By: Elizabeth Washburn, Principal at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, which supports social entrepreneurs solving the world’s most complex social problems.
My abuela was a person of joy – all my memories of her involve laughing or singing. Mimi fit in perfectly with the bright light and breezy palms of Florida, where she had moved from Puerto Rico in the 1950s after marrying my grandfather. She held Puerto Rico close, ensuring that I grew up knowing her family, recognizing the song of the iconic coquí frog, and adoring arroz con habichuelas. Mimi’s joy and strength inspired me to master Spanish as a young adult and embrace our roots in my own way.
When I joined the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, these roots inspired me to seek out great Latino social entrepreneurs whom we might support. But without a deep network I was not entirely sure where to start.
I was grateful to attend LCF’s recent Latino Nonprofit Accelerator cohort retreat as a guest. I should have known it would be different when Masha, the organizer, greeted me with, “Welcome Home.” The whole day was dynamic and supportive, and the funder discussion especially struck me.
At typical Funder events, we wear fancy name tags that identify us, and are given a seat that denotes our role and power — across the table, or on a stage where we do more talking than listening. This was totally different. Everyone wore a handwritten name tag. We sat in a giant, organic circle. Funders were mixed in with the nonprofit leaders and I often couldn’t tell who was who. The impact was profound and immediate — within minutes, the conversation went deep. Even when Mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs, the now internationally recognized 28-year-old African American leader joined the circle, the environment stayed real and the conversation authentic.
Because everyone felt uniquely invited to open up, I learned so much about the issues LCF’s cohort is tackling in such in a short time. Participants spoke in unvarnished terms about the impacts of economic inequity, police violence, addiction, and mass incarceration on them, their families, and their communities. And the LCF discussion added another layer onto these immense challenges: immigration status. One leader told the story of running away from ICE as young girl, even though she was born in this country. She was running to support her friends and relatives who were a mix of documented and undocumented individuals. They recalled their parents leaving for work in the fields each day, not with a quick see you later, but instead with the refrain, “Remember, if we don’t come home by sundown, something may have happened to us. Go to your tía’s and she will know what to do.”
As grassroots nonprofit leaders they also shared their fundraising challenges. Investors fund who they know, and if your network doesn’t include Program Officers, it’s hard to get noticed. A lesson that I am learning is how important it is to spend more time building relationships and solidarity with leaders closest to the work on the ground by listening first.
The conversation built my understanding and challenged my thinking in critical ways, but also gave me so much inspiration. There was pain, but there was also so much hope, power, and solidarity in the room. Most importantly, I realized that if we want our portfolio to reflect the true strength of Latinos in the US, we must build relationships with Accelerators like LCF, which can help us be authentic allies to those communities where we may not have the deepest roots.
Because when passionate, supportive and tenacious groups like LCF and DRK — who have different networks but share many common goals — work together, we can build communities where everyone feels welcome. Everyone from my abuela from a tiny island in the Caribbean to a Central American refugee family pursuing opportunity. That is powerful and something well worth fighting for.
Top Photo: Participant of Laboratoria, a nonprofit in the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation portfolio.