Listening, reflecting, and moving forward
I have had the privilege of a varied and exciting career doing the work I love. Leading Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) feels like the logical and natural progression of this journey. When I joined HIP, I began with a listening tour. It was important to take the time and be intentional about meeting with all of our different stakeholders – staff, HIP members, emerging líderes, trustees, CEOs, and partners. I wanted to learn about their experiences, gather feedback about HIP’s work and 35-year legacy, and discuss what needs to come next.
We’ve heard you. You have shaped how HIP is evolving in this complex world. What follows are my reflections, learnings, and vision for how we will move forward together.
How I came to understand the power of collective action
I started my journey in the 1980s, working in community-based organizations on the front lines of social change. I cut my teeth on immigration issues in Washington, D.C., focusing on TPS — temporary protected status — especially for the Salvadoran community.
When I first joined the federal government, just over 20 years ago, I examined how the public sector was working with organizations that provide direct services, as well as with advocates dedicated to addressing the root causes of social issues. That’s where I first witnessed the role of philanthropy and understood its importance and potential. I also learned that in order to work effectively and at scale we needed ways to bring together diverse stakeholders.
Then, at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I worked on the Making Connections program, a place-based 10-year community development initiative with a focus on listening. That was my first experience of philanthropy by, for, and about the community. I joined the foundation because I wanted to bring our knowledge and voices to the table — “nothing about us without us.” Our community’s experiences and perspectives are as valuable as dollars. To achieve real change you also need to develop partnerships — collaborations that are not just for convenience or that exist not only in writing, but are based on an understanding of what issues and solutions each sector brings to challenges within a complex system — and how each sector can leverage its roles and assets.
I was lucky because the Casey Foundation was open and willing to be innovative and take risks to ensure that philanthropy was being led by the people, for the people. They were willing to start by listening, to work at the pace of the community, and to give me space to try new things, fail, and learn. This experienced informed how I envision philanthropy — and it still informs how I approach my work today.
This work led me to the Ford Foundation, where I focused on developing partnerships and strategies at a global level, bringing these approaches to issues like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.
When the position at HIP opened up, I saw an opportunity to contribute to an organization that had a strong foundation and that was poised to serve for generations to come.
Our moment, our power
In my conversations with many of you I heard repeatedly that we have an opportunity to share our collective stories and build voice and influence through narrative power. The future of our country depends on the Latinx community thriving. We represent the largest growing demographic at 57 million strong — 18% of the U.S. population. By 2050, one in every four Americans will be American-Latinx. We have assets and economic buying power of $1.7 trillion dollars and growing. We’re voting in record numbers and our political power is growing as young, progressive Latinx leaders are running for and winning political offices.
Despite the statistical growth, we face dehumanizing xenophobic narratives that seek to erase Latinx culture and depict us as rapists, murderers, and job thieves. Our children are caged, our families ripped apart. Right now, the civic sphere — the words and rhetoric — are scary, aggressive, and toxic. This amplified rhetoric mixed with historical and institutionalized racism can look insurmountable and has a chilling effect on people participating in developing their communities.
HIP will rally around the people in the communities most affected and plan together how to grow, define, and exert the collective power our demographics tell us we have. Right now HIP and others are proactively decloaking veiled attempts to curb the participation of Latinos in the 2020 U.S. Census. The more the demographics demonstrate our rising power, the counter move is to not count us. We refuse to be left out. Of course we celebrate how Latinx communities can transform the economics, politics, and discourse across the Americas but we will also need to fight together if we want to increase influence.
One theme that weaved through my listening tour was direct advice from our network that HIP strongest when we are bold — when we speak our minds and are willing to take risks. The feedback inspired us as we plan our strategic direction. HIP envisions social justice and shared prosperity across the Americas. HIP’s mission is to increase Latinx leadership, influence, and equity by leveraging philanthropic resources. We are focused on four goals:
- Democratizing philanthropy
- Mobilizing bigger and better resources
- Growing Latinx leadership within philanthropy
- Channeling Latinx influence and thought leadership
There is today still dreadful underfunding of everything Latinx. Philanthropy must be a democratic tool to help us achieve power, build resources for our community, and grow influence. HIP will continue to track foundations: who they are, what they’re funding, who they’re funding, how they’re funding — or not funding — in our communities. We will continue to hold these institutions accountable and help philanthropic leaders understand the impact of funding Latinx issues.
This means we’ll be innovating the ways in which we show up in our communities across the Americas. Soon, we’ll be launching the PowerX fund — an investment fund that will provide risk capital and build economic power, that will then be leveraged into political power, in Latinx communities. We will open up what philanthropy is and what it can do when used to move racial equity forward — communities will identify their own needs and opportunities, so that together we can invest in their vision. The fund will partner with existing institutions to help us identify strategies that align with our mission. The networking of partner institutions will help distribute risk, costs, and reach. This expanded and connected approach will increase the network effect and build on our collective power.
Philanthropy is much more than foundations and traditional approaches to charity, which have often left the Latinx community on the outside when it comes to identifying priority issues and solutions. HIP believes that philanthropy is not just for people who can write big checks. There are all kinds of givers: micro-giving is philanthropy. By all coming together we create a strong tree trunk and a strong heart. Political campaigns have shown us that a large group of small-sum donors is much more powerful — and can be much more representative — than a few individuals gifting millions of dollars. When five people each give a million dollars they get to set the agenda, but when five million people each give $50, we have a collective that values and lifts up a multitude of voices and perspectives.
HIP wants to increase the number of individual donors investing in the infrastructure and success of their communities. And we want each of these individuals to identify as philanthropists, with a sense of ownership over how their resources are invested. While giving can still come from high-net-worth individuals, a democratizing approach builds systems of opportunities for small-sum investors donating through crowdfunding, giving circles, and other more agile and responsive methods.
Growing Latinx leadership within philanthropy
At the same time, we need to grow Latinx power and influence within philanthropy in the Americas. We need leaders beyond those who are anointed, appointed, or voted in. As I already mentioned, Latinxs make up 18% of the U.S. population, yet in 2015 only 3% of foundation trustees identified as Latinxs, and 40% of foundations were 100% White.
We are changing this by focusing on foundation trustees and C-suite roles, ensuring that emerging leaders have the tools, systems, and support they need to succeed and thrive. In 2019, HIP is launching a national cohort of Líderes that will examine the state of philanthropy in Latinx communities and confront anti-Black, anti-indigenous, and anti-immigrant biases in our communities. By year’s end, we will have more than 150 leadership program alumni who, along with our grantees and partners, will function as a diverse and robust network that will demand change from the outside — while building change from the inside.
Fighting together against racism and xenophobia
A discourse that is racist and xenophobic affects many communities, including people of color, LGBTQI, immigrants, and low-income families. We are all together, even though some challenges are framed as “Latinx issues,” such as the border wall. When I visited the Tijuana-San Diego border, I witnessed Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans — but also people from Haiti, Russia, Cuba, Nepal, and Congo — trapped at the border. Regressive policies don’t just impact Latinxs. They impact humanity and force us to address ugly and difficult realities.
The current political rhetoric is overwhelming and frightening. Many people are responding by withdrawing or becoming apathetic — disengaging and moving away from developing community infrastructure. This is dangerous. We need to nurture participation and show its importance.
To meet these extreme challenges, we seek out an approach that is resilient and includes diverse voices. Together we can be optimistic — we can hold up a common vision of a more fair and just society. It must be our heart that powers this moment. This is about all of us and we will not hide or turn a blind eye to the attacks and policies that impact our sisters and brothers in other communities.
All of my conversations during my first year touched on the need for intersectional solidarity. We must come together and do more work around racial equity and healing across the Americas. HIP is committed to supporting cross-community and transnational partners fighting similar battles. We are committed to uniting to boost our collective power and influence. HIP is proud to be in solidarity with — sometimes leading, sometimes following — a broader social justice movement.
Be a part of building the collective corazón
The heart is a complicated organ. It beats through an elaborate system of tissue, muscle, and cells that work together to pump energy into an even bigger system. This is what we’re building at HIP: the collective corazón. We are building a collective that is innovative, action-oriented, connected, informed, influential, and ready to act. I want HIP network members to be able to learn from each other and leverage each other’s expertise, strengths, talents, and resources. I want to improve and democratize philanthropy, to make giving easier, more effective, and influential. I want to build a powerful collective that will allow us to solve problems in a more accelerated, deeper, and sustained way.
I want to continue to listen to and hear from you directly as we move HIP forward, boldly and unapologetically in our commitment to our community. Join me in Washington, DC from June 5th-7th, for our annual conference and gala, The Time Is Now, The Power is Ours. Nuestro Momento, Nuestro Poder.
This corazón colectivo is what HIP is committed to celebrate, fight for, and build. Together we are unstoppable. Will you join us?