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Columbia Business Monthly

How Foundations Can Help Shape A More Equitable Future

Dec 23, 2021 03:23PM ● By Minor M. Shaw

Throughout history, private foundations have played an integral role in helping shape philanthropic investments and in leading change, both social change and otherwise. 

Private foundations are generally funded by individual families or corporations. They differ in their focus, but most are created to serve the common good through grantmaking. Foundations are catalysts for philanthropic investments at the local, state, national, and international levels.

In Greenville, foundation support has been important to nonprofits of all types in health and human services, education, workforce development, and in the arts. Foundations have been instrumental in funding many of the public-private partnerships for which Greenville is known, and they have helped shape Greenville to become the thriving community we enjoy today. 

Despite the tremendous investments made by foundations and many philanthropic individuals in our community, there continue to be serious issues of inequity and great need. In fact, a young adult born to parents in the bottom quintile of the income and wealth distribution in Greenville County has a nearly 70 percent chance of staying in the bottom two quintiles.

Among the factors contributing to this dismal statistic are residential segregation, income inequality, lack of educational attainment, family structure, and social capital. 

As we look at opportunities in Greenville across all quintiles, we see that only 30 percent of jobs in our community have median hourly earnings above the living wage. In addition, three-fourths of those jobs typically require a postsecondary credential.

To create a more equitable future for everyone in our community, we must focus on systems change, leadership, and culture. As a community, we need to become knowledgeable about the issues that contribute to systemic inequalities and the lack of economic mobility.

Foundation trustees and staff are becoming more knowledgeable about the vast needs in our community. Many are moving away from passive, responsive grantmaking to more engaged grantmaking, using all different aspects of philanthropic capital.

The challenging environment we live in today requires that philanthropic organizations and individuals use all of their assets: social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial (SMIRF). The use of all of these tools will result in better and more comprehensive outcomes. 

In Greenville, we are fortunate to have the Partnership for Philanthropy which brings together foundation trustees and staffs to learn about critical community and national issues. By being better educated about community issues, foundations make more effective grants that can result in a more equitable community.

In “The Curb Cut Effect,” Angela Glover Blackwell states that equity means “promoting just and fair inclusion throughout society and creating the conditions in which everyone can participate, prosper, and reach his or her full potential.” She states that “equity is not a zero sum game; when we create the circumstances that allow those who have been left behind to participate and contribute fully, everyone wins.” She also points out that if we “ignore the challenges faced by the most vulnerable among us, these challenges become much worse, and they become a drag on economic growth, prosperity, and national well-being.”

The International Monetary Fund has concluded that widening inequality leads to declining economic growth. The economy is weakened when large numbers of people are not included in opportunities for a better life. Everyone benefits when policies and investments target equity. 

The role of philanthropy in today’s world is increasingly complex. Foundations must address equity much more intentionally and aggressively. The continuing issues of poor access to health care and transportation, food insecurity, childcare, affordable housing, and systemic racism became even more apparent and critical during the Covid pandemic.

The response from foundations and individuals was overwhelming in meeting the immediate needs of many who were suffering in our community. However, foundations and individual philanthropists must address the root causes of the issues that cause the inequities. 

We must focus on equity and also understand the role of race in the issues philanthropy is trying to solve. We should fund workforce development opportunities and improve access to quality education for all.

We must eliminate barriers to economic inclusion and community participation. Foundations should become more actively involved in these areas as well as address the issues surrounding transportation, affordable housing, access to quality healthcare, food insecurity, and childcare. 

All of these areas are essential to living a productive life. Everyone is Greenville should have that opportunity!

As mentioned previously, foundations have the ability to affect change, not only with their financial capital, but also through their social, intellectual, moral, and reputational capital. Quite often, these types of capital are more important and effective than financial capital, particularly in addressing systemic issues. 

Foundations can develop financial partnerships with organizations committed to improving equity. A good example in the Upstate is Community Works Carolina, which began with foundation and United Way support. Community Works Carolina is a Community Development Financial Institution committed to financial equity and to “building brighter futures for under-resourced families and communities across South Carolina.”

Since its founding in 2008, it has provided meaningful support for small business growth, entrepreneurship, affordable housing, and home ownership. Building these assets leads to a stronger and more equitable community. We are fortunate in Greenville to have collaborative partnerships of nonprofits and foundations such as the Affordable Housing Coalition and the REEM Commission (Racial Equity and Economic Mobility) that address many of our systemic issues. 

We have a caring community and citizens who are working tirelessly to help make Greenville an equitable community where everyone will have the opportunity to succeed. Philanthropy plays a critical role in this important goal. 

An economy that is successful for everyone requires more intentional practices from philanthropy and beyond. Foundations can advocate for policies and practices that remove the systemic barriers that hold people back and create pathways to propel people forward.

All people should have a chance to contribute to our community regardless of their race, gender, or economic circumstances. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail cell, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Philanthropy has been referred to as society’s “Passing Gear.” The need has never been greater to shift into high gear and ensure an equitable community for everyone.

Minor M. Shaw is chairman of The Daniel-Mickel Foundation and chairman of The Duke Endowment. She is also a member of the Hollingsworth Funds and the BCBS Foundation of South Carolina.