By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The word philanthropy has been around for a while. It originally derived from the Ancient Greek word, philanthropia which means “to love people,” according to Philanthropy New York. But it wasn’t until the 19th century, around the end of America’s Civil War, that philanthropy became a business.
The goal of philanthropic groups is to provide funding for nonprofit organizations doing the work to make the world a better place. But what does it mean to be a philanthropist in an ever-changing and evolving world? And how can groups continue to do meaningful work in a seemingly fragmented society?
These are the questions the Greater Milwaukee Foundation tackled in its series, “A Milwaukee For All,” which aims to build a better Milwaukee.
Last week, the foundation held the third installment of its engagement series, “A Milwaukee for All.” The virtual event featured a conversation between Ellen Gilligan, the president and CEO of the foundation, and Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation.
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s objectives are to advance equitable economic opportunities and early childhood education.To achieve these goals, it looks to reimagine philanthropy with its North Star being racial equity and inclusion.
“It’s not that philanthropy needs to just be transformed because we’re doing something wrong, but it’s because we need to do more,” Walker said. “And we can do more. It is within our power to do more [and] to be more. If we want community to be realized, then we’re going to need community to mean all of us.”
It’ll be difficult, in a heterogeneous city like Milwaukee, he said, but for philanthropy to be thoughtful, inclusive and expansive everyone will need to work together and remember that they have a shared identity: American.
To make progress, people are going to have to get uncomfortable, he said. It’s not for the sake of making people uncomfortable, but for the sake of learning and understanding.
“I do think that we have work to do getting uncomfortable,” he said. “We’re not going to make progress simply feeling good and buying the narratives without any critical reflection of those narratives and how those narratives have been the narratives for certain of us, but not all of us.”
He continued, “It’s time for the narrative of the American dream to be realized for all of us.”
Following the conversation, attendees participated in “On the Table” style discussions. The topics focused on centering community, early child care and education, Black and brown small businesses, affordable housing, changemakers and food insecurity.
Zahria Tucker, a Public Ally for the foundation’s community impact team, lead the conversation, “Engaging and valuing our community’s future changemakers.”
Tucker asked participants why valuing future changemakers matter. One participant responded that its important that young people embrace their community. It takes local community members to invest in their community and build the groundwork for the future, the participant said.
Cecelia Gore, the executive director of the Brewers Community Foundation and a Greater Milwaukee Foundation board member, commented in the chat that current leaders are aging out and fresh ideas and energy are needed to continue the work.
Another participant remarked that incorporating future changemakers in the conversation leads to mentoring opportunities and a chance to exchange wisdom.
After the “On the Table” discussions, Gilligan posed questions to a panel consisting of Gore, Jaqueline Ward, a founding partner of Commercial Corridors Consulting Consortium, and José Olivieri and Jeanne Olivieri.
Ward remarked that the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has been fearless in its work to address racial equity and inclusion.
“We have to be bold; we have to step out and do these things and more importantly feel uncomfortable doing them because there’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow when we do that,” Ward said.
As the event drew to a close, Gilligan thanked attendees for their participation and reminded them that together they can build a better Milwaukee.
“We look forward to continuing our promise to recenter communities, remake systems and reimagine philanthropy in our bold pursuit of change,” Gilligan said. “A Milwaukee for all is within reach because of you.”
A recording of the event will be available on the Greater Milwaukee Foundation website at greatermilwaukeefoundation.org/amfa.