Welcome Oxbridge Students – Government and Philanthropy

Hello students from Oxbridge Academy!

I can’t wait to meet you and your parents at orientation next week.

Since you will be integrating the Main Street Philanthropy Program into a government class, I thought I might share some interesting connections between philanthropy and government throughout the history of the United States.

Think back to the government shutdown of last year. You may remember stories of government workers on furlough and closures of national parks and monuments like the Statue of Liberty. You may not have heard of this Texan couple, John and Laura Arnold.

arnoldsThe Arnolds donated $10 million to prevent Head Start programs from shutting down. Head Start is a popular government program that dates back to the 1960s. Designed to help poor children prepare for elementary school, Head Start provides early education, health and nutrition services to parents and kids.

This move was an interesting reversal of the more common relationship between government and philanthropy in which an entrepreneurial philanthropist catalyzes a change that government decides is too valuable not to adopt and support.

Bill Gates has said the the role of philanthropy is to get things started, and this is especially true in its relationship to government.

In the late 1800s a poor boy from Scotland was working as a bobbin boy in a textile mill in Pennsylvania. The boy was determined to educate himself, but his requests to access the public library were turned dAndrew_Carnegie,_three-quarter_length_portrait,_seated,_facing_slightly_left,_1913-cropown. The boy – Andrew Carnegie – could not afford the $2 membership fee. This story planted the seed for Carnegie’s catalytic philanthropy.

Carnegie would live to start many things in his life. Although he amassed a great fortune from his steel empire, he declared “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie was a fervent believer in helping the poor help themselves. The 1, 689 libraries he built were free to the public, designed to be tool for self-betterment he was denied as a boy. A revolutionary idea for its time, and one that state federal governments now fund.



Ok, one more story…

In the 1950s a wealthy engineer named John Dorr and his wife changed the face of American roads and saved thousands of drivers from deadly accidents.

In those days, highways had only a painted line down the middle of the road. As a result, drivers drove much like I did when I first got my permit: hugging the center line for fear they would veer off into a ditch. A dangerous pattern that often resulted in collisions.

One night Dorr’s wife wondered aloud why the roads didn’t have lines on the outside. Wouldn’t creating driving lanes reduce accidents? Dorr liked the idea and pitched it to highway commissioners in New York and Connecticut. He spent years funding studies to show that the expense of painting additional lines on roads would result in lives saved and advocating for driving lanes. The rest is history.

Now the vast majority of us drive on roads with clearly painted lanes – and we have an engineer philanthropist and his wife to thank for it!

So what do you think? Should government and philanthropists work together? How and in what arenas?

Here’s to a lively conversation!