Philanthropy Takes Many Forms, Panel Says

When people think of philanthropy, often large monetary donations from J.P. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie come to mind. But philanthropy can include everything from the promotion of American art to support for education, said panelists at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics on Thursday.

The panel, entitled “Does Philanthropy Make a Difference?,” featured a diverse range of perspectives on the role of non-profit and corporate foundations in fighting poverty, hunger, and other social problems.

“There are opportunities for philanthropy to be a catalyst to actually see innovation,” said panelist Mimi Corcoran, director of the Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation at the Open Society Foundations.

Coming from a corporate background, former president of the Walmart Foundation Margaret A. McKenna discussed the potential for large corporations to get involved in philanthropy. McKenna said there is a unique space within this field where for-profit companies can make a difference through investments and other projects.

In order to maximize the impact of their organizations, the panelists emphasized the importance of evaluating philanthropic endeavors to determine which projects function most effectively, something attendee Allison E. Kroner appreciated.

“People often don’t get together and talk about giving this frankly,” said Kroner, who works at the anti-poverty organization Boston Rising.

Alexandra F. Edelstein, an attendee who also works at Boston Rising, said organizations need to be willing to divest when they discover that a particular project is unsuccessful, as businesses do.

“For that to transfer into philanthropy would be really important, and that’s what they were talking about,” Edelstein said.

McKenna said that she was eager to demonstrate to college students the importance of getting involved in philanthropic projects.

“There are a lot of us in my generation who grew up in the 60s and who believed in changing the world, and we’re all getting old,” McKenna said after the event. “I think one of our main goals ought to be to encourage and mentor young people to take our place.”

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