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The Changing Face of Philanthropy

This past June I was watching a virtual conference session and heard someone say there is only one Native person on a private foundation board. Interesting I thought!  I knew it to be untrue because 1) I serve on a private foundation board with 11 other Native people – and 2) I know a number of other Native people who currently serve on private foundation boards.  This led me to do a very quick research project over the next week to find as many Native people on private foundation boards as I could.  I was moderating a panel at the RES 2021 Summit in July – the Changing Face of Philanthropy:  Native people and Native foundations, and it would be useful information.

In that study, which was not exhaustive in any sense, I found 28 Native people serving on 13 private foundation boards.  I also identified nine Native people serving on the boards of seven community foundations.  And five Native people currently serve as the CEO or Executive Director of either a private foundation or community foundation.  WOW!  Definitely more than one Native person!  I focused this effort on private and community foundations and on the boards to show that there are a growing number of Native people in these philanthropic leadership positions.  Are there enough?  Absolutely not.  Should there be more?  Absolutely. Is change happening fast enough?  Change never happens fast enough.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors and staff

I have 40 plus years of working in Indian Country and 35 years of working with philanthropy to look back on to see that change has occurred. When I went to my first Council on Foundations conference in the late 1980s – as a presenter – there was nary a person of color representing a foundation board and only a handful of staff.  That was the birth of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) which sought to increase the number of Native people in the field and to bring attention to the amount of philanthropic funding going to Native causes and organizations.  I was asked to join my first private foundation board in 1993, the Hitachi Foundation, one of three I’ve served on over the past 28 years, including currently, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation since 2006, and the Native American Agriculture Fund, since it was launched in 2018 as the largest Native private foundation.

Where real change is occurring is in Native non-profits raising funds from foundations, corporations and other donors to re-grant to Native causes and organizations.  In my little research project I identified 11 Native funds, starting as far back as 1977 up to the present day.  I’m sure there are more of these as well.  This doesn’t include the “community foundations” or “funds” set up by tribes from enterprise funds or other sources of revenue, or the Alaska Native Corporation Scholarship Foundations funded by corporate revenues, or the Native scholarship organizations, or those set up specifically about philanthropy like NAP and Native Ways Federation.  Just think of the growing cadre of Native people serving on these boards and as staff who are adding significantly to expertise in Native philanthropy.

I’ve been in conversations recently with others about this being a “moment in time” for change.  From the social unrest of 2020 and growing attention to equity, diversity and inclusion in both the public and private sector, change is happening faster, opportunities and doors are opening in more places, and more resources are available for social justice.   Will this continue?  It should and it must.  It will continue to change the face of philanthropy.


Sherry Salway Black is Vice Chair of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors.

American Indian Business Leaders Blaze a Trail to the Future with New Advisory Board

There’s an adage about having a direction that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

A couple years ago, the American Indian Business Leaders, with the assistance of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, spent some time examining where we wanted to go – and how to get there.

The American Indian Business Leaders was founded in 1994 with the mission of empowering Indigenous business students in the United States to foster economic improvement in Native American communities. We’ve grown from one chapter at the University of Montana at Missoula to 120 chapters at universities, tribal colleges, and high schools with more than 250 tribal nations represented. With 2019 marking our 25th anniversary, it was an appropriate time to evaluate where the next 25 years would take us.

Young man wearing Indigenous Entrepreneur shirt

Through about a year of analysis and planning with input from respected leaders throughout Indian Country, AIBL learned what programs were most successful, and also, which ones needed improvement. Specifically, we realized that we could only guess at how to prepare our students to participate in corporate America because we didn’t know what attributes corporate America needed.

We’re excited that in the future, AIBL will get those answers straight from the executives themselves. AIBL is building a new advisory board with representatives from many of America’s best known corporations. We expect to hold the first meeting in the first quarter of 2020.

We anticipate having 8-10 members on the advisory board, and I’m happy to share that it will include Sam McCracken, general manager for Nike N7, Nike’s product line that supports the N7 Fund to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in Native American and Aboriginal communities. Longtime AIBL supporter Trina Finley Ponce, the diversity and inclusion program manager at HP, also has agreed to join the board along with Micah Highwalking, senior operations manager at Dr. Pepper.

Two men on stage in front of American Indigenous Business Leaders logo

In addition to advising us on corporate culture, the advisory board will help us cultivate relationships with corporate America that can benefit our students in numerous ways. We’ll be using them as a sounding board to learn what kinds of skills we should be helping our students develop. That feedback is important as we prepare our students to work in corporate America. We also know it’s important to hear from people in a diverse range of businesses as each business and industry has its own corporate culture.

We also anticipate that the advisory board will act as a bridge to greater diversity for corporations wanting to be inclusive of Native Americans and our culture.

We at AIBL are proud of our first 25 years supporting Indigenous business students. We look forward to a future with even greater opportunities.

Prairie Bighorn Blount is the executive director of American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL). She grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in eastern Montana and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe. Before joining the AIBL organization, she worked in Washington, D.C., providing contract management services to help support economic development within American Indian communities.

When Discussing Diversity and Inclusion, Include People with Disabilities

This item originally appeared on the website of Minnesota Diversified Industries.

Minnesota has come a long way when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We’ve learned that our differences are assets, and diversity of thought, experience and identity translates into meaningful work, success and growth, no matter the industry. Companies and their leaders have made commitments to diversity and inclusion, setting goals and benchmarks for success – but most of those commitments are missing a huge piece of the puzzle.

People with disabilities represent an untapped workforce that is continually left out of the diversity and inclusion conversation in the business community, and it shows. While Minnesota faces a deepening workforce shortage, individuals with disabilities are 2.6 times more likely to be unemployed than the general population among people ages 18-64, according to a 2017 report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

MDI employees work in a sterile room to package items such as medical supplies.
MDI employees work in a sterile room to package items such as medical supplies.

At MDI, we operate on a social-enterprise model, successfully hiring and training people with disabilities who make up nearly 45 percent of our 450 employees. Our operations in plastics manufacturing and assembly services are second to none, providing high-quality and efficient services to everyone from food distributors to medical device companies to the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon. People with disabilities bring unique skills and talents to the table that make our organization great, and it doesn’t take much to create an inclusive environment for them. Support, limited accommodations and focusing on their abilities – instead of disabilities – are the key ingredients to creating an inclusive and productive culture for people with disabilities.

Businesses cannot be truly diverse if people with disabilities are continuingly ignored on leadership agendas and in diversity, equity and inclusion statements. In honor of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness month, we are calling on all of Minnesota’s incredible organizations, both large and small, to reexamine or rewrite their diversity and inclusion statements to intentionally include people with disabilities.

We know that our differences make us stronger – but it takes inclusion to make them matter. Unified work brings us one step closer to realizing it.

Peter McDermott is president and CEO of Minnesota Diversified Industries, Inc., a not for profit social enterprise serving people with disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services.

Diversity in Health Professions: 3 Ways Dalhousie is Looking to the Future

Graduation season may be over, but here at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation we’re still enjoying the many stories we hear about students whose lives were transformed because of the scholarships, programs and organizations that we help to fund.

young woman looking through microscopeAs the newest member of the JSF team, I was excited to hear about a milestone for our grantee partner Dalhousie University. The school recently celebrated the graduation of its largest-ever class of medical doctors of African descent.

These six students (with another cohort of six coming up behind them) received help along their educational journey from the university’s Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) program.

JSF is a supporter of PLANS, as well as the Indigenous Health Programs at Dalhousie. Over the course of our five-year partnership, which began in 2015, JSF is committed to matching up to $1 million raised by the University.

These programs employ a multifaceted approach to increase the representation of traditionally marginalized groups in the health professions. One way they are accomplishing this is by realizing that reaching students starts early.

two students and a teacher wearing a lab coat and masksIn a blog post for JSF earlier this year, Shawna O’Hearn with Dalhousie’s Global Health Office reported on the PLANS summer camp program that introduces African Nova Scotian high school students to health professions.

The camp has become so popular that it has expanded to accommodate more students. The first of three camp sessions begins next week at Dalhousie’s campus in Halifax. Two others are planned over the following two weeks, one at Cape Breton University in Sydney and one at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

The faculty and staff at Dalhousie know that many of these students will need extra support when they reach college. To this end, the first-ever PLANS Prep Institute began earlier this week and concludes on Saturday.

Young woman sitting at desk with a welcome to summer camp sign

The institute is designed to help students entering college to develop the skills they need and ease the transition from high school. Throughout the academic year students also can receive mentorship and academic support through PLANS.

PLANS is similar to other successful programs that support disadvantaged students in that it recognizes that mentors and role models are important. Several African-descended students in the three health faculties at Dalhousie are choosing to help younger students by serving as camp counselors. Current students serve as mentors to high school students during the school year.

back of a tshirt with logos on it

The camps and the PLANS Prep Institute are a part of a much larger effort, of course. Projects are also underway to introduce Indigenous students to the growing healthcare field.

By looking to the future, Dalhousie is poised to have a tremendous impact on increasing diversity in the health professions. We look forward to hearing about more of those stories in the years to come.