In this series, I have made a case for a seismic shift in philanthropy away from attempting to fund pre-defined “outcomes” by controlling grantees. Rather, we want to lean into our relationships and learn from them. Our giving needs to come from this cultivation of trust, collaboration, and voice. This is philanthropy as mutuality.

As the sector re-examines its role under the floodlights of COVID-19, we arrive at debates about how to fix the broken systems exposed by the pandemic. The best of these analyses – check out, for example, Jacqueline Novogratz’s “Manifesto For A Moral Revolution” – call us into relationships that reveal everyone as potential contributors for the good of all.

It starts with reimagining our world after the pandemic. Recently, an inspiring friend shared an exercise that he is using to evolve his philanthropy. Through this exercise, he pushed himself to bring in a strong systems change component. He contrasted “current thinking” with the kind of thinking he would like to see in the world in 20 years.

Of course, such exercises are deliberately oversimplified; they help by setting up the right questions and help us to think about a restructured world that works for all. Figuring out how to move from here to there is the work. And the work takes us directly into the complexity and messiness of the real world.

To integrate the heart with learning, my friend did a deep listening exercise with the students he has been supporting in undergraduate education, and developed a thoughtful critique of the education they were receiving. He then supplemented his tuition support with a new curriculum to help the students to discover their deepest intrinsic learning interests (the “heart” piece). And he funded a “hands” component through real world internships to practice those heart interests. Finally, to make sure he continues to learn and improve, he is collaborating with several of the fellows each year. His plan is to perfect and then spread these innovations to the rest of the curriculum over time.

With respect to Mother Nature, he built on his equity-driven philanthropy by investing in Indigenous communities – who have never lost their deep connection to nature – and are consistently underfunded in philanthropy. To free up resources for this, he tailed off funding he had been providing to a number of conservation organizations that did not share his equitable commitment to Indigenous communities.

To address his mental health and wellness concerns, he created a new company to innovate technology to reduce the loneliness and physical diminishment that can accompany aging. If he hits another commercial home run with this company, he plans to use the proceeds to further his philanthropic priorities.

I can’t wait to see how he figures out the pathway to “virtues drive everything!”