The Philanthropy Roundtable recently published an article written by the Walton Family Foundation entitled, “Rebounding from Philanthropic Failure.” The subtitle stated, “Our plan flopped. We didn’t give up. We changed course.”
I immediately digested the article, in which the Foundation shared how it invested heavily in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta, and after 10 years, they realized that they weren’t going to be able to eradicate entrenched poverty from that region. They saw no transformation in a region that needed to experience growth and productivity. But they also saw a community that was eager and willing to accept outside help to improve the lives of its residents.
But the Foundation was forced to admit that it failed. That is not an easy thing to do – for any one person or organization. But I appreciate the grace with which the Foundation did it. They thoughtfully approached how to communicate their findings, using various sources to tell their story. It made me pause and reflect on my own professional failures – and I can’t say that I would willingly and publicly admit them! However, if we all opened up and made ourselves a bit more vulnerable and shared what we learned from the occasional misstep or – dare I say failure – then we all might be a tiny bit wiser and perhaps make better decisions. It would require a culture shift, and given that most of us respond with, “I’m good” when asked how we are, I’m not sure that our society is ready to admit our mistakes just yet. But if entities like the Walton Family Foundation keep sharing their stories, we might just get there.