We are the Work

July 17, 2019
By Yanique Redwood

After seven years at Consumer Health Foundation, I have learned the most important lesson of my career: If you want to change the world, first change yourself. It is this lesson in humility that led me to withdraw from the many change efforts that I had belonged to over the past several years. I had witnessed people with privilege and power waking up to the devastating impact of racial inequity, only to see them continue to grab for the same privilege and power that they would need to give up in order to achieve racial equity. In light of this sobering reality, I set about to change what I could actually control—myself and the organization that I lead.

If you have read our two previous blogs Honoring the Difficult and Shifting Focus: From Charity to Power Building, you know that CHF is transforming. We have examined our own systems and structures and found that we are still too far away from being truly equitable. Our measuring stick is not how far we have come, rather how close we are to the world we envision, a world in which community voice is centered and power is shared and ceded.

Power and Community

Where does the most power reside in a private foundation? I would argue that it resides with the Board of Trustees. Therefore, our transformation began with recruiting a cohort of community members to our Board of Trustees.

What do we mean by community? We are still defining it. Some board members are uncomfortable with the distinction between themselves and community. Aren’t we all the same? Aren’t we all part of the community? While some are wrestling with this question, I am pretty clear that I am not the community member whose experience I am seeking to center.

I ask myself, “In what ways do I identify with someone struggling with homelessness, minimum wage work as an adult or chronic unemployment or underemployment when I have never (not one time in my life) had this experience?” Yes, we are all human, so I imagine we will share much in common, but I also imagine that there are important ways in which our lives diverge. I am not willing to gloss over these differences. I need to make this distinction so that I no longer make decisions about life circumstances I know nothing about. I want to make decisions with people who live courageously, yet precariously in ways that I cannot imagine. I want to sit in that tension. The rest of the Board does too.

Foundation Learning Days

To make this happen, we revamped our board recruitment process. We worked with our nonprofit partners to identify community members for CHF’s Health, Economic and Racial Equity Community Leaders Initiative. These 26 individuals, along with others recruited through community interest meetings, then participated in three foundation learning days this summer. The goal of these learning days was to lift the veil on the philanthropic sector and invite community members into a conversation about how to disrupt its norms of white dominant culture.

This popular education series was designed in partnership with our consultants 2 Brown Girls.

  • The first learning day was a deep dive on the racist and capitalist roots of philanthropy and how we negotiate that history given the kind of change we are seeking today. We invited two leaders of color in philanthropy to join us for that discussion.
  • The second learning day examined power and conflict in the board room and used highly engaging participatory methods to explore board governance. We also introduced community members to other foundations and nonprofits seeking to center community voice and engagement in their efforts.
  • The third and final learning day was devoted to board committee work as well as grantmaking. Community members got a chance to tackle big questions that committees are concerned with—participatory grantmaking, financial sustainability, and creating a cohesive board as we transform. They also began the process of defining values and strategy to guide a $20,000 grantmaking pool.

These learning days were conducted in two languages (English and Spanish) and evolved over time from interpretation at the first session to creating a truly dual language space by the third session. We invited interpreters to be a part of planning meetings so that all content (written and spoken) and the breakout sessions could be designed with two languages in mind.

Join Us!

To date, we have received 13 applications for board membership. It is not too late to apply! If you or someone you know has had experience with housing instability, low-wage work, underemployment or unemployment within the last five years, we are interested in having your expertise on the CHF Board of Trustees. Our application can be found here in English, Spanish and Amharic. We have extended the deadline to Monday, July 22 at noon.

If you are a foundation or nonprofit organization seeking to involve community members meaningfully in your work, we would also love to hear from you. Many of the community members who participated in foundation learning days are interested in philanthropic and nonprofit opportunities for leadership.

Email our healing justice associate, Nia, at nia@consumerhealthfdn.org for more information.



One response to “We are the Work”

  1. The new message in titles and board recruitment criteria speaks volume to the level of maturing CHF undertaking. It is a powerful message to change yourself first and empower those most affected. To actually live it is another challenge. CHF is on an amazing road that will change lives. The Juanita C. Grant Foundation applauds and supports you.

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