Interview with Kerry Alys Robinson
She comes from a family that has dedicated itself to helping the Catholic Church. She has been a consultant for charitable foundations and NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] since 1990.
Not everyone’s grandfather built the Empire State Building. Do you feel pride and responsibility?
I never knew him; John Raskob died before I was born. His dream was to create the tallest building in the world. He wondered how tall it could be without collapsing. Towards the end of the 1920s, he publicly announced that he would build it and finance it. Right after his announcement in 1929, Wall Street crashed. Nobody thought that John Raskob would continue with his plans, but for him, it was a question of personal integrity.
The project went forward, and thousands of people worked to make it possible. The skyscraper broke many records as it rose into the sky.
It went on to become one of the most iconic buildings in the world.
There’s something most people don’t know: it took 40 years for the building to reach full occupancy. Many people didn’t believe in the project, but John Raskob was a leader with great vision: he knew that he might not live to see all the results, and he knew that this difficult project would give courage to others.
The more a leader exercises his leadership, the more his perspective is broadened. A leader must be courageous, tenacious, and persuaded of his vision and his conviction, especially when others conspire against him and try to dissuade him.
I’ve always been amazed by the tenacity of visionaries who work to make a more just and charitable world. It’s not an activity for the weak of heart. Being committed is a matter of long-term vision. My best friend always tells me that, if you want to see immediate results in your work, you should paint houses.
Imagine the results that could be achieved by leaders who possessed this particular constellation of qualities: vision, courage, tenacity, and radical commitment to make this world better, more just, and more joyful.
How do you promote a culture of generosity around you?
We are misinterpreting the situation when we assume that philanthropy is an activity of the very rich. That leaves the rest of us out of the game. Actually, we are all called to live with authenticity, honesty, vulnerability and generosity, and faith plays a part in this. For Christianity, it is central that we discover our life by giving it first.
Generosity, altruism, compassion, empathy … These are all constitutive qualities of a life centered on Christ. Everyone has something to give to others. We commit a profound offense against the world and ourselves when we relegate philanthropy and charitable giving to the dominion of the most powerful.
Our Leadership Roundtable was created 12 years ago in the USA to strengthen the Catholic Church’s management, and to optimize the experience and intellectual skills of older lay persons whose leadership is influential. For us, the conviction that everyone has something to offer, and that we have to be generous and promote generosity in others, is central.
We have CEOs of businesses, men and women who are presidents of universities, financial leaders, directors of international NGOs, and powerful leaders in many sectors of industry, who come together to help the Catholic Church solve complex temporal challenges that it must face.
Much will be required of those to whom much has been given. Do you agree?
Not only do I agree; I think this is an important life maxim for all of us. Recognizing what we have received spurs us to be grateful and to value things. And the more grateful we are, the more we become magnanimous and happy. Generosity is a citizenship right of humanity.
You like responding to human suffering by being part of the solution. Is this an innate attitude for you?
Seventy years ago, our great-grandparents John and Helena Raskob established a private family foundation, with two intentions. They wanted the resources to be used exclusively to support activities, apostolates and ministries of the Catholic Church throughout the world, and they wanted their children and descendants to work for the foundation.
They had 13 children, one of whom—our grandfather—had 14 children. Our family has grown exponentially. When the members of my family turn 18 years old, we are invited to join the foundation, and we are now at the fifth generation. Participation is voluntary and unpaid, and it is understood as a serious commitment of time and involvement in the life of the Church.
There are nearly 100 members, all of whom are descendants of John and Helena. We visit the organizations that come to us, we review proposals … It’s an unusual privilege to serve the Church this way.
Our faith lives are more robust because we have the opportunity to meet and learn from very inspiring people—men, women, ordained ministers, religious, lay people—in a world broken by lack of hope. We can offer mercy, alleviate suffering, educate people, provide catechesis, advocate justice, promote peace, reduce poverty…
In other words, you feel privileged.
Our candidates are more than people or groups who deserve support; they are models. They restore our faith in the Church and in humanity. It is a humble privilege to play this role in their lives.
The idea of being part of the solution arises from a feeling of belonging and responsibility. When the sexual abuse crisis in the Church was revealed, many active Catholics, including me, felt the moral obligation to do whatever might be necessary to help heal wounds and favor reconciliation, and we appealed to the Church to achieve a greater level of responsibility, transparency, and ethics, and to recompense victims. Not doing anything is the same as being an accomplice.
My faith moves me to be a beneficent presence in the world—a catalyst to inspire hope, generosity, and participation; and promoting justice and the common good is a profound motivation to be in the world in a meaningful way.
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