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Foundations: Advancing Equity Also Requires an Inward Look

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The world of philanthropy isn't immune from the need to improve workplace culture as society demands greater equity. One Minnesota organization is among those enacting changes in light of the pandemic and racial reckoning.

Improving communities and helping to foster social justice are common missions for nonprofits, and some groups have said that in order to stay true to their work, their internal operations also must reflect their values.

Nadege Souvenir, senior vice president for operations and learning at the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation, said an example includes their information-technology department asking outside vendors to update language routinely seen on staff computer screens that could be deemed offensive.

"Some of the language used in spam vendors - 'black-listing,' 'white listing' - is unnecessarily racist language," she said.

The foundation also has changed its recruiting practices, including no longer having a college-degree requirement for all job postings. Philanthropic groups also have faced criticism from smaller nonprofits over onerous grant applications that restrict spending. Souvenir noted that the foundation has responded in the last year by opening up more funding for operating expenses.

Demetric Duckett, managing director of Living Cities, a collaboration of 19 of the world's largest foundations and financial institutions, acknowledged that staff diversity still is a challenge in this sector that must be addressed.

"If you're going to be able to create solutions," he said, "you have to ask how can you figure out problems in situations that aren't familiar to you?"

He suggested that having a more diverse staff with different perspectives can help foundations address community-level issues without being out of touch. Living Cities has prioritized anti-racism training for its board members, allowing them to share the findings with the groups they oversee.

Disclosure: The Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Education, Health Issues, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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