Reimagining Learning (From This Moment and With Each Other)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reimagining Learning (From This Moment and With Each Other)
By: Yi-Ching Lin, Senior Director, Learning Services, Philanthropy New York.

As a classically trained musician and artist, there is no better lesson than deciding on what to let go of, what to hold onto, and what to create and co-create with the audience. 

In performance, I aim for that zone where I can let my fingers become intimate with the piano keys and allow my brain to let go of the memory of the notes on the page. In photography, I learn time and time again that some of the best creations can come unexpectedly, when I’ve let go of framing the subject perfectly, or even let go of the subject completely!

I am grateful to bring these daily practices to our work this year.

We are in the midst of deep adaptation. At Philanthropy New York, alongside members and partners, we openly accept new ways to work and respond to our new realities. These new realities bring a host of unknowns but through it all we are willing to ask ourselves: What can we let go of? What should we keep? And what do we want to co-create together with our community?

Let Go of… only one right way
The racial justice uprisings, coupled with the pandemic, offer each of us, individually and collectively, the challenge and opportunity of radically reimagining how we build community, approach learning, and do our work in service of justice. Last December, when we set about revisiting and updating PNY’s core values, little did we know that we would face that same challenge and opportunity to lean into them as we made daily decisions in adjusting to our multiple crises.

We ventured into September with a spirit of experimentation. We were reminded that among Tema Okun’s Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, “only one right way” of doing things has never served us. And instead, we needed to be flexible. We had to adapt in order to experience the value of multiple ways of learning and being in community with one another. 

From curating Racial Equity Resources to offering post-program recaps like Humanizing Immigration, we are reshaping learning in the virtual space so that you can engage on your own time between checking in on loved ones and/or getting the children settled into their remote schooling. 

On an organizational level, we realized that our history of mostly in-person programming shaped our assumptions about how to design and offer programming. We’ve had to ask ourselves: In what ways do we need to update our processes and update our thinking? How do we rebuild with an equity lens, examining the ways the characteristics of white dominant culture can show up in our work (e.g., perfectionism, either/or thinking, sense of urgency)?

Keep… more reflective practice
Since the pandemic hit our region, PNY has hosted or co-hosted 219 virtual convenings for and with our members. Leading and co-leading these sessions was like going to the gym. We quickly recognized that the tools for great virtual facilitation were with us all along, and the virtual space was encouraging us, requiring us to exercise them daily. 

Fittingly, we found that in order to build on the strength of the PNY community, we needed to lean into multi-directional engagements – less webinars, and more participatory meetings. Less “talking heads,” and more valuing the experience and wisdom members contribute to the conversation. Less agenda-focused, and more human-focused for us to deepen our reflective practice of examining what we are doing, why we are doing it, and our impact on our community, on our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) colleagues and leaders, and on society at large.

So when you look ahead at our upcoming programs, what you can expect are more opportunities to participate, to reflect with one another, and to be open to multiple ways of learning and growing.

From our perennial PNY Core favorites to our new series on Power, Culture, and Difficult Conversations, we will continue to facilitate breakouts for meaningful and reflective discussions, which have always been linked to deeper learning and the strengthening of new skills. 

We continue to host our networks (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and HR Staff) and issue-based working groups so that they can share real-time information, pool resources, and coordinate work. We create these spaces to ensure that funders are part of an interdependent, robust, collaborative learning community. If you are not already connected to your network or working group and would like to join, please email us at to inquire.

Co-Create… a space for shared power
I heard a PNY member, Edgar Villanueva, share recently, “One of the questions I try to ask myself every day is: What can I do to make sure that everyone feels powerful?” This framing stays with me as I approach our virtual time together – how can we co-create a space to build power together? That is, we recognize PNY’s role as a convener to set the table, and we turn to you and ask: How are you bringing your power to the table? 

The virtual space structurally creates and invites distance. How do we co-create a space that minimizes the distance and allows you to bring your power into the room? From soliciting your reflections over chat or shared online docs to facilitating pair-shares so that everyone lends their voice, we encourage you to exercise your influence so that together, we can enact the change we wish to see in the world. 

What are you letting go of, keeping, or creating?
The truth is, PNY was better able to respond to the needs of our community virtually based on the strength of the bonds we’ve built with one another in-person. From our most recent time spent virtually together, I feel confident that we can rely on one another for the same level of participation and engagement in the months to come. 

Register, attend, and participate. And as we experiment with multiple ways to engage you in your long-term growth, please continue to give us grace in return, and explore stepping into discomfort with us, for that is the reason we have grown and learned so much these past seven months.

Be bold and willing with us. What is philanthropy letting go of, keeping, or creating? 

Tap into your inner artist! What does that look like for you?

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