Our nation is experiencing some of the greatest challenges in a generation – from a skills gap, to global poverty, the digital divide, striking homelessness in our urban centers, to a widening education gap in our inner cities – but it presents a time of great opportunity for us as practitioners. This month I was surrounded by empowering philanthropists, progressive thinkers and foundation executives of color at the three day Head and Heart Philanthropy summit in Martha’s Vineyard who are focusing on some of these very issues.
The cohort opened with a panel juxtaposing the economic state of African Americans from 50 years ago to today. The conversation, led by Joy Ann Reid of MSNBC’s The Reid Report featured Tonya Allen, President of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation who shared “we tend to focus on beating the odds versus changing the odds through our work.” She was joined by Charisse Lillie, Vice President of Community Investment and President of the Comcast Foundation. Lillie detailed the company’s efforts to align with President Obama’s ConnectED Program, intended to connect nearly every student in the United States with high-speed internet service over the course of the next five years. Comcast has invested $165 million in digital literacy initiatives nationally and provided 300,000 families with low cost internet service and has provided 23,000 low-cost computers in communities across the U.S. to help meet this goal.
On day two I had the pleasure of joining Tanya Jones, Program Manager at the Barr Foundation, and Aleesha Taylor, Deputy Director of the Open Society Foundation, for a panel on “Inside the World of Foundations – Communications and Grantmaking”. I focused on the evolution of philanthropic media and how the Case Foundation has embraced a fearless approach to philanthropy, while my fellow panelists espoused on how we can be better grantmakers and why there was a need for “chaos and creativity” in philanthropy.
Also joining the conversation was Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund (and former Senior Vice President of Social Innovation here at the Case Foundation) who moderated a panel on “Innovation, Impact and Kids of Color: How My Brother’s Keeper is Tapping Social Innovation to Transform Lives” with Dr. Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Trabian Shorter, Founder and CEO of BMe. Smith shared “we have to disrupt the status quo and not do the same thing over and over again”, while the Kapor’s detailed their initiatives to invest in human capital and why it is the best thing a business can do to change communities of color. Other speakers included Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Managing Director and Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Credit Sussie who spoke on the intersection of corporate America and philanthropy, Alix Cantave, a Program Officer with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Pierre-Andre Noel, a Director at the Boston Foundation and The Haiti Relief Fund who together discussed global philanthropy and investment opportunities that are creating a sustainable economy for Haiti.
The Head and Heart Philanthropy Summit proved to be an exceptional convening of philanthropists and practitioners centered around the best practices and initiatives that are of importance to communities of color. I was honored to join this cohort on the Vineyard and invite you to learn more about the Summit at www.headandheartphilanthropy.com.