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Funders Forum

The Colcom Foundation

September 2012

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Colcom Foundation's mission is to foster a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life for all Americans by addressing major causes and consequences of overpopulation and its adverse effects on natural resources. Regionally, the Colcom Foundation supports conservation, environmental projects, and cultural assets. The Foundation Center asked John Rohe, the foundation's vice president - philanthropy:

Question Is there anything you would like your colleagues in the field to know about particular strategies that the Colcom Foundation has found helpful in pursuing its chosen program areas? Also, where do you see the largest potential for collaboration in your field?

Answer "Philanthropy essentially occupies two realms: the present and the future. In form and substance, these two realms differ dramatically. Colcom Foundation strives to improve the quality of life in both. Through regional community projects, the foundation endeavors to share in the creation of a place worth caring about, where the highest human potential can be nurtured. As Churchill observed, 'We shape our buildings (places) and thereafter they shape us.'

"The foundation also strives to improve the quality of life for tomorrow. Intrepid voyagers on this terrain know the future will never be visualized with certainty. In words attributed to Mark Twain, 'It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.' When practicing the art of future philanthropy, the foundation painstakingly strives to rely upon the most accurate available projections — projections of potential harm unless anticipated with foresight, compassion, and good will.

"Philanthropists addressing future conditions seem to have comfortably resigned themselves to two inescapable aspects of this charity. First, uncertainty. Hopefully, the risk of uncertainty will be offset by the adage that an ounce of prevention averts a pound of cure. Second, thanklessness. Today, we are the unwary beneficiaries of farsighted acts of charity practiced by our forebears. They studied the future and allocated an ounce of good will for our betterment today. Who are these kind-hearted souls and would they be willing to take a bow even if they were still among us? This differs from philanthropy operating in the present. When striving to avert harmful conditions in the future, it's best to not expect a pat on the back.

"A large potential for collaboration exists when sustainability advocates recognize the futility of ignoring population concerns. Currently, the fields of sustainability and conservation capably attempt to soften the footprint of each person; corporations as well work to soften their business' footprint through CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts. This is essential. Another part of the equation is often overlooked. If we are able to soften our footprint by 50 percent while doubling the population, we will have merely perpetuated the prevailing state of unsustainability. On a planet adding over 331,000 people every day (births minus deaths) and a nation expected to increase its population 40 percent by 2050, sustainability advocates might soon be again adding population concerns to their agenda."

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