We need to communicate a vision for the future (What I learned at ForumCon17)

by Rhiannon Orizaga, Communications & Administrative Coordinator

Last month Ali Benson and I attended the United Philanthropy Forum’s 2017 conference, an annual gathering of all PSO staff. This year, the conference brought together Regional Associations and national Affinity Groups. I served on the Forum Conference planning committee, so it was great to see our vision come to life, as well as to connect with peers from around the world. The conference’s major themes were equity and collaboration, but a third theme emerged: the importance of communicating a vision for the future.

In his opening keynote address, “Race, Equity, & Philanthropy,” Dr. David Williams, health equity expert and developer of the Everyday Discrimination scale, proposed Ten Steps towards a future with better and more equitable health outcomes. Some of those were:


  • Philanthropy should lead in raising awareness among the general population about racial inequality and health.
  • Philanthropy can help establish a credible voice in a world that is “post-truth” or “post-fact,” anti-elite, and anti-establishment.
  • Philanthropy can convene relevant stakeholders around a mass media campaign to reestablish the conversation about race in our culture.
  • Philanthropy should invest in communications strategies that build a research base to help frame issues in language that moves the conversation forward.

The next day, Dr. Robert K. Ross of The California Endowment offered five solutions to what seem like intractable problems in the world today, one of which is to support the work of a positive, shared narrative – not the dominant narrative of winners and losers that pervades society. According to Dr. Ross, supporting journalists and artists is key.

Dr. Ross also made us all cry; after describing the room we were in, the food we were eating, the beauty of the hotel, he said, “somebody among your ancestors went through some sh** so that you could be here. Maybe they picked cotton, or dug coal out of a mine, or immigrated.” He asked us, what did our ancestors endure? What did they risk so that a generation unseen could have a better life? What will we risk? How will we honor their sacrifices?

These and other sessions affirmed for me the importance of telling our stories and painting a picture of what an equitable world will look like – not just “admiring the problem” as is easy to do. My hope is that the social sector will lead the way in telling this beautiful story.