Levi Strauss Foundation Head Says SSM Survey a “Mission Moment” for Philanthropy
Friday, 15th September 2017 at 4:03 pm
The visiting executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, Daniel Lee, has said the upcoming postal survey on same-sex marriage is a “momentous occasion” for the philanthropic sector to advocate for the rights of LGBT citizens.
Lee is in Australia this September for the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, which examines what the global political climate means for philanthropy, and how the philanthropic sector can work with governments to act as a catalyst for social change.
He told Pro Bono News that he has enjoyed having the opportunity to be in Australia and speak at the summit.
“This has been my first visit to Australia in over 10 years and coming here through the sponsorship of Philanthropy Australia has been a terrific way to reconnect,” Lee said.
“I have been really impressed with Philanthropy Australia and the way that it convened its constituents and I think one thing that that really stands out for me is that deep collegiality and the intimacy of philanthropic sector in Australia.
“You know in the US the sector is much larger. With that comes probably more professionalism, more stratification and more distance. It really struck me to see Philanthropy Australia was able to set the table and have such a deeply committed and engaged set of members, which not only included folks at the leadership level of foundations…but also included trustees and donors quite engaged in these conversations.”
Since the Levi Strauss Foundation was founded by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1952, it has helped to create programs which improve the lives of disadvantaged communities. This includes being the first US corporate foundation to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1982.
Lee said the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency had emboldened his foundation’s mission to protect the wellbeing and rights of marginalised communities, while also providing lessons for Australia’s own philanthropic sector.
“You know I was not alone in being quite surprised by the recent presidential election results in the US with Donald Trump, and I think it was a moment for us at the Levi Strauss Foundation to pressure test our mission, which is to advance the rights and wellbeing of those who are most marginalised,” he said.
“I think this is pertinent for Australia too, as it is a time to really frame and uplift your values of an inclusive society [and] one that celebrates the lives of all of those within it. Does it injure or nourish? Does it lift up the voices of those who are most marginal? [It should] bring these protections like any good democracy can and should.”
Lee added that this made the government’s same-sex marriage postal survey an important moment for Australia, which provided an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to support the LGBT community.
“The postal vote in Australia is certainly a momentous occasion. I think in the UK with Brexit and in the US with the election of Trump, many were broadsided. That’s why this is a moment for Australians to recognise symbolically what this postal code vote means, and all of the other sorts of rights and principles and values that could be at stake if folks are not vigilant,” he said.
“So I was able to share some of the lessons from the US on the decade plus long struggle around marriage equality [and the fact] that society shifts when people know someone who is LGBT and have their views changed around that.
“What I’m hearing from folks is that this is a moment for everyone to reach out. And if you know someone who is part of a marginalised community, it’s [important to have] the prerogative and the urgency to actually speak up and tell the truth about these lives.
“This is a mission moment for Australia, and I think advocacy is very much what fuels justice and it’s great to see this awakening.”
Lee believes advocacy is at the heart of philanthropy, and said it formed the “lifeblood of democracy”.
“I was able to share my view [at the summit] that advocacy is nothing more than when an individual or group promotes an idea or policy and encourages others to adopt it,” he said.
“And I think in a world with increasing polarisation and with more money interests influencing the public sphere, there is an important role for citizens to play. [They should] bring the voices of the most marginalised people and the people who are most deeply affected by an issue into the public sphere, and inform public policy as well as improving the public debate.
“Because funding advocacy and being engaged in advocacy is the lifeblood of democracy.”
As for the future of philanthropy, Lee said as long as advocates continued to stand up for those without a voice, the philanthropic sector would continue to thrive into the future.
“I think democracy depends on having advocates who are supported and who are just and tenacious and savvy enough to take these moments of truth and turn them into opportunities for change,” he said.
“Advocacy is a powerful tool that meant that foundations can adopt and I hope that is part of the future.”