Aspiring to 'Transformation Oriented' Philanthropy

At The Bodhi Foundation we've been trying to get clear on how we are positioning our work and what kind of change is most important to us - and really it comes down to this: we believe in transformation. Something exciting is happening in the world! There are more of us waking up to the fact that suffering on this earth is the result of unconscious mind patterns, both in our daily lives and in the structures that we've created in society.  

In the Buddhist tradition 'bodhi' means awareness or true understanding. This true understanding we are just now beginning to awaken to is that, at our core essence, we are all one. Think of the implications of that understanding in our state of being and in the way we structure the institutions of society. There are lots of great spaces to talk about individual spiritual path- but what we want to share is how this worldview effects and shapes our intentions in philanthropy. What does this view mean for supporting organizations that encourage and enable people to change themselves, and that encourage and enable society to reflect this higher consciousness? 

First- its worth expanding a little bit on these different levels of change. Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka (a Bodhi grantee) has talked about change occurring on three levels- the individual, the system, and mindset. 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs,

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs,

On the individual level there is a wondrous process of personal growth each of us has the opportunity to take, from wherever we happen to be, but the end game is leading us in the direction of greater self awareness and inner peace. The psychologist Abraham Maslow talked about a 'hierarchy of needs' towards self actualization, whether that famous pyramid is right or wrong isn't for us to say. But we do believe that there is a spectrum of personal development work, and that it’s all noble work, all part of the process. .... Evidence that more people are undergoing this kind of change is everywhere, one only needs to observe the boom in yoga and mindfulness practices to know that something is going on! 

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

At the same time this change in consciousness is beginning to reflect in society. Even as forces of ignorance 'dig in' and the dysfunction of ego-dominate states become even more apparent than ever (climate change, rising inequality, extremism, our health & wellness crisis), new ways of addressing these massive societal challenges are emerging and beginning to take root. A 20th Century saint might have said it best when he noted 'The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice'. New expressions of 'justice' and higher consciousness are emerging in all aspects of society: Social Enterprise, Impact Investing, the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), holistic models of healthcare, and empathy based education are just some expressions of this that we've seen through the folks that the foundation has come across. 

Whether we are talking about higher consciousness arising in each of us individually or through system change, both of these represent a shift in mindset. From concern for the individual to concern for the collective, from fear to love, from ignorance to awareness and understanding, from apathy to passion, from material ambition to deep meaning.

Kind of 'grand', I know, but Mr. John Lennon said it very well:  'You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, maybe someday you'll join us and the world can live as one.' 

SO... What does this mean for how The Bodhi Foundation positions its work? What does it mean for the kind of foundation we aspire to be and the kind of 'transformation-oriented philanthropy' we are trying to promote?

Robert Egger, ‘badass’ social entrepreneur, and founder of DC Central Kitchen, observed: "Too often, charity is about the redemption of the the giver, not the liberation of the receiver". Philanthropy can be very personal in good and bad ways, including passion projects, legacy, community prestige, etc. As we strive for higher ‘impact’ and continue to professionalize the sector- we should continue to focus on the serving the needs of individuals and communities, but we should also be keeping in mind the end goal- transformation. The Bodhi Foundation is purposefully trying to orient ourselves toward thinking about our impact by asking how we can best serve to further personal and social transformation towards a higher awareness. 

Too often, charity is about the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.
— Robert Egger, DC Central Kitchen

Basic social support is essential, and there is a place for vibrant and generous 'charity' in the traditional sense. There are amazing foundations doing great work to support the local orchestra, university, conduct research on disease prevention, or support basic human services. All of these things can be a tremendous blessing for people who encounter them, and these kinds of services can make our communities better places to live- but they aren't necessarily pushing transformation. But in adopting the mindset of 'giving back to the community' (however it’s defined) or sometimes even through narrowly defining our work by geography and issue area- we fail to fully take advantage of the power behind a ‘meta intention’ of moving society or people to a higher consciousness. 

MLK tells us that "true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar... it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring". I would say that the ‘edifice’ that produces the beggar isn’t just about structural and technical changes. Take the example of education: its not just about making schools on the ‘rough side of town’ more like high performing ones. We need to change the definition of what high performing means to be more reflective of higher consciousness! Change shouldn’t just be about making the economic system more inclusive of those that have been left out, it's about evolving the mindset that allowed for that injustice to exist in the first place. So we've decided to define our work as supporting organizations and causes that are really interested in moving people and society forward at the level of the individual, system, and mindset. 

This is our intention. Tune in to see how it plays out!