Over the last four months of 2020, the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott exercised both voice and power by giving away more than $4 Billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Some of those philanthropic gifts addressed basic, immediate needs including emergency funds and food for the most vulnerable among us; other gifts addressed systemic inequities, heightened and/or brought to harsh light by the Coronavirus.
Striking in her actions is how she exercised voice and power. There were no ostentatious announcements; no press conference; no flurry of PR memos aimed at focusing attention on her generosity.
Indeed, many recipients revealed their own surprise on learning about the change-making gifts that came their way. None had applied for the grants. Scott had quietly mobilized a team of experts to look for good work already underway. The money she gave away was aimed at fueling the efforts of those 384 organizations; increasing their impact.
I’d been thinking about Scott’s audacious actions when I read a New York Times’ piece on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Netflix adaptation of August Wilson’s powerful play. In describing how he drew out the character of Ma Rainey, director George C. Wolfe explained, “If you were a Black woman, if you waited around for somebody to acknowledge your power it was never going to happen. So you had to claim your power.” And watching the Netflix production you see how Ma Rainey DID claim her power. In that same article, Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey, added, “I always say that if someone did a story about my life and they went to my husband and daughter, maybe talked to my mom, you’d still only get about 40% of me. The other part you have to get on your observations in life to get at what is driving that person. What are they living for?” The real Ma Rainey lived for independence and freedom; for the right to be in control of her music--and herself. George C. Wolfe and Viola Davis bring Rainey’s purpose to life and we see the power of her influence, the impact she had on the culture and the people around her.
MacKenzie Scott has little in common with the character of Ma Rainey: $34B makes “claiming one’s power” pretty easy. And to be sure the "struggle” of the privileged pales in contrast to the daily struggle of the not privileged.
But Scott still has something to teach us wherever one lands on the spectrum of privilege. What she is living for is laid out plainly in her blog announcing the grants.
“If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.” (Scott, 2020)
Sowing hope is what Scott is living for.
Over the next decade, women are projected to control over 70% of the nation’s wealth. This is an historically significant event--unfolding as women create, earn, and inherit wealth in a generational transition of assets and legacy. Few will control resources on the scale of Jeff Bezo’s ex-wife, but those who claim their power, exercise their voice, and use their assets--material and non-material--to fuel whatever they’re living for can have global impact on an unimaginable array of contemporary challenges: social justice; climate change; education, access to health and safety, food security, human rights, the sustainability of arts and culture; a smorgasbord of possibility.
Which brings me to this: What are you living for? How are you claiming your voice--and power? And to what end? And how are you nurturing the voice and power of the young women in your life? How will you influence the future and the nature of life in 2030?
As the new year—and this new decade-- is in its infancy we have a fresh chance to contribute--maybe not at the scale of MacKenzie Scott, but the cumulative effect of every citizen adding to the common good will matter.
Over the coming months the Institute for Family Success will be exploring how family members exercise voice, how we recognize what we are living for; how we put that drive to work--and what causes us to hold back on our voice; what prevents us from exercising our super-powers to make a difference. Stay tuned for our upcoming webinar on Voice, Money, and Power. And if you have questions, comments, and suggestion we’d love to hear from you.
More to come,
Joline Godfrey is CEO, The Unexpected Table, and author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids". She is part of the Hawthorn Institute for Family Success℠, which is dedicated to preparing families for their wealth. In this capacity, Joline develops and delivers a series of products and services for nurturing financially mindful children and thriving families.
Scott, M (2020, December 15) 384 Ways to Help, MacKenzie Scott, https://mackenzie-scott.medium.com/384-ways-to-help-45d0b9ac6ad8
Scott, O.A (2020, December 18) ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Review: All the Blues That’s Fit to Sing, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/movies/ma-raineys-black-bottom-review.html
Zakrewski, et al. (2020, April 9) Managing The Next Decade of Women’s Wealth, BCG, https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/managing-next-decade-women-wealth
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