Standing Ovation Generation

Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Jacob Harold, Program Officer in Philanthropy at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

By:  Jacob Herald

There was a remarkable moment during Al Gore’s speech this morning. He was describing the world in generation terms, speaking thankfully of the debt we owe past generations for all that they have built for us. Gore then said we risked giving “the back of the hand to the next generation” by further delaying action on the climate crisis. The line itself was not unsurprising, though rare in its directness. What was remarkable, though, was the fact that about a dozen people stood up and started clapping. And each one was under 35. Gore’s speech saw three more-or-less unanimous standing ovations among the 1000+ in the room, but this one was partial—and maybe even revealed a divide in the crowd. I have to wonder if it signaled latent frustration among some young leaders.

Climate change is one over several inter-generational issues we face—don’t forget the national debt and the K-12 education achievement gap. As technology drives ever-faster change the gap in life experiences across generations grows. I hope we can use those differences as sources of wisdom and creativity and not let them be barriers to action. We face a series of both/and tensions: society needs both innovation and stability; both risk and caution; both intuition and planning; both charity and change.

Philanthropy is caught in each of those tensions. None are explicitly generational, but in every case each generation has lessons to learn from the others. I think we have it in us, but it’s time to stand up.

And, yes, I’ll admit it, I was one of those dozen.

NOTE: I am employed by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, but the views here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

2 responses to “Standing Ovation Generation

  1. Jacob and Jillian, Jacob – you are quite correct; this is the first time in human history that we are potentially destroying the world for human habitation. There may be more subtle ways to say this but no less striking. and thus, as a member of an older generation than you, i feel particularly responsible to heed the sensitivities of those who fear that the future of the physical world itself in in jeopardy. and while Jillian is correct that some intergenational issues are par for the course, the one that Jacob and Al Gore identified transcend normal transitions of power and knowledge

  2. Great post, Jacob. I agree that his words really resonated. For me, the most striking comment was (to paraphrase), ” If the next generation finds a world of renewal, I want them to look back at us and say how did you find the courage to change.”

    We ALL should feel this way. It’s not just about the Gen X/Y/Millenials as the next generation. We should always be thinking about future generations, preparing them, educating them, recognizing their strengths and addressing their weaknesses. It’s what I hope my children think of me when the day is done.