be doing our program planning, as the context for our work seems to be changing quickly. The Occupy Wall Street efforts are both inspiring and confounding. Inspiring because we believe we are in a “movement moment” in which many of the organizations we have been supporting, and other folks working on the issues we care about, are having to respond rapidly to new public attention to and activism around democracy, wealth disparity, and the impacts of crony capitalism on our every day lives. Confounding because it is unclear how foundations can most strategically support these efforts and how much these actions will redefine the public conversation over the long term.

Occupy is clearly forcing new narratives into our public dialogue and capturing imaginations across the nation and the world. For instance, http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/ is an amazing storytelling tool, and the group whose images helped to inspire the original Occupy, Adbusters (http://www.adbusters.org/), is spreading those images throughout the world through new media tools, helping to create a global sense of community and connection between disparate efforts. We have been sorting through heaps of blog posts, articles, Twitter feeds, and other commentary in order to gain a perspective on Occupy. Here is one piece that we particularly appreciate, as it puts the US efforts into a global context: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/10/201110257859154472.html.

So, how does all this affect us at Compton? It offers us a daily lens with which to test some of our assumptions and ideas, and to try to discern how our developing program might support and enhance the opportunity contained in this political and social moment. What is the appropriate role in this moment for private philanthropy? How do we understand our role as stewards of privately created resources to support the public good? What might it it look like? Who are the key storytellers that can mobilize creativity in addressing our social and environmental problems, and what are the most effective mechanisms with which they can tell stories? How does our current work connect to the changes in the political and social context in which we live? How can we support great work without shifting the power dynamics in unfortunate ways? What is the role of a small, but inspired, foundation that wants to ignite change? These questions are consuming our days.

On the one hand, we are moving pretty fast if we think about the changes in the world and the Foundation since last fall. On the other hand, we are hoping to take the time we need to ensure that these changes are thoughtful and strategic so that our work results in the kind of transformation that we believe the world needs at this moment. A delicate balance.

Onward,  Ellen

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