Racial inequity a focus for new Silicon Valley Community Foundation panel
Silicon Valley Foundation CEO Nicole Taylor is pictured in this file photo.

    In an effort to ensure people of color get a bigger slice of grant dollars, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation this month launched a panel of 22 community leaders to help oversee efforts to improve racial, social and economic inequities throughout the Bay Area.

    The new Community Advisory Council is comprised of representatives from a wide range of local nonprofits and organizations, including First 5 San Mateo, Project WeHope and the Youth Leadership Institute.

    The council comes as the foundation rolls out a new strategic plan focused on “reducing systemic disparities” in Silicon Valley amid calls for racial justice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “SVCF is committed to ensuring that our work moving forward firmly and unapologetically fights for the systemic changes needed to truly transform the communities we serve,” said President and CEO Nicole Taylor.“The members of this council will be instrumental in helping us implement strategies and policies that are rooted in the pursuit of abolishing social and economic inequities and racial injustices.”

    Taylor commissioned the Bridgespan Group to develop a new strategy for the foundation after she took over as CEO in 2018, following Emmett Carson’s resignation amid allegations of a toxic workplace culture.

    Carson, who grew SVCF into the nation’s largest community foundation, was widely criticized for focusing on amassing assets and contributing to national and international charities over local grantmaking, in addition to ignoring sexually inappropriate and bullying behavior from his executive. Taylor has since worked to rebuild the foundation.

    “I want to put the ‘community’ back into ‘community foundation,’” Taylor said in an interview with The Chronicle Philanthropy earlier this year.

    As part of this plan, SVCF leaders will prioritize “populations facing the most vulnerable circumstances” including low-income households, immigrants and communities of color in its work. The new council will help oversee the implementation of this plan to ensure the foundation is addressing the most significant challenges for those communities.

    The council met for the first time in July and plans to meet four more times through 2021.

    Mauricio Palma, SVCF’s director of strategic initiatives and partnerships, said the council creates a forum for leaders of color that has never existed before and will bring a “lens of equity” to the foundation’s work.

    “They will ensure that policy practices and strategies reflect their voices and the voices of the communities they serve,” said Palma, “It’s important to underline the fact that we need to intentionally and consciously use race, equity and social justice as a lens to contextualize our work and address challenges in the community. Only then can we truly acknowledge the legacy of racial injustice and dismantle it.”

    One of the many challenges the council is looking to address is inequity in philanthropy itself. Palma said the biggest concern from the inception of the council has been the lack of philanthropic support for communities of color and minority-led organizations.

    According to the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Justice, only 10% of U.S. grant dollars are targeted toward people of color. Meanwhile, a study by Bridgespan and Echoing Green found that organizations led by people of color typically receive less grant money than their white-led counterparts.

    “We are often fighting against bigger nonprofits that tend to be led by white men and women,” said Jessica Paz-Cedillos, a member of SVCF’s new council and executive director of School and Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza. “As a Latina leader, I can tell you I have had to work really hard to get visibility, external partnerships and funding needed to do important work. Typically when a funder funds an organization run by a person of color that is place-based, the amount is less and the requirements are much higher.”

    Paz-Cedillos said having leaders of color on the council will help inform the giving strategy of the foundation, as well as how other funders can “show up to support the real work of equity and social justice.”

    She added that philanthropic efforts toward people of color are typically developed without input from those communities.

    “When you think about the legacy of racism and violence in this country, it is people of color who have been impacted,” said Paz-Cedillos. “Often we are left out of tables so the solutions that are being developed aren’t effective.”

    Tony Roshan Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat, said representation in philanthropy is just as important as diversity in government and business.

    “We want people representing the most impacted populations to actually be at the table and be able to talk about what’s happening in the community and bring historical experience to craft solutions” said Samara. “It’s important to have the right people involved so that when these things become public campaigns they reflect deeper understandings of the problem.”

    Contact Devin Collins at [email protected] or follow @dev_collins2 on Twitter.

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