Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen
A message from the Chair of PNY, Philip Li, President & CEO, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation; excerpted from his address to members at the PNY 37th Annual Meeting.

This was the first year of my two-year term as chair of Philanthropy New York’s board of directors.  And wow, what a year it has been, for both me and for PNY!

When Leisle Lin handed over the board chair reins to me at this meeting last year, she said that she was proud and excited about PNY’s future – and a little jealous that I would be chair as members got to see what we’d be doing in our new space at 1500 Broadway. I do feel very fortunate to have been chair in this extraordinarily dynamic time for PNY as it has made such a huge leap forward.

The idea that I want talk to you about is what makes great leaps possible: Leadership. 

As many of you know, I recently made a big leap forward myself. I moved from my role as COO of The Century Foundation to be president and CEO of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and I am helping the foundation implement its new focus on leadership and leadership development.  The Clark Board of Directors undertook a strategic review of the foundation’s mission and identified leadership as the area in which to do its work.  We will remain committed to our work on social justice by supporting, encouraging and investing in people and the nonprofit organizations that develop them in communities across the city. As I said when we announced this direction, from my experience, leadership development is one of the best ways to create leverage and drive impact.

So it is perhaps no surprise that I believe leadership is one of the major reasons Philanthropy New York has experienced such great success in recent years and why it is crucial to its future. 

Our members are essential to nearly every PNY accomplishment. Issue-based working groups – such as those on Education, Health, Women & Girls, and International Grantmaking – rely on the organizing and activities of members who make it happen. Staff provides a great deal of support, but member leaders serve on steering committees, drive the work forward, and provide essential intellectual contributions.  This is true of pretty much every committee or job-focused networking group. 

Philanthropy New York isn’t just the beneficiary of leadership, it is also an important developer of new leaders. Young and emerging leaders hone their skills in many of the groups, but perhaps no more impressively than in the Young Leaders Breakfast Club.  For those of you who aren’t aware of this group, it is a 10-month peer-to-peer networking and group-based mentoring program designed to support younger professionals in the philanthropic sector.  In each cycle, PNY accepts 40 to 60 members into the program and organizes “breakfast clubs” that each have three young leaders and one experienced leader who serves as the group’s mentor.  I have had the pleasure of serving as a YLBC mentor and I highly recommend the experience.  I can tell you that it is surely a 360-degree learning experience. I learned as much from my group as I hope I was able to share with them.

Leadership is interwoven into just about every element of Philanthropy New York’s work. Whether you are a program assistant, director, president or trustee, PNY provides innumerable opportunities to learn, network and grow.  This is an extraordinary time for PNY, and I couldn’t be prouder to be board chair for the coming year. 

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