Vivek Ramaswamy calls himself a proud father, a loyal husband, and a grateful son. His parents emigrated to America from India. A Hindu, he made his mark as a successful biotech entrepreneur.
Ramaswamy has joined forces with the Philanthropy Roundtable to narrate a compelling video as part of the organization’s True Diversity campaign—pushing back against the left’s narrow and divisive view of diversity and inclusion.
Debi Ghate, vice president of strategy and programs at the Philanthropy Roundtable and host of the “Can We Talk About It?” podcast, joins me on “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the real meaning of diversity.
“At the Roundtable, we believe an individualized approach is better for achieving true diversity,” Ghate says. “What we mean by that is looking for the strengths that each person brings to the table, their values, their passions, their experiences, their background, their skills, and even more.”
Listen to the full episode or read a lightly edited transcript of the interview below.
Rob Bluey: Let’s get started. Tell our listeners more about True Diversity and why the Philanthropy Roundtable embarked on this project.
Debi Ghate: Sure, and thank you for your interest in this. Yes, at the Philanthropy Roundtable, we have launched a new campaign called True Diversity. You can look it up at true-diversity.com. Our tagline for that campaign is, “I am more than what you see.”
Now, why did we launch this? We really think that there is more than one way to think about diversity.
In general, the sector that I work in, the philanthropic sector, it’s taking and expecting colleagues in the sector to view groups, identity through groups. So it’s taking a group-based approach to supporting people and communities. They are doing the checklist approach, classifying people by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and this is increasing in volume and in quantity.
The problem with this approach, of course, is that it brushes everyone with the same brush. People are stamped with one of those labels. The reality is that people with one of those labels just don’t think the same way. They don’t have the same experiences. They don’t share the same goals or the same values. They may not even be facing the same problems. So one solution is not going to work for everyone.
That’s why at the Roundtable, we believe an individualized approach is better for achieving true diversity. What we mean by that is looking for the strengths that each person brings to the table, their values, their passions, their experiences, their background, their skills, and even more. When we get to combine all of those ingredients together, that’s how we get new and better ways to solve the complex social problems we are looking to solve for in our communities through philanthropy.
But Rob, I want to make one thing really clear: We all want to fight racism. I’ll be honest with you, I personally have experienced racism. It is awful and it exists. So I want to be really clear about that. But we also want everyone to have equality of opportunity. We want everyone to have the chance to flourish and thrive.
I believe we have the same important things in common with others in our sector when we think about it that way. So bottom line is for us, True Diversity is important for achieving these shared goals.
My concern is that by focusing on group identities, rather than on individuals, this is taking us down a road in the philanthropic sector where we are creating new forms of discrimination. We are looking to solve long-standing problems by, unfortunately, creating new ones. So that’s why we launched the campaign. I can say more about the goals of it and what we’re doing.
Bluey: With True Diversity, you mentioned that you really want to celebrate the identities and characteristics of every individual. In many ways, it reminds me of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, where he talked about judging people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. But in today’s society, it seems that we’re moving in that opposite direction. How has the campaign been received by the philanthropic sector, and what’s some of the reaction you’ve had since launching?
Ghate: Honestly, when we put up the campaign—there are five principles that you’ll see there and I’m happy to talk about those—we thought these must be principles that most people can get behind.
The reaction has been interesting. Within the sector, there have been some strong reactions against what we have described as being true diversity, but we also had a lot of support. The reality is that many people are reaching out to us to express their agreement, to share their concerns, to thank us for starting the campaign.
We know we’re actually not alone in our viewpoint within the sector. This includes people who have been long-standing progressives, who are finding that suddenly within the sector, they themselves are being shut out after being longtime proponents of progressive approaches.
Here’s the thing. They’re also all afraid to speak up and they are feeling discouraged. So the reason they contact us quietly is because of that fear.
Now, we want to help these people in our sector find their voices. One of our goals is to help amplify voices in the sector who are raising the question of, “Is diversity something we can see?” And we want to help create a vibrant community that welcomes those different perspectives. So I would say the reaction has been mixed, but we have definitely heard from many, many more people in support, but it has been quiet.
Bluey: I do want you to cover the five principles of true diversity. Can you walk us through the five and why you identified them?
Ghate: Yes, absolutely, because we really believe that the heart of true diversity is in these five principles. They’re pretty simple. The first is to value each person, each individual, get to know them. You are unique, Rob. I am unique. We are all unique.
Second, in our sector, nonprofits operate on missions. You work at a nonprofit, it operates on a mission. We need to appreciate those missions and the problems they are looking to solve and the communities that they help. Those are the people who know how best to solve those problems, and this is how we get the best results. So appreciate the missions.
The third is we really do need diverse perspectives. We need multiple takes on a problem. We need to bring those different backgrounds to the table so that we can identify new ways of solving old, long-standing problems.
Fourth, we really need to embrace conversation and discussion. This tendency for us to be quiet about it is something that we hope people will overcome. We need to embrace conversations so we can seek those better solutions.
Then finally, and this is really core to what the Roundtable believes in, we believe we need to help foster self-reliance. That is ultimately what will help uplift communities.
So those are the five principles, Rob, and we’re excited to stand by them, and we hope … that they resonate with people and that others can identify with our principles for true diversity.
Bluey: We recently had your president and CEO, Elise Westhoff, not only at The Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank Meeting, but also on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” She talked about personal responsibility and some of the other principles that go into the mission of the Philanthropy Roundtable. We’re so appreciative of the work that you’re doing to connect that to the philanthropic sector.
Let’s delve a little bit deeper into some of these initiatives. We live at a time when it seems that so many individuals are opportunists. In some cases, they are attempting to advance this divisive agenda based on identity-based approaches in so many aspects of our life.
You mentioned in Principle No. 4 encouraging debate and discussion. What are some of the ways you’re looking to get the philanthropic sector engaged in that conversation in a way that can be open and encouraging as opposed to people having to quietly whisper about these things behind the scenes?
Ghate: That’s such a great question, Rob. I wish I could say we had it all figured out, but we don’t. We’re working on it. First, I’ll say that it’s important to remember that this has been an issue that … has been in the philanthropic sector for decades.
One of your colleagues, Mike Gonzalez, has done a great job of explaining the relationship between philanthropy and group identity politics. Mike has been a great source of information for me to help me make that connection in the sector.
The other thing is to remember that philanthropy actually affects many other sectors—business, arts, education, etc. It’s very influential. The grants they make make possible the work in other sectors. So in a way, it all starts with philanthropy because of spillover to those other sectors. That’s why we think it’s very, very important to start the conversation within the philanthropic sector.
It’s not a complicated strategy, honestly. We are having conversations. You may have noticed that the Roundtable is speaking up more. We have been visible in the media. We have been visible through programming. We do a number of webinars and we host conversations. We also, as you mentioned, have a podcast called “Can We Talk About It?” Ultimately, all of these efforts are to help raise the question about whether there are other ways of thinking about diversity, and if so, let’s talk about it.
We have had many discussions with colleagues in the sector, some of whom have very different perspectives from ours. Some of those conversations go well, some of those conversations go less well. I think ultimately, there are people in our sector who genuinely want to understand our perspective and we genuinely want to understand theirs. That’s where the conversation has been. All you need is a starting point, right Rob?
Bluey: That’s right.
Ghate: So we have started there.
Bluey: You’ve talked about the importance of having that conversation. Yet we live in a time when it seems that—whether it be the news media, whether it be government institutions, schools—so many factors in all of our lives are driving us more toward identity politics or critical race theory.
It’s encouraging to see so many Americans educating themselves and learning more about these topics. One of the things that’s really struck me in a comment that you made earlier was about equality of opportunity. We’ve heard the phrase equity a lot lately in so many different contexts. Can you explain why you value that equality of opportunity so much when it comes to all aspects of American life?
Ghate: I do believe in the power of individuals and that communities are made up of individuals. I also believe that we are lucky enough to live in a country that has a legal framework and a set of founding principles that allow for the promise of every individual to be reached. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. I don’t think anyone says we are perfect. But we have the framework that allows for individuals to actually flourish if we can fully realize that framework.
Where philanthropy comes in is philanthropy is seeking to help communities go from where they are now to where we think communities can be, which is in a much better place and flourishing. Philanthropy naturally has different ways of approaching that problem.
For us, we want to look at what are the barriers that are in the way of people … that are keeping them from actually accessing the opportunities that are in front of them? In a lot of cases, those are government-created barriers. So one of the things that we think is very important is to focus on pathways to opportunity. To find where those government-created barriers are and to help get those out of the way.
At the same time, though, we believe in strong communities with neighbor helping neighbor. It’s not enough to just have the pathways. We have to have strong communities on the ground. So philanthropy also comes alongside individuals in those communities and helps them, provides the resources to help them solve problems on the ground that they are facing.
Those are two ways that philanthropy and equality of opportunity intersect. It ultimately comes from a belief that individuals can flourish, and that we have a framework that if we can realize the promise of, we’d be in an amazing free society.
Bluey: You mentioned earlier in the conversation that some organizations take a checklist approach, and we’ve all seen that. What do you think is driving that and how do we move away from that model? Do you think it’s just a fad that we’re in right now, or are there other factors influencing these philanthropic organizations to move in that direction?
Ghate: I don’t think it’s just a fad that started right now. In a sense, if you think about it, there have been some reasons why the checklist approach started.
I was recently in a webinar with some business school professors. One of the points that they made is that there are some legal requirements and some grant-related requirements when you’re receiving money from the government that requires them to actually access this information, demographic information. So some of this started with some of the legal environment and legal requirements that people have.
Now, from there, you layer on this very well-motivated and well-intentioned desire to help more people realize their potential. OK, so now you’re starting to take what was a legal environment and what seems like a way to combat racism and you’re running wild with it.
So some of the checklist stuff actually started because of affirmative action efforts and some of the requirements that ran alongside those, so I don’t think it’s quite a fad.
Now, I think where we are today is that people are realizing the checklist approach isn’t working. There are a lot of people that just don’t fit into the boxes that are on the list. Personally, I don’t fit into a lot of the boxes when confronted with the list. And people are realizing that that kind of diversity just isn’t enough.
So what I’m encouraged by is that however the checklist started, people are realizing its limitations and there is an interest to go beyond the checklist and into the complexity. That’s a positive.
Bluey: You mentioned the website earlier. I’ll give it to our listeners again. It’s true-diversity.com. On the website, you have a resource center. Can you share with our listeners some of the information that you’ve pulled together to help them as they may have questions that need to be answered or other concerns that you’re helping them address?
Ghate: Yes, one of the things we are doing is collecting resources. There are a lot of people actually talking about this question publicly, as scared as we are to do that. There are teachers who are developing curriculum on, for example, how to have the moral courage to address these issues. There are people who are actually fighting some of these cases through litigation. There are also people who are wanting to tackle this at a cultural level, and who are discussing the philosophical ideas that are behind what got us here and where we might want to go.
What we are doing is amplifying those voices, collecting that information in one place. So whether it’s litigation, education, the academy, or the culture, you’ll find commentary, you’ll find video, and you’ll find other resources on our website. This is a constant scan for us. We’re just thrilled that there are so many people who are actually addressing these issues. By putting it in one place, … we hope it makes it easier for people to realize they’re not alone.
Bluey: Thank you for aggregating all of that content. I also want to talk about your own podcast, what you do on a weekly basis, “Can We Talk About It?” Tell us about your goal with that and some of the guests who you have on to take part in these discussions.
Ghate: It actually starts with an inspiration that—some people may have forgotten this story. There was a filmmaker named Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam. He was murdered for making a film that was based on the writings of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was basically talking about women’s rights.
Now, as he was being murdered in the streets of Amsterdam, the last words that he uttered were “Can’t we talk about this?” Now, that has always stuck with me. That the answer … shouldn’t it always be “Yes, we can talk about this”? It should not be to the point where we have one human being murdering another human being in the street for their ideas. So that’s been the inspiration of the podcast, and to help illustrate that, yes, we can talk about it.
We’ve had a number of guests come from all different kinds of places, from professors who are experiencing challenges in their classrooms and who have had to … actually take on litigation to keep their jobs, to people who are thinking about whether they want to live in communities that are with people who look like them and whether that is the best solution for their kids, to people who are challenging whether or not diversity is something that you see.
We’ve had a number of guests from journalists, to thought leaders, to even the sister of someone who was murdered in prison and the story of what happened there. So you’ll find a lot of different perspectives there. Our goal is, honestly, is just to talk about the things that people are finding it hard to talk about.
Bluey: For our listeners who may have missed the interview with Elise Westhoff, your president and CEO, share with them about the Philanthropy Roundtable, what your mission is and what you go about doing on a daily basis.
Ghate: We are an organization that works with donors who are committed to advancing liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility. We work to strengthen our free society through philanthropy, and our goal is to help create a vibrant movement of philanthropists who do just that.
Bluey: Thank you again for all the work that you’re doing to advance true diversity. Again, the website is true-diversity.com. We appreciate it and we’ll make sure we include a link for anybody who wants to get more information. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners before we let you go today?
Ghate: I just want to thank you all for the work that you are doing. Because The Heritage Foundation does a lot of incredible work to help make sure that we know what stories are happening out there. Your scholars are doing wonderful work that we read every day. So thank you for all the work you’re doing too.
Bluey: That’s one of our goals at The Daily Signal—to make sure that a growing audience can be kept in the know and informed about all of these things that are happening. Because so often, we don’t hear about it from some of the traditional sources in the media. So we strive to do that, Debi, and we thank you for being a part of the show today.
Ghate: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
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