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The Role of Equity in Philanthropy
Reflections on Policy Link’s 2015 Equity Summit, by ICF Health Program Officer Alana Ortez
As the Equity Summit’s opening ceremony began, I was struck and moved by Policy Link’s spoken word video “Our Moment.” I felt poet Mayda del Valle speaking directly to me in her powerful rhyme, “step, move, walk, Wake Up… our right to remain in slumber has been revoked; silence and apathy are now the only crimes… witness this moment in history turned blaze again, every moment the flame is growing, but will you be the fire?, this time, will you be ember? will you be catalyst and combustion? will you claim the torch?”
Throughout the Equity Summit, and in the days and weeks that followed, I have been meditating on what I can, and will, do in my professional philanthropy role to take up this call to action for social justice and equity. It is too easy, and not uncommon, for a community foundation to hide behind the flat explanation that because it relies on individual donor advised funds with limited discretionary money, it cannot set its own agenda or course of action. Which is why I’m so proud of a recent rebranding and strategic planning process that my own organization has been undergoing on the occasion of our 25th anniversary. In addition to a cosmetic makeover, with a shiny new logo and eye-catching new colors (which I must admit, look great!), we as a team have been thinking about our role as a community foundation in the business of international grantmaking. Rather than rely on our donor’s monetary contributions, we have been discussing the critical value-add of our technical expertise in our key programmatic areas – to donors and grantees alike. Equally important, particularly in an international context, is the deep regional understanding, cultural competency, and local relationships that we can contribute to better serve our donors and guide their grantmaking decisions. In fact, when our branding consultants suggested that our new tagline read: “inspired giving, meaningful change,” we pushed back; instead our team suggested, “meaningful giving, inspired change.” The giving matters, but it is the local community change that should truly be inspired. That change impacts real lives and serves to protect the environment for current and future generations. This may seem like semantics to some, but I believe that embracing this philosophy empowers the staff of our foundation to lead the way in advocating for a philanthropic model that is no longer about an inspired donor telling a community what is needed, but rather, about community members taking ownership of their own progress and serving the needs of ALL citizens.
On a recent trip to Southern Baja California, Mexico, I got off a plane surrounded by happy travelers on their way to all-inclusive resorts and vacation homes. I hopped in the car with our local field representative, and we drove through the urban slums of San Jose del Cabo. I was quickly reminded of how prevalent the issue of inequity is in my work. As is the case in many urban areas of developing countries (and many cities here in the U.S.), in Los Cabos the rich and the poor live side-by-side, and their relationship is a profoundly complex tension in the region. The poor are primarily made up of Mexican migrants from states like Guerrero and Oaxaca, who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families, hoping to find work in the tourist industry. The rich are a blend of the Mexican business class, American and Canadian expats, well-heeled foreign tourists, and mega-celebrities. Our work sits at the intersection of these two worlds. In the following days of this particular visit, we had thoughtful conversations with donors and leaders of local nonprofit organizations about how to address food insecurity in the region – again, in a land of extreme contradictions, where wealthy foreigners dine at fine resort restaurants and the majority of agricultural products are grown for the U.S. market, while these same farmers and hotel kitchen staff are undernourished and struggle to acquire fresh produce in their daily diets. Just as I am moved to step up and take action by the words of Mayda del Valle, and the innumerable inspirational speakers, panelists and participants at the Equity Summit, I am invigorated by these conversations in my professional space, that are digging deeper and looking for ways to empower local voices and to support local solutions to local problems. I am ignited and ready to push the discourse on this topic and the many other critical social justice topics in our region.
As our foundation continues to flesh out our goals and course of action for the next quarter of a century of meaningful giving and inspired change, I am motivated to continue to push equity and social justice into the conversation. -By Alana Ortez, ICF Health Program Officer
Originally posted on Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy’s blog – December 2015