What’s next for philanthropy in Canada? An intergenerational conversation

publication date: Jan 8, 2019
author/source: Recap by Jessica Wroblewski

Hands down, the most interesting – and controversial – session at the 2018 PFC conference was What’s Next for Philanthropy in Canada? An Intergenerational Conversation. The lively plenary session was moderated by the engaging Jon McPhedran Waitzer, a former management consultant, social entrepreneur, and community developer who volunteers with Resource Movement, an organization that mobilizes young people with access to wealth and class privilege to work towards the equal distribution of land, power, and wealth.

Jon was joined by three speakers representing varying points of view about the future of philanthropy in Canada: Rudayna Bahubeshi, Stakeholder Engagement and Communications Manager at Inspirit Foundation; Lindsay DuPré, Youth Advisor at the Ontario Indigenous Youth Partnership Project; and Hilary Pearson, President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC).

Jon’s opening remarks introduced the context for the session by sharing a vision for transforming philanthropy that was generated at the PFC Youth Unconference two days prior. They bravely drew attention to the fact that philanthropy’s core issue is inequality, whether or not we want to acknowledge it, and questioned whether philanthropy could truly address inequality in society if it doesn’t first address it in philanthropy. They then focused on how we can transform philanthropy from something that reinforces inequality to a force that challenges, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., the “economic injustice that makes philanthropy necessary.”

Given that young leaders in philanthropy often come from the same power and privilege as previous generations, it’s not enough to simply incorporate younger voices. Rudayna suggested that it cannot only consist of looking at who’s at the decision-making table and who’s not there. We also have to question whether some are taking up too much space and ask who’s going to leave to make space for others. Hilary acknowledged that walls which were traditionally erected around foundations are being broken down by tools such as the internet making communication more transparent than ever before. Rudayna echoed this and shared that attending the PFC conference the prior year was a revelation to her about the world of philanthropy. Participatory grantmaking and other efforts at making the opaqueness of philanthropy more transparent and inclusive to those with less access were also discussed.

Hilary admitted that although foundations may not exist in the future, we should try to refrain from blowing it all up on impulse because foundations are not perfect. Yes, a lot has been accomplished, but there is still much more hard work to be done. Jon summed up the discussion well when he said it’s messy and we don’t have all the answers. However, we can look to others who have made progress on social justice philanthropy such as EDGE Funders Alliance.

Though the panellists did not come to agreement about what needed to be done to correct the intrinsic inequality in philanthropy, there was agreement that funders need to cultivate discomfort and ask themselves hard questions. In the words of one attendee: “If we [foundations] learn and lead from love, we cannot help but see our work, wealth, and privilege differently.”

Watch the full plenary session.

Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC) is a member association of Canadian grantmakers, including private and public foundations, charities, and corporations. PFC hosts an annual conference for members and other grantmakers in Canada and across the world to exchange ideas, learn from each other, and discuss important issues.

The 2018 PFC conference was held in Toronto on October 16-18, and focused on the themes of connection, creativity, and social change. For more information, visit the PFC website or PFC conference website. Thank you to PFC for providing Hilborn Charity eNews with a media pass to attend the 2018 PFC conference.

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