Bryan Stevenson talks about proximity as getting close to the people and places that experience exclusion and suffering. Getting close to people and places extends beyond spatial proximity. Proximity is about building intentional relationships with others, engaging in deep listening, increasing understanding, building trust, and grappling together.

However, proximity is fraught with complexity. Policies, mindsets, and narratives that displace, marginalize, and “other” based on identity have created fertile ground for racial, ethnic, class, and political divides. In this context, how is coming together to achieve transformative social change that ameliorates exclusion and suffering possible?

The philanthropic sector is increasingly recognizing the importance of proximity. Many foundations are adopting philanthropic practices that focus on community assets, community power, and community-identified solutions, while also questioning the role of philanthropy in perpetuating divides and imbalances of power.

If philanthropy has a role in perpetuating divides, how then can philanthropy be a catalyst for bringing people together to achieve transformative social change?

The Collective Impact Forum recently hosted the discussion “Collaborating in Polarized Times that featured four influential leaders who focus their work on collaborating across differences.

From what they shared, several considerations emerged that can support bringing people together and how influential forces, including philanthropy, can show up as good partners in the process:

  • Bringing people together to recognize shared humanity and work across divides is possible and necessary, but takes concentrated effort.
  • Valuing where there are similarities and differences within and between individuals and groups is crucial.
  • Working across divides does not require that everyone agree but rather that shared humanity be recognized and common ground be found.

Read the full article about proximate leadership by Cindy Santos at Collective Impact Forum.