I hope you had a wonderful week. I’ve been working hard and writing, and I did something fun and different last week—-which was a learning experience for me.
I was invited to participate in the annual Forbes Foundation Symposium on philanthropy. They invited 140 philanthropists for a day of talks, information, and brain storming. As you probably know, I established two charitable foundations to honor my late son, about 20 years ago. One of them is the most active, focused on mental illness and suicide prevention. We fund organizations that provide hands on treatment, but don’t provide any services ourselves, and we are very careful who we give money to, to be sure that the organizations are responsible and doing good work. The board of the foundation meets 4 times a year to give relatively small grants too small to medium sized organizations in the Bay Area (of San Francisco). The second foundation funds supplies (sleeping bags, clothing, etc.) for the homeless through a street outreach program, and that foundation is less active at the moment, and our main focus is on the one for mental illness, which gets into the area of homelessness too, so we are putting all of our efforts into the first foundation. But as foundations go, we are very small. We have given a steady stream of funds for 20 years, but on a relatively small human scale. The philanthropists invited to the symposium were mostly from foundations that give literally billions of dollars for massive programs (like food and water for entire villages in Africa, dealing with world hunger, and poverty on a huge scale) way way WAY beyond our means. So I was very surprised to be invited. What I do is tiny compared to most of the other participants, but I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to learn something new, which I could apply on a smaller scale to our foundation. It was way out of my comfort zone, and experience, and most of the people running those foundations are heads of corporations. What we do at our foundation is tiny/microscopic compared to them. But hopefully we do some good on our small scale.
The instigator, inspiration, and guest speaker of the symposium, was Warren Buffett, who was absolutely remarkable. He is 88 years old, vital and active, brilliant and very interesting, and at the same time very human, and seemed like a very nice person. He has given billions of dollars to charitable causes and projects, and it was fascinating listening to him.
I have to admit, I felt both very small, and at the same time very grown up being at that event, listening to the projects that the various philanthropists spearhead—-a few on a small scale, but most of them on a very, VERY large scale. But in some cases, the same principles apply. Mr. Buffett suggested that we think outside the box, and think BIG, that one needs moral courage and energy to effect a change in the world, all of which is so true. We, as the audience, were seated at round tables, with 6 people at each table, with random seating, and guest speakers all day. The meeting began with breakfast at 9 am, and the serious talks and speeches by guest speakers started at 10 am. Their talks were kept short, and there was a new speaker about every half hour for the entire day. It was a wealth of information on a variety of subjects: poverty, education, social philanthropy. The man who wrote “Moneyball”, an ex-baseball player, who applied new principles to investing in sports and apparently made sports history doing so (with the Oakland A’s) gave a very interesting talk. I met and heard people I would never have met otherwise, and each of them had something to say which was useful, not only for our foundation, but about life.
Writing is a very solitary activity, and since I write pretty much all the time, I don’t get out much, and live in my own little bubble, writing books. So for me, it was a big dose of information, and the opportunity to learn from many people all at once. It felt like going back to school for a day!! I’m very glad I went, and did something so different. It’s a great feeling to learn new things.
And for our small foundation, I always find that Mother Teresa said something which applies to us, and our theory on giving. She said “We can’t do big things, but only small things with an immense amount of love”. We haven’t given billions, but we have given to many organizations in 20 years, and through those organizations we’ve helped thousands of people who suffer from mental illness. Going to the symposium was a good experience and great learning experience for me, to be willing to be the small person at an event, to learn from bigger people with bigger budgets and bigger ideas. And there is always more to learn.
And then I came home, and got back to my typewriter, and went back to work!!!
Have a great week!!! love, Danielle