October 1, 2019 – Free Speech & Peace

Chronicle of Philanthropy Explores Philanthropy’s Role in Democracy


The Chronicle of Philanthropy poses a provocative question in this month’s issue: can philanthropy save democracy?

The question taps into broad-based concerns about growing trends: two in five Americans feel isolated, a majority aren’t confident people can hold civil conversation with others who hold differing views, and more than 15 percent say they’d be okay if members of opposing party just died. It can feel as if we’re coming apart at the seams.

The Chronicle‘s cover story summarizes the resulting landscape:

“The heightened philanthropic interest in bolstering work on democracy has no political or ideological boundaries. Donors backing democracy efforts through their foundations range from George Soros to Charles Koch. To be sure, there is relatively little agreement on causes and cures, or even what types of grant making advance democracy. But a consensus is taking shape that philanthropy has an important role to play …”

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to the protection of civil liberties, the expansion of civics education and civil discourse programming, and experimentation through our Courageous Collaborations initiative.

Examples include joining with Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund in supporting The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and partnering with the Bezos Family Foundation and Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund to make possible the National Constitution Center’s Classroom Exchanges program. We’ve also worked alongside the Open Society Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, and others as part of the “Communities Overcoming Extremism” initiative. Additionally, StoryCorps’ One Small Step initiative was made possible with support from philanthropic partners including Rockefeller and the Foundation.

Another article in the issue titled “Grant Makers Want to Teach People How to Use Their Voice” highlights the various ways funders are focusing on skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and respecting others with different beliefs:

“’We’re about to become a majority-minority country for the first time, and that’s incredibly exciting,’ says Sarah Ruger, Koch’s director of free-expression efforts. ‘But when people are confronted with the new and different, they tend to respond with fear and ‘otherize’ one another. And the negative reactions are amplified by social media. But fundamentally, I think people want to cooperate.'”

That animates our work. In fact, the theme that unites all of these initiatives is a belief in the inherent dignity of every person and an optimism that all individuals are capable of positively transforming themselves and society. Ruger adds, “We’re standing with diverse partners to understand the root causes of polarization and ultimately discover solutions that empower people to counter them.”

Our long-term perspective on the issue combined with a deep belief in people gives us optimism about addressing the kinds of challenges addressed in the Chronicle’s coverage.

Read the full Chronicle of Philanthropy October issue here.