I went to a fascinating event recently, hosted by SFU Public Square & SFU Alumni. It was called Rethinking Philanthropy, and the event description asked some intriguing questions, including: “Is it time for a new model of philanthropy to meet our rapidly changing world with its increasingly complex problems?”

The topic of social justice philanthropy was discussed, which is in part the concept of addressing society’s problems systemically and collaboratively as opposed to adding to the “band-aid” solutions downstream.

This topic really interested me, partly because I have been alternatingly fascinated and frustrated with our collective interest in rushing to “quick fixes” in addressing social issues – although many of these are neither fixes, nor have meaningful lasting effects.

This event coincided with my reading a book called “Winners Take All”, by Anand Giridharadas, which is an “…investigation of how the global elite’s efforts to ‘change the world’ preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing problems they later seek to solve”.

It is of course, much easier and immediately gratifying to buy a meal for a homeless person, than to tackle the complexity of homelessness and its systemic causes. I strongly believe that we must engage our compassion and take care of the immediate needs of those who are struggling. But we also desperately need organizations, academics, individuals, companies, and philanthropists to tackle the much more complex, messy and important work of collaborating to solve the systemic causes at the root of our most distressing problems.

I also believe that if we don’t look at the problems of homelessness, violence, addiction, poverty, and isolation systemically, there will be a never-ending, and likely increasing supply of people who are struggling with these issues. We will be doing all of us a disservice if we are not working towards solving these problems once and for all.

That is why I was so drawn to the work of the Dalai Lama Center. Our approach is, and always has been, systemic, evidence-informed, collaborative, and inclusive.

We at the Dalai Lama Center are not focused on quick fixes, but on capacity building within our community. This means that we work directly with adults who have a wide reach and meaningful influence on the many children they have key relationships with, equipping these adults with the skills, knowledge, and practices they need to be most effective in their roles as educators, health care professionals, policy makers, parents, and caregivers. This approach makes sense and is actively encouraged by everyone I meet. But it can also make it hard to engage donors and philanthropists, who are sometimes more interested in being able to see something tangible they have given – i.e. their name on a building or department, or a photo of all the books they have purchased for a children’s reading program–rather than in being part of a genuinely transformative systemic shift.

We need buildings, and books, and hot lunches for those in need. But I think we need something that reaches the roots of the problems that these solutions seek to address before they even begin: Heart-Mind Well-Being. Nurturing this fundamental state of wellness and balance from an early age leads to children and youth who are secure & calm, alert & engaged, who solve problems peacefully, who get along with others, and who are compassionate and kind. All of these qualities are the foundation for a child to flourish as a human being, and face any adversities they encounter with resilience throughout their life.

If we actively and passionately nurture the next generation of compassionate leaders, we will be equipping our children with the tools they will need to solve the incredibly difficult and complex problems we are facing as a global community…..and to approach those problems heart first.


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