A Tribute to the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Honorees

A Tribute to the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Honorees

On a beautiful October afternoon, more than 300 distinguished guests — including Vartan Gregorian, Yo-Yo Ma, and Big Bird! — gathered in the Beaux-Arts splendor of The New York Public Library’s Bartos Forum to salute the “awe-inspiring” munificence of this year’s medalists

 

It was a day to honor those who use their success and stature to take on some of the world’s biggest problems. More than 300 guests came to The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Tuesday, October 3. The reason? To celebrate nine of the most influential philanthropists on the planet, recipients of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, named in honor of the “father of modern philanthropy,” Andrew Carnegie.

A bagpiper led the procession of the medalists into the Bartos Forum, a tribute to Carnegie’s Scottish heritage. After a round of applause for the medalists, Tony Marx, president of The New York Public Library, welcomed the guests with remarks about the power of philanthropy. Marx then welcomed the president of Carnegie Corporation New York, Vartan Gregorian, who enlightened the crowd about the exceptional achievements of this year’s medalists. “Indeed, the munificence of the Carnegie Medal recipients is not only remarkable, but awe-inspiring,” said Gregorian. “You are living examples of Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic legacy and of those who have followed in his footsteps. You have all dedicated not only your personal wealth, but your reputations, your time, and your talents to causes of deep significance to you and to your communities: namely education, international peace, the environment, the arts, the protection of our democracy, and much, much more.” Gregorian then introduced a video explaining the origin and the purpose of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

As the morning moved to afternoon, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble took to the stage to perform a selection of instrumental songs and dances, highlighted by Sandeep Das’s haunting tabla solo.

 

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble

 

Dr. Gregorian welcomed the day’s master of ceremonies, BBC World News America presenter Katty Kay, who touched on a variety of themes as she warmed up the crowd before the presentation of the medals. “Today,” said Kay, “philanthropy is being called upon to play an even greater national and international role — in fighting poverty and other global ills, in funding research and development on issues like climate change and nuclear nonproliferation, and in sustaining democracy at home and around the world. Helping the people and the causes that need it most must always be the priority. Our former, current, and future medalists are all keenly aware of this.”

 

Katty Kay

 

Kay then brought each of the medalists on stage in turn, displaying videos detailing their philanthropic efforts.

Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest spoke of the moment they came into great wealth. “All of a sudden,” recalled Gerry Lenfest, “I was a billionaire. Having all that money made me think of one word — responsibility. I came to certain conclusions. Not to die with wealth.” The couple also spoke of their philosophy of giving, noting that they wanted professionals running their organizations, not family or friends.

Next, Sir James Wolfensohn accepted the medal with a salute to the American dream: he came to this country from Australia with nothing — and, with success, he has gone on to make a real difference in the world. He offered some commentary on the modern state of giving. “With the younger generation,” he observed, “it’s very useful to pass on the lessons I’ve learned. Many of them know a lot about technology, but don’t know very much about giving money away.”

Next to the stage was Kristine Tompkins, who proudly sported a bracelet crafted — on the spot — from the Carnegie tartan of her cloth napkin ring. She focused her statement on the satisfaction she finds through her work in philanthropy. “Getting up every day and focusing on the things we love has brought new dimensions into our personal lives that we never thought imaginable.”

When Azim Premji took the stage, philanthropy’s global progress came front and center. Premji remarked on the differences between succeeding in business versus philanthropy. “The time dimensions are much longer in philanthropy. It requires significantly more patience, more sustaining power and a larger base of people.”

The afternoon took quite a turn with the next guest. Big Bird was accompanied by Sherrie Westin, executive vice president for Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. Big Bird told the crowd about his Yellow Feather Fund, which brings educational materials to children in need all around the world. Before he left the stage, Dr. Gregorian couldn’t help but steal a quick hug from the very big, very yellow Big Bird.

 

Big Bird with Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York and Sherrie Westin, Executive VP, Sesame Workshop.

 

Then, back to the medalists. Kay welcomed Shelby White, who spoke about her personal connection to the causes that she supports and also touched on the changing nature of philanthropy. “I would hate,” White cautioned, “to see philanthropy become something that is totally obsessed with measurable results, near term.”

The global nature of the 2017 honorees was reinforced when Mei Hing Chak accepted her medal. Chak spoke about some of the differences between China and other parts of the world when it comes to giving. “I hope that helping others can become a social custom in China. And I hope that philanthropy can become a type of social culture.”

The man known by many as the “Wizard of Wall Street” had a very specific focus when acknowledging his medal. Julian Robertson said: “I think the environment is extremely important, and want to see there is a world that our progeny can live in. We have to work if we want that to happen.”

Unfortunately, Jeff Skoll, the final medalist honored at the luncheon, was unable to attend the ceremony. Skoll’s parents, Mort and Judy Skoll, accepted the medal on his behalf, while Sally Osberg, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, spoke about Jeff Skoll’s commitment to creating an organization that works toward a world of peace and prosperity.

Katty Kay concluded the afternoon by summing up the sentiments of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy with a quote from Andrew Carnegie himself: “Wealth is not to feed our egos, but to feed the hungry and to help people help themselves.”

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A New Landscape of Giving: Power, Policy, and Philanthropy

A New Landscape of Giving: Power, Policy, and Philanthropy

Competing views on the role of philanthropy in today’s political landscape took center stage at Carnegie Corporation of New York on Thursday as a panel of leading experts discussed the most pressing issues facing the sector and its role in society. The question at stake: is the unprecedented giving from Americans, billionaires, and ordinary citizens alike proof of the generosity and care of American civil society, or is it a symptom of a larger crisis of democracy?

Karl Zinsmeister, author of What Comes Next? How Private Givers Can Rescue America in an Era of Public Frustration, ignited the lively discussion, claiming that philanthropy is inherently egalitarian, serving as a democratic counterbalance to government power. “Philanthropy is the first crowdsourced industry in this country,” Zinsmeister said. “Philanthropy is a mosaic. It’s a lot of people working together in local areas with tremendous effect.” Later in the discussion he added that philanthropy “is the most radically decentralized sector in our country. This is the place with the least concentration of power of any place you can mention.” Zinsmeister believes that philanthropy—a multitude of even disconnected philanthropic groups—is better equipped than government to take on the challenges of the day.

David Callahan, author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, was more critical. In his view, government is retreating from many of its traditional roles, and philanthropy is part of the problem rather than the solution. “Anybody who’s concerned about civic inequality caused by economic inequality needs to look at the philanthropic center as part of a broad reform,” Callahan asserted. “If you’re interested in reforming money in politics, you can’t leave out philanthropic money.” He continued that while philanthropy is generously subsidized by tax payers, philanthropists often don’t accurately address the concerns of the people they mean to serve. Without government leadership there will be negative consequences for society: “Increasingly, the wealthy wield a lot more influence in civil society, if you look at the statistics on charitable donations, the donations coming from wealthy Americans have skyrocketed. The amount of donations coming from ordinary Americans has gone down. That reflects inequality.”

Zinsmeister countered: it is the politicization of civil society, not money, that is the problem: “Money is overrated. Money is not the decisive influence it is sometimes portrayed as. The amount of money we spend on politics is less than we spend on chewing gum. . . . There is too little money in politics. Not too much. We have insisted on politicizing everything. If you can remove ideas and social projects out of the governmental sector and deal with them in other sectors, that political fire goes out.”

Meanwhile, Boston Globe investigative journalist Sacha Pfeiffer added that with virtually no government oversight of philanthropic giving or of the philanthropic sector itself, it is increasingly important for the media to act as a watchdog, making sure organizations meet their objectives, and retain the public’s trust. “Even when information is in the public domain, it doesn’t mean the public knows how to find it. It’s the responsibility of reporters to make sure the information is accessible.”

The debate about the role of philanthropy in an ever-changing political climate engaged the audience. About 100 people were in attendance at Carnegie Corporation of New York’s headquarters in New York City, and the event was live-streamed on Facebook Live.

After the conclusion of the panel discussion, 2005 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy recipient Agnes Gund took the stage to announce this year’s recipients of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

 

Agnes Gund—an honoree herself in 2005—announces the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy recipients, with Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, looking on.

 

The 2017 honorees are:

Mei Hing Chak China; HeungKong Charitable Foundation
H. F. (Gerry) and Marguerite Lenfest U.S.A.; Lenfest Foundation
Azim Premji India; Azim Premji Foundation
Julian Robertson U.S.A.; Robertson Foundation
Jeff Skoll U.S.A.; Skoll Foundation
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins U.S.A.; Tompkins Conservation
Shelby White U.S.A.; Leon Levy Foundation
Sir James D. Wolfensohn U.S.A. and Australia; Wolfensohn Center for Development

The Carnegie institutions will award the medals during a formal ceremony at The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on October 3, 2017. Katty Kay, anchor of BBC World News America, will serve as master of ceremonies.

The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy forum on the challenges facing the philanthropic sector featured: David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy; Sacha Pfeiffer, investigative reporter at the Boston Globe covering wealth, nonprofits, and philanthropy; and Karl Zinsmeister, vice president of The Philanthropy Roundtable. Moderated by Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the June 22 forum was held at Carnegie Corporation of New York’s headquarters in New York City.

A New Landscape of Giving: Power, Policy, and Philanthropy

A New Landscape of Giving: Power, Policy, and Philanthropy

Category

Forum Event

Watch the Forum on Facebook Live at:

Facebook.com/CarnegieCorporation

Thursday, June 22, 2017, 12:30 p.m.– 2:00 p.m.

To mark the announcement of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy honorees, join us for a discussion about the challenges facing the philanthropic sector.

 

PANELISTS

David Callahan

Founder and Editor of Inside Philanthropy and author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age

Sacha Pfeiffer

Investigative Reporter at the Boston Globe, covering wealth, nonprofits, and philanthropy

Karl Zinsmeister

Creator of The Almanac of American Philanthropy and Vice President at The Philanthropy Roundtable

 

MODERATOR

Stacy Palmer

Editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy

 

WELCOME

Vartan Gregorian

President of Carnegie Corporation of New York

 

The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, created at the centennial observance of Andrew Carnegie’s official career as a philanthropist, is given biennially to one or more individuals who, like Mr. Carnegie, have dedicated their private wealth to the public good and who have impressive careers as philanthropists. Medalists are chosen through an international selection committee comprised of the leadership of several of the more than 20 organizations established by Mr. Carnegie. This forum is the first in a series highlighting philanthropy as a catalyst for innovation and positive change.

 

CO-HOSTS

Carnegie Corporation of New York is a philanthropic foundation established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation’s work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of education and knowledge, and strengthening our democracy.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has been helping nonprofits of all missions and sizes understand the news and trends that matter most for nearly 30 years. In addition to its journalism, the Chronicle publishes opinion and analysis on big ideas, and compiles signature data pieces, such as its “Philanthropy 50,” ranking America’s most generous donors, and “How America Gives,” a geographic look at who donates the most.