The 8th annual Town & Country Philanthropy Summit kicked off today with an amazing conversation between Pharrell Williams and José Andrés, moderated by Soledad O’Brien.
See below for highlights from the panel as well as a link to view the interview in its entirety:
Pharrell Williams on how he thinks about philanthropy and what his goals are:
“When we think about the African diaspora and people of color and what people who are deemed ‘minorities’ – which we are actually not—but that’s just the saying. There are three pillars that affect us the most—disproportionate access to education, disproportionate access to healthcare, and also disproportionate access to legislation. I think the first two are the ones that I want to focus on because they’re the ones that I feel like I can, through my resources and even my likenesses whenever needed, that I can actually make a difference in education and healthcare. These are the things that hurt us the most.”
José Andrés on why he focuses on food insecurity:
“I am one more cook in the universe of people that feed people in America or around the world. But people like me, we only feed the few. I am in the power, when you began thinking, we can also be a part of feeding the many. And where we can join forces to the many around America, and around many places in the world, in the most difficult moments, to be able to bring solutions. For me, food is my way of doing it, but what we do is only a drop of water in an ocean of empathy. It requires a lot of props of empathy to make things happen. Obviously what I do is more focused on emergencies, I don’t like to see people in mayhem; people who, already in the good times forgotten, that are voiceless, that nobody takes care of. It’s even worse when a hurricane, an earthquake, an explosion of fire, a pandemic, hits their communities even further. That’s the moment that I feel the urgency of now being yesterday, and I love to bring my community and try to be nice to as many people as we can in these moments of mayhem. At the end of the day, one plate of food at a time won’t solve every problem but at least you buy time. And you give hope to people who need it the most.”
Pharrell on how he and Jose met and joined forces:
“Catherine Kimmel – the great connector – took me to an event. Here’s a guy that you really need to meet because, like you, he takes what it is he does and puts it to better usage and thinks about others… [at an event in New York] I was so impressed because there were so many chefs there but this guy – it was different. Yes, he’s a chef and he’s all about his ingredients and recipes, but his greatest meal was his operation and people and his ability to galvanize. It was really apparent that everyone was centered around him and all he wanted to do was feed people and bring people together and help people see that through our differences and our challenges are actually a lot of solutions and we can make the world a better place and I was really blown away… Then we met and we realized there were a lot of things he was doing that I could be instrumental in helping him.”
José on meeting Pharrell and what attracted him to Pharrell:
“I go and meet Pharrell and he’s even better, he’s the better half. What you get is a good vibe – it’s very difficult to describe. You know, you read about people, NBA players, amazing musicians and I’m not only looking for the amazing things they do, which I love, but what’s behind. When you see that behind is something very powerful that they’re putting at the service of others – their power, their money, their contacts but something even more powerful is their brain connecting with their empathy within their hearts… We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without people like them. Pharrell knows and more importantly loves his community. We were able to do it in Virginia Beach and be there because Pharrell opened to us the doors of being that community without being foreigners. We were able to partner with local people, with local restaurants.”
José on how his family impacted his values and his metaphor on life:
“My mom and dad always believed in longer tables, not higher ones. The table will always be ready for whoever showed up… My father would put me in charge of making the fire. I did that since I was young, and I would become very good at making the fire. But my father was very particular, and he would never let me near the chicken… [he would say] ‘My son I know you wanted to do the cooking, but actually doing the fire and controlling the fire is the most important thing, everyone wants to do the cooking without understand the fire. My son you already have the biggest gift. Control the fire, master the fire, and then you can do any cooking you want.’ (I don’t know if my father told me that story with that idea or I’m making it more romantic along the way as the years pass by). My father was giving me a mantra for life itself: find your fire, control your fire, master your fire, and then you can do any cooking you want in your life.”
Pharrell on his foundation YELLOW:
“For us, we want to even the odds. I know that I was a very lucky person who benefitted from my teachers seeing something in me. They didn’t know what they were telling me or which way the way to go but they kept telling me to keep going. I think that had a profound effect on me because essentially education is the toolbox that every human being is going to need out in the world just to function… What we wanted to do is look at a curriculum that could assess these children and figure out how they comprehend information best. Then eventually make a curriculum that is sensory based and not sensory biased. If you learn differently than how the curriculum is being taught, then automatically you’re deemed as remedial… with the YELLOW hub, it’s the space where kids can learn based on their way they process their information.”
Pharrell on the education system:
“I love public school teachers and you know, love the unions as well, but the education the educational system is antiquated. I mean just ask your favorite Fortune 500 CEO – they might not be the best, they might not be well read, but that does not stop their genius. And this is what we want. We want to make sure that we reach every child by properly assessing their learning potential and comprehension preferences, and making sure that they have a curriculum that is based for them. Sensory bias is an issue, but sensory based learning special educational systems is the future. That’s how every child slip through the cracks and we get to eventually even the odds.”
José on how the pandemic affected and influenced his philanthropy:
“I think this year has changed all of us profoundly… Fundamentally has changed me. First, obviously take care of your family. I tried to be a father who took care of his daughters and my wife and trying to keep them safe. Every mother and father tried to do that. But then I began thinking that to take care of my daughters, it’s not putting them behind walls, to take care of my daughters, is bringing down those walls and trying to work as hard to provide for the other daughters and sons of other people I don’t know that they are trying to achieve the same for their children. The way I’m going to keep my daughters safer is not behind walls but with longer tables, where I work as hard to provide for my daughters as I’m going to work to provide for the daughters I don’t know. Fundamentally this is what changed me.”
José on what people get wrong about philanthropy:
“Robert Egger, my favorite food fighter, he said that it seems philanthropy is usually about the redemption of the giver, when philanthropy essentially needs to be about the liberation of the receiver. It’s nothing wrong to give and donate time or money or your brain and feel good about it, but fundamentally in this pandemic, I learned that to give, it’s not good enough, that we must do good, yes, but we must do smart good.”
Pharrell on the changes he has noticed this year:
“Empathy is at an all-time low. It’s not where it needs to be. There’s a lot of sympathy and pity, but there’s not empathy. And we need more of that, we need more empathy, we need more humility, we need more gratitude. I think the pandemic, for me, has taken me to that place where that’s the only thing I can think about.”
View the summit here.
The T&C Summit continues tomorrow (June 22, 2021 @ 12:30-1:30 PM EDT) with a panel between the power media couple Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. Register directly here.