Council on Foundations – 2008 Philanthropy Summit

The Council on Foundations is hosting Philanthropy’s Vision: A Leadership Summit 2008 in the Washington Metropolitan Area from May 4-7.  The Summit represents the largest convening in the Council’s history.

Monday’s Lunch Plenary, Philanthropic Partnership:  Improving the Lives of Our Fellow Citizens, moderated by Gara LaMarche, featured Mary Robinson, Anthony Romero, and Kumi Naidoo.  The panel discussed domestic and international human rights issues and the role of philanthropy.  LaMarche is president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies.  Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, is the president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Anthony Romero is executive director of the ACLU. Kumi Naidoo is secretary general of Civicus.

Robinson noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and represents the first comprehensive agreement among nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings.  She encouraged everyone to read the Declaration.  Robinson added that philanthropy can make a difference by funding grassroots NGOs that monitor enforcement of these international laws on human rights.

Robinson also observed that we operate with different definitions of human rights.  While many of us think of human rights to include such rights as those to free speech, freedom of religion and assembly, and due process, we must remember that they also include rights to food and security.  The current food riots are examples of what can occur when such rights are neglected.

Romero confessed that in his role with the ACLU, he was concerned with only domestic human rights.  However, we don’t need to look past our borders to see government practices of torture (waterboarding), illegal spying, no due process, and the destruction of habeas corpus.  The War on Terror has also been a war on our civil rights and civil liberties.  Yet, there has been a lack of philanthropic funding of efforts to reclaim and protect our human rights.

Naidoo discussed one of the problems associated with foundation funding of human rights organizations – the need for short-term measurable outcomes.  He emphasized that the measurements for the effectiveness of these organizations should not be seen through the perspective of a race because "it’s a marathon."  Naidoo paraphrased Einstein saying:  "Not everything that counts can be measured; and not everything that can be measured counts."

Naidoo added that wealthy countries have a responsibility to help poorer countries to ensure that their citizens have basic human rights.  Such citizens are not to be seen as charity cases.  As the world shared its sadness, sympathy, and support for America in the aftermath of 9/11, America should show similar compassion and support for Africa, where everyday is the equivalent of five 9/11s in terms of loss of life.  We are all connected, and global climate change will prove why we must pay attention to what is happening outside of our own country.