Who knew one could be so refreshed and reenergized after flying across the country and spending less than 48 hours in Miami without ever setting foot on the famed sands of South Beach. This was my thought after a quick trip from Northern California to Miami last week to attend the Council on Foundation’s (COF) 2019 Leading Together conference.
The conference opening included a welcome from new COF President and CEO, Kathleen Enright who shared a touching story of her parents reminding us that ‘at the ‘heart of all of our work is love’. Opening panel moderator and Skillman Foundation President and CEO, Tonya Allen later asserted that ‘we can’t move beyond boundaries to drive systemic change if we don’t have radical love for mankind’. Reflections on the role of love in philanthropy was further tempered by opening panelist and Surdna Foundation President Don Chen who remarked that ‘if philanthropy is moved by radical love, it must be paired with radical transparency’. And with the powerful opening panel that also prompted us to remember that in order to transform the world, we have to be willing to transform ourselves and reexamine our practices, I set off on my conference learning journey filled with love and hope.
The first stop on my journey was a session on how partnership with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can advance placed based impact investing. The Foundation at which I work has made mission investments for over 35 years, including traditional loans to nonprofits, equity investments in mission aligned companies and most recently investment in impact tranches. Despite the institution’s long history, I have often been challenged to find more ‘bite sized’ investments that have the ability to help achieve greater impact in our localized communities. The session provided a playbook for working with CDFIs as a means toward achieving more equitable and localized impact when you may only have more modest funds to deploy.
Panelists highlighted examples one could employ from providing TA grants alongside investments to interest rate buy downs and credit enhancements. However, what stood out for me was not the actual ‘what’ of the investments, but rather the ‘how’ you go about making the investments. The practitioner panelists emphasized working in true partnership with collaborators and their pro tips included establishing shared language and shared impact statements, and being in honest dialogue around return expectations, risk appetite and willingness to do local investing. These tips very much reinforced the conference theme of how we lead together alongside community partners. The session certainly fired me up and connecting with a local CDFI will be on my list of to dos. Throughout my time at 2019 Leading Together, my inspiration and list of to dos kept exponentially growing.
Less than 48 hours after arriving in Miami, it was time to depart. I made my way to Miami International with a notebook jam-packed with scrawls of inspiration, a conference app filled with resourceful ppts, myriad new expert contacts to draw upon, and ideas for partnership to help lift up the communities in which I work. I left Miami with new appreciation for the learning, connection, and future ‘leading together’ that can happen when colleagues gather for a few short days at a well-designed and inspired learning space. No beach required.
Irene Wong is Director, Local Grantmaking Program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation