Conversation 2011

Learning From the Future: The personal, organizational, community, and societal interrelationships that will most deeply shape the practice and promise of philanthropy in 2030

Held March 30 - April 2, 2011
Crowne Plaza Resort, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Summary

Fourteen social sector and philanthropy executives gathered on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in late March 2011 for our third Conversation. We accepted as the platform for our thinking this year the notion of learning from the future: the personal, organizational, community, and societal interrelationships that will most deeply shape the practice and promise of philanthropy in the year 2030. As in previous years, participants were asked in advance to write and submit an original essay on one aspect of what they believe we must learn from the future. Each essay coaxed the author out of his/her current "moment" and forced a short walk with uncertainty. This step was essential to moving participants away from techniques and models and more toward personal "openings." Beyond that, the essays jump-started our conversation because of their collective range and depth.

Unlike the mood and tenor of Conversation 2010, the overarching sense of our collective thinking and spirits this year was that everything we need is here. Over four days, our formal and informal exchanges took on many frames. Philanthropy, of course, was often a starting point for discussion-yet we went deeper than that. Organizational adaptation was another constant-yet we went deeper than that. We held up the natural tensions of wanting to drive toward answers and solutions, only to come gently back to several recurring themes of our discussion, each of which helped us conceptualize what we must do to learn from the future, to truly understand the depth of the idea of interrelationship, and to see with new eyes the practice and promise of philanthropy. Inevitably, no summary adequately conveys the scope and depth of the gathering. Despite that, here are some highlights.

Highlights

  • Letting go/letting come
    • For many of us, C. Otto Scharmer's Theory U --and his conversations with Master Nan in the Seven Meditative Spaces of Leadership--provides a valuable lens through which to see the work of what he calls presencing and creating a catalyst for social change. Working down the left side of the U is the necessary path of letting go and achieving greater clarity before being able to travel the right side of the U with greater courage and creativity.

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    • A large part of our dialogue reflects our efforts-unconsciously perhaps-to free ourselves from the need for certainty or an expectation of clarity around what 2030 might look and feel like. We recognize-and celebrate-that the future is now. We recognize-and celebrate-that we have a responsibility to act in ways that helps shape the future we want to see.
    • One returning participant reflected early about his desire to return to this 2011 gathering, viewing it as a place/time to be with what he described as "nutritious people"-people who fill him with sustaining and enriching thoughts and ideas. As a group, we returned to this idea repeatedly, recognizing for each of us the need to get clear about the source of your "nutrition," understanding that some of our work and living environments neither nourish nor sustain us. This may be part of the "letting go."
  • Images of possibility vs. predictions
    • We began to articulate new images of possibility-more of the future we believe is trying to emerge. The visual image of people working at round tables became a metaphor for thinking and acting in new ways. With no "head" of any table, all voices were important and the stories each brings are powerful and must be held gently.
    • These images are born of some fundamentally valuable compass points (ideals) of integrity, respect, dignity and freedom - ideals that few would intellectually argue against, yet all too often recognize are buried by metrics, science, and technique because "we don't have time for that" now.
    • We must be willing to walk into the disruptions we see on the horizon. So much personal and organizational energy and resources are consumed-often unconsciously-trying to prevent these disturbances to our status quo. We envision that there are strong forces pushing at us (as if in some downward representation in the graphic below) while concurrently there are many other forces pulling us. Where and how these forces intersect creates a punch, a breakthrough, an opening for change. Unless we are willing to be disturbed, we will miss moments of opportunity for even greater impact.

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  • Authentic cross-boundary collaboration and creating flexible networks
    • We view boundaries not as barriers but the places where neighbors meet and where discovery begins. We believe the future will increasingly reward those who find "openings" along the boundaries of organizations, communities, and sectors in order to pursue societal change and to focus the leverage that philanthropy provides. Being authentic throughout means letting go of the myth of control. It means navigating through change, risk, uncertainty and loss as you look for the opportunities and the sought after impact.
    • In the future we envision, individuals and organizations will converge to achieve bigger results (than they could if only acting alone), then ultimately disperse to converge again with different individuals and organizations. Movement in this direction will pull leaders to think and act organizationally and individually as one member of a constantly evolving network.
    • Cross-boundary/cross-sector collaboration (for-profit, not-for-profit, public) will become commonplace in this future. We will move further away from the common (Western?) sense of competition in everything to flexible networks among those interested in sparking some big "shift" toward human and planet well-being; where private, not-for-profit, and public entities push for purpose and profit, to make us better people on a sacred and saved planet. Individual leaders who move in this direction will operate from a deep sense of trust and presence, courage, creativity, and reciprocity-all while honoring the legacy of their own history and evolution. Doing so becomes a constant reminder of the power of relationships-interrelationships-as the currency of commerce and change.
  • Deepening our own learning resilience
    • As in every previous gathering, we recognize our adaptability our focus on what we must learn and what we must do. Learning takes times and takes many forms. Sometimes it is intentional and purposeful; other times it is situational and sporadic. Learning resilience is a byproduct of an open mind, an open heart, and open will.
    • We see the power of asking ourselves, "What do I need to learn (and/or do) now to shape the future at each of the four levels we outlined?" There is a shared sense among us that we see our own responsibility in all of this. Being authentic-not just trying to be-authentic is an important distinction. Increasingly, our work may be in: a) modeling the language and behavior we want others to emulate; b) asking bigger questions more often…What's the opportunity to impact the bigger global context (vision)?; and c) working to evoke healing in people - symbolized by what one participant shared he'd learned recently from a Masai person working with his organization. This person translated a traditional Masai greeting into English, where it means "nourish me with your words." Can you imagine if each of us spoke only that which nourished others with our words?
  • Leaning into the future
    • Unlike chemical reactions caused by the introduction of a catalyst, leaders who work to bring about change are themselves changed in the process of creating the reaction. Sensing the future is now-not only some distant and ethereal moment in time forward-we characterize the leader position as "leaning into the future," to live and to keep becoming what we will become. This concept of continuous and purposeful adaptation replaces the soft notion of "the future" requiring some sharp, 90 degree turn onto some clearly delineated road at some precise moment. Instead, our "way" forward is intentional, resolved, and hopeful as we look for how the pieces of this future come into a clear(er) whole.
    • Clarity around why you are here is essential, as is the courage to listen and lead from one's passion and source of energy. The ideals of integrity, respect, dignity and freedom have inherent value and importance in gaining the clarity each of us needs. This clarity feeds our passion and energy and fuels our creativity and courage to act beyond the safety of our traditional sphere. If we are truly on our way to a global village, where and how do we produce right action to lift up collective impact in our world?

The last lines of Wendell Berry's poem, The Wild Geese, closes this summary, just as it did our time together at Conversation 2011:

And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Alumni

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Joining Gary and Ken Hubbell this year to "lean into the future" were:

  • Gary Hubbell - Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)
  • Tom Soma - Ronald McDonald House Charities (Oregon)
  • Laura Rehrmann - Group Health Foundation (Washington)
  • Shari Scales - George Fox University (Oregon)
  • Jim Hodge - Mayo Foundation (Minnesota)
  • Marv Baldwin - Foods Resource Bank (Illinois)
  • Pearl Veenema - Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation (Hamilton, Ontario)
  • Kevin Benson - Providence Center for Faith and Healing (Washington)
  • Mary Olson Baich - Vesper Society (California)
  • Michael VanDerhoef - Virginia Mason Foundation (Washington)
  • Musimbi Kanyoro - David & Lucile Packard Foundation (California)
  • Don Taylor - Minneapolis Foundation (Minnesota)
  • Ken Hubbell - Ken Hubbell & Associates (Arkansas)
  • Braden Hammer - Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation (California)

Conversation 2011 essays

GHC Conversation 2011 Participant Comments:
"There come times in one's career that more or harder or faster working is not the answer...What the answers are to these and other questions involves deep reflection on 'why we do the work we do,' 'how might we be more reflective for ourselves and for others.'  Gary Hubbell Consulting convenes a most remarkable gathering of purposeful people whose role is to 'play at the boundaries' of new practices in philanthropy, to stretch their mind in new directions, to answer once again, 'why I choose this noble work. A rare and wonderful gift to yourself."
"An immersive, wide-ranging discussion on the future of philanthropy and how the participants can positively influence that future and successfully direct their respective institutions toward and in it. The discussion is not hampered by ego or agenda, and all participants are concerned with their fellow participants' successful learning experience as well as their own."
"Powerful. Thought provoking. Unsettling in a good way. Challenging. Committed people in search of truth and deeper understanding. A must for anyone who knows they need to challenge themself to be a better leader."
"Set sail for an agenda-free conversation that will rejuvenate your thoughts and replenish your soul around our important work in philanthropy.  The opportunity to dialog with leaders from around the globe is priceless!"
"Many leadership conferences and seminars are about the tactical aspects. GHC Conversation is an experience that speaks to the very personal aspect of leadership - it's about authenticity, soulfulness, a framework for resilience and an opportunity to converse with colleagues from a variety of organizational experiences."
"This is getting harder for me to describe every year! How about this: An opportunity to step back and reflect upon our roles and opportunities as leaders, in a world that needs not only more enlightened leadership, but leaders who are more enlightened."

 

Conversation 2011 Participant Comments:

  • "There come times in one's career that more or harder or faster working is not the answer...What the answers are to these and other questions involves deep reflection on 'why we do the work we do,' 'how might we be more reflective for ourselves and for others.'  Gary Hubbell Consulting convenes a most remarkable gathering of purposeful people whose role is to 'play at the boundaries' of new practices in philanthropy, to stretch their mind in new directions, to answer once again, 'why I choose this noble work. A rare and wonderful gift to yourself."
  • "An immersive, wide-ranging discussion on the future of philanthropy and how the participants can positively influence that future and successfully direct their respective institutions toward and in it. The discussion is not hampered by ego or agenda, and all participants are concerned with their fellow participants' successful learning experience as well as their own."
  • "Powerful. Thought provoking. Unsettling in a good way. Challenging. Committed people in search of truth and deeper understanding. A must for anyone who knows they need to challenge themself to be a better leader."
  • "Set sail for an agenda-free conversation that will rejuvenate your thoughts and replenish your soul around our important work in philanthropy.  The opportunity to dialog with leaders from around the globe is priceless!"
  • "Many leadership conferences and seminars are about the tactical aspects. GHC Conversation is an experience that speaks to the very personal aspect of leadership - it's about authenticity, soulfulness, a framework for resilience and an opportunity to converse with colleagues from a variety of organizational experiences."
  • "This is getting harder for me to describe every year! How about this: An opportunity to step back and reflect upon our roles and opportunities as leaders, in a world that needs not only more enlightened leadership, but leaders who are more enlightened."

 

 


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