December 11, 2008
President and CEO
The Atlantic Philanthropies
3:00 – 4:30 pm
Harvard Kennedy School, Bell Hall
(HKS Belfer Building, 5th Floor)
Gara LaMarche Discusses Foundations
in Policy Advocacy, Social Movements
December 12, 2008
By Laura Johnston, The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations
Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies, spoke Thursday (Dec. 11) about his belief that all foundations have the capacity to fund policy advocacy. He spoke at the New Leaders in Philanthropy Seminar Series sponsored by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.
“No matter what you do, if you are a foundation you need to be concerned about what the policy around it is,” said LaMarche. For instance, Atlantic Philanthropies is the biggest funder of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.
LaMarche took over as President and CEO at a unique point in the life cycle of the foundation. Guided by founder Charles Feeney’s approach of “giving while living,” the foundation is aiming to spend-down their remaining assets and endowment by 2016.
Consequently, LaMarche described the current strategy of the foundation as a combination of “strategic discipline and strategic opportunism”. The company is deepening focus in the areas where they have articulated strategic objectives and simultaneously putting more money into a venture fund that fits within the stated values of the foundation.
Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools and member of the audience at the event, asked LaMarche about how to sustain the energy of social movements - such as harnessing the successful community organizing of the Obama campaign - and how foundations can lead movements. LaMarche said “the challenge for any movement is to have a larger narrative…with points along the way.”
He explained that foundations are generally lagging indicators for social movements, and said: “Foundations have to recognize movement and help support it. They rarely move it.”
LaMarche has a background in human rights, social justice and democracy issues, having served as Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Institute (OSI), Associate Director of Human Rights Watch and in a variety of roles with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The seminar was part of a series of public conversations with new leaders in philanthropy led by Christopher Stone, Hauser Center faculty director and Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice.
Gara LaMarche Bio
Before joining Atlantic, LaMarche served as Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Institute (OSI), a foundation established by philanthropist George Soros. LaMarche joined OSI in 1996 to launch its U.S. Programs, which focuses on challenges to social justice and democracy.
LaMarche previously served as Associate Director of Human Rights Watch and Director of its Free Expression Project from 1990 to 1996. He was Director of the Freedom-to-Write Program of the PEN American Center from 1988 to 1990, when PEN played a leading role in campaigns to lift Iran’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie and challenged restrictions on arts funding in the United States.
He served in a variety of positions with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), with which he first became associated at age 18 as a member of its national Academic Freedom Committee. He was the Associate Director of the ACLU’s New York branch from 1979 to 1984 and the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas from 1984 to 1988. At the Texas ACLU, he led campaigns to provide adequate representation for death row inmates and oppose discriminatory treatment of persons with AIDS in the early days of the epidemic.
LaMarche is the author of numerous articles on human rights and social justice issues and is the editor of Speech and Equality: Do We Really Have to Choose? (New York University Press, 1996). He teaches a course in philanthropy and public policy at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, and was an adjunct professor at New School University and The John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
LaMarche serves on the boards of PEN American Center and The White House Project, as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Sundance Documentary Fund, and on the Leadership Council of Hispanics in Philanthropy.
A Westerly, R.I. native, LaMarche graduated from Columbia College in New York.