Here, Maria Mottola from the New York Foundation, discusses philanthropy’s role in helping people to better understand the challenges facing a specific group of Americans and the importance of firsthand experience in creating mutual understanding. – Kelly
Philanthropy NY: Convening for Change
When a Sufi Muslim group announced plans to construct an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center in 2010, New Yorkers had front-row seats to witness the strong reactions elicited from some segments of the public.
Instead of standing on the sidelines, we knew philanthropy had an important and valuable role to play in helping people better understand American Muslims.
Philanthropy New York, with a powerful coalition of other philanthropic entities, built programs that would do just that; our first was Understanding Muslim America—a panel of prominent city leaders and experts on Muslim culture that spoke about the challenges facing the community and opportunities to find common ground.
As a member of Philanthropy New York, the New York Foundation partnered with the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, the New York Community Trust, and several colleagues to host a highly successful listening and learning tour later that year. The tour brought together foundation staff, civic leaders, and community-based Muslim organizations to show how Muslims in New York have approached social service delivery, civic engagement, and community organizing.
In addition to helping change the way people understood and interacted with American Muslims, we benefited from the exercise ourselves. Had we not gotten out of the conference room and into the neighborhoods, we would not have seen just how diverse these communities are.