Board Notes: Generations Carry on Founder’s Vision

without disaster

Andrew Carnegie was a man of mighty visions, and he acted on those visions in a way few men have.

He died 100 years ago, and on this centennial anniversary we celebrate the breadth, scale, and thoughtfulness of his work building institution that support civil society around the world.

Andrew Carnegie could not make these dreams come true on his own. His dreams were grand enough to require both numbers and generations to carry them to fruition.

In the words of my old school song,

A thousand hands have labored long
Mighty visions to fulfill,
To shape a dream, to ‘stablish strong
This our city on The Hill

Perhaps the greatest testament to the continuing strength and vibrancy of Carnegie’s visions is the number and quality of the people who, even today, devote their lives to realizing his vision of a “city on a hill.”

Knowing them has been one of the great rewards of my association with the Carnegie Hero Fund. (The greatest reward, of course, has been knowing some of our heroes!)

They lead and work in the twenty-odd Carnegie organizations that even today make Carnegie’s visions a reality.

I’d love to write profiles on so many of them, beginning with every single member of the Hero Fund’s doughty staff. (To that staff: watch out, someday I might do it!)

For today, let me focus on just two. I wish Andrew Carnegie could meet Vartan Gregorian — and that I could be in the room when he did.

Gregorian leads the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the last and largest of Carnegie’s philanthropic projects. His position is central to the Carnegie project, and I think Andrew Carnegie would be most pleased with the man in the position.

Gregorian is a product of the Armenian community in Tabriz, Iran, who become a formidable American intellectual and leader.

He taught at a number of universities before coming to the University of Pennsylvania, where he became the Provost, or chief academic officer of the University.

From there he went to the New York Public Library, where he engineered a celebrated turnaround of an important but declining institution.

He served as president of Brown University, then in 1997 became the 12th president of Carnegie Corp.

Gregorian has used his position, combined with his vision and intellect, to revitalized the world of the Carnegie philanthropies and to build a common understanding of our Carnegie heritage.

In 2001 he gathered the Carnegie organizations to create the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, with great positive effect on the Carnegie “brand.”

His action had a side effect which may prove just as important. The Medal of Philanthropy brought the Carnegie organizations together on a regular basis, something that had not happened before.

This has strengthened the Carnegie culture within the organization, which has in turn added to the vitality and resilience of many of them. Gregorian daily deals with the great names of culture, business and academia, but he has also been very helpful to the smallest of the Carnegie organizations.

Andrew would smile at his work. Gregorian makes the rest of us smile, as well.

From Vartan Gregorian let’s turn to a young woman in her early twenties who might be the newest and most junior associate of the Carnegie organizations world-wide.

Anna joined the Carnegie Hero Fund a few weeks ago as a volunteer summer intern.

Anna hopes to gain some experience relevant to the communications degree she will earn next year, but she was also attracted by the Hero Fund’s mission and by the heroes themselves. But with just a few days on the job, she picked up a sense of the “Carnegieness” of the organization. She was spotted in an idle moment at home working on a sketch of Andrew Carnegie.

And so it goes. As the years go by, new hands join the thousands working to keep the Carnegie vision real and relevant. As the next few lines of that song go,

In those fair visions we believe
What years have builded we receive,
And ours shall be the charge to leave
Our high honor higher still.

— Mark Laskow, Chair Carnegie Hero Fund Commission