Convening a new council

Convening a New Council

Through the Community Advisory Council, local leaders of color are giving voice to issues of equity

In 2020, SVCF took a step it hadn’t taken before. “Creating the Community Advisory Council (CAC) was a critical cultural shift for our institution,” says Mauricio Palma, director of community- building for SVCF. “Historically, we’ve built relationships to tell the story of the foundation. The CAC centers the community in the storytelling process and doesn’t put the foundation first.”

The idea for the council was born out of SVCF’s work on its new strategic plan, which was finalized at the beginning of 2020. Under the leadership of President and CEO Nicole Taylor, SVCF staff and the board of directors developed a plan that would center grantmaking efforts around reducing systemic disparities and injustices that affect people in the region who typically face the harshest circumstances — communities of color, immigrants, undocumented residents and low- income households.

During the planning stages, SVCF invited community leaders of color to gatherings to share their history, guidance and feedback — important information that could help direct the foundation’s new efforts. It quickly became evident, however, that even more needed to be done before true change could happen. Community leaders were looking for a presence that went beyond grantmaking — they wanted to have critical conversations about the challenges in their communities and address the root of those challenges.

“The systems we’re working within have historically oppressed communities of color, and that carries into the doors of many organizations that weren’t rooted in serving those communities,” says André Chapman, CEO and founder of Unity Care and a member of the council. “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

The CAC, which was formed midway through 2020, brings together more than 20 leaders of color to provide input as the foundation moves its strategic plan forward. To populate the council, SVCF identified not just large organizations but also small and emerging ones led by people of color who had already been creating community-driven solutions and were closest to the affected communities and regions. The group includes leaders who bring a variety of different experiences to the table, including backgrounds in education, faith, social work and the arts.

Looking to the future
In 2021, the Community Advisory Council, which had been founded as a pilot program, was recognized as a fully accepted advisory committee. Up next: defining its agenda. “Given that many CAC members indicated that they wanted to be part of an organization that had a more defined purpose, it’s important for them to be included in defining that,” Palma says.

CAC members have also expressed interest in using the council as a platform by which they can engage other philanthropic institutions about issues critical to communities of color.

“I have seen some movement in the right direction by other local and regional funders, but a lot of work still needs to be done,” says Chike C. Nwoffiah, founder and executive director of the Silicon Valley African Film Festival and a CAC member. “One of the major upsides to the Community Advisory Council is the signal it has sent to other philanthropic institutions that cultural competency is a crucial determinant factor to successful community investment. As our nation reckons with the dark shadows of historical marginalization of communities of color, the CAC has become a shining example of how philanthropic institutions can engage our communities through genuine partnerships. As CAC members, we have also built relationships with each other, and the CAC has become a quasi- support system for BIPOC leaders with an understanding of our shared history, challenges and opportunities.”

Reflections from Three Community Advisory Council Members

SVCF Community Advisory Council

“Systemic racism is not just within government entities, it’s within every walk of life — banking, education, housing. It doesn’t escape foundations, either. By wanting to convene leaders of color, SVCF created a place where we could have courageous conversations. If we really want to create equality and give access to underserviced, marginalized communities, we have to do things that are very intentional. This should be a model that other foundations follow.”

- André Chapman, CEO and founder of Unity Care

Chike Nwoffiah

“SVCF made it its business to bring leaders of color to its table and say, ‘Tell us what you’re doing, help us understand it better and, more importantly, help us shape the future of this foundation, because we need to be where we are most needed.’ As someone who has been part of the community for more than three decades, I’d never gotten that call — ever. This was a turning point. For the first time, we thought there were possibilities. We’d been advocating for decades — we are on the ground, we know our communities best — but nobody ever seemed to pay attention. I feel like they’ve brought the ‘community’ back into the community foundation.”

- Chike C. Nwoffiah, founder and executive director of the Silicon Valley African Film Festival

Patricia Barahona

“The CAC is a clear example of how to center those with lived experience and community experience. I can count on the foundation to listen. That trust, that confidence, helps me as a leader to know that not only is this work important, but also that we’re going to be in dialogue about the most emergent needs, and there’s going to be an outcome. That’s not something you can always say about a foundation. They’ve been walking their walk. That’s impressive and hard to do.”

- Patricia Barahona, CEO of Youth Leadership Institute

You can find this story and more stories of local impact in the latest SVCF magazine:

Building Power Together.

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