CMF Community Voices
As we look ahead to CMF’s 49th Annual Conference – Connecting Diverse Voices – we are sharing CMF Community Voices, featuring a series of conversations and insights from leaders across our community of philanthropy. This curated collection of blogs and Q&As lifts up inspiring voices from changemakers who lead efforts in the areas of Equity, People, Practice and Policy, with equity at the center.
This week, we are featuring From Charity to Changemaker: An Equity Imperative, a blog by Sakura Takano, CEO of Rotary Charities of Traverse City and Advocacy and Policy: Where System Change Happens, a Q&A with eMily Aleman-McAlpine, program officer at the Wege Foundation.
From Charity to Changemaker: An Equity Imperative
By Sakura Takano, CEO of Rotary Charities of Traverse City
“Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Five years ago, Rota
“Why, despite the collective best efforts of foundations and changemakers in our region, are we not making more progress on our toughest problems?”
The answers we began to uncover set us on a path we are more deeply committed to each day. We found that most of our collective work was spent addressing the consequences ─ the visible symptoms ─ of complex problems like food insecurity, health disparities and climate change. And that the causes of these problems were less visible and deeply embedded within the inequitable systems we were all a part of. To transform the results we were seeing, it seemed imperative that as a community we needed to work differently, and work on different things.
We first turned to what we had the most control over ─ our own policies, practices and approaches to our work ─ and looked at how these may be unintentionally contributing to the problems we sought to solve. We increased our transparency, flexibility and patience. We began to listen more deeply through surveys, convenings and deeper relationships with changemakers.
We began to co-design our new strategies with changemakers, positioning ourselves as co-learners and partners exploring new ways of working together. A significant milestone in this journey came in 2018 when we refreshed our mission and vision statements, created new grant categories and unveiled six new guiding principles, a lens through which we would design new learning opportunities and evaluate grant applications and our own work.
In the three years since introducing these new grant categories and criteria, we have supported initiatives aiming at greater equity including those that target youth homelessness, address health disparities in rural communities, support the inclusion of neurodiverse people into the workforce, seed Native American food sovereignty and build the capacity of organizations engaged in racial justice work.
An Equity Imperative
In June 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and in the midst of the civil unrest that followed, Rotary Charities staff began discussing what a deeper focus on equity might mean for our organization and those we serve in rural communities. While equity was an implied value in our new vision and systemic approach, it had not been an explicit focus of our internal work or strategy.
As a staff, we spent time learning and reflecting together, understanding that learning does not take time away from our work, but that weaving learning into the everyday is the work. We had new conversations about history, organizational culture, relationship building with changemaking partners and how our work contributes to the disruption of systemic oppression.
We recognized that change would be necessary on three nested levels – individual, organizational and community. This meant that it would be our responsibility as staff to do the personal work needed to continue evolving our hearts and minds to become more effective changemakers ourselves. Organizationally, we made the intention to embed equity into our policies, practices and culture. At the community level, we committed to aligning with and supporting other organizations as we work together toward building an equitable and just community.
In June 2021, piggybacking off of our CEO transition, the board made the explicit choice to commit the organization to deepen our work by creating a goal in our strategic plan, “Embed equity into our culture, operations and strategy.” The board also committed to embark on its own learning journey around equity this year.
We have much work ahead. Together the board and staff will continue to build upon the foundational work started in 2018: a vision for a region where all people are thriving, an approach that is committed to re-structuring systems that do not work for all, and an explicit equity imperative calling for clear and specific actions and success metrics. We look forward to continuing our listening and learning out loud while simultaneously interrogating and adapting our internal policies and practices, experimenting with new approaches and building deeper partnerships with others championing this work.
Advocacy and Policy: Where System Change Happens
A Q&A with eMily Aleman-McAlpine, program officer at the Wege Foundation
As a program officer at Wege Foundation, can you share more about the work that you lead?
eMily: I lead our four program areas: environment, arts and culture, education and community health and well-being. My role is to ensure we are being proactive in our grant making, to lead with equity and to make sure our grants are representative of our goals—environmental sustainability, civic engagement, inclusion and organizational sustainability. No matter what program area your grant may fall under, those four goals can be incorporated along the way. We work very hard to be proactive in our grantmaking because we know so much of our smaller organizations that are embedded in the community and that are really doing the work might not have a grants team. We make it a point of seeking them out versus waiting for people to come to us. Another aspect of the work I lead is ensuring that the process is as seamless as possible with removing as many barriers as possible.
Can you share how you think about equity in your own work?
eMily: Everything in our work is centered around equity. We want to address the barriers to opportunities. When we look at a grant, we ask about the diversity of the staff, the board, the executive staff and the influencers. We are on our own equity journey with our partners and we are sharing what we know and learn with them, and they do the same. We want to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. We come to our work humbly and respectively because we don’t have all the answers, we always try to do things better than the last time.
What inspires you?
eMily: I’m inspired that I can make a difference and have an impact on people whose voices are missing from the table. So often, decisions in philanthropy have been made in the traditional way. But in the last year in particular, people have become more aware of the issues—even though these issues have always existed. I don’t speak for an entire community, but I do understand a lot of the issues because I’ve lived a lot of the issues. Being able to bring those issues to the table and giving voice to those issues, that inspires me. I’m able to question, are we being accessible? Are we being equitable? Are we being inclusive? Being able to question and challenge that and to have that voice at the table to make changes so that people who are doing the work and those who they’re serving are really being impacted in a positive way. With that, we’re hopefully changing the system instead of doing things the way we always have. Now is the moment to say we are going to do things differently and to have action behind the words. We don’t create power for people, they have it in them. It’s about having them feel confident that their voice is heard at the table, your voice is your power.
You are serving as a speaker at Supporting Michigan’s Civic Infrastructure: A Lasting Investment during CMF’s Annual Conference– can you give us a preview of what you will be sharing?
eMily: We’re talking about civic engagement and how to support the structures surrounding it. Whether you’re working with kids, elders, young professionals or families, there is something you can do in that space. We’re going to talk about how philanthropy can support the infrastructures for civic engagement and advocacy and creating a lifelong structure to make it happen. It’s an investment for the long-haul and we’ll be talking about what that looks like and what it means for funders. We want to show people that there’s a way to support change in a way that has a lifelong impact.
What led you to engage in the policy and advocacy space?
eMily: That’s where systems change happens. If we want to move away from the charity model, we must look at the roots of the problems. And a lot of that is addressed in the policy space and through advocacy. For example, we don’t fund food pantries in the traditional sense. We work with food pantries to meet with community members to discuss their needs and to think about the systems that cause hunger to exist in the first place. Civic engagement and addressing policy are really going to make long-term impact.
What opportunities do you see for environmental funders – and funders more broadly in the advocacy space?
eMily: You need to really engage communities—the ones most impacted. No one can tell you what they need better than those people who need it. You not only have to give them a seat at the table, but make sure their voices are heard and respected. And we in philanthropy may not like what we hear, but we need to hear those truths. But then we get the opportunity to think about what we can do to address the roots of these environmental problems that address everyone—especially people of color. For funders working in this space, hire people that look different from you and challenge the way you think, don’t be afraid to hear them. Know that it can be uncomfortable sometimes but be open to these conversations.
The Latinx Affinity Network is our newest collaborative network at CMF – can you share more about the group?
eMily: We think about what are the unique issues that face the Latinx community and what are the priorities in the community. And serve to advocate for the fact that all Latinx people are not the same. There are individual cultures, languages and identities that exist within the “Latinx” umbrella that we need to keep in mind in philanthropy.
As the LAN representative on the Government Relations Public Policy Committee what opportunities are there to deepen connections, particularly around policy?
eMily: It’s important to know and understand the issues that are priorities in the Latinx community and how we as a sector can address them. But I think it’s important to understand that a lot of the issues facing the Latinx community also face many other communities of color. When we do what’s right by Latinx people, we do what’s right by a lot of other people, too.
Join us on October 18 at 11 a.m. for Supporting Michigan’s Civic Infrastructure featuring eMily Aleman-McAlpine, along with several leaders in the public policy and civic engagement space. In this session, discover the many ways nonprofits have been mobilized as leaders to educate and build awareness on issues such as the census, voting rights and redistricting. Join this session and more by registering for Annual Conference.
Learn more about the Wege Foundation’s work.
Connect with CMF’s Latinx Affinity Network.
Understanding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Bay County
The Bay Area Community Foundation (BACF) and several community partners are working to understand experiences of diversity, equity and inclusion in Bay County through community input.
BACF is funding the initiative which is asking residents to participate in a comprehensive survey designed to assess resident experiences.
Residents 18 years and older are asked to provide confidential insight on their experiences with police/public safety, business, local government representation, housing and education in Bay County.
Saginaw Valley State University is conducting the study and will analyze data to provide benchmark data for where the community is relative to six components of diversity, equity and inclusion – demographics/socioeconomics, education, housing, police/public safety, business and local government representation.
The assessment will help the community identify what is being done well and what areas can be strengthened.
“To know where to go, we must understand where we are. Each person in Bay County has a unique lived experience, and we want to know what that is. Decisions about the community should only be made after gathering information from the community…that means you. Your voice matters,” Diane Fong, president and CEO of BACF said in a press release. “This survey gives individuals the power to inform local action through the confidential sharing of their experiences.”
Read the full press release.
Learn more about the survey.