You’re the Vice President of Program at Pacific Foundation Services. What inspired you to get into philanthropy?
I entered philanthropy through the field of education. I really wanted to make the educational opportunities that I had growing up available to all children. My parents had both been teachers, so naturally school was important to them, and they gave me that message. It helped that I always liked school, and I saw how the benefits of education played out for me. I earned a PhD from Stanford’s School of Education and started out as an evaluator focusing on education policy and reform. That work led me to Peninsula Community Foundation, where I was the education program officer, and that was the beginning of my career in philanthropy. I’m more of a generalist now, but I still have a soft spot for children and education.
What topic in philanthropy is top of mind for you at the moment?
Equity is really top of mind for the whole field right now. Asking how philanthropy can promote or create a more equitable society—that’s the burning question. We’re asking ourselves how we can work to advance justice and fairness so that everyone has access to the opportunities, networks, and resources they need to thrive. For the last few years there’s been a growing focus on equity in the field—I see it at conferences, in the work of foundations across the country, in conversation with grantees, and certainly among our team here at PFS. As a staff, we’ve been talking a lot about this for the last couple of years. As a result, we’re more aware and we’re bringing it forward with the foundations we support.
How does equity show up in your work with PFS client foundations?
It’s an added consideration and a new lens for our staff and foundations to use as they approach the issues they’re committed to tackling. Several PSF client foundations are focused on social challenges, and they’re starting to look at how equity relates to and sits within that challenge. For instance, when Sand Hill Foundation recently designed an initiative around teen mental health, they did so with an equity lens. Pinpoint Foundation is another: they’re focused on maternal health, and there’s research that shows disproportionately high maternal mortality rates among African American women, so that’s informing their work. Research in general is changing as society becomes more cognizant. There’s an understanding now, for example, that you can’t conduct medical research only on white males and come away with data needed to understand different populations. Looking at people from different backgrounds and orientating research that way is relatively new. PFS is beginning to bring the research forward, and our clients are also bringing research to the table. It’s a dialogue, and it helps us all to be as informed as possible as we approach the work.
Here in the Bay Area, our region is changing rapidly in both positive and challenging ways. As you consider the changes, what’s your greatest hope for the Bay Area?
The housing crisis is really front and center. It seems like the only way we’re going to get out of it is with really creative solutions, and that’s where philanthropy can add value. It’s a huge challenge. There are many interrelated factors—housing, development, transit, economic growth, education and workforce training—it’s really about our whole regional ecosystem. Philanthropy has the freedom and the resources to innovate and integrate. The field has the potential to drive solutions, with the notion that government can take the best ideas to scale. This is really the promise of philanthropy: to create and be bold. To me, that’s where the real hope and opportunity lie.
How has your work changed your outlook?
I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to achieve social change than I did 20 years ago. I came into the field with a lot of idealism, and I thought about the world in a more linear way. I’ve been humbled by that. I now know that it’s much more difficult to make change, but I also have a deeper appreciation for the inches of progress we’re making. Having worked in philanthropy for two decades, I can look back 10 years ago to the conversation about equity and fairness, for example, and really see the power and potential of philanthropy to make a profound difference.
Speaking of the power to make a difference, our world has benefitted from the leadership of so many change-makers, past and present. Who among them do you especially admire?
Honestly, it’s nonprofit leaders who I really admire. Each time I do a site visit or a call with a nonprofit, I get to see how deeply committed they are to the work. They see a problem and they jump in. Whether they’re creating a new organization or leading an existing one, they’re doers. It’s that impulse to see a need or a challenge and think, “I can do something about it.” That’s what I truly admire.
Before this interview, I asked you to think about PFS’s six organizational values—generosity, respect, integrity, inclusion, commitment and humility—and share how one of them shows up in your day-to-day work. Which one did you chose?
I chose commitment. The fact that we have long-term relationships with our clients really enhances our work. The longevity of those commitments means that we can help foundations through different stages of their lifecycle and really be a part of their team. I also see commitment coming through in how we value people here at PFS. A big part of my work is focused on helping our people grow in their careers and investing in them, not just professionally, but as people.
What’s something unexpected that you like to do outside of work?
In the last year, I’ve taken up line dancing. It’s totally random and very fun! I’ve also started to binge-watch Turn Up Charlie on Netflix with Idris Elba. It’s my new guilty pleasure.
Can you recommend a great book you’ve read recently?
I recently read Educated by Tara Westover and really loved that book. It’s a memoir that offers a window into a world that’s totally foreign to me, and I imagine, to most people. It’s about courage and survival, and ultimately, about the power of education to transform one’s life.
As you look to the future, what issue in society feels especially urgent?
I’d have to go back to the equity question, and what’s encouraging is to consider how much the conversation has changed. As I look to the next generation—to the young people who are becoming adults today—their perspectives on equity and difference, on power and privilege, are so much more advanced and comfortable than for some of us from older generations. A lot of that conversation and thinking has been fueled by the nonprofit sector, and by extension, philanthropy. That gives me great hope.