Fay Twersky, vice president at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, recently launched The Listening Post, a monthly note dedicated to lifting up exceptional ideas, voices, and questions that can help all of us become more effective in our philanthropy. She’ll also share what the team at Hewlett is learning alongside its grantees.
An excerpt from the August edition is below:
How are people in our philanthropic community listening?
In the spirit of learning, I’m sharing the Listening Post mic with Marcus Walton, the new President and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, who listens closely to community to build greater equity in grantmaking.
Fay: I have been struck by your focus on listening to community. What do you see as the essential link between listening, grantmaker effectiveness, and racial equity?
Marcus: My Midwestern upbringing, which emphasized hard work, respecting others, and being a person of high character also exposed me to civically engaged community leaders who established deep local roots through spending time together exchanging stories, supporting each other’s needs, and sharing ideas for experiencing a more fulfilling quality of life.
I observed, firsthand, how this process cultivated trust profoundly among neighborhood residents, and ensured that everyone received the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to any local affairs. Only in hindsight did I understand that they were building social and political power, which I define as “the capacity to self-actualize and self-govern without obstruction”– an expression of one of the most enduring features of our rights as American citizens.
Later, my experience as a community organizer confirmed the lessons from my upbringing, and confirmed that the people closest to any scenario are best suited to respond to it with the exact solutions required for thriving. My colleagues Rodney Foxworth and Antony Bugg-Levine cover this brilliantly in their piece, How to Avoid Excuses That Prevent Grant Makers From Aiding Black-led Organizations, noting that “they understand the context, the challenges, the opportunity, the aspirations, and the motivations for change.”
As a result of these experiences, I understand listening—being fully present to the wants, needs, desires, disappointments, fears, shortcomings, and aspirations of others without judgment or distraction—as essential to any process that involves identifying and resolving persistent barriers to progress or access to resources and opportunities. The most effective philanthropy engages the people closest to the issues to learn, exchange insights or observations, and generate meaningful solutions. Equity describes a scenario when the quality of one’s experience cannot be predicted based on any identifying variable such as age, faith, gender, class, ability, education level, political affiliation, sexual orientation, residential status or ethnicity. Each of these concepts work together.
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