Friday, April 28, 2017

Breaking Our Hearts for Humanity

"One of the most important things I’ve learned in my work is that you have to let your heart break. When you connect with people who are suffering, you have to force yourself not to turn away from their pain, but to share in it, and carry it with you, wherever you go. Because, in time, that pain hardens into strength, into conviction - and it motivates us to act. " ~ Melinda Gates

Philanthropists are lovers of humanity. In the practice of philanthropy, we are exposed to the brokenness in the world and are given the opportunity to repair what we can. We cannot heal everything but if we can transform one life, we can save the world.

Discovering what it is we want to repair is the starting point of the philanthropic quest. We lead with the heart and develop a mission and strategy around our passion to create the change we want to see.

For Bill and Melinda Gates, the moment that sparked their philanthropic vision was the knowledge that over a million babies die at birth. It was the beginning of a journey that has saved 122 million children's lives with vaccines and continues with big bets addressing malnutrition, family planning, women's health and gender equity. 

Their mission will offer these children better choices that will save lives, lower birth rates, and empower women and girls to break the cycle of poverty.

In their letter to Warren Buffett after his $30 billion dollar gift doubled Gates Foundation resources, Bill and Melinda relate how a wildlife adventure in Africa opened their eyes to the link between children's mortality and the injustice of poverty, inspiring them to make saving children’s lives their global mission.

They speak of heartbreaking moments, witnessing the autopsy of a child, watching a newborn die from asphyxia, and meeting sex workers who had no alternative options for feeding their children. Seeing children and women become casualties of poverty shaped their philanthropic responses. One of the interventions that touched them most was the formation of community groups to create an ecosystem of support.

As we strive to repair the world, we can learn from the African spirit of ubuntu, the recognition that my humanity is bound with yours for we can only be human together. "I am what I am because of what we all are." Putting our self on the line on behalf of the other, standing together as part of a community is the meaning of being human together.

Leadership and philanthropy embody this interconnectedness, the generosity rooted in a sense of oneness that transcends individual interests as we embrace the task of transforming the world.

We don't need to have billions of dollars to repair the world. Historian and social activist, Howard Zinn, wrote: "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world." During the Make A Difference day - October 24 in the US 3 million people participated to help 30 million people.

Every year, the Russell Berrie Foundation celebrates the power of one to make a difference, recognizing everyday heroes who responded to a call to be there for the other, one small act at a time.

After 21 years, we have a field of heroes connected in a network of nonprofits that strengthen the social fabric of New Jersey, creating long term impact by being a collective force for good. These amazing human beings will continue to give of themselves to others, long after our Foundation sunsets. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that the work of all these people contributed so much to the transformation of our community.

Philanthropy is the gift of who we are, not the size of our checks or the wealth we are privileged to give. My philanthropy guru, Peter Karoff, taught me that giving from our deepest self, from the essence of our humanity, is the authenticity which inspires our vision of the world we want.

"One of the greatest of values is the belief that the best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others. . . .the returns are tremendous." ~ Bill and Melinda Gates