by GoPhilanthropic Co-Founder, Lydia Dean
Years ago, GoPhil took its first tentative steps into arranging an annual meeting and fundraising event, all the while knowing that the typical dry roast beef and speeches would never be for us. It is standard practice for most non-profits to push for support to sustain their work throughout what can feel like a long twelve months of the year, but GoPhil wanted to gather for reasons more fundamental to our ethos and spirit — to feel the strength of our collective, to hear from and share our different perspectives, to expand our learning together, and to leverage what we had for a greater good.
There were barriers in pulling off such an event from the get go. Our donors were widely spread out across the United States and abroad. We silently wondered if people would see the value in investing the time, effort and money to focus exclusively for a few days on the injustices that continue to exist in our world. Lives are busy and we all struggle to find balance in all there is to do. We sent out the invitations, held our breath, and stared at the inbox for the responses to come in.
To our great surprise, almost everyone we invited sent a YES. Our event space that first year held in Los Angeles wasn’t grand nor vast — we couldn’t all fit in Co-Founder Lydia Dean’s living room, so we broke into groups, some sitting in lawn chairs in front of a flip chart in the backyard, others tucked themselves around the dining room table, the rest huddled around the coffee table.
This willingness to show up and be an active partner in global issues has been a constant theme for GoPhil’s community members. They present themselves and their willingness to take part all over — in the offices of small NGOs in Cambodia battling intergenerational poverty, in makeshift school rooms in Guatemala listening to passionate pre-school teachers, in rural villages in India and at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal where grassroots programs face the daily threats of human trafficking. They gather in homes and local restaurants across Denver, Santa Fe, Rochester and Salt Spring Island and Los Angeles.
Why? They all care very deeply about humanity and they recognize that we each play a unique role in it.
Since this first successful event in California, we have hosted four more global annual gatherings — a second one in L.A., and two subsequent events in Santa Fe. Just a few weeks ago we gathered in Provence, France — a region known for its natural abundance — where we couldn’t have found a better backdrop for the need to ensure that we all have equal access to what flows in life. And the days together offered much more than one single evening focused on fundraising ever could. Dedicated time and space away from our daily lives gave us the opportunity to focus more intently on what our courageous partners are trying to achieve each and every day, to review the processes by which we collectively support their efforts, and contemplate together how we can continue to do it better as a whole.
During our days together, we stretched our thinking in the presence of two thought-provoking speakers — Dr Bharti Sharma and Ahmad Nawaz— each representing differing ends of the generational spectrum, as well as exploring a variety of topics surrounding the importance of philanthropy, led from and rooted in, the communities with whom we partner. We also took time to review where GoPhil began, where it is now in its evolution, and shared ideas for the best next steps.
Impact Cannot Always Be Measured en Masse
Dr Bharti Sharma — a leading expert and renowned advocate on gender-based violence in India — opened our work sessions with a powerful example of community philanthropy. Dr. Sharma offered an in-depth look at Shakti Shalini, a small yet dedicated New Delhi based non-governmental organization that has been actively working against all forms of gender and sexual violence since 1987. Dr Sharma’s presentation brought into clear view the challenges that small programs face in competing with larger organizations for attention and support.
She described — at times in brutal detail — stories that exemplify the depth of change that is needed across and within “educated” and marginalized societies alike, to shift the ongoing dismissive attitudes towards gender violence. Dr. Sharma ended her presentation with the poignant reminder that we cannot measure all successes in the numbers of people within any program. Working with survivors can be a long and complex process — one that values the potential in each and every life.
“This is an internal process that is handled by each individual to one’s capability. Each individual is unique with uneven circumstances that takes a much longer time than issues that can be handled in mass scale.”
• Dr. Bharti Sharma of Shakti Shalini (India) •
The Changing Tides — A Cup More Full Than We Originally Imagined
GoPhil’s Board of Director Chair, Anne Elgerd, began her session by spurring some insightful self-reflection around how our own family histories, backgrounds, and self-identities shape our uniqueness and sense of community. The discussion then forayed into a broader look at philanthropy including an overview of the changing tides in the giving arena. We are now beginning to question traditional top-down funding models that view communities as “lacking” instead of asset-based and resource-rich (a cup already full). The group explored how many funders, including GoPhil, are taking the deep dives necessary inside our practices to address areas where power dynamics and privilege can create unintentional bias.
GoPhil Co-Founder Linda DeWolf covered some of the evolving forces of philanthropy including the critical elements of democratizing philanthropy, reflecting diversity, embracing innovation and the need for more transparency and openness.
Reimagining GoPhil — Input for GoPhil’s Next Steps
While our main mission is to champion positive growth within partner programs, GoPhil must also carefully manage its own evolution. Our annual gatherings have always provided a wonderful opportunity for members to offer their personal insight and experience into where we are in our own development and to consider both the realities and opportunities for our future.
GoPhil Co-Founder Tracey Morrell led us back to the early days where we could count the number of partnerships on one hand when our donor base had yet to expand beyond our closest friends and family. GoPhil has since grown to a base of 200 active members engaged with 40+ partner programs across eight countries. Staff have expanded from three Co-Founders to a robust team of fourteen, comprised of a mix of part-time contract staff and volunteers. We discussed at length the difficulties of developing sustainably beyond the Co-Founders and a mainly volunteer-based organization.
A recent feasibility study, commissioned by GoPhil and conducted by an independent philanthropic consultant Nancy Deutsch, revealed that the possibility of hiring a full-time Executive Director is most likely slim at this moment in time. Perhaps it is time to reimagine GoPhil — to turn to new creative ideas to pave a way forward for GoPhil’s next chapter. There was no shortage of concepts and suggestions brought forth during our meetings to consider how to navigate this change.
“In business, there are always moments when you have to step backward to go forward,” shared Michael Dibala.
‘“There are two components to the problem. The first is an issue of scale — a small organization addressing big problems. Then there is value. This is the nut to crack. GoPhil has a really valuable offering and we need to develop messages wherein the donors see that value,” remarked longtime GoPhil donor and community member, Barbara Burger.
This study of how GoPhil will evolve, guided by our Board, will be ongoing — please do let us know if you are interested in deepening your involvement in GoPhil’s internal operations by contacting [email protected] today.
Casting a Light That Shines On Us All
Nestled into the stone courtyard under an ancient plane tree, our group listened with intense and heartfelt admiration as our closing speaker, eighteen year old Ahmad Nawaz, bravely outlined the details of surviving a Taliban school attack in 2014 near his hometown in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which 140 students were killed. Ahmad tragically lost one of his younger brothers and was himself badly injured. After he was discharged from the hospital, Ahmad was inspired do something better for the next generation and has since been tirelessly campaigning globally for peace and education for young people — speaking at the U.N. World Summit, the House of Lords and over one hundred different schools and universities.
Ahmad believes the root of the evil lies not in people themselves, but in a lack of access to education. Showing himself to be a true humanitarian and philanthropist — instead of spreading blame and anger — Ahmad has turned his attention to creating hope and educational opportunity in areas at risk of radicalization. He has funded several education and scholarship funds in Pakistan. He has also has helped to open a school for 300 children in Lebanon and is doing the same in Malawi and Uganda. His dream is to expand much needed educational opportunities even further into other countries.
What is extraordinary about this amazing human being is how, despite terrible hardships he and his family have endured, he chooses to hold a light up for us all to see and follow. We look forward to where this young man carries this torch, which will no doubt very far and wide.
We Departed a Family of Global Citizens
We gathered together with varying roles and histories with GoPhil — from Founders to newcomers, to longtime travelers and members of the Board of Directors. Yet as always, we departed a family of global citizens. And for those of this extended family who could not attend — please know you were there with us in spirit.
With the hint of fall in the air, change and growth are appearing naturally on the horizon — of new thoughts and energy, and alongside deepening values in the opportunities we each have to bring to what is not a perfect world.
Our greatest thanks to all who contribute, in every way, to making the world a better place.