Thought Leadership

Championing Equity and Impact in Practice and in Place: View the Day 3 Plenary from the MIE 2018 Conference

On the third day of the Mission Investors Exchange 2018 National Conference, plenary panelists Lata Reddy of the Prudential Foundation, Lori Bezahler of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, Jamie Merisotis of Lumina Foundation, and Jocelyn Sargent of Hyams Foundation engaged in a pragmatic conversation on how foundations are driving racial and social justice through their impact investing practices. The panel was moderated by Kurt Summers, Treasurer of the City of Chicago.
 
See below for the plenary recording and discussion highlights.
 
 
 

Discussion Highlights

More Listening is Needed — and Acting on What You Hear

It is important to authentically engage the community you are working in, said Reddy, and "meet people where they are." Reddy went on to provide an example of how Prudential partnered with community leaders in Newark to preserve certain services of a community-based organization  providing youth programs when a charter school was financed to purchase the facility in which it had previously operated. Click here for more on Prudential Foundation's investment in equity and inclusion.
 
“You have to step back sometimes and say, ‘I am actually not living the experience,’” noted Bezahler in describing the Hazen Foundation’s decision not to pursue an investment in a student loan program for individuals eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy— in light of community concerns about contributing further to the student debt crisis. Lori continued: “We have the privilege of having all these great ideas. But we have to remember that our power and our privilege is not necessarily the experience of the young people we’re trying to serve."
 
Sargent also discussed the ways in which Hyams Foundation integrated community listening into its overall strategy. In addition to drawing on community insight to look beyond grantmaking to impact investing in its role as a foundation, Hyams also supports grassroots leadership development and community organizing among its programmatic areas.
 
Foundations can play a powerful role as community partners, Summers noted: “I can’t tell you enough how impactful it can be when you have a partner in philanthropy that […] says we’re able to listen to the community in a way that flies above the political agenda and can also do so from a place of trust and credibility.”
 

Collaboration is Necessary To Achieve Scale & Impact

Although collaboration is a critical ingredient of social change, the impact investing field has leveraged it in unique ways. “We say we do [collaboration] but we don’t always do it. It’s harder to do than it looks,” noted Merisotis in discussing the role of partnership in philanthropy. “But… impact investing is a space where you’ve got to do it…. you’ve got to find like minded partners that are actually going to stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”  
 
Merisotis described the ways in which Lumina catalyzes additional investments in its venture practice, which also reflects its commitment to equity and inclusion, by investing in early stage companies and using the foundation’s brand to bring other potential investors to the table. Sargent also discussed the importance of learning together and the role of place-based foundations, including community foundations in supporting community collaboration.
 

It Is Important To Tackle the Issues of Race and Equity "Head On"

Panelists also discussed the importance of directly addressing matters of race and equity, rather than expecting a derivative effect from other activities. “If you care about equity,” said Merisotis, “make it a priority.” Examples that Merisotis provided in describing how Lumina directly focuses on racial equity included prioritizing the hiring of diverse managers and investing in entrepreneurs of color.
 
This is a "movement moment," said Bezahler, in emphasizing the urgency of acting now. "Young people in our country are [...] telling us that we must listen. Now we must ask how to make sustainable change — because moments end." Bezahler went on to describe sustainable points of change, including changing who foundations are hiring and examining demographic information on leadership in the organizations that they fund.
 
The panel ended with a call from Sargent encouraging the audience to come together more often to ask difficult questions about what risk means in the foundation community. She asks, "Underserved communities and […] communities that have been disinvested in —  aren’t they emerging markets?" In closing the plenary, Summers picked up on Sargent’s final question and challenged the field to reconsider “the domestic emerging market and the opportunity for investment.”
 

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