The Legacy is the Values

In November 2021, Hans Schoepflin, my father and founder of the Panta Rhea Foundation, transitioned off the Foundation’s board. While it is a bittersweet moment in Panta Rhea’s evolution, it is also a moment to celebrate and honor his incredible legacy and to mark a years-long, intentional intergenerational leadership transition process. In honoring this transition, we wanted to share with our peers and colleagues some of our lessons learned in the hopes that it helps others in the field through the inevitable changes and evolutions in the work we do. 

Under Hans’ leadership, Panta Rhea has supported work in environmental justice, arts and education, and much more. Hans first made his mark as a risk-taking and innovative funder by supporting a successful campaign with his thought-partner and good friend, Frank Arundel that fought the privatization of an aquifer in the Mojave Desert. With the foundation’s Executive Director, Diana Cohn, they continued to support changemakers working in water governance, environmental health, corporate accountability, arts and education, and more. His abundant and vibrant gatherings in his home in Northern California’s Mill Valley, organized in collaboration with Alison Ghiorse of Savory Thymes, brought changemakers in the Bay Area together for delicious food, conversation, community, and inspiration. 

While Hans is stepping off the Panta Rhea Board, he remains as active as ever in his philanthropic endeavors. When he moved back to Germany in 2013, he took his learnings and experiences of philanthropy in the US and applied them to the German context. He has since built a robust, cutting-edge grantmaking and operating family foundation in his natel town of Brombach, Berlin, and nationwide. 

His entrepreneurial and bold spirit is forever imprinted on Panta Rhea. As I wrote in my essay for a book in commemoration of Hans’ 80th birthday: 

“What becomes obvious is that Hans‘ legacy is vast, diverse, and has touched many people and places. It is driven by his insatiable drive to take on life‘s challenges and offerings. It is driven by a profound respect and curiosity for the planet and its diverse ecosystems, cultures, and peoples. It is driven by endless hope in the potential of change and the next generation. It is driven by a deep appreciation for the gift of beauty and nature‘s resilience. It is driven by a complex mind that sees and experiences reality through many frames and mediums.

Hans‘ legacy in his family foundations is more than the project, grantmaking strategy, issue area, or building. It is also values. Panta Rhea Foundation is infused with values and beliefs in beauty, creativity, boldness, fluidity, emergence, hope, and, of course, the possibility of transformative change within individuals, communities, and societies. These values stem from its founder, Hans Schoepflin, and live on in the organization and next generation family stewards. We need these values more than ever.”

In the process of Hans leaning back from the Panta Rhea Foundation, I leaned in. We engaged in a mentorship relationship that allowed for his legacy and institutional memory to sink deep into our DNA.  As part of the process to institutionalize Panta Rhea, and move beyond a founder-driven model, we invited non-family board members in 2015; and, in 2017 I stepped up as President and Chair of the Board. 

Over these last few years, the Panta Rhea board and staff have continued to evolve, including bringing on our first non-family co-chair, Holly Roberson. With confidence in our commitment to curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity, Hans felt comfortable to step back, while remaining an advisor and mentor with an open ear to myself and the rest of Panta Rhea. My own path is also leading me into increased leadership and connection with the work in Germany. Given the close family ties and our values-aligned work, we will continue to deepen our transatlantic and global collaborations as people and institutions. 

As I shared, this is a bittersweet moment. While it is one less direct touchpoint with Hans, he is not far and is forever in our hearts. As we mark this transition, we do so with our deepest gratitude in Hans for entrusting us with his legacy and honoring his generosity, not only in money, but also in time, energy and spirit. Onwards!

In solidarity,