Neill Coleman, Vice President of Global Communications of The Rockfeller Foundation
Neill Coleman participated as a speaker in the I Internacional Communications Day on Philanthropy organized by the Barrié Foundation in A Coruña (Spain). Neill McG. Coleman joined The Rockefeller Foundation in August 2012. As vice president, global communications, Neill leads the Foundation’s communications team in New York, Bangkok, and Nairobi. Neill sits on the Executive Team and oversees a multi-million dollar grant-making portfolio focused on leveraging the Foundation’s influence to build greater resilience and more inclusive economies. In this interview with ReSocial, he talks about the most important challenges of The Rockefeller Foundation and its main areas of focus.
The Rockefeller Foundation is funding very different projects and one of the most important is its investment in resilience and the 100 Resilient Cities’ project but, what are the most important challenges that the Foundation will face in the next few years?
We have really two areas of focus for our work. One is building greater resilience and the other is more inclusive economies. And we see those as the two sides of the same coin: a very dynamic and disruptive world. Resilience is about how can we help communities, cities, individuals be better prepared for and be able to withstand shocks and stresses (such as natural disasters or social unrest or a health epidemic), and being better able to respond to those. And then inclusive economies is really looking at the fact that is a lot of opportunity coming out of the dynamism in the world, but we need to make sure that opportunity is more broadly shared. This means giving more people access to technology, jobs and what they need to be able to participe in the economy.
Natural or manmade disasters are not new, but in Spain we have not heard a lot about resilience. Why is so important?
Obviously, I think responding to disasters, in one sense, is not new, but what we have seen is that these crises seem to becoming more often. Things like climate change are exacerbating both the severity and the frequency of these kind of events. The idea of the resilience approach is not just preparing for one type of shock, but taking a holistic view of how people can be prepared for anything. This is because we do not know what the next shock is going to be, so if the people of a city or region just had a severe flood event they obviously want to be ready if they get flooded again but they also want to be ready if they have a heat wave to face. So, building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events, both natural and manmade, and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.
The idea of the resilience approach is not just preparing for one type of shock, but taking a holistic view of how people can be prepared for anything
Your job is also working side by side with journalists. Do they think rich people just create foundations to improve their reputation or they really take into consideration what the foundations are doing?
I think there is a variety of motivations for why people get involved in philanthropy, but certainly I think one of the trends we have seen is there is a real desire to be able to prove and show impact on people’s lives and an increasing focus on data measurement of the impact of projects and initiatives. Obviously, not everything can be measured, but I think that taking that kind of disciplined approach and really looking at for example how people’s incomes and their housing conditions are being improved, are good guides to whether your philanthropy is having an impact.
Do you think that the Rockefeller Foundation is one of the most valued assets that the Rockefeller family has ever left to the society?
That is probably better for the Rockefeller family members to answer, but I think one thing we certainly see is that the association of John D. Rockefeller himself, and the Rockefeller family more broadly, with philanthropy is something that is a real asset to us. Our Foundation, some of the other foundations that the family started or Rockefeller University are names associated with giving and trying to make the world better. From a communications perspective, that brand and awareness of Rockefeller as a name associated with trying to achieve positive impact is a real benefit for us when we go out the world and talk what we are doing.
Read the interview in Spanish here.