US Private Giving Field Trip 2014: Day Two

Jenny Wheatley from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation admires the way the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation maintains the founding family’s values while tackling the big issues of Peace, Democracy and Climate Change.

Another warm autumn day and there is serious anticipation in the group as we join Stephen Heintz (President) and Valerie Rockefeller Wayne (Chair) at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). Stephen was appointed President in 2001 and generously shared his path of narrowing the themes of RBF to three (although what a three they are) and importantly how he engaged the family with this process. It took two full years of often painful work for RBF to “shrink   intellectually” however Stephen highlighted the increased outputs that focus brings to the Foundation’s work. Valerie discussed the traditions of the Board having a family member as Chair and constituting 50% family members and 50% independent directors.  These traditions are unwritten which contrasts to the rigorous selection process undertaken to fill these executive positions. It is a family value that only the very best will be considered for these roles and candid and frank discussions are routine. We congratulated RBF on leading the way on divesting their investments from fossil fuels.

Our two hour session seemed to be over in minutes and exceeded all expectations. We left with an intellectual crush on Stephen and Valerie, great admiration for a family that meets six monthly and extends to Generation 6 using philanthropy and shared values as the glue and whose oldest member, David Rockefeller JNR, is 99 and today was travelling overseas in places exotic.

More fruitful conversations over lunch with Peter Buffet (yes he is Warren’s son), Bob Dandrew, Dorian Goldman and Jacob Israelow about sustainable agriculture and using food as a way of communities socially connecting.  We discussed the place in analysis of the “triple bottom line” (is the project acceptable economically, socially and environmentally) and the benefits of exploring, talking and sitting to aid philanthropy’s focus and impact. For a foundation that has a vision of agriculture as a career of choice and viable business model there is much from this session to be explored.

The offices of the New World Foundation (NWF) a short walk from the lunch visit which was just as well for some of us who had the Tiramisu for dessert. A groovy building added to the group’s appreciation of meeting Colin Greer who would pass for Woody Allen – quite surreal. NWF discussed their strategy of identifying where people gather to take action on an issue - this is “where we want to be”. In contrast to the RBF, family had been replaced by experts as NWF morphed from a family foundation to a public foundation enabling small donors to join forces with NWF. Also interesting was their ability as a small nimble organisation to move the agenda of larger organisations such as the UN and the Ford Foundation.

The day ended with a walk along the newest part of the Highline with Program Manager Paul Heckler whose enthusiasm for this successful private public partnership was evident. Philanthropy and the NYC Council transformed an aging infrastructure into an urban park which is now considered the crowning jewel of NYC. Not only a favourite of tourists, native New Yorkers were evident – Mother’s Groups, joggers, older citizens sitting watching the world go by were taking great advantage of the site.

A free night and VFFF, TFFF and Yajilarra Foundation swapped contacts in the indigenous and education space over a meal surrounded by amazing floral arrangements at NYC favourite Gramercy Tavern. The informal networking topped off a totally stimulating day (clearly- given I am still awake). 

Oct. 28, 2014

 Tags: us private giving field trip 2014

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