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Two knockout speakers; three blogs to read …the CEP conference

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Professional conferences are mixed bags, often filled with bad presentations, braggadocio, tall tales and wasted time.  I just returned from the 2017 Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conference and quite to the contrary, that bag was filled with insights, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and passion.  Two speakers stood out for me; and I was reminded about three blogs that are worth your time.

There are many famous Delawareans about whom we can all be proud.  But surely at the top of the list needs to be Milton native and Cape Henlopen High School graduate Bryan Stephenson.  Bryan spoke to the conference in the opening plenary, and wow…simply wow.  He has spent his entire professional career dedicated to equity and seeing the humanity in everybody, through his work addressing injustices in the criminal justice system at the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. His talk was about the indignities of inequality…but so so so much more…really about the American dream.  My takeaway quote…”the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.”  Check out this incredible TedTalk from 2012.

Raj Chetty from Stanford made a powerful data filled talk about the equality of opportunity in the U.S., and things we can do to get better to the American dream of economic advancement.  For instance, he showed powerful evidence about how the gap shrinks dramatically by a simple move to a better neighborhood.  And by attendance at a college that is focused on low income kids.  Check him out (and some of his amazing charts) here.

And now for the blogs. 

I have loved Vu Le‘s blog — nonprofitwballs — since I first saw it a little over a year ago.  This was my first chance to hear him in person.  From his perch at the Rainier Corps in Seattle he skewers the absurdity of nonprofit life, from scrounging pens and paper to exhaustion to the myth of sustainability (“imagine if we said to a school…so this project of yours…the 4th grade? What’s your sustainability plan?” Ouch.), onerous demands and clueless funders, to endemic discrimination, all with a clear warmth and passion for the critical work we all do. If you don’t subscribe yet, do it.  Do so now. You won’t regret it.

Foundations are constantly striving to do better.  If you read my blog regularly, you’ve seen me discuss the commitment by so many funders to getting better.  Phil Buchanan, President of CEP, is deeply committed to this, but for my purposes here, I want emphasize that he also writes about this in an interesting ad clear way.  Check out a recent piece…Losing our religion: Against sector agnosticism.

For a more philosophical approach to our work, you can hardly do better than look at Grant Oliphant‘s blog. Grant is president of the Heinz Endowments…and formerly President of the Pittsburgh Foundation. I am rarely disappointed by his writings, which push us to strive for our best selves, to be responsible citizens of the world. Whether writing about the arts, personal ethics and courage, bridging divides, the news media…He’s a philosopher in a foundation president’s hat, and that is a good thing.

That’s simply a taste of the robust engagement at the conference. While I slipped out for a Red Sox game (Sweet Caroline that was a cold night!!!) I was otherwise completely engaged.  That is surely saying something.