Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Say Say Say

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Busy month on the speaking and conference circuit. This Friday, I’m at Philanthropy Ohio talking about “Making Strategic Philanthropy Stick.”

On October 31, in what is hopefully not a trick for the audience, I’m speaking at the Minnesota Council on Foundations annual conference on “Scaling Our Work for Greater Impact.” In that talk, I’m going to focus on tools that funders can use to play responsible roles in supporting collective action, not just from the outside, but from within such efforts. It’s a TED-style talk, short and to the point. Should be fun.

One of the topics I won’t get to cover that’s long been a passion of mine is how philanthropy can be more accessible to underserved communities. Luckily, I was honored to appear on MCF’s Fast Forward podcast series with the always thoughtful Alfonso Wenker to address just this topic. Again, so much to say! Definitely listen to the podcast, but here are a few other talking points on the topic of foundations and diversity, equity, and inclusion that I didn’t get the chance to cover.

  • Question your own assumptions – it’s well-known but bears repeating, foundations live in a bubble with little accountability. So you want to unearth your assumptions about how change happens and who needs to be at the table when decisions are made. This can extend to seemingly little things like language (“grantee partners” vs. “grantees,” for example). Who really has the power in your relationship, you who have the money or they who actually have the direct impact?
    • Now, there’s a difference between questioning your assumptions and questioning yourself. The first is about growth; the second is frankly kind of self-indulgent. It can happen when you take the philanthropy too personally, that other perennial problem of identifying the money as if it were yours. Questioning your assumptions is more like a zen practice, like mindfulness, rather than drama. How do I actually think change is going to happen? If I’m funding work in diverse communities to which I’ve never given before, how will people get to know me? Can I present myself in the same way, assuming the same level of familiarity, as I do in other environments? Does it make sense for me to go in there on my own, or with a partner who’s embedded in the community and respected there?
  • Check in with your gut, why are you doing this? Avoid “ay bendito.” My family’s from Colombia, so this isn’t a saying I grew up with, but in Puerto Rican Spanish, “ay bendito” – “oh, blessed one” – is what you say with a combination of empathy and pity. “oh, you poor thing.” Too many times, I’ve seen diversity approached from an “ay bendito” perspective. “Oh, those poor people.” This goes to questioning your own assumptions. There’s something insidious about observing that when you serve low-income communities, you’re serving “mostly” black and Latino people. The categories we use consciously, start to inform how we think unconsciously; you make that association that black and Latino people are all poor. The numbers about wealth disparity don’t lie, but then we start to make assumptions about whole groups of people that inform how we respond to an individual or an organization that we encounter, and then we get into trouble.
  • Democratize it. I’ve been thrilled to follow from afar the work of the Community Investment Network, which has been fostering African-American giving circles and has just celebrated ten years. But the thing about democracy is that it’s an ideal AND a process: “One person, one vote” AND a whole cadre of volunteer poll workers and neighborhood venues that host voting sites (mine’s in an elementary school). So democratizing philanthropy has at least two dimensions. One is communicating a democratic spirit: anyone can be a giver. The other is diffusing democratic processes of decision-making, so there are polling stations in every neighborhood, school, and church, or analogously, diffusing the mechanisms of thoughtful, effective grantmaking, whether it’s with a few hundred dollars in a giving circle or a $100 million grantmaking budget around a foundation board table. Democracy is about collective public deliberation, but even within philanthropy, which is about collective private deliberation, setting the criteria for allocating philanthropic dollars, and the process of values alignment and consensus building that are involved, are essentially democratic skills, even if they happen away from public scrutiny. That’s the paradox of this field, its simultaneous anti-democratic and democratic tendencies.

Not exactly podcast-friendly soundbites, but there you go. How do you see funders embracing – or not – diversity, equity, and inclusion in your world? What works and what doesn’t about that?

“A Responsible Funder Role in Movement Building” – Sat June 7, 10am

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

I’ll be speaking at the Joint Affinity Groups (JAG) Unity Summit in Washington, DC this Saturday, June 7, at 10:00am on “A Responsible Funder Role in Movement Building.” It’s a 20-minute TED-style talk, so come watch me wave my hands and mix metaphors for less time than it takes to do your morning commute.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, with a group to which I was Hispanics in Philanthropy’s representative way further back in the day than I can remember. Good to see them continuing to fight the good fight on diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy.

20 Feet from the Corner Suite: What Darlene Love Can Teach Us about Workplace Success

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

My first post on the fabulous and essential Role/Reboot, an online magazine about the evolution of gender roles in contemporary culture.

The post was inspired by the inspiring documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” well worth seeing:

http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2013-09-what-backup-singers-can-teach-us-about-workplace-suc

Coat of Many Colors

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

New York City’s mayoral primary was this week, and the discussion reveals many of the dumb ways we think and talk about race, power, and representation.

The narrative around New York politics has long been about identity and voting blocs: blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Jews, LGBTQ folks have their own enclaves, candidates, and voting patterns. Candidates for City Council or Mayor play to certain constituencies with certain targeted messages.

This election scrambled all that. The queer woman candidate lost among women and LGBTQ folks by double-digit margins, the Chinese candidate couldn’t carry the Chinese vote, and the African-American candidate couldn’t carry the black vote. In the space of two months, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate (a largely symbolic post), came from nowhere to the cusp of a runoff-avoiding plurality.

So how did he do it? And why did Thompson and especially Quinn implode? Here’s where the dum-dums step to the mic.

Let’s get a couple of things straight. It’s insulting to think that representation trumps reality: Liu lost the Chinese vote because people could see him implode, and De Blasio convinced them that he couldn’t win and they should get on board with someone who could. And Thompson lost the black vote because he didn’t come out against stop-and-frisk, while De Blasio did, strongly. There’s pride in seeing one of your own come to power, but they have to deliver. It’s as simple as that. People can see what’s in front of them. So stop being surprised that people didn’t automatically line up behind “their” candidate.

You’ll note that the common factor in the above two examples is De Blasio’s cunning. Another element of it is the ad that featured his family, his African-American wife and their Afro’d teenage son. As the NYT points out in a fascinating piece about his campaign strategy, the ad made clear that De Blasio’s opposition to stop and frisk wasn’t just a progressive checklist item, but grounded in a real fear about his son’s well being. Bloomberg called this tactic “racist.” I mean, honestly. This is like Chief Justice Roberts saying “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” No, sorry, it’s by educating people about the fictitious (as in, socially constructed) nature of race and emphasizing that part of people’s common humanity is their ability to draw on many different identities – and not be defined or determined by any one of them. Again, why is this so hard to grasp?

Don’t even get me started on how these fallacies play out in philanthropy. Suffice it to say that we need to make room for people to say the wrong thing so that real, sensible conversations can happen about how to acknowledge, respect, and balance differences of background and identity. If NYC voters can see past convenient labels to the reality of a candidate’s life and convictions, then funders have to be able to talk constructively about how and why they may or may not target particular racial or ethnic populations – without being called racist or automatically being thought of as progressive. What’s the thought process? We could all stand to do more unpacking of mental-emotional models via that kind of question.

Jealous Guy

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

“I didn’t mean to hurt you / I’m sorry that I made you cry / I didn’t want to hurt you / I’m just a jealous guy”

I wonder if implicit bias is the progressive version of unintended consequences.

A truly powerful idea that’s associated with conservative thought but has become widely accepted is “unintended consequences.” You try to alleviate poverty by providing a village with a better paved road, and the town becomes attractive as a route for drug smugglers to use in transportation, bringing violence to the town. You create certification processes for businesses so that consumers are protected, and business is disincentivized because the red tape becomes unmanageable.

For foundations, you provide grants in your focus area, and nonprofits that are desperate or don’t know any better modify their missions to go along with what you fund. You try to be clearer in your grant guidelines, and nonprofits hew ever more closely to what you say.

Unintended consequences are usually marshaled as an argument against government intervention, which makes them a popular resource of conservatives. But the reality of their existence means progressives are aware of and care about them as well, even if they don’t like some of the thinking behind them. They’re a hard-to-deny reality that undermines a central tenet of progressive thought, the value of intentional collective/government action in pursuit of greater social welfare.

I wonder if implicit bias is the progressive version of unintended consequences – a hard-to-deny reality that undermines a central tenet of conservative thought, that, as Chief Justice Roberts put it in a recent decision on affirmative action, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of by race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” If despite our conscious efforts, our unconscious minds betray us, Roberts’ notion is not enough.

Implicit bias is the idea that even if you don’t consciously hold racist beliefs, even if you would reject them with your conscious mind, you have still learned patterns of thought and behavior that encode biased and racially invidious beliefs.

Studies have been done looking at the way recruiters handle job applications differently based on something as superficial as people’s names (example, see page 4).

For foundations, implicit bias can affect the way that leaders of nonprofits are seen as legitimate or not, authoritative or not, trustworthy or not. There’s a gender dimension as well, as the study linked to previously points out as well.

My question is whether the moment for implicit bias to emerge as the counterpoint to unintended consequences has come. The beliefs that George Zimmerman had about Trayvon Martin based on the limited visual information he initially received – some were explicit (“they always get away”) and some were no doubt implicit. “Suspicious-looking” – so much is encoded in this slippery phrase.

We live in the era of the algorithm – they calculate what to recommend on Amazon or Netflix, what ads we see on Facebook, what search results we get on Google. We all walk around with implicit algorithms about race and propriety and danger. George Zimmerman’s came to light, tragically, fatally. How long before it becomes abundantly clear to all that implicit bias is real?

In the meantime, foundation folks who review and approve grant applications would do well to ask themselves about potential sources of implicit bias, and investigate means to mitigate them. Because it would be a tragic unintended consequence to allow implicit bias to undermine the laudable goals of philanthropy.

Stone Soup

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Whether or not comprehensive immigration reform passes this year – and after this week’s initial reaction by the House Republicans, things are looking less certain – the need for immigrant civic integration is a reality.

Here’s a modest proposal: philanthropy can help by creating and supporting spaces where communities can celebrate traditions of giving across cultures. Mutual aid societies, hometown associations, tithing, potlatch – most if not all cultures have established practices of individual collective giving.

“Everyone is a philanthropist” – and in being so, they draw on a wide variety of traditions. Let’s name those, lift them up, and learn from each other.

I was involved in a giving circle for a number of years that wasn’t culturally based, but I found it worked best as an “onramp” for people new to New York who wanted to learn more about philanthropy and nonprofits.

Community Investment Network is doing really interesting work bringing together leaders from giving circles across the country rooted in communities of color. A number of community foundations have ethnically- or racially-focused giving circles, and certainly women’s funds are popular, as the strength of the Women’s Funding Network attests.

Where I’d like to see this go is as a vehicle for immigrant civic integration at a local level. Philanthropy, community foundations, and other grantmaking public charities can be a venue for communities – both recent immigrants and immigrants from 100, 200, or 400 years ago (not necessarily voluntary…) – to learn about and from each other’s traditions are giving.

A lot of this will be based around faith traditions. As nervous as this may make some progressives, I think it’s a great place to start. Religious traditions can be  a source of social-justice righteousness or daunting fundamentalism. But they’re large and accommodate many points of view. Not saying there won’t be disagreements, but faith just has to be part of the equation. That’s what drives a huge percentage of individual giving, right, isn’t that what we always read about in Giving USA?

So: community foundations, grantmaking charities, and other place-based funders – think about building shared traditions of giving as a means to promote immigrant civic integration. Because whatever happens in Congress, communities across the country are transforming as a result of migration. It’s another moment in a cycle that has repeated throughout the history of this country. Let’s use philanthropy as a way to make this one smoother.

~~~

P.S. Congratulations to New American Leaders Project on three years of trailblazing and important work. Missed out by one on being their 1000th “like” on Facebook.

Fountain and Fairfax

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

One of my favorite parts of working at Hispanics in Philanthropy back in the day was serving as the HIP representative to the Joint Affinity Groups – the associations of grantmakers organized by population, generally personal identity. Them what experienced oppression, basically. We each had our own agenda, but we had a joint agenda. The promise of JAG was that we would own each other’s agenda – when Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues advocated with the Council on Foundations that their demographic surveys should include sexual orientation, the rest of us would have their back. Your issues are my issues.

This made so much intuitive sense to me – we’re stronger together, and I have people speaking out on my behalf when I’m not even there to speak for myself. What could be better?

Years later, I learned to call this “intersectionality.” I guess it technically means the intersections among multiple forms of oppression, but I’ve always thought of it as the intersection of multiple identities and the power and possibility that brings. And I’ve always enjoyed the thought that intersectionality is a way of life for younger generations – young undocuqueer activists like my cousin Juan and his husband Felipe live intersectionality every day, and use it as a base from which to fight.

Which means this week, of all weeks, I’m particularly attentive to who acts on intersectionality when some folks have had huge wins this week and others have had huge setbacks. The affirmative action non-decision, the Voting Rights Act defeat, the DOMA and Prop 8 victories, the Wendy Davis filibuster, and today, comprehensive immigration reform gathering 68 votes in the Senate – whew, as a politics junkie, I’m overwhelmed.

This week, of all weeks, is the time to live intersectionality, and to celebrate wistfully, to mourn with some joy in your heart, and above all, to resolve to keep fighting for justice and equality.

Kudos to Black Girl Dangerous for holding our feet to the fire. Check out her post on “DOMA, the VRA and The Perfect Opportunity“. Couldn’t say it any better. This is the chance to show your values, to show that you mean intersectionality.

And philanthropy? You’ve got no excuse not to be intersectional. Ask it of yourself, ask it of your grantees, ask it of your partners? How are you seeing the intersections of the issues you support, who’s living at the intersection of the issues you care about, and what can you learn from each other? I say “learn from each other”, not “learn from them”, keeping in mind a great quotation I saw on Facebook today, originally from aboriginal activist Lilla Watson:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Indeed. My schtick on this blog is to have the post titles be song titles. “Fountain and Fairfax” is by the Afghan Whigs, one of my favorite bands from the early 90s. It’s shambolic indie rock sung by a white guy with a sandpaper throat who thinks he’s a soul singer from the 60s. Like many of their songs, “F and F” is about a drunk/junkie trying to make good. “Angel, I’m sober / I got off that stuff / Just like you asked me to.” The addict makes promises, over and over, and keeps breaking them. Time and again, he has a chance to start again and misses it. But not this time.

“I’ll be waiting for you / At Fountain and Fairfax”

Time to show up.

Back 2 Life

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Philanthropy creates a bubble for those who work in it. We all know this. But on the inside, it’s so easy to forget. The surface of the bubble is so shiny, as it refracts the light coming from the outside. It’s a curved surface, so things on either side look distorted. But your eyes adjust. The brain is so skilled at adapting to new realities. With time, the funhouse image feels like a mirror, or a window.

But outside the bubble, reality goes on. Surface tension, surprisingly strong, keeps the bubble aloft on gentle breezes. But it can always be popped.

What does reality-based grantmaking look like? It begins with a clear understanding of what funders can and cannot do.

  • You can fund advocacy.
  • You can do more than make grants.
  • You can include grantees and community members in your decision-making.
  • You cannot solve long-standing social problems with a three-year initiative based on project funding.
  • You cannot compare to the monetary impact of the public sector or individual giving. The budget of Hennepin County, Minnesota, is more than $1 billion. Only a couple dozen foundations exceed even that amount, and except for the Gates Foundation, their grantmaking budgets are much much smaller.
  • You cannot flit from topic to topic every few years and expect to make a difference (or get much respect).

The funders who make a difference are the ones who invest for the long term, or who partner strategically, or who accept that small victories are big in the right context. Project Streamline a few years ago advanced the notion of “right-sizing” grants – they mean grant requirements. But it’s time to right-size grants, and our ambitions along with them, to the extent of the problems we’re addressing.

Funders can do more than they allow themselves, and they can achieve less than they think they can. And that’s OK. Life in the bubble is stifling; no air circulates. Step on out. See your surroundings clearly. Touch the ground. It’ll all be fine. We could all use the knowledge you’ve gained and benefit from the independent you should be allowed to keep. But please – see what you are. Know thyself.

Back 2 Reality.

In news from the reality-based side of philanthropy, happy 10th anniversary to the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity! Lori Villarosa and her PRE colleagues have been tireless, fearless advocates for a topic that’s essential for renegotiating the 21st-century social contract. Thank you Lori and company for moving that conversation forward.

Dream a Little DREAM

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

I’ve been learning to play that song on the ukulele, the version I know is from the Mamas and the Papas – great stuff.

So, anything much happen in politics since last week? Wow! Quite an announcement Obama made last week. I’m doing a few immigration-related projects at work, so I’ve heard a few different perspectives. One person pointed out that it’s a decision to not enforce certain rules – the absence of enforcement viewed as a victory. Hey, I have DREAMers in my life, I’m not gonna complain.

It makes me think about philanthropy, winning, and perpetuity. When a campaign wins, on some level it faces an existential crisis – we got what we wanted, what next? One answer is always, ensuring effective implementation. Fine. But is there a larger narrative that readily justifies continued action – in that particular organizational form?

I once heard someone from a workers’ rights organization make the claim that a human rights framework provides that narrative. It gives you a list of things that are linked that you can choose to achieve in a certain order, with the next item on the list waiting after you’ve checked one off. Paid time off, check. Health benefits, check. Right to organize, check. Living wage, check. And so on. Sad to say, I don’t know that the idea has caught on.

So my question, as always, is what role philanthropy plays in all this. If, as I’ve argued, the archetypal model of a foundation is about privacy, autonomy, and perpetuity, then this is where perpetuity comes into play. A foundation supports a winning campaign, it doesn’t experience an existential crisis; it can move on to the next thing. Particularly when it has multiple programs. It can emphasize other programs. Or simply choose a new topic.

Single-issue nonprofits face a deeper challenge – they have to consider whether it’s worth going on, and if so, in pursuit of what goals? This may be an argument in favor of working on multiple issues; but can you be as effective? Focus on one thing, win, and face a crisis; or focus on several things, maybe never win, and continue in the fight?

One wonders if finitude, a self-imposed deadline, might put some more urgency in foundation consideration of these questions.

The thing is, programs at foundations that exist in perpetuity are almost always finite – but in unpredictable ways. If foundations imposed a deadline on a program ahead of time, would that make a difference? “We will be in this field for 10 years. We will try to accomplish A, B, and C, and we’ll do whatever we need to in service of that goal.”

All that’s a long way from the sweet victory of the DREAMers. But as we look to foster more such victories, it’s worth thinking about how this one part of the equation can play its role more effectively.

Help! I Need Somebody, Not Just Anybody

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

I haven’t read The Help, but I’m interested in the discussion surrounding the film’s release. I think of Colorlines as my go-to place for acute, well-informed critique on the politics of race and racial equity. So it’s intriguing to see a take there by Akiba Solomon, timed to the film’s release, that quotes as “the best review…I’ve read so far” a piece that appeared in…Entertainment Weekly. That’s remarkable! Colorlines seal of approval on a piece of critique that appeared in as mainstream a publication as you can get.

That’s no knock on Solomon. As a longtime loyal EW subscriber, I had been pleasantly surprised to Martha Southgate’s on-point rebuttal of the film’s presumption to tell the story of a key element of the civil-rights struggle from the perspective of those who were ultimately on the sidelines. Money line from Southgate: “the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.” The point that needed to be made gets made in a place where a sizable part of the film’s audience is likely to see it. Nice.

Now, there are several layers going on here, obviously. (And I promise one of them has to do with philanthropy.)

  • Who’s the dummy now? Or, the politics of literary and cinematic ventriloquism. I should probably dig up my college texts and re-read Gayatri Spivak’s, “Who Speaks for the Subaltern?” But the question of well-meaning members of an elite who sympathize with the downtrodden seeking to help them by “speaking for” them is a vexed and long-standing one. (Although really, any of the parody 60s protest songs in Walk Hard put it to rest.) Who has the right to represent another’s experience – no matter what the intention? One of the most controversial elements of the book of The Help is that Aibileen and Minnie’s voices are written in dialect. Are there any circumstances in which this is OK? Is it ventriloquism or empathy? Apparently while in the book, there are three voices including Skeeter’s, in the movie the voice-over is only Aibileen’s. That’s at least a step in the right direction. I don’t know if I buy the idea that it makes it easier to hear subaltern voices if someone from the elite channels them first. In such an unmediated (and yet entirely mediated) world, why not just hear from people directly – why does someone need to bring us the voice of the unheard, make it more palatable? Ultimately, I think the value of the book – and of its ventriloquism – is that it gives readers the feeling that they’re being exposed to the inner life of people they would probably never think about otherwise. So I imagine it feels like a deep and moving experience, even humbling. On some level, that can’t be a bad thing. To be humbled – and then chastened by the realization that even the story that was enlightening you needs enlightening of its own: that feels like a meaningful, and socially useful experience.
  • The “women’s picture.” What I haven’t seen anyone talk about yet in this summer of successful female-led comedies like Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher is that here we have a movie that’s all about women where men are the help in getting the story on the screen – the male director was handpicked by the female author of the book, a true rarity in Hollywood. (J.K. Rowling surely had some input on who directed the first Harry Potter movie, but it’s not like she said, “it has to be this person who grew up with me and gets the very English world I tried to portray in the books,” as happened with director Kathryn Stockett and director Tate Taylor.)
  • Voice, the gift that keeps on giving. There are texts and performances that explode their boundaries. I get the feeling that Octavia Spencer and especially the divine, regal Viola Davis have done such a good job with their characters that no matter who presents their story, it’ll be their voices and their experiences that remain in the viewer’s minds.

And it’s that last point that resonates with the concept of philanthropy. Sometimes the gift of voice is the gift that keeps on giving, well beyond the giver’s intentions or frames of reference. Ultimately, giving voice to the disenfranchised and then stepping the hell to the side, may be the best thing a philanthropist – whether an individual like the Skeeter character in The Help or a foundation making grants – can do in some situations. Once again, the Beatles get it right – “help! I need somebody, not just anybody” – there are good ways and better ways that donors can be…wait for it…The Help.