Career Pathways: Supporting Underserved Communities

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 12:03 pm
CoF Author
A. Sparks

Editor's note: This is part of our blog series featuring current participants in the Career Pathways program. Applications for the 2019 cohort opened in September 5.

I’ve always cared about social issues. Growing up queer, in a mixed-race household, the daughter of two social workers, gave me a distinct lens through which I saw the world. Early conversations about race and inequality taught me to think critically and act compassionately. They instilled in me the value of social justice and inspired me to make a positive difference on the world.

As I grew older, the development of my identity as a woman and LGBT person fueled my desire to become an advocate for the underserved and led me to pursue my Master’s in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. My journey to philanthropy occurred unexpectedly while I was studying Management and Planning in my MSW program at UC Berkeley. In addition to learning about the larger structures and systems that impact communities and create opportunities for social change, I also discovered that my family had a personal connection to philanthropy through a foundation that my grandfather on the Japanese side of my family established shortly after WWII. I learned how he used his influence as a businessman and as a philanthropist to provide opportunities for former internees and lift up his entire community. Hearing about this legacy inspired me, and when I graduated from Berkeley, I committed to learning more about leveraging philanthropy as a tool to develop strong communities.

On Philanthropy

Without sounding too self-involved, some of the philanthropic work that I admire or, rather, am the most proud of, is my national giving circle –Funding Queerly – which is housed at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Funding Queerly is a group of young donors, all under the age of 40 years old, with wealth and privilege, many of whom have family foundations. We raise and distribute funding to small-budget LGBTQ organizations led by and for people of color, as well as indigenous, undocumented immigrant, and rural communities. We believe that these groups - those most affected by injustice and with the least access to financial resources - are best positioned to make lasting change in their own communities and the wider social justice movement. Over the past five years, we have raised and allocated over $1 million to small-budget LGBTQ community based orgs which is more than any LGBTQ giving circle in history.

There are a few things that I really admire about how we do our work at Funding Queerly. First, our value statements. We value Queerness; We strive for Collective Liberation; We lead with Love; and We act with Integrity. These values underscore who we fund, how we fund and the ways in which we position ourselves in the broader philanthropic community.

As one example, a few years ago, I heard a Black Lives Matter speaker say to a group of folks in philanthropy “If you want to be inclusive, you need to be explicit.” This got me thinking about how we could be more explicit in our support of underserved community. So, two years ago at Funding Queerly, we decided to challenge ourselves to identify and support organizations that are Black-led and/or led by or for undocumented immigrant communities. We earmarked 50% of our funding for these types of organizations. At the time, other funders questioned this choice. Many believed that there weren’t enough organizations out there with enough capacity.

In the end, however, we found that specifically and explicitly noting our commitment to supporting Black-led and undocumented immigrant-led organizations, as well as the proactive outreach that we conducted, was extremely successful. Over 75% of the organizations that applied fit the criteria and, in the end, 65% of the organizations we funded were Black-led or led by/for UICs.

There are other elements that we’ve added to our process, including offering our grantees up to 5 hours of proposal writing assistance for other grants; providing video conference site visits for all applicants; gathering feedback and modifying our grants process each year based on grantee feedback; bringing the community together virtually around specific topics during the grant cycle; and (in addition to only offering general funding) no budget minimum requirement and no penalty in the evaluation process for the percentage that the grant will make of the organization's overall budget. Basically, we try and make out grants process organic and flexible. There’s a constant push for learning and we’re always trying to make the process more responsive to the community’s needs. Fundamentally, this is achieved through open communication and the fact that we see our process as something organic that we’re building in collaboration with our grantee partners.

We had to actively change our view in order to accomplish this. Having just graduated from business school, the intersection of philanthropy and business is at the forefront of my mind, and the same lesson applies there. First and foremost, I think philanthropy needs to recognize that our biggest area of opportunity is not where we’ve been actively making grants but, rather, where we’ve been passively investing our resources. In 2016, American individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations gave over $390 billion to U.S. based charities. At the same time, globally, foundations held over $1.5 trillion dollars collectively in their endownments. If the philanthropic sector, as a whole, made a commitment to align our investment resources with a social justice mission statement, we could literally change the world overnight. In addition, this type of change would be more sustainable, equitable, and would have a far-reaching global effect.

In order to undo generations of inequitable wealth accumulation (which is fundamentally the source of inequity in our society), philanthropy needs to make a firm commitment to proactively move money out of the coffers of the small, homogenous, few that have accumulated power, wealth and privilege multi-generationally. In essence, we need to revisit the teaching on Dr. MLK Jr. (“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic justice which make philanthropy necessary.”). My hope for the future if philanthropy is a future where there is no need for philanthropy.

On Career Pathways

While Career Pathways has a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), I don’t know if I’d say that the Career Pathways program molded my way of looking at it. Rather, it has enhanced and given me a more complex way of looking at issues of DEI in philanthropy. In our jobs, it’s very rare to get the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the work we do, let alone engage in critical dialogue with some of the most amazing minds in the field! The Career Pathways program has given me space and opportunity to explore and recommit to my role in promoting DEI in philanthropy.

Inspiration in the program came without question from my career coach Lawrence. The program did an excellent job of matching us with our coaches because, at least in my experience, working with Lawrence has been the perfect fit. Lawrence has complementary strengths that support my growth. In addition, just keeping in communication with the career coach on a monthly basis (particularly one that’s familiar with the program, the topics we’re covering, and our goals) has helped keep me on track and progress with my Home Institution Case Study and refining my vision.

Beyond Lawrence, the Career Pathways network (including the alums, Council staff and the huge range of experts that we’ve connected with throughout the program) have been and will continue to be a strong inflence. In addition to the in-person sessions, I’ve connected with the Bay Area Career Pathways alums in informal mixers. I’ve reached out to four of speakers for advice, to ask questions and to get connected to resources (including personal introductions to other folks in the field). I had a really positive experience working with the recruiter doing our “mock interview” and he encouraged me to keep in contact with him and reach out if I ever need job opportunities/connections. And, of course, I’ve been strong, positive working relationships and personal relationships with a number of folks in our cohort. Career Pathways has given me an incredible amount of access to experts in the field (which never would have happened if I wasn’t participating in the program) and an inspirational/supportive peer group to grow with and challenge me as I continue my journey through philanthropy.

On Representation in Art

There’s a scene in the movie Hidden Figures where Janelle Monae’s character, Mary Jackson, is trying to convince the white court judge to allow her to attend engineering night classes at an all white school. I love this scene.

To generally paraphrase... Jackson appeals to the judge and says (loosely) “Your honor, no negro has ever attended an all white school in Virginia. I plan on being an engineer at NASA but I can’t do that without taking night classes at that all white high school. And I can’t change the color of my skin so I have no choice but to be the first, but I can’t do that without you. Of all the cases that you hear today, which one is gonna matter 100 years from now, which one is gonna make you the first?”

First off, Hidden Figures was an amazing movie with so many strong, black, female characters (including Monae). But I love this scene, in particular, because the character is arguing for something so basic but also so complicated because of the long history of structural racism - thus, her argument requires an understanding of the complexities but also an appeal to basic human emotions.

She’s incredibly clever about it but it’s more than that. There’s a big difference between making someone think something and making someone feel something. So she did her research (collected her data) and in a very smart way, found a way to “reach” the judge. I love this scene because it’s victorious, of course, but also because it provides an amazing example of how we, in order to achieve justice in a system that is unjust, need to have empathy. We need to be able to see the world through someone else’s perspective and appeal to the common underlying values. We need to be prepared. We need to have strength in our conviction, but compassion for others. Most of all though, we need to be brave and we need to take risks. There are countless situations in philanthropy where I am the “first” or the “only one”... and that’s not going to change any time soon. But the fact of the matter is— nothing will change unless we speak up. This scene inspires me to do just that.


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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Leadership Development