Q&A with William Foster: make the world as good as we want it to be

Q&A with William Foster: make the world as good as we want it to be

// By Jacqueline Brennan

How can innovative nonprofit leaders convince philanthropists that their ideas to address the country’s toughest problems are worth a big bet? Find out during the Upswell workshop, “Becoming Big Bettable,” presented by William Foster, partner at The Bridgespan Group. William says civil society organizations have an incredible track record when it comes to advancing some of our country’s most profound changes. We caught up with William to learn more about that and to learn more about him, including the quote from his Jewish faith tradition that motivates his work.

Q: Time freezes for everyone but you for one day. What would you do?

WF: I would sneak down to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where my oldest child has just enrolled and see what actually his life is like.

Q: If you were president, what’s the first change you would make?

WF: I think the first change I would make would be to let the American public know I was there to represent all Americans, and let our foreign allies know I was there to work with them.

Q: What’s one thing that would help you do your job better?

WF: An additional dash of patience.

Q: What does it mean to live a good life?

WF: This is a pretty profound question and one I think about a lot actually. I think it means to use the limited time you’re given on this earth to leave things just a bit better for the next generation. There’s a quote that’s always motivated me that I’ve just shared with some of my own team members that I’ll share with you. I’m Jewish and it comes from my faith tradition. It comes from sort of a work called The Ethics of Our Fathers, and the quote is, “You’re not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I feel like it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the impossibility of making the world as good as we want it to be, but in a good life, you’ll never desist from the work, and moving it forward.

Q: What’s one thing that every person in the sector should know about?

WF: I think the one thing everybody should know is the incredible history of how civil society organizations have actually been the key actors in advancing some of the most profound changes to our law and culture and systems – from the civil rights movement to the origins of environmentalism to the solving of diseases. There’s a real track record of accomplishment.

Becoming Big Bettable is happening Thursday, November 14 from 4:15 – 5:30pm.

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