One year after the launch of Einhorn Collaborative, I’m filled with both hope and excitement for what lies ahead. There’s no doubt this has been an incredibly challenging year – for all of us, as individuals and as a society. Amidst those challenges, we have put our new strategy into action, seeking to address the crisis of connection in both specific and far-reaching ways. I’m encouraged by how these approaches can change how we see the problem and its solutions, and I’m excited to share my top-line reflections on where we are now, and where we go from here.
There is indeed a crisis of connection, and the crisis seems to be getting worse.
The challenges facing America in the 21st century are significant and complex. Yet, instead of coming together in an effort to solve them, many of our nation’s leaders on both the left and the right fuel increasing acrimony between the parties and dig in their heels. When one’s priority is to maintain or seize power, rather than solving problems, the tenets of liberalism on which American society was built become compromised. Decency and fair play have fallen to the wayside. Contempt and closed-mindedness have become the norm in our politics and our culture.
A growing crisis of connection has bred both pernicious social isolation and information silos that leave many Americans feeling lonely, with people often only interacting with others they like or agree with. If this crisis was not sufficiently apparent before, both the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic have helped reveal how grave the rifts in our society really are.
There’s hope in the “exhausted majority” whose voices have yet to be fully heard.
In response to so much vitriol and polarization, those Americans who are reluctant to take sides don’t see their voices reflected in the national conversation. That creates further disconnection, which undermines our social fabric even more. This group – the two-thirds of Americans who More in Common calls the “Exhausted Majority” – are tired of the tribalism that leaves them feeling unheard and forgotten. And yet, this is the group of Americans who are open to compromise and looking for a way forward.
This majority gives me hope. These Americans believe our differences are not so great that they cannot be overcome. They believe we can find common ground. People with different ideologies and experiences can find things they agree on. And the more of that we do, the better able we are to neutralize the demonization that is often directed at those with different beliefs and backgrounds.
Starting early matters, as generational change requires us to think long term and go far upstream.
No time in our lives is as vital and dynamic as a child’s early years. That’s why I am so excited by Dr. Martha Welch’s research at the Nurture Science Program at Columbia University. Dr. Welch’s research focuses on helping newborns and their parents, especially those experiencing challenges and separation, access the calming and supportive effects of deep emotional connection. Through my own personal experience with Dr. Welch’s approach, I’ve witnessed the transformation that becomes possible when we openly express our full range of emotions with each other.
I personally believe – and the research demonstrates – that when we have strong, emotionally connected foundational relationships, we are able to build healthy, productive, and positive relationships with others. This is why our Bonding work is core to our strategy.
After years of investing in research to understand the science of emotional connection, we are excited to build on the momentum in the field of early relational health to translate the science into action. We are deepening our collaboration with the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and partners like Reach Out and Read (ROR) to test, refine, and spread emotional connection training. ROR trains 33,000 pediatricians who care for 4.5 million children across all 50 states each year. We are excited to help them leverage the science of emotional connection to strengthen parent-child relationships and early relational health across the United States.
Members of Gen Z are well positioned to become “bridgers” (not breakers), if we give them a chance.
Young adults are also at a vital moment in their lives, open and interested in becoming part of the solution. The 72 million young Americans who make up Gen Z are our future leaders. Supporting their learning and development is essential to transforming both institutions and culture over the next 50 years. At Cornell University – which played an important role in my own life – we continue to find ways to build on Cornell's commitment to community engagement and community-engaged learning for every undergraduate. By complementing what students are learning in the classroom with active participation with community partners to address social needs, students develop the skills and orientation to become empathic, global citizens who lead positive change in the world, inspiring a legacy of engaged Cornellians. In addition to our work at Cornell, we are actively exploring other strategies that would support Gen Z in becoming a generation of “bridgers”.
We need to shift our broader culture to embrace and encourage relationalism (prioritizing human connection) and pluralism (engaging positively across our differences).
I’ve also come to appreciate that in order to achieve the progress we’re after in childhood and adolescence, we need to overcome our prevailing culture of disconnection and division. Changing culture is a difficult, gradual process. It feels even more daunting, given the way the multiple crises we’re facing as a country have exacerbated our divisions and silos. Yet, we need to foster a culture that encourages us to embrace our differences, to work together across divides, to proactively interrogate our assumptions and understanding, in an effort to advance positive solutions, together.
I am especially proud of New Pluralists, a funder collaborative we helped launch this year. It’s an important early step in building the resources and capacity needed to fuel the culture change our country so desperately needs. Through New Pluralists, we have come together in shared commitment and with pooled resources to create the conditions for the growing pluralism field to thrive.
If we’re going to give progress a push, we must practice what we preach.
In New Pluralists, we’re partnering with an unlikely set of peer funders, modeling in philanthropy the norms and values we’re trying to spread. I’m inspired by the group of Field Builders we’re working closely with. Their varied backgrounds and beliefs will help ensure that New Pluralists is deeply informed and shaped by the field it’s seeking to strengthen. The diversity of views we’ve brought together is a hallmark of New Pluralists – and, something I am especially proud to be a part of through philanthropic collaboration.
The best kind of philanthropy is when there are multiple and mutual benefits.
In our 2018 lookback, we learned that how we work is as, if not more, important than what we do. We’ve learned that moving collaboratively allows for a different scale of impact than simply acting alone. That’s why “Collaborative” is in our name. Each of our strategies strives to put relationships at the center – to see process as integral to product, to recognize that impact is strengthened by the quality of relationships we build.
Across each of our strategies and embedded in our approach, we support solutions that benefit everyone involved, rooted in mutuality and relationship. Our Bonding work is effective because it focuses on the parent and the child. Our community-engaged learning work at Cornell makes a difference because it strengthens the skills and orientations of the student and benefits the community seeking solutions. Our work with New Pluralists is powerful because it enables shared commitment and joint action among the funders who are in collaboration with one another – which, in and of itself, is a good thing – and also directs resources, energy, and visibility to the field of pluralism and bridging divides. Our approach to grantmaking is purposefully collaborative and relational because it helps us see our blind spots, do more ambitious and creative work, and better serve our grantee partners.
We’re seeking to foster a world where human connection is recognized as vital to our individual and collective thriving and as instrumental to everything we do.
Below, our Bonding Lead Ira Hillman joins with CSSP Senior Fellow David Willis to share more information about the intended impact of our Reach Out and Read partnership, and our Building Lead Jonathan Gruber reflects on how to engage with different perspectives with humility and curiosity. Our Executive Director Jenn Hoos Rothberg writes for the Council on Foundations on the importance of building common ground in philanthropy, and we go Through the Prism with Amanda Ripley, whose latest book High Conflict advises on how we can engage in productive disagreement. In our resources below, you can learn more about the power of solutions-focused stories to help us cultivate learned hopefulness, how some political leaders are modeling civil bipartisan exchange, the connection between Christianity and pluralism, why cooperation is so difficult, and how to shape a positive story of tomorrow that transcends the divisions of today.
This monthly newsletter, which usually features reflections from Jenn, is also a marker of something new for us over the last year. We appreciate all of you who have let us know you've enjoyed it and hope you will forward it to others whom you think would, too. (You can give us feedback below.)
I’m feeling proud as I reflect on our first year as Einhorn Collaborative, and I’m hopeful for what lies ahead. We are fortunate to be in community with so many people doing such tremendous work.
Founder & Trustee, Einhorn Collaborative