Reflections from the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference

Photo credit/copyright: Kenna Klostermann

I had the opportunity to participate earlier this month in the second annual Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference, held here in Seattle. The conference brings together grantmakers and philanthropists in the greater Pacific Northwest who are active in or curious to understand more about global philanthropy. Microsoft sponsored the event this year and I had the opportunity to work with other members of the organizing committee in putting the conference agenda together.

A number of themes emerged from the content, sessions, and discussions at the conference:

1. Technology is hugely important to small foundations and individual philanthropists, but all too often remains inaccessible or confusing to them. Especially for individuals at small family foundations. There is room for us to improve the reach and efficiency of their work by providing better guidance and more formal opportunities for them to learn about existing tools and technologies and how to use them. Organizations like TechSoup and NPower can play a critical role in helping small organization of all types use technology more effectively to achieve their missions. Volunteers can also be an extremely valuable asset, as volunteers can bring in outside expertise and guidance that may otherwise be out of reach.

2. Reaching and influencing young people, though sometimes daunting, is critical to effecting long-term change in any area. It is a cliché, but the young women and young men of today are the leaders of communities and organizations tomorrow. Reaching them must be done in a way that is genuine and sincere; as organizations connect effectively with youth, and allow them to explore and contribute, while also informing and providing opportunities for learning and growth, they are building the foundation of long-term societal impact and change. Similarly, if youth are not engaged and allowed to explore opportunities there can be long-term adverse consequences. There was a great session at the conference focused on engaging with young people and it was breathtaking to see some of the projects that youth have overseen and administered to improve their lives and circumstances as well as those for others within their spheres of influence. Digital Democracy, whose mission is to empower marginalized communities to use technology to build their futures, is an example of a group of young people educating other activists and advocates about the power and pitfalls of information technology in spreading and amplifying democratic voices around the world.

3. Finally, I was reminded of how dramatic an impact even a single individual can have on the world around them. Conference attendees heard from Idaho Philanthropist Greg Carr, whose organization, the Carr Foundation, has partnered with the people and government of Mozambique to restore the Gorongosa National Park, which had been decimated following years of civil war in that country. National Geographic has produced an award-winning documentary about the park, a trailer of which can be viewed here. Mr. Carr was not an expert on ecology or conservation or even Mozambique, but recognized a pressing need and knew that he could make a difference. Seven years later, the park, its surrounding ecosystems, and the people who live in and around it, are seeing some of the early and important fruits of those labors.

Climate change also occupied some of the focus of the conference, as Kristi Heim wrote about in the Seattle Times.

It was a unique and interesting conference in addition to Microsoft, participants also heard from the Starbucks Foundation, Trilogy International Partners and the Grameen Foundation Technology Center  about the work they do to further social causes around the world.

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