Jon Cartu Declared: The 2020 Philanthropic 50 – Washington Life Magazine - Jonathan Cartu Charity Foundation
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Jon Cartu Declared: The 2020 Philanthropic 50 – Washington Life Magazine

The 2020 Philanthropic 50 – Washington Life Magazine

Jon Cartu Declared: The 2020 Philanthropic 50 – Washington Life Magazine

With the number of philanthropists and philanthropic foundations in the area always on the increase, the annual task of compiling a list of 50 gets harder and more subjective. This year’s list focuses on philanthropy’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. How could it be otherwise? The country’s philanthropic sector, the biggest in the world, leapt into action. Foundations and non-profits adapted quickly to frightening new realities, showing themselves to be nimble, confident, proactive. As the Los Angeles Times put it, “Charity is off the charts.” 

Not so an incoherent, posturing Trump presidency, which for weeks pushed back against mounting evidence, and the advice of health specialists and intelligence agencies, and gambled with the lives of its citizens. 

In late May, however, things got much worse for the nation – and for Trump – when an unarmed black man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis. Within hours, the angry protests that erupted in cities across the country (and across the globe) demanding a racial reckoning were the largest, and in some cities the most destructive and violent, since the upheaval following Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. 

The black community was already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in crowded urban areas, and anger over Floyd’s killing quickly burgeoned into a mass protest against the societal, cultural and economic grievances of black Americans. 

Non-profits and philanthropic organizations in Washington regularly address these issues and were already doing so in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Greater Washington Community Foundation, a philanthropic facilitator for other charities in the area had set up a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. In 10 weeks, the fund attracted $7 million from foundations and individual givers. By mid-May, the foundation had received 740 requests for grants, and had paid out $4 million to 96 organizations.

“Philanthropy now faces a confluence of multiple crises at once: public health, economic, political, and cultural, and all with racial inequity as an underlying condition,” says Tonia Wellons, president of the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

The pandemic had widened the gap between the haves and have-nots. Thousands followed instructions and stayed home – but not the homeless. For distraction, those at home baked banana bread; but not those who couldn’t even afford to buy bananas. With schools closed there was home schooling, but not in neighborhoods without Wi-Fi. Telemedicine became widely available – to households with computers.

But the challenge of feeding hundreds of thousands of unemployed, of school kids and of other groups in need became logistically more complicated when relief workers had to contend with curfews, police barriers and surging crowds of demonstrators. And as two crisis situations requiring diametrically opposite actions – staying home and close human contact in public demonstrations – clashed, the danger of a second surge of COVID-19 cases raised alarm among experts. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said the demonstrations could become “super spreaders” of the coronavirus.

On the plus side, well before George Floyd’s death, the virus had also shown how far Americans will go to help one another. “If we don’t have a big explosion of empathy in this country or around the world now, I don’t know when we will,” says chef José Andrés, tireless supplier of food to the hungry. “All of a sudden we’re gonna be respectful to everyday Americans, because those everyday Americans are the heroes that kept America going.”

Countries with women leaders – New Zealand, Germany – did better at fighting the coronavirus than where the leadership was male. In the same vein perhaps, this year’s Philanthropy 50 includes a record number of women philanthropists in their own right – by no means gender parity in super-wealth. But still a sea change of sorts.


In a country incapable of feeding all of its citizens, an army of restaurant professionals across America has been filling a very large gap, preparing meals on a mass scale for the men, women and children who would otherwise be going hungry amid the pandemic. Leading the charge is José Andrés, celebrity chef and humanitarian, who has temporarily closed most of his high-end restaurants (except for takeout) to focus on his disaster relief organization, World Central Kitchen. Having served communities ravaged by disasters and hurricanes it has stepped in to provide millions of free meals daily in beleaguered New York and to offer logistical support to similar volunteer organizations. Andrés was also on hand to distribute meals at Maryland’s Camden Yards Sports Complex and has teamed up with the Washington Nationals to convert their baseball stadium into a giant community kitchen serving the nation’s capital. He is also leading a campaign to raise the level of federal funds help to the restaurant industry.“Restaurants in America are the DNA of a functioning America,” he recently told Anderson Cooper in a 60 Minutes interview. “We’ll not be an America as we know it if those restaurants don’t come back to be part of the American way of life … Every dollar that goes into a restaurant when you dine out, trickles down across the economy in a way that no other business does.”


Since the pandemic Adrienne Arsht has concentrated her giving on the art world where, she says, “unemployment is total. In the field of performing, with the theaters, arenas and concert halls closed, it’s staggering. I’m getting requests to donate to their out-of-work staff.” The dire need extends beyond performers themselves to the whole range of entertainment industry employees from make-up artists and stagehands to box office staff. According to Arsht, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Kennedy Center and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, are among the institutions that have started funds for their furloughed or laid off workers. But COVID-19 has not spared the visual arts either. “The Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] is writing to everybody,” Arsht says—“everybody” being moneyed patrons such as herself. She is a trustee of the Kennedy Center (where she gave $5 million for its recently opened The Reach extension) and Lincoln Center, where the stage at Alice Tully Hall bears her name in recognition of a $10 million contribution to its modernization. She put up $30 million to match a Rockefeller Foundation grant to the Atlantic Council, a leading Washington think tank, to create a Resilience Center, now in full operation, focusing on the development of skills to deal with hardship and bounce back from adversity. Arsht says her current challenge is self-distancing herself from her refrigerator, but she has clearly been doing a lot of thinking on the present crisis as well. She thinks the aftermath will require a different approach, and philanthropy should be ready to play a significant role in building “a future, based on what we learn.” That includes a significant improvement in air quality, an unintended consequence of the pandemic that has strengthened the climate change argument in favor of more action. “The existence of before and after pictures has really made the predictions about climate change quantifiable, and not just theories,” thus undermining the arguments of skeptics and non-believers. Arsht predicts a renascence of the arts in which the trauma of COVID-19 will be re-lived and scrutinized in novels, plays, movies, and even opera. “Instead of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ we’ll have ‘Covid Fan Tutte,’” she jokes, adding that philanthropists need to step up support for medical research in the United States to ensure that a repetition of the disastrous crisis becomes very remote. “A lot of money needs to be put into research for a new way to determine the DNA of a new virus a lot quicker than is…

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