Coming Together Among a Growing Divide

Coming Together Among a Growing Divide

I’m sure many of you are eager to see the end of what has been one of the most vicious, divisive political campaigns in many decades. While the end is nearly in sight, it may be wishful thinking that the intense partisanship and division of last 18 months will disappear in the wake of November 8.

I frequently urge audiences, particularly audiences of younger voters, to think about what the role of government should be. But it is also important that we reflect on the role of other institutions as we move ahead collectively as a country post-election. In a recent interview, David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, observed “I happen to think we are now in a culture that’s over-politicized and under-moralized.” I think he means that we need to rely on our religious, educational, and philanthropic institutions to combat the political dialogue that makes it seem we have less in common than we do. It is often these non-political, non-government institutions that can help us find common ground.

In one of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s (SMIF) 30 interviews conducted for our 30th anniversary, former Board Chair Jean Burkhardt of Welcome reflected: “Someone once described foundations as society’s passing lane. They are able to see things that need to be fixed or enhanced and can take immediate action.” I think that is because these neutral, common sense-based entities help unite us. The world of politics is too often about division and disagreement. In the foundation world, our mantra is collaboration. We are about getting things done rather than pointing fingers and placing blame.

This month, SMIF celebrated its 30th anniversary at our Annual Luncheon and Open House. At the luncheon, I announced the Foundation’s new brand, emphasizing something that has always been in SMIF’s DNA: collaboration. Since 1986, SMIF has actively worked for regional vitality by relying on our region’s innate understanding that more can happen together. Neighbors help neighbors, businesses invest in their communities and individuals give back to a place they love through time and money.

At the Board Alumni gathering that was also part of our 30th celebration, founding board member Denis Warta of New Ulm stated “We've been plowing the ground for 30 years, and the new logo makes sense to me showing that there is new growth in our region because of the work of SMIF and its partners."

SMIF can point to many ways that this collaborative approach produces larger-scale outcomes. Last week, the Grow a Farmer Fund – a partnership of the FEAST Local Food Network, Slow Money Minnesota, Renewing the Countryside and many others – brought together more than 200 donors to raise $25,000. This fund will deepen SMIF’s ability to invest in the region’s local foods system by providing flexible, low-cost financing for small-scale farmers. With this latest fundraising effort, SMIF and partners now have roughly $85,000 in the Grow a Farmer Fund.

Over the years, one of SMIF’s most successful collaborative initiatives has been the seeding and supporting of new community foundations (now 26) to enable communities to retain philanthropic dollars at a local level and invest in new community projects. Another collaborative success is forming 23 Early Childhood Initiatives (ECI), which are cross-sector coalitions intended to address early childhood needs within communities. At the Annual Luncheon, I announced $300,000 in Community Collaboration Grants available to these community foundations and ECIs to either initiative or deepen a collaborative project.

I do want to acknowledge that the work of collaboration is not always easy. But collaboration moves us toward solutions and progress by seeking common ground, leveraging resources and building on assets. That is why I am proud to announce SMIF’s new tagline: “Collaborating for Regional Vitality.”

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

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