Jenn Hoos Rothberg -

Sep 3, 2020

Welcome to the Relational Era

“To be real is to be vulnerable.”

—Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

Our moment of reflection and reimagination

Nearly twenty years ago, we were founded with the belief that to solve our greatest social problems, we needed to help people get along better.

Even then, we were witnessing disturbing trends in our society: growing feelings of isolation and loneliness, divisive politics, faltering social trust, and the breakdown of our public discourse. If we could just help people get along, we thought, then perhaps we had a chance to reverse course and harness what we have in common to reclaim a shared future.

And yet, despite the hard work and measurable progress made by our portfolio of partners, many of these dynamics just kept getting worse. Today, we are living in a culture that all too often reinforces just the opposite. A culture that stokes distrust and amplifies divisions. That fuels hyper-individualism and alienates us from ourselves and each other. A culture that creates a distorted sense of belonging for some of us by telling others they don’t belong.

While helping people get along better is a noble aspiration, the reality all around us forced a powerful moment of reckoning and a hard look in the mirror: why aren’t we getting along? What’s really going on? And ultimately, what problem are we trying to solve?

Through their thoughtful guidance and creative actions over the last decade, our grantees taught us that the notion of “helping people get along better” doesn’t do justice to what it takes to do the work on the ground or honor the systemic challenges we face as a nation. People don’t get along unless they feel seen, heard, and valued. And feeling seen, heard, and valued requires a depth of trust and relationship – of truly seeing, knowing, and caring for one another – that enables us to be our whole and best selves, individually and together.

When we start to see ourselves in others and recognize that our own humanity is a reflection of our shared humanity, that’s when we begin to shift from turning on one another to turning toward one another. This is true in every relationship, across every facet of our lives.

Our grantees also taught us there is science that proves it, structures that reinforce it, and stories that can show us the way. To create the change we seek, we learned that we had to focus on the health and strength of the relationships in people’s lives – not just on the well-being of individuals themselves.

This reality inspired our journey of reflection and reimagination, and a process of deep listening to the experiences of our partners and peers – seeking fundamental truths and transformational practices with the hope that we could better understand the root causes of the problems at hand, the role we could play in addressing them, and how we might help to create a more cohesive America together.

An emerging vision for change

What did we learn? Through many intimate conversations, inspiring collaborations, and generative experiments, we arrived at a simple yet profound truth: No matter who we are, how we live, or what we believe, we all share a deep, instinctual need and capacity for human connection and belonging. It’s at the core of our shared humanity — and baked into our DNA.

And today, as we navigate the realities of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and racial justice reckoning, we face a deeper challenge that lies at the heart of all others — a crisis of human connection.

All around us, more and more Americans are living in isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and fear.

And we are finally recognizing the widespread dehumanization and institutional racism that have shaped the power, policies, and systems in which we in philanthropy seek to advance social change.

The depth, speed, and scale of these challenges can seem overwhelming, and yet we cannot solve our nation’s most complex and urgent challenges unless we see, hear, and understand each other first.

Elevating the power of human connection

As we begin the next chapter of our work as Einhorn Collaborative, we are more dedicated than ever to the belief that human connection is foundational to our individual and collective thriving.

Because when we bring empathy, mutuality, vulnerability, and curiosity to our interactions, we feel seen, validated, and understood. We’re able to appreciate what makes us distinctive and what we have in common. Relationships become a source of sustenance, and differences our strength.

With this in mind, our new mission is to unite a wide range of community leaders, researchers, and cultural influencers in advancing the science and practice of empathy, mutual understanding, and relationship building — so we can rediscover our common humanity and solve our nation’s greatest challenges together.

To act on this mission, we will be focusing on three interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of human connection:

Bonding: Developing our capacity to form and maintain healthy relationships with a focus on establishing positive, resilient bonds and emotional connection between babies and parents from birth.

Bridging: Reinforcing our ability to understand ourselves and each other, and positively relate across difference, with a focus on providing young people with experiences that enable them to develop lifelong skills of perspective-taking and bridge-building.

Building: Elevating our collective story by helping Americans build a culture of connection and belonging, find common ground, and take action together to lift up our common humanity.

While the work of Bonding and Bridging is nurtured, developed, and practiced throughout every stage of life, we are focusing our efforts on high impact moments when people are most receptive to developing relationships that shape who they are and how they relate to others. 

And, if our society is to rediscover our shared values and find common purpose, we must make profound shifts in our collective attitudes, beliefs, and behavior — which will require cultural, structural, and institutional change over time. Because cultural change plays such an important role in shaping public will and creating the capacity to address systemic change, our Building work is designed to elevate the story of our shared humanity, the power of human connection, and a vision of the future that Americans can rebuild together.

By shining a light on the work that’s already underway across each of these strategies — and by integrating and deepening the science, stories, and practical tools of an emerging field of practice — we seek to help more people understand the power of human connection and feel motivated and equipped to solve our nation’s challenges together.

Collaborating for shared learning and impact

By design, collaboration is in our new name. It is at the heart of our mission, our method and our mandate. And, every day, we are inspired by an active and committed ecosystem of people and organizations already working toward these goals. And yet their ability to consistently connect and coordinate efforts, learn and experiment together, and pursue common strategies and aligned investment is challenging and just beginning to emerge.

We see a powerful opportunity to fuel the conditions for meaningful collaboration among these diverse and passionate actors — so we can harness our collective wisdom, lived experiences, and common goals and actions to generate better ideas and achieve more lasting outcomes.

Our new strategy is designed for peers and partners to collaborate and create impact together – listening, learning, and seeing the work in new ways. We are grounding our approach and aspirations for collaboration in the practice of Collective Impact, a body of research and process steps that guide authentic alignment, shared power, and more mutually beneficial results.

Welcome to the Relational Era

Just as the crisis of connection facing America today has many causes and has unfolded across many generations, it will take time to fully realize the change we seek. And while there's no one perfect answer or action, there's also no time to waste.

This is a moment to awaken our commitment to each other. To recognize the beauty, power and wisdom of relationship – of really seeing and knowing one another, in all of our exquisite and imperfect humanity. Because each one of us is responsible for all of us.

Across every generation, our ability to work together in common purpose has fueled our greatest achievements and safeguarded our progress in times of challenge and change. And yet, we know that if we are to do this work well, we must truly see and understand each other first.

All of us are part of one human story.

No matter who we are, we all seek a life of meaning, purpose, and belonging.

No matter where we’re from, we all need a core set of relationships to feel rooted, connected, and loved.

And no matter what we believe, we all share the ability to trust, empathize, and see one another as human beings.

Despite the disheartening current evidence to the contrary, we believe that the next chapter of our human story will be relational. Forged by our humility, our aspirations, and our actions, this future story is now ours to write. A new Relational Era is now ours to build.

We just need the light to see it.

The courage to seek it.

A community to share it.

And the stories to show it’s real.

Because when we take the time to listen, learn, and truly understand one another, we unlock new ways of seeing ourselves — and we can see our humanity shine in a new light.

Let’s get to work. Together.

To learn more about the new Einhorn Collaborative, what we are committed to, what we’re wondering about, and how you can join us in building a culture of connection and belonging in America, sign up for our upcoming webinar and community dialogue on October 22, 2020, 4-5:30pm ET. RSVP here.

Jenn Hoos Rothberg leads Einhorn Collaborative. Learn more about our work and more about Jenn. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and be the first to read Jenn’s blog posts.