Charity is a Luxury: Driving Social Impact at the Rockefeller Foundation

Durva Trivedi ’17, Project 55 Fellow at The Rockefeller Foundation in New York City

Durva Trivedi ’17 was born in India and grew up in Naperville, Illinois. At Princeton, she majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a certificate in South Asian Studies. She also danced, wrote news for the Prince, was an RCA, and was involved with Princeton Hindu Satsangam. She is passionate about service, storytelling, and social justice. Durva is excited to have the opportunity to work at the Rockefeller Foundation during her fellowship year.

Early on in my Fellowship year, I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant novel Americanah, in which she writes, “There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have. To take “charity” for granted, to revel in this charity towards people whom one did not know—perhaps it came from having had a yesterday and having today and expecting to have tomorrow. She envied them this. …Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given. To be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy.”

As I commute to a midtown Manhattan skyscraper every day to work at The Rockefeller Foundation, a global institution of charitable giving, Ifemelu’s sentiment in this quote has proven unforgettable. I’m deeply aware that charity is a luxury, and grateful that so many of the brilliant people I get to work with and learn from at The Rockefeller Foundation value humility, focus on the needs of beneficiaries, and celebrate incredible grantees.

Over more than a hundred years, The Rockefeller Foundation has given upwards of $17 billion in current dollars to individuals and organizations globally, funding Albert Einstein, the Green Revolution, hookworm eradication, vaccines for yellow fever and malaria, and much more. At a time when globally, peoples’ levels of trust in institutions are at a record low, I am encouraged by colleagues here who think, read, and talk every single day about the Foundation’s broad and noble mission – to improve the well-being of humanity throughout the world.

From my perspective on the Innovation team, focusing on data and technology solutions to drive social impact, I’ve learned about the great need for innovative solutions that begin with a focus on end-beneficiaries’ experiences. From blockchain for digital identity to UAVs for vaccine and blood transport, technology can drive progress in landscapes starkly contrasting Silicon Valley. Making strategic choices about how to spend limited resources—albeit, with hopes of achieving exponential, sustainable social impact—necessarily involves opportunity costs. Having seen how thoughtfully those opportunity costs are weighed, I have come to appreciate that humility is a shared value for this institution.

My ability to contribute in any small way is a privilege, as are my college degree, opportunities afforded by AlumniCorps and Project 55, and all of the small and large ways in which my family, educators, faith community, and mentors have helped me find my voice. I hope my fellowship year marks just the beginning of my work in public service. Having had a yesterday, having a today, and expecting to have tomorrow, as I continue to learn about innovative and creative ways to do so, I hope I can continue to contribute with a focus on service and humility.

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