18 posts categorized "Religion"

CGI University (Day One) -- A.M. Working Session

March 15, 2008


("Live posts listed in reverse chron order; read from bottom up.)

12:45 p.m.: Breakout sessions over, panelists back with answers to three questions:

1. How do you keep students motivated when they see little evidence of change happening?

Stephanie Nyombayire: You have to remember that change will come, even if it comes slowly. Don't forget to list your accomplishments, however small, on a regular basis. And don't forget to thank people for their good work and participation.

Courtney Spence: Keep your eyes on the goal. And don't forget about the people coming up behind you -- think of it as a relay race.

2. What advice can you give students tackling issues too large to have easy solutions but too important to ignore?

Stephanie Nyombayire: You have to believe in your cause -- that's the starting point. After that, the Big Three are: Educate, Advocate, Fundraise

Courtney Spence: Advice from dad -- "You get to be big by thinking small"

Gideon Yago: Be encouraged that America truly is the world's melting pot.

3. With so many organizations already doing good work, how do you know whether to join an existing effort or to launch something new?

Stephanie Nyombayire: If you don't see something happening, then you know it's up to you to make it happen. If you think yu can invent a better mousetrap, go ahead and do it. Regardless, don't forget to work with others.

Eboo Patel: The "hardship-to-hero ratio" in starting any organization is at least 100-to-1 -- and your parents are sure to give you hell. If you are meant to start an organization, you must do it. But if you do start an organization, be sure to network it.


And, except for announcements of additional commitments, that wraps it up for the morning. The afternoon working sessions are scheduled to start at 4:30 (ET), but it doesn't look like they'll be Webcast.

Hope you enjoyed our little experiment. Back tomorrow with the weekend roundup.

12:05  p.m.: After Yago, the moderator, gives the panelists a chance to talk about their organizations and why they were drawn to social-change work, he poses the "how" question. How do you do this kind of work? How do you get started and how do you sustain it? Here, briefly, is their advice:

Stephanie Nyombayire:

  1. Seek out information
  2. Enlist support of fellow students
  3. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint -- "Arm yourself with patience and persistence"

Eboo Patel: Think like a social entrepreneur ("Somebody who turns an idea for social change into reality"); look for the patterns underlying a persistent problem and, as Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus did, figure out a way to alter those patterns.

Courtney Spence:

  1. Don't be afraid to talk to -- to talk with -- anyone; it doesn't have to be about anything specific. Be a sponge. Make connections.
  2. Yes, you have to be in it for the long haul and focus on the end result. But you also have to take the time to enjoy the journey, because in the end it's all about the journey.

Good advice. Next up, working groups in which the What? question will be addressed. The webcast will resume in twenty minutes.

11:45 a.m.: As I supected, blogging the concurrent working sessions is going to be impossible. (At the big annual CGI event, the Clinton folks provide simultaneous closed-circuit feeds of all working sessions for the media.) So I've decided to "attend" the peace & human rights session, "Building Peace on Campus and Beyond," in part because, as panel moderator Gideo Yago, a journalist, says: Peace and conflict resolution is "the most difficult" of all the topics tol be discussed at CGI U.

In addition to Yago, the panelists are:

  • Stephanie Nyombayire, Swarthmore senior and spokesperson, Genocide Intervention Network
  • Eboo Patel, Ph.D., founder/executive director, Interfaith Youth Core
  • Courtney Spence, founder/president, Students of the World

-- Mitch Nauffts

Tax-Exempt for What and for Whom?

December 19, 2007

That's the question John J. DiIulio Jr. asks near the end of his article, "Non-Profits Without Honor," in the Dec. 10 issue of The Weekly Standard. You might remember DiIulio as the person tasked with selling George Bush's faith-based initiative to a skeptical public in the early, pre-9/11 days of the first Bush administration. The initiative itself never really made it out of the starting gate, and DiIulio resigned his position after only seven months on the job.

Well, he's back, and he has a book to flog (Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future). DiIulio's chief complaint, in both book and article, is that "government routinely confers diverse public subsidies on nonprofit organizations that follow the law's letter while doing only incidental things to benefit their communities or the public at large."

He's especially critical of nonprofit hospitals and private colleges and universities, which occupy "land and buildings that generate zero local property tax revenue" and benefit from "myriad" government subsidies. To support his argument, he cites his hometown of Philadelphia, which by his estimate forgoes $90 million a year in property taxes from tax-exempt colleges and universities.

(The issue of nonprofit property tax exemptions is examined in detail by Rick Cohen in his most recent article for The Nonprofit Quarterly.)

What really bothers DiIulio, however, is the fact that religious congregations and faith-based organizations -- which, he notes, provide "scores of socially useful services to non-members" -- are excluded in most cases from applying for government grants and loans. And that's not only unfair, he says, its discriminatory. "The key nonprofit distinction," he adds, "is not religious or secular, large or small, national or local. It's who really serves disadvantaged members, non-members, or the public at large, how, and how much. [Therefore] it is time to consider revamping federal, state, and local laws governing nonprofit organizations so as to restrict full-fledged tax-exempt status to organizations that predictably and reliably produce significant non-member benefits."

Leaving aside the impracticality of such an idea (who would define -- and enforce -- the standards against which tax-exempt organizations and the social benefit they provide are evaluated?), we've seen this movie before -- and it ended badly. DiIulio is a smart man and a respected researcher. But his is an idea whose time has passed. In an age of global competition -- and global threats -- Americans want more from the nonprofit sector than services that only address the symptoms of existing social problems. Yes, those services are vitally important, and we're not suggesting that the sector doesn't have a role in their provision. But our sector is about much, much more than social service provision. And we would all be poorer if that were to change.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

October 08, 2007

Templeton_logo_sm Don't know how many of you saw the two-page Templeton Foundation spread in the Week in Review section of yesterday's New York Times (print edition only), but I was struck by both its subject matter and what it must have cost. It's not unusual to see an ad purchased by a global oil company or large multinational displayed prominently within the op-ed/commentary section of the Times, but I can't ever recall seeing a two-page spread from a private foundation -- let alone one devoted to a discussion of metaphysics. As for cost, based on figures that surfaced after last month's MoveOn.org/"General Betray Us" controversy, I'm guessing the Templeton folks spent upwards of $250,000 on the ad -- not a lot for ExxonMobil, perhaps, but a good chunk of change all the same.

The ad presents excerpts from what it calls a series of conversations about the "big questions" -- everything from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. In 54-point type, it poses the question, "Does the universe have a purpose?" and then presents the wide-ranging views of leading scientists and scholars -- people like Elie Wiesel, Jane Goodall, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the essayist and computer scientist David Gelertner, and the cosmologist Paul Davies. In an age increasingly characterized by reductionist views of complex problems, it's a heartfelt and strangely old-fashioned attempt to promote dialogue and understanding between two seemingly irreconcilable world views, science and religion.

Oh, and if you're keeping score, the dozen essayists responded to the question with three "yeses," two "no's," an "unlikely," a "very likely," one "certainly," one "not sure," an "indeed," a "perhaps," and one "I hope so."

To read the essays in their entirety and/or to learn more about the authors, go here.

-- Mitch Nauffts


Quote of the Week

  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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