When an organization is described as a “foundation,” most people imagine the large, well-established groups in this country like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations whose capital originally came from historically wealthy entrepreneurs and business leaders. And while this holds true for some of the newer large foundations (the Gates Foundation being the primary example), many foundations and funds do not come from such dramatic beginnings, nor are they sustained in such a manner. All the same, their philanthropic efforts have a profound effect on the individuals and organizations they support. I would argue that the impact is greater because the connection between the grantor and the grantee is that much more personal. For those working to rid the world of nuclear and chemical weapons, the Ploughshares Fund is a case in point.

While the Fund was started from the wealth and vision of Sally Lilienthal, its continuation is based on contributions from individuals and other foundations. According to its website, the Ploughshares Fund is a “venture funder…specializ[ing] in giving start-up funding to promising new endeavors, and then helping to leverage more substantial support from other sources.” This entrepreneurial spirit means that the Fund values the inspired vision of individual activists. I first became familiar with Ploughshares as the Russia Program Manager for ISAR. The Fund played an important role in supporting ISAR’s work with anti-nuclear and nuclear safety groups in Russia. In all of my discussions and correspondence with Ploughshares staff, they wanted to understand how the Fund’s grants were effecting change and who specifically was involved in that change. For Ploughshares, the individual impact is one the most important ways in which the Fund assesses its success.

I was reminded of this when I read the Fund’s 2006 Annual Report. It celebrates the 25 year history of the Ploughshares Fund by highlighting ten “Ploughshares Heroes.” Each person profiled has made a significant contribution to making the world a safer and better place to live. The fact that these stories serve as the framework for the annual report, demonstrates the Fund’s commitment to change through targeted actions.  The heroic examples also illustrate the success of the Fund’s “venture philanthropy.”

While I understand the important role that large, well-endowed foundations play, I think the individualized approach of foundations like the Ploughshares Fund is just as critical in addressing the world’s biggest challenges.   I applaud the Fund’s efforts and congratulate the ten Heroes.

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This week’s tragic events in Blacksburg demonstrate how one person can affect the lives of so many. Cho Seung Hui’s actions not only affected his immediate victims, but also their loved ones, the students and faculty at Virginia Tech and all of us who have watched the news unfold in the media. I often think of the potential impact of one person as a positive force in our society. And it is that positive impact on which I would like to focus, but I can’t help noticing that the negative is more often what grabs our attention.

Thankfully, there are other individuals who are making a difference in this world, for better and not for worse. Bill McKibben is the force behind the Step It Up 2007 campaign, which focused on bringing more attention to the issues of climate change and global warming. The kick off event, a “nationwide do-it-yourself mass protest” included more than 1,400 locally-organized events involving thousands of people all over the country on April 14. McKibben’s writings leading up to and since the event are heartfelt and inspiring. His enthusiasm embodies the kind of energy and commitment we need more of in our country and our world.

I started blogging last year when I took a break from the traditional 40 hour work week and explored the world of freelance consulting. As I continue that endeavor, I will use this blog as a place to share my thoughts on issues like climate change and organizational development, while also creating a center for resources and ideas. Check back weekly for new material and a take on the world through blue green glasses.