Equity, Inclusion, and Social Change Leadership
Jennifer Vanica | September 2, 2016
At the start of the PolicyLink Equity Summit last summer, poet Mayda Del Valle delivered a powerful plea for equity and justice. Her plea has been going around in my head ever since. “This is our moment,” she chanted in her call to action. She is right. This is our moment — or our next moment, depending on our generation — to claim the torch.
To step into a future in which everyone can see a pathway to opportunity, we are being called to step out of the safety zone of what we think we know, move away from convention, and risk action without having an answer. In the field of social change philanthropy, we are being called to let go of thinking that the way to scale strategies for change is by closing gaps in services, investing in projects that have guaranteed outcomes and income streams, and aligning “stakeholders” defined only as institutional partners.
To achieve the kind of inclusive society we seek, we must be willing to include people — not the least of which are the people we seek to serve — in the development of our strategies and our decision-making about time and resources. We must be willing to engage in a very different kind of conversation — first and foremost — with citizens across enormous differences. We must work in a way that puts inclusion, human connection, the respect for our differences at the forefront. And we must have the courage to listen, even if we don’t want to hear what people have to say.
To lead today is to believe deeply that everyone is capable of and needed for “claiming the torch,” as Mayda so beautifully articulates in this PolicyLink video. She is not alone.
Today, when we look at the issues our historically disinvested communities face, it is more important than ever that we don’t just weigh the risks of moving forward in an inclusive and participatory way — we also weigh the risks of not moving forward in this way?
The world does not always change the way we think it can change — through grand initiatives, catalytic grants, and astute theories. Change comes from within, and more often than not, is triggered through turbulent interactions and simple acts of kindness. Meaningful and lasting change depends on the whole ecosystem working in direct relationship, staying open and real, embracing each other as people and not roles, contributing to a can-do spirit, and embracing the challenges of change.
As today’s philanthropic leaders, we must learn to model in our own work — and lives — the inclusive society we want to build. We must claim the torch along side of Mayda and the many others who are willing to take a step.
In philanthropy, it is time to let go of the belief that efficient is faster, and faster is more effective — and realize what is rooted in the African proverb:
“To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together.”