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Guest Post: Kiran Tahir on Foundations and Diversity

March 3, 2009

We are pleased to welcome Kiran Tahir as a guest author at SAPP.  Kiran is the Member Services Assistant at the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance, a regional association of grantmakers.  She is also currently serving as a Chapter Leader for Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy – Indiana.

Foundations Push for Diversity: Are We Ready?

As a South Asian, it has been very interesting for me to observe the increased push by foundations for diversity. Grantmakers are making efforts to increase the number of minorities on staff and to ensure their grant dollars are reaching the broadest population. This is a welcome effort given the percentage of grant dollars given to minorities has remained nearly consistent over the past 15 years.

As always, there are conflicts. Some say that funding to support social service organizations, also in turn serve a significant population of minorities, and that additional funding to specific minority organizations is not a priority. Others propose that more grant dollars need to be channeled through organizations supporting specific ethnic and racial minority groups. And as always, there are challenges with collecting sufficient data on exact dollar amounts reaching certain groups. Regardless of where exactly the discussion goes, foundations are indeed making great strides to ensure their grants are reaching the widest range of organizations and individuals. This is good news for us. But, are we ready? Are we ready to critically think about our role in this favorable shift of interests by grantmaking foundations?

I was attending a regional networking gathering last year in northern Indiana. The Executive Director of a local foundation expressed her concern regarding a significant increase of refugees from Burma to their town. She implored her fellow grantmakers to fully understand the scope of this dramatic population shift. The challenges are many. Several of the refugees are illiterate. Many carry illnesses that modern medicine has cured and are rarely seen now. Few possess skills that would allow them to find suitable employment. Families came with limited items and are ill prepared for the chilly winters of Indiana. The E.D. quickly recognized that these challenges need to be addressed. However, the social services available are unable to cope with the sheer volume of people and their unique challenges. The foundation is ready and willing to support institutions aiding the Burmese refugees, but the infrastructure to provide aid to the refugees is simply not in place. This complicates the ability of a funder to support a needed cause. The community is continuously struggling to serve the Burmese population.

This scenario is an isolated pocket in northern Indiana, but it is important to recognize that situations like this occur in small towns across America. Foundations are ready to give, how are we going to ensure that adequate funding is reaching those that need it the most?

I would like to start a working list of methods to ensure that we’re doing our part to help foundations give. My own suggestions are in no way exhaustive, I encourage you, fellow philanthropists, to contribute your insights.

  • Join an Affinity Group – If you’re working for a foundation, join an affinity group such as AAPIP (Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) or EPIP (Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy). These groups provide great networking opportunities and a chance to gain greater insight into the funding interests of other foundations.
  • Make Your Cause a Community Cause – Part of engaging foundations is to educate them about values that are considered important to the public.
  • Start a Giving Circle – This is a great way to start a network of people all supporting a similar cause. It’s also a great way to bring attention to a community cause.
  • Creating a Resource Guide – Start an organized compilation of organizations, leaders, networks that work with and understand South Asians.  Grantmakers are looking to fund minority and grassroots organizations, we should have information on those organizations ready for them.
  • Networking – Get to know people in your community who are also philanthropic, even if they’re not South Asian. Foundations are trying to invest in strong leadership. They recognize that leaders are a long term investment in the stability of immigrant communities.

— Kiran Tahir


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