Member Week 2021: Foundation Leader Q&A with Karem Perez

Thursday, December 2, 2021 - 5:30 pm
CoF Author Council on Foundations

Karem Perez, Motorola Solutions Foundation

Question: What drew you to the field of philanthropy?

Answer: I’ve always sought roles where I knew the work I was doing was making a difference, so it was a perfect fit to lead the Motorola Solutions Foundation. The opportunity to partner with so many amazing nonprofits driving positive change in the community has been rewarding beyond measure.

Q: Collaboration is often the most effective way to tackle key issues and drive sustainable change in philanthropy. Share an example of a successful philanthropic collaboration or partnership that you have been a part of. What issue brought the organizations together? Why was a collaborative approach the right way to approach the issue? What were the results?

A: The pandemic brought an urgent need to assist those on the front lines, including first responders. While many of us were working from the safety of our homes, our first responders didn’t have that luxury. The Motorola Solutions Foundation partnered with nonprofit, corporate and foundation partners on a program that offered “micro-grants” to assist first responders with isolation housing, dependent care, mental health services and other basic needs. We knew a collaborative approach was the best way to help as it ensured that the funding was available for those who needed it as soon as possible. To date, hundreds of micro-grants have been awarded to first responders across 42 states.

Q: Reflecting on how COVID-19 and the movement for racial justice have impacted philanthropy, in what ways has the sector changed its approach to work since spring 2020? Share any examples of how your organization changed its operations or strategy.

A: The last two years have taught us not only to move quickly, but also to be flexible and adaptable. As the pandemic unfolded, the Motorola Solutions Foundation asked its partners how we could best support them, and the overwhelming majority were looking for immediate support to overcome new kinds of challenges that the pandemic placed on their programming and beneficiaries. In response, the Foundation expedited its grant cycle to provide immediate COVID-relief grants to help address a variety of emerging needs, from providing PPE to first responders to creating Wi-Fi hotspots for children in remote learning. Our grant partners were grateful that we were not only able to move quickly to support them, but that we were willing to meet their evolving requirements. Providing equitable access to careers in public safety, technology and engineering for traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations has always been a core part of the Foundation’s giving strategy. In 2020 and 2021, not only did the majority of our grantmaking directly support people of color, we also increased our support for programs that are actively working to build trust and stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Q: How do you think philanthropy can become a more trusted partner in advancing the greater good?

A: Shawn E. Jeffries, CEO and executive director for Little City Foundation, once said, “There are finite resources for infinite need.” I believe the role of philanthropy is to help fill that need by providing funding and resources to uplift communities and care for those who need it most. The support goes beyond funding -- it’s also about the giving of people’s time and the building of strong relationships. Our partnership with Little City, a foundation that provides a home away from home for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is a great example of this. So many of our employees love volunteering with Little City and supporting their efforts - from fundraising races to gift-wrapping parties for the holidays - and we provide volunteer grants to further support their work. Motorola Solutions, as a company, also supports Little City’s work through product and services donations. It’s a beautiful thing when all aspects come together — funding, in-kind donations and volunteer time — as collectively, we’re able to influence even greater positive change and bring about a greater good.

Q: Share one or more ways that your Council on Foundations membership has benefitted your organization.

A: There are so many ways! Shortly after I joined the Motorola Solutions Foundation, I took the Council’s “Legal Considerations for Corporate Foundations” course which provided me with a strong foundation for corporate philanthropy, dos and don’ts, etc. Additionally, my team and I leverage our membership for benchmarking purposes, such as when we revisited our Foundation’s strategic framework materials. The guidance provided by the Council has been instrumental in refining our approach and ultimate direction. We implemented values-based grantmaking to ensure our funding goes to organizations that share our values and defined a purpose that is both inspirational and business aligned.

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