Two buzzwords quickly emerged from Philanthropy New Zealand’s biennial conference, the Philanthropy Summit 2015: The Power of Strategic Giving, held in Auckland on 15 and 16 April – “acupuncture points” and “wicked problems”.
The first came courtesy of the opening keynote speaker, Justin Rockefeller, a New York entrepreneur and impact investor, and a fifth-generation Rockefeller. In a Q & A session with Mark Bentley, head of alumni relations at the University of Auckland, Rockefeller admitted that as a teenager he once signed his driver’s licence as “Justin Rock” in order to avoid being outed as a member of the famous philanthropic dynasty.
But Rockefeller has now embraced his distinguished heritage, helping to co-found TheImPact.org, an organisation inspired by The Giving Pledge that aims to solve social problems by improving the flow of capital to businesses creating measurable social impact. He also serves on the board and the investment committee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a private family foundation set up in 1940 to help advance social change.
The term “acupuncture point” is one he and fellow board members use to describe what they look for when deciding what projects to support in order to meet the fund’s goals.
Soon Summit attendees were promising to look for their own acupuncture points, and by the end of the first day of the two-day Summit they were promising to apply them to “wicked problems”, a term used by fellow American and keynote speaker Mae Hong.
Hong also has a Rockefeller connection – she is vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, one of the world’s largest philanthropic service organisations. In her keynote address, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – Trends in Social Justice Philanthropy, she pointed out social justice philanthropy may sound radical but it’s not something to be frightened of; rather, it is simply a focus on what philanthropists have always worked to address – the underlying causes of social problems.
“It doesn’t matter whether you define yourself as a social justice funder, or whether it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s about achieving change for everyone – that’s what we’re trying to do,” Hong told the crowd.
Hong also came up with one of the more arresting metaphors of the Summit when she described new ways of working to solve so-called wicked problems as being “like building a bicycle while you ride it”.
More than 450 people attended the Summit, including 22 from Australia – the largest-ever contingent from across the Tasman. Among them was Genevieve Timmons, a Philanthropy Australia board member and philanthropic executive of the Portland House Foundation.
For her, the Summit helped consolidate the growing sense of connection between New Zealand and Australian grantmakers. “We left feeling more connected and engaged, and keen to explore more peer exchanges across the ditch.”
One of her personal highlights was the opening address by Philanthropy New Zealand board chair Kate Frykberg, who urged delegates to think about the implications of the word “power” in the Summit’s sub-title (The Power of Strategic Giving).
“As philanthropists we do have significant power – personal, professional and social,” says Timmons. “Power permeates so much of what we do, and Kate put it out there that we need to unpack that power and understand it on a number of different levels.”
The Summit had three main themes – income and inequality, youth and employment, and the environment. Local keynote speaker Tā (Sir) Mark Solomon, who addressed the second theme, was particularly well received.
Solomon, a distinguished Māori tribal leader, talked about how changing demographics means New Zealand cannot afford to ignore the needs of its growing population of young Māori, and about the impact this will have on philanthropy.
As one delegate observed afterwards, “What’s good for Māori is good for the nation. Funders need to think about partnering with iwi (tribes) – if that’s what they want – rather than perhaps seeing them solely as grantees.”
Another theme to emerge was the growing importance of applying business practices to philanthropy. In his keynote address, Brave New World – Impact Investing and the Rise of the 21st Century Donor, US philanthropic advisor Peter Hero said that the new philanthropists – young, self-made tech and banking billionaires – are much more inclined than their 20th century predecessors to support initiatives that not only make a difference but also make a profit.
“The lines between business and giving are getting more blurred – increasingly philanthropists are looking at using the balance sheet to do good.”
Ruth Nichol is Communications Manager at Philanthropy New Zealand.