March 21st, 2013
March 21st, 2013
In my twenties I inherited enough money to live without a paid job.
I had grown up in Denver in a culturally Jewish family that emphasized Tikkun Olam, the value of healing the world through economic and social justice. I took these values to heart and prepared for a career in international development and women’s empowerment. At the start, my idea of justice was to spend my time helping those with less.
After grad school I moved to Kinshasa, Zaire (now DRC) and worked there for four years, launching a career working with governments, the UN and NGOs to assist in developing primary health care delivery systems and infrastructure in Africa. I was also blessed to meet the woman who became my life partner, Gael Murphy. Although I was helping, I began to understand the limits of creating justice through outside aid. Meanwhile, the funds that I had inherited basically gathered dust, partly because I was busy with my work and partly because I was ambivalent about my own wealth and privilege.
By the mid 1990’s, I decided that my cross-Atlantic commutes were terribly impractical. I cast my eye around for a set of more local, and now volunteer, consultancies in Washington, DC. I began a different sort of “commute”, a journey to reconcile my egalitarian values and my reality as an inheritor.
I was introduced to social change philanthropy at the Funding Exchange where I embraced its “change, not charity” philosophy. Later, I participated in the Threshold Foundation’s volunteer-led, consensus-based grants committees. I began to shift my focus from offering aid to empowering communities impacted by injustice to create their own solutions.
As my experience and confidence grew, I brought my new skills to the boards of Washington Area Women's Foundation, Threshold Foundation, and the Lambi Fund of Haiti. I served as an advisor to many NGOs including Changemakers, Global Fund for Women, Grantmakers without Borders (now EDGE Funders Alliance), and Be Present. It felt great to use the lessons I had learned through my giving and in my career to help these organizations thrive. Each time I volunteered I gained valuable relationships and experiences. It seemed the more I gave the more I had to offer.
My experience with Be Present, an organization dedicated to building sustainable leadership for social justice, was particularly transformative. It was there that I learned the practice of deep listening. Over many hours sitting in very diverse circles, I became more adept at understanding and taking responsibility for race and class dynamics, which allowed me to create more authentic and reliable partnerships with others. Taking the time (and I mean a LOT of time) to develop trust is an essential building block for creating strong ties and bonds across differences of all kinds. My idea of justice expanded again to include the understanding that people and communities are defined by their relationships, and that lasting change requires partnerships based in trust and solidarity.
Reflecting on these experiences, I eventually decided to dedicate my energy and resources to help strengthen and broaden the progressive movement by supporting healthy, long-term partnerships across communities and sectors. After more than twenty years supporting the leadership of others, I stepped up to lead in new, public, and bold ways. With several other donors, I founded a donor advised fund at our local community foundation to create a National Progressive Leadership Campus in Washington DC, a shared physical space for social justice work and movement building. Shared space is a cost-effective solution for chronically under-funded non-profits and the Leadership Campus will be an incubator for a culture of intentional inter-connection, based in communities of trust.
We have hired Tides’ Shared Spaces - a leader in developing multi-use, environmentally sustainable, shared spaces for non-profits - to help us develop the project. With their help we expanded the concept to include highly subsidized housing for interns and young leaders from low-income backgrounds with skill-building and leadership training for this next generation of progressive staff and leaders. We have widened our original concept to meld both strategies: to create a thriving center for progressive organizations and next generation leaders, resulting in a more powerful, cohesive and energized movement for social justice.
This project has been an incredible adventure, both challenging and affirming. It has been really fulfilling to link my personal energy with a local community that shares my global vision and values, and it has been wonderful to feel supported and empowered as a leader. I am humbled by the scale and complexity of the project, but I have new confidence in my vision and capacity. I also have renewed appreciation for the support of my own partner Gael, who co-founded Code Pink, a women’s group that challenges American militarism.
On the personal front, I have been working hard to “walk my talk.” I am trying to apply my values to the management of my assets. I asked, “How much can I really afford to give?” My answer led me to make a gigantic (for me) decision to contribute $1 million as part of Women Moving Millions, a campaign to increase the number of million dollar or more gifts to women’s issues worldwide. My donations went to the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Global Fund for Women, and several international women’s funds.
I am still working to fully align my investments with my values, although I admit I am still more passionate about justice work than about impact investing. I have screened my investments for a long time, invested in a Community Development Loan Fund in the DC area, and moved my money to a local community bank, the City First Bank of DC. But I still feel my money could be invested more proactively in projects aligned with my values. I am moving my assets to Veris Wealth Partners, a firm specializing in performance-driven impact investing that I felt matched my worldview and values. Additionally, I am planning to make a significant (personal) PRI to the Leadership Campus.
All in all, my journey has led me to deeper levels of understanding and integration. I feel very blessed to bring my whole self to my work; my values, leadership, knowledge, social network, fundraising skills, and financial resources. And though my journey has taken me to Africa and back, I am still following the path of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world through creating justice.