I was recently on a panel for a small dinner focused on international issues at the Indepedent Sector conference in Philadelphia.
The best parts of my brief stay in Philly:
- spending some time in a small group setting with people who really are plugged into legislative and regulatory developments affecting not only nonprofits generally, but private foundations, international grantmaking, foreign assistance.
- listening to the story of the ill-fated Carnival Cruises pinata on "Wait, wait--don't tell me," on the drive up to Philly and seeing the un-demolished beast on Broad Street in the rainy dusk (and no, the problem wasn't that they had blindfolded the guy operating the wrecking ball)
- reminiscing about pre-reform Russia with a fellow conference attendee who lived in Irkutsk in 1990
- meeting Ami Dar--founder of idealist.org--after many years
- there were huge expectations that the incoming administration of President-elect Obama would focus outward--both to respond to international expectations, and because it was the right thing to do. I don't see that happening, for two reasons. One, American power is on a decline right now--it may come back up, but the collapse of the financial sector and the fact that after we emerge out of this tunnel the US may no longer be in a position to lead the world economy by virtue of being a consumption engine--so even with all the expectations that Obama will pursue a much more collaborative foreign policy, he basically has fewere and weaker levers to deliver results. Two, there is equally, if not arguably a much more engaged and vocal constituency back at home that will demand results--and even Obama has only 24 hours a day.
- there was an implicit consensus on the panel--if not among all the dinner attendees--that internatinal philanthopy could take care of terrorism better than military means had to date. I think the jury's out on that. Whatever you may think about the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I honestly don't see any evidence that more education, more prosperity, more health services will actually address the origins of terrorist activity. That's giving too little credence to the power of ideology that feeds off of perceived insult.