Global vs. Local

22 03 2010

I recently read a book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  The name of the book comes from a quotation by Mao Zedong in which he notes that women hold up half of the sky.

 The book discusses women’s issues around the world, ranging from prostitution and the sex trade to childbirth and health, from misogyny to microcredit.  The challenges and issues faced by women in developing countries are overwhelming.  The authors relate many heroic stories of individuals and organizations working to address and solve these problems.  Nonetheless, the resources available today are far outweighed by the magnitude of the challenges.

I came away from the book feeling that the problems we face in the Denver area are trivial and insignificant compared to the problems in the developing world.

The messages from the book were amplified many times over by the recent devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.  I have asked myself a somewhat-heretical question: “Should The Denver Foundation consider shifting its funding to international causes?”

Having pondered this question, my answer is a resounding “NO”!  Here’s why: 

  1. The Denver Foundation already does a lot for international causes.  There are two basic types of assets at The Denver Foundation: the community endowment and donor restricted funds.  The community endowment can only be used to support organizations in the Metro Denver area.  Most of the restricted funds, which constitute the vast majority of The Denver Foundation’s assets, can be used to support causes worldwide.  The most common restricted fund at The Denver Foundation is a donor-advised fund, and our donor-advised funds support many international causes.  Already this year, donor advised funds from The Denver Foundation have given more than $100,000 to Haiti earthquake relief. 
  2. We must scrupulously honor the wishes of The Denver Foundation’s community endowment donors.  Since 1925, thousands of individuals have contributed money to The Denver Foundation’s community endowment.  This money is invested, and the earnings from the investments are used to support charitable organizations in the seven-county Metro Denver area.  When these donors contributed to the community endowment, they did so with the understanding that it would be used to support local needs.  Probably the most important thing The Denver Foundation does is to honor the charitable wishes of its many generous donors.  To use money from the community endowment for international purposes would be inconsistent with the intent of our donors and we would never break our trust with them.
  3. There is a lot we can do locally that will directly and indirectly impact international issues.  For example, the more we reduce our energy use and become green, the more we help mitigate certain global environmental problems.  The stronger our local economy and the healthier our local community, the better Denver-area residents will be able to help people in other countries tackle the issues they face.  Finally, through education, we can inspire local residents—especially young people– to help others around the world.

— David Miller/President and CEO, The Denver Foundation

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One response

23 03 2010
Rev Dr James Fouther

David:
The needs we encounter in the developing world are at once overwhelming and can truly shake our souls. It’s one thing to hear about Haiti and Chile but quite another to see the devastation up close. Remaining focused on the needs of Denver as you continue your journey has to continue to be your charge. We should never forget that there is devastating hunger, poverty and illiteracy even in our shining, “mile high” city! My hope for you on your journey, David, is that you will experience many kinds of epiphanies as you travel. Some of those epiphanies will challenge you to change some of the ways you do things. Others will reaffirm the things you’re already doing at the Denver Foundation! I hope that through your journey other Coloradans will affirm their own personal need to widen their horizons, experience the international scene and come home even more committed to local causes and needs right here in Denver. Denver’s need for a strong community foundation focused on Denver will not go away, certainly not in our lifetimes.

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