Event Recap

1619 vs. 1776: When Was America Founded?

By most accounts, America was founded in 1776 when the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. More recently, The New York Times Magazine launched an initiative known as the 1619 Project, aiming to redefine America’s birth as being 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on American shores. Which is it: 1619 or 1776?

Professor Leslie Harris, a historian from Northwestern University and one of the fact-checkers of the 1619 Project, outlined the its positions and shed light on misunderstandings about slavery in traditional teachings of American history. On the other side of this debate, Professor John McWhorter, a linguist from Columbia University and a contributor to 1776 Unites, introduced the 1776 Unites campaign, which maintains 1776 as America’s true founding date, upholding America’s founding principles and challenging assertions that the nation is permanently scarred by its past sins. Moderated by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, this lively conversation explored whether the legacy of slavery or the nation’s Declaration of Independence is what truly defines America.



Free Speech on Campus: The Role of the University and Its Leadership

University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer has been a visionary leader within the higher-education space, working with his faculty and administration to establish the university’s Chicago Principles of Free Expression. These principles, which focus on what the role of a university should be, have been endorsed and/or adopted by more than 80 universities nationwide.

In a special conversation with Cason Carter, Zimmer discussed the relationship between free speech and open inquiry, its relationship to the First Amendment, and how his principled leadership has led to a thriving academic culture on the University of Chicago campus. At a time when many questions are being asked about the value of the university, Zimmer’s example provides a model for university leaders across the country. “Universities need to be places where there is a clash of ideas,” Zimmer says. “Intellectual challenge demands that you hear things that you’re not going to be comfortable with, that you might think are wrong. That demands an environment of free expression.”



Presentation of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership

In an interview with Stephanie Saroki de Garcia, 2020 Simon Prize recipients John and Susan Sobrato were celebrated for their remarkable leadership in giving. The Sobrato family has given more than  $379 million to nonprofits via their family foundation, in addition to personal gifts. In 2012 John and Susan Sobrato and their son became the first two-generation family to sign the Giving Pledge, agreeing to leave their estates to philanthropy. “We’ve made it a family mantra that we need to give back to those communities where we’ve built a successful business,” John says.

Sue and John talked about their philanthropic legacy, and each offered their advice to donors. Sue said, “Make sure you know where the money's going. Make sure the actual organization you’re donating to gets the money they’re supposed to get and can spend it the way they’re supposed to.” John added, “Follow what you’re most passionate about and provide not only the financial resources but also your personal time. The contribution of your time and expertise often is more important than the check you write.”




Leading with Courage

Vivek Ramaswamy, founder and CEO of Roivant Sciences, offered a moving speech on the state of America’s current lack of unity and the ways we can find a common purpose.

As more issues become politicized and group identities grow increasingly tribal, what binds Americans together? Ramaswamy answers, saying, "The antidote to the siren song of identity politics and tribal division in our country isn’t to double down on division. We have spent so much time celebrating our differences that we’ve forgotten all of the ways we are actually the same."

Ramaswamy ended his speech by saying, “If we embrace [our] common values rather than fractious group identities, then nobody in the world—not a nation, not a virus, not anyone—can defeat us.”

Following Ramaswamy’s speech, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and  American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Ian Rowe joined a panel discussion on courage in leadership moderated by Elise Westhoff, president and CEO of The Philanthropy Roundtable.

Courage is something leaders find themselves needing to draw upon every day, regardless of the type of organization or effort they helm. Everyone looks to leaders for guidance, answers, and what to emulate—whether at a corporation, in thought leadership, or when fighting an evil ideology.

Ali explains that courage is standing up for truth, despite the risk of offending another person. “We must protect freedom of speech,” she said. “The freedom of speech is also the freedom to offend.”



More event recaps by topic:

K-12 Education

Economic Opportunity 


Philanthropic Best Practices


Veterans & Foreign Policy 


1:00 - 1:15 p.m. ET
Welcome and President's Address
1:15 - 2:15 p.m. ET
1619 vs. 1776: When Was America Founded?
2:30 - 3:30 p.m. ET
3:45 - 4:45 p.m. ET
1:00 - 1:05 p.m. ET
1:05 - 1:50 p.m. ET
Free Speech on Campus: The Role of the University and Its Leadership
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. ET
Big Ideas
3:30 - 4:30 p.m. ET
Deep Dives
4:45 - 5:25 p.m. ET
Presentation of the William E. Simon Prize
5:25 - 6:25 p.m. ET
Cocktail hour
11:00 - 11:05 a.m. ET
11:10 - 11:55 a.m. ET
11:55 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. ET
Lunch break
12:30 - 1:15 p.m. ET
1:20 - 2:05 p.m. ET
2:05 - 2:50 p.m. ET
The State of Philanthropy and Closing Remarks


Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Research Fellow Hoover Institution

Kristen Soltis Anderson

Kristen Soltis Anderson Co-founder Echelon Insights

Steven  Anderson

Steven Anderson President and CEO Pacific Legal Foundation

Lawson Bader

Lawson Bader President and CEO DonorsTrust

Thomas Blaney

Thomas Blaney Partner PKF O'Connor Davies

Anna Bobb

Anna Bobb Director of Health Programs


The Philanthropy Roundtable extends its most sincere thanks to the following sponsors for their generous support of our 2020 Annual Meeting:




KF_logo-stacked (4)