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For Philanthropy to Bridge Differences, Trust is Key

Thursday, November 9, 2023 - 10:30 am
Janet N. Ekezie

This blog is part of the Council's Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference? Janet N. Ekezie is part of our Bridging Differences Leadership Cohort


Philanthropy has the unique opportunity to bridge differences in ways other sectors of society do not. It can take calculated and sustained risks by supporting programs and respective issues that our political and corporate counterparts cannot. Because the sector is unaffected by short-term electoral cycles, philanthropy can affect concrete change. For instance, the San Antonio Area Foundation, the organization I work for, has supported countless efforts that have made a lasting impact throughout the community. Our vision at the Area Foundation is to close opportunity gaps for those who need it most. Therefore, the Area Foundation leads in its ability to bridge differences among the community via the network of various nonprofits we fund and support.

The Area Foundation is conscious of the inherent power imbalance that has been perpetuated between funders and grantees. However, through our work, I have seen a paradigm shift in how power is distributed. This is partly due to the legacy of the bridge builders before me who have recognized how inequitable the historical funder-grantee relationship has been. Historically, grantees have not had the opportunity to articulate their story and the needs of their community, substantially. Now, there is a conscious effort to ensure voices of the community are not only heard, but are leading the conversation. What I have described is trust-based philanthropy, but it is more than a means to redistribute power. It is a mechanism for bridging difference. 

Through cultural competency, communication, collaboration, and mutuality, the Area Foundation ensures representation, transparency, and diversity in the issues it supports. For instance, Thrive Youth Center, a grantee of the Area Foundation, is the only LGBTQIA+ homeless shelter in San Antonio and South Texas. The center aims to ensure LGBTQIA+ homeless youth are allowed the inherent rights and privileges any human being between the ages of 18 and 24 is afforded. Because the Area Foundation recognizes the importance and need of supporting such an organization, Thrive is not only able to sustain its mission but also highlight its work in a way it would not have been able to, historically. 

Moreover, homelessness is a universal issue that can affect anyone, at any time. In acknowledgment of that, those who work in philanthropy can look past difference and unify based on the universality of addressing the needs of their fellow human beings. Philanthropy has the ability to look beyond the noise and address the key issues. Whether it is providing emergency funds during a global pandemic, funding need-based programs, or ensuring marginalized voices have a seat at the table, philanthropy can quell mistrust and guide society towards a more harmonious collective.

It is through our trust in philanthropy that it can be a bridge builder in ways we have never seen before. We simply must look past our contentiousness of one another and look to philanthropy as an example. In doing so, we become a better people.

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