Innovation and Impact Forum

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Innovation and Impact Forum for Black Male Achievement that the Open Sociaty Foundation hosted in New York City. Hundreds of funders, practitioners, goverment officials, and academics came together and talked about what is working to strengthen Black men and boys in the United States. Too often we focus on the challenges but it is nice to be able to spend time celebrating what is going right.

The Headwaters Foundation for Justice has been the host of the African American Leadership Forum for the last few years and it is great to see that the success of that work isn’t an abberation but that is part of a larger movement across the country to support successful outcomes for African Americans. Below is a link for a panel from the conference.

What Winning Looks Like in Black Male Achievement from Open Society Foundations on

I Heart the African American Leadership Forum

cimg1180 There is a lot of time spent by philanthropoids (people who give away money for a living) on stuff that really doesn't make too much of a difference. There are the piles of paperwork, the endless meeting, and then more paperwork from the meetings. You are left with this subtle and sometimes not so subtle feeling that we aren't fixing anything. Then, every once in a while, the clouds part and you have the honor in taking part in a project or working with a grantee that you are sure will change the world or your little corner of it.

For me, that project is the African American Leadership Forum.   I've been involved with this project, which is designed to bring African American Leaders together to develop a shared policy agenda for the Twin Cities, over the past year. The idea behind this project is that the African American community has all of the resources that it needs to be successful, already present in the community. The issue is that each of us has been hiding our special ingredient (talent, resource, knowledge) in the cabinet and haven't pulled it out to benefit the larger community. The African American Leadership Forum is a method to pull those ingredients out and develop a promise to each other and the community that we will bring all that we have to lift each other up so that we can all be successful together.

Headwaters has recently taken over the project management of this initiative from the Northwest Area Foundation and I couldn't be happier. It is one of those special instances in philanthropy where the role of the funders isn't to write a check and walk away or stay around to dictate the future direction of the project. Our role is to support and learn from over 160 volunteers that are leading this project. That's the best place for us philanthropids to be, in the background providing the resources for communities to determine their own solutions and their own methods.

Taking a back seat to community is also a sometimes nerve wracking place to be. You don't get to determine the process from on high; without a centralized place for all information to go through, you sometimes get the telephone effect of mis-understanding and sometimes purposeful misinformation from those who don't want to see a community-led process succeed; and instead of just being responsive to your board of directors, you report back to a whole community with competing priorities and preferences.

After reading all of those drawbacks, I wouldn't be surprised if you were relieved to go back to the relative peace and tranquility of your desk. But, the purpose of philanthropy isn't for us to be comfortable, it's to make a communities a better place. So let's jump right in!

What project of your foundation or organization makes you proud to be a part of the sector?