Pluralism is Here and Now - groups of people standing outside of a city that is glowing

Pluralism is Here and Now

Pluralism is Here and Now

by Uma Viswanathan

New Pluralists Executive Director on Her Vision for 2024

Just a few weeks ago in early April, 140 university leaders gathered in Washington, DC, to discuss how to foster pluralism on campuses. The American Association of Colleges & Universities partnered with New Pluralists Field Builder Interfaith America to host a conference to support and inspire campus leaders who are navigating division and animosity on their campuses to embrace pluralism. Like Interfaith America, pluralism field leaders like Constructive Dialogue Institute and Moral Courage are responding to high demand from university leaders seeking solutions to rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, student conflicts over the Israel-Hamas war, and fractious debates about free speech and diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We need pluralism because we will have to inhabit the other’s point of view at some point for our own survival,” shared Laurie Patton, President of Middlebury College.

Since I took on my role as executive director of New Pluralists just three years ago, the demand and opportunities for pluralism have exponentially risen, and not just on university campuses. Governor Spencer Cox (R-UT) is inspiring governors across the aisle to step up as leaders and Disagree Better as Chair of the National Governors Association.

In philanthropic circles and the sectors, communities, geographies, and institutions they support, it’s becoming clear: Learning how to navigate our differences, heal our past, and move forward together is the most essential task facing our country today. Now is the time to renew our faith in pluralism and build the skill and will to embed it into our society for generations to come.

This year, New Pluralists is forging a transformational path

Since our founding in 2021, New Pluralists has been learning by doing: actively testing whether people have an appetite for pluralism, how to conceptualize it and express it, and how we might advance it together. We have raised and invested more than $30M in grants to strengthen networks and build momentum among a vast and varied set of field practitioners, researchers, storytellers, and innovators. This includes our most recent round of grants in January 2024. Alongside our growing field, we’ve examined systemic barriers and accelerators for pluralism, gaining insights to shape our strategies for the present and future.

Our journey so far has revealed a crucial insight: there isn’t one right way to bring pluralism to life in our culture. It is both a means – to effectively solve almost any problem – and an end – vital for the peace, health, and stability of any group and our democracy. There is no singular pluralistic intervention that will fix America. Rather, pluralism flourishes when its practices and narratives match the unique contexts and needs of diverse communities, institutions, and sectors.

Where does this leave New Pluralists? Since we began our journey with a few visionary funders, the philanthropic community is no longer asking if pluralism matters but rather how they can be part of this with us. New and complementary philanthropic efforts are rising up. Countless nonprofit and community leaders are courageously working to heal divides. Their leadership and this momentum matter, and we are eager to define our unique role and find the right way to channel and support it. As we trace the next arc of our work, we are making hard choices to sharpen our vision for the future.

Here’s what role you can play in our work this year:

  • Join the collective action of field leaders and funders to build and advance on pathways to peace in 2024 and beyond. We are focused on supporting communities of action and network engagements of field leaders to ensure the field can partner with funders to seize catalytic opportunities in 2024. Funders are partnering to meet the needs of field leaders who are showing up in transformational ways and championing their work. New Pluralists is helping showcase the incredible work of practitioners. If you are a funder attending the Council on Foundations conference in Chicago, reach out. We’d love to introduce you to several of the groups that are leading the charge and have benefited from our support.
  • Map our future. Over the next six months, New Pluralists is articulating and aligning around a “compass” – our vision, role, and design for bold, wise, and catalytic impact. The compass will build off three years of strategic work and integrate insights from our ongoing investments, relationships, and actions. It will guide our commitments, partnerships, and programmatic choices over the next five years and enable us to raise and deploy our next $60M toward transformational impact. Therefore, we won’t be making significant new grants during this time. We are co-creating this compass with our funders and field, continuing the momentum we’ve built and invigorating investment with our current funders and new ones.
  • Share our insights and elevate field stories. Our learning themes for the year are being driven by these three questions: What do we understand about the current state of pluralism in the US? What makes pluralism flourish in local and digital communities? And, why does pluralism matter at this moment? These questions will guide New Pluralists as we surface insights from our work and mirror back trends that can be hard to see when you are deep in the work. Our goal is to help you take smart action now. Stay tuned for stories of our Healing Starts Here grantees, opportunities to connect research to practice, and an ecosystem assessment that will help us all better understand the opportunity before us. Help us by harnessing and engaging with a treasure trove of pluralist practices, research, and stories that our field has generated across diverse communities, sectors, and settings.

As we enter this next era of our journey together, our dynamic culture will bring new conflicts and challenges. We will be tested. We will need to trust each other enough to push back, to examine our own biases and assumptions, and to let go without withdrawing. We’ll need to proactively seek out the beauty and strength of our diverse perspectives, modes, and ways of expressing our voice and power. For our growing ecosystem of practitioners, storytellers, innovators, and funders, forging ahead together is among the most revolutionary things we can choose to do.

We invite you to be brave and commit to the promise of pluralism.