I have always questioned the point to which vested interests keep the status quo in philanthropy, knowing deep down the answer is more than likely about power and elements of fiscal conservatism, because I can’t for the life of me see why folks would create endowments and keep funds in perpetuity just as a sustainability measure. That would be one element of course, but not the sole reason for making an investment in an organization.
It can’t be.
Philanthropy to me is about legacy and that the investments we talk about are really in the future vibrancy and vitality of the community at large, with the organization holding that corpus is the best vehicle to ensure that vision is realized.
Philanthropy is ever changing and we need to start taking steps towards a more innovative approach (and conversation) to how we do our work. That includes smarter investments in our portfolios, our people and our partners.
It’s about flexibility, awareness and an openness to make things right, understanding that the whole role of nonprofits is effectively to put themselves out of business by solving the issues that drive its mission, not looking at ways to pump prime the operations budget through aggressive tinkering in the stock market.
There are arguments to be made against the rapid professionalism of the sector especially around the financial and administrative sides of the house, noting that the bigger the organization gets, the more technocratic and with it the dilution of ‘what really matters’. I’m talking here about the pioneering role of philanthropy, the ways that it convenes ideas, seeds solutions and is nimble enough to take bets on our best and brightest individuals.
My real worry is that the sector is losing that spirit, becoming more and more reactive in a populist world and shying away from being a key difference maker in favor of not rocking the boat. Also known as keeping the status quo.
But there are folks out there on the frontlines, working hard, yet diligently, passionately, yet pragmatically, moving our sector towards one that is more accepting of change, and one that can see our future beyond the constraints of annual reports. They are fast tracking the trends we are seeing in the sector and accelerating their implementation through leadership, influence and effectively resetting the table in a way that is inclusive, accessible and to be frank more honest with the needs of the next few decades. We are excited to feature three of them in the talent pillar of the book.
Sara Vaz – Sara is Community Relations Manager for the Nordson Corporation Foundation. In her role as the Community Relations Manager, Sara manages all of the Corporate Social Responsibility Activities for Nordson in the California and Colorado regions. Previously, Sara was the Program Manager for the Gary and Mary West Foundation focusing her efforts on their Youth Employment and Service Animal portfolios. Sara has an MA in International Relations from Alliant International University and has spent many years serving the refugee community in San Diego. She has served as Vice-Chair of the San Diego Refugee Forum and Board Chair of Somali Family Services. Sara now serves on the Board of Directors of Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties, a regional association of grantmakers, the Any Body Can Youth Foundation an organization in Southeast San Diego, an after-school program which is a boxing gym built within the confines of a learning center/library. Sara also served as the Co-Chair of for Women Give San Diego, a donor circle that funds non-profit organizations in San Diego County that offer underserved women and girls the opportunity to enhance their participation in the regional economy and become fully engaged in the prosperity of their local communities. In addition to her work in the nonprofit community, Sara also owned and operated Link Staffing Services for a number of years.
Sarah Moran – Sarah Moran is CEO and co-founder of Girl Geek Academy, a social enterprise on a mission to help inspire one million women into technology by 2025.
Sarah has been immersed in tech and STEM for most of her career. Learning how to code at the age of five and building websites and digital products throughout her teens, Sarah was confronted by the negative stereotypes around girls and tech within the teaching world. She has also worked across Australia and Silicon Valley, where she witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by women in the industry.
Sarah established Girl Geek Academy in 2014 alongside her four fellow co-founders as a place to learn, connect and inspire change. The Girl Geek Academy programs are for girls from the age of five right through to 95. Helping inspire a generational shift in the way political leaders, schools, young girls and professional women think about and practice STEM, Girl Geek Academy has trained more than 1000 teachers in #MissMakesCode, the world’s first hackathon for girls aged five to eight. That equates to a reach of more than 10,000 students in Australia now exposed to STEM education from the age of five.
Sarah’s vision is to challenge the stereotypes and create positive and visible new role models – whether that’s for women within the tech and games industries, making and wearables, building startups, or executive leadership for women in large technology organisations. This also led to the publishing of a young adult fiction series with Penguin Books in 2019.
In 2018, Sarah was awarded the Australian Women’s Weekly Woman of the Future Award and also the QUT Young Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alumni Award. She was also a finalist for Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year.
An active community contributor, Sarah works with the Leonardo group and Science Gallery Melbourne, is a member of the Victorian Minister’s Advisory Council for Gender Equality, an ambassador for Brisbane City Council’s youth program, Visible Ink, and is a member of the Future of Work Summit advisory board. She also sits on the VicHealth Youth Taskforce and is a VicHealth champion.
Zahirah Mann – Zahirah joined the The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation in 2017, having over fifteen years of experience working with nonprofits in the Los Angeles region, including as a Program Officer at the Annenberg Foundation and Program Manager at United Way of Greater Los Angeles, leading a collaborative of private and public funders investing in solutions to end homelessness. Before entering philanthropy, Zahirah was a public interest attorney representing and advising nonprofits, coalitions and governmental entities. She received her J.D. cum laude from Tulane Law School and her A.B. from Vassar College.
These three women are not only leading from the front but they are open doors for a new generation of voices, who gravitate to their work in building a united and intersectional approach to change, and I am sure you will begin to follow their progress too after reading their viewpoints on how philanthropy is shifting with with new standards and expectations demanded by the communities they serve.
Sara, Sarah and Zahirah are learners, listeners and doers. And while our talent pillar speaks about the need for new talent, where we can find it and how we can empower them to break through glass ceilings, their stories underpin it with real examples.
The next step is making sure the ecosystem is rebuilt in a dynamic way for them to thrive and that they have the tools, funding, networks and support structures to enact real change, otherwise we will begin to see that ceiling become the entire structure and one where we become afraid of using the stones we have fought so hard to acquire.