Last month during our quarterly team retreat we met with Mark Gerzon, Founder of the Mediators Foundation, to dive into the theme of giving and receiving feedback. At the close of our session – after we had practiced getting very honest with one another and holding our seats (that’s a whole other story!) – we opened ourselves up to receiving feedback from Mark about our organization. He clasped his hands in front of him, looked each one of us in the eyes, and calmly said, “Well, are you trying to be invisible in this community?” I don’t think that his wasn’t meant to be judgmental, rather he was prompting us to get clear on how we are intentionally showing up and doing work in Boulder County. As you may imagine, this gave us pause.
For many years we were so cautious about how we presented ourselves here in Colorado. We were concerned about portraying an image of a granting organization. We have worked diligently to form our identity as an organization that designs and implements our own programs, with local leaders at the helm of those. Even as we entered into partnerships with local entities here in Boulder, we were cautious to characterize those connections as ones in which we had a voice at the table and a hand in strategy and implementation. Based on Mark’s observation – alongside our tangible impact and support of various local initiatives – we might conclude that it is time to rethink this approach to how we communicate about our work here in Colorado (specifically, in Boulder County).
In all honesty, I do think that we are in a moment of shift with this. Back in the summer of 2016, we made a commitment to broaden and deepen our work here at home. Currently what this looks like is partnering with organizations and initiatives that are working to address social issues and that are putting justice and equity at the forefront of their efforts. These collaborations allow us to focus on themes of immigrant rights, indigenous rights, climate justice, and youth engagement. It also looks like continuing to work on piloting our initiative that focuses on economic justice and financial inclusion, with an emphasis on the Community Savings Group program. In the past two weeks alone, Jake, Jordan and Laura have met in person with well over a dozen folks from local organizations and entities including EFAA, The Boulder Community Foundation, Boulder Housing Partners, Centro Amistad, Entrepreneurship for All, Parents Involved in Education, BVSD Family Partnerships, Latino Chamber of Commerce , Workforce Boulder County, and Longmont Economic Development Partners.
Of course meetings alone do not make us visible. We are showing up and getting involved, and how we are doing that is critical. As we’ve done in our work in Mexico and Guatemala we are entering humbly, with more questions than answers. We are listening deeply, working toward understanding the context, recognizing the assets of community members, and the solutions that they propose. We recognize that it’s the folks who most likely aren’t at the tables at those meetings who we most need to be connecting with, and we’re finding ways to do that. Through all of this we are clarifying who we stand with, and what we stand for.
And this process is not a quick or easy one. Some of the organizations that we stand with, for example, are rooted at the University of Colorado, the institution that just voted in a leader who has a proven track record of favoring oppressive and discriminatory practices. So do we continue to support these entities, to walk alongside them, to champion their work? What is our responsibility in changing this particular institution from inside of it? Are there other individuals or organizations who may be more aligned with Philanthropiece that we should be attending to?
On a broader level, what does it mean, in fact, to be visible? Would more “visibility” be beneficial for us? If so, in what way? One definition of visibility is, “the state of being able to see or be seen.” My sense is that Mark’s question had to do with us being seen. I’m compelled with the thought that visibility also has to do with being able to see. What lenses are we looking through? What’s blocking our vision? What is it that we want or hope to see? What is it that we turn away from? These are questions that guide our work and decisions.