Ron Chernow recently published a biography of Civil War hero and president Ulysses S. Grant. Intrepid, imperturbable and magnanimous in victory, Grant inspired loyalty and adulation among his troops and the public. In war, Grant relentlessly pursued opportunities to advance—Lincoln called him, “My fighting general.” Grant never shrank from taking risks in order to reach a key objective. Most importantly, he had a grand vision and an aptitude for strategic design. Among many achievements, he coordinated the first national wartime strategy in American history. Grant could deal with the immediate emergency at hand without ever losing sight of the big picture.
We can learn from and absorb the positive parts of lives past (as humans, they always have flaws and shortcomings, too) as we strive to express our own positive values through the way we live and relate to others. For those of us fortunate enough to work in philanthropy, the intent of our founders, achievements of our peers and accomplishments of our grantees serve as a contemporary source of guidance and inspiration.
Whether it’s the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s commitment to personalized learning, the MacArthur Foundation’s aim to help Syrian refugee children, or the Hewlett Foundation’s most recent commitment to combat climate change, our peers in philanthropy continue to push their work forward.
As the year 2017 draws to a close, it is well that we recognize what we as foundations have accomplished over the past 12 months, and how the philanthropic sector has made a significant impact in the areas where we work. From here, we can each reflect and take stock as we prepare for the year ahead.
While we can all take a good deal of satisfaction from the work of the past year, let us also draw from it renewed determination to make even more of a positive difference in the year ahead. By working together, and learning from one another, we can strive to make lasting change, and help individuals, organizations and communities stay on track to reach important social goals.
Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., is president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.