Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.
New York City has everything, just like this bagel. Yum! The secret, as they say, is in the water. And water, as they say, is life.
But there’s a hole in the bagel, dear Liza, dear Liza.
When I first came to NYC, still wet behind the ears and tasked with helping distribute money from Deutsche Bank’s foundation, I was sent to meetings. Lots of meetings. Very interesting meetings, where the community development banking luminaries of the day would hold court: Carol Parry, Phyllis Rosenbloom, Mark Willis, Marc Jahr, Bob Rosenbloom, Michael Feller, Greg King, Hildy Simmons, Gary Hattem. Or other meetings, where the United Way, Ford or Rockefeller called the tune, and the jolly members of NYRAG would troop in to talk about the inner workings of domestic microfinance, workforce development, educational reform, financial literacy, homeownership, arts and economic development, you name it. There was a palpable core of philanthropic leadership really focused on the challenges of the city, and they held significant mass. Their effect was gravitational: where they led, others followed. They drove discussion, led thinking, catalyzed partnerships, commanded attention. You may not have loved what they thought, or how they went about things, but their presence was manifest, and their impact was broad.
New York City still has the strongest and most vibrant philanthropic community in the country. It’s still provides enormous leadership in social investment strategies, community development finance, building public / private partnerships, and program innovation. But something has changed. Over the years, there’s been a growing vacancy in the focus on New York City itself: on its systems, challenges, nonprofit leaders, and neighborhoods.
In short, despite the incredible presence of philanthropic leadership and resource, the attention has moved elsewhere. I’m not sure that most folks have even noticed. It’s been a creeping drift, a steady ebb. A spreading hole in the center of our little everything bagel universe.