Thinking About Philanthropy: Part 3

May 6, 2009

David Grant, President and CEO

Let me make an abstract idea from the last entry more concrete through some examples.

In the previous parts of this series, I used Jim O’Toole’s “Executive’s Compass” (below) to postulate that “The Good Society” lies in an area on that map, not at a point. I pictured a circle where the four values on his axes are pursued, sometimes aggressively, but not so exclusively and persistently that other values are ignored and diminished. That last sort of activity would be outside of the circle and work against the good society. My earlier example was the pursuit of “efficient,” industrial agriculture (the right side of the map) in the name of cheap food and the devastating impact that has had on many rural communities (the left side of the map).


It seems to me the “sustainable” society is one that not only keeps its activities within the circle but also connects those efforts to each other so that they enhance each other rather than compete. It’s easy to see, for example, that community life can be enhanced by focusing on an efficient transportation system, or equity might be best served by providing economically disadvantaged children with access to courses in business entrepreneurship.

I posed the idea last time that organizations that see the system as a whole and help make these connections are critically important to the pursuit of sustainability. Let me cite two here that Dodge has helped in their early stages.


The first is the Center for Whole Communities (CWC). You can see the breadth of the organization’s efforts on their website, but for me the essence of the work is captured in the following scene.

In the Retreat setting of the Mad River Valley of Vermont, a person who has spent his life preserving forest land and another who has spent her life fighting a toxic dump in her city look at each other and say, “In the long run, I cannot win unless you win, too.” (See
my interview with Peter Forbes of CWC in the last Dodge Biennial Report.)


The second is Sustainable Jersey, the multi-partner collaboration that is providing New Jersey municipalities with resources to plan for the future in a more holistic way.

“Best practice” for certification through the Sustainable Jersey program encourages connections between people and across sectors. It emphasizes diversity and participation. It will never eliminate the contentiousness that is part of democracy, but it frames community decisions around that balance of values implicit in that circle on O’Toole’s map.

I hope readers of this blog will provide other examples of organizations that are helping people see whole systems instead of single issues and that you will provide us with links to their work.