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SVP Global Summit 2019: reflections on “centering” marginalized communities

Posted by jennie

By Jennie Arbogash, SVP Boulder County CEO

For me, Social Venture Partner network gatherings are part family reunion, part drinking-from-a-water-hose the many successes and lessons learned across the network … and a whole lot of challenging my assumptions and opening to new ideas. Such gatherings are critical opportunities to take a step back and really think about our purpose, our methods and our future as a social impact organization.

This year’s SVP Global Summit, May 1-3, was no exception. My heart swelled with the joy of reconnecting with many beautiful people and making new friends. My mind expanded with possibilities.

I learned about ways SVP affiliates have successfully made progress toward racial equity and brainstormed sticking points, noticing that our togetherness bouyed each of us to continue the work. I witnessed people asking deep questions, even if it required stepping outside their comfort zones. And I heard a Partner saying she’s never before been exposed to conversations about identify, marginalization and equity … and what a gift it was to be there.

So, why – having experienced such inspiring momentum to advance the social good – is my spirit heavy?

Here in Boulder County, we’re an entrepreneurial community that values innovation. We like to think of ourselves as progressive, yet – when it comes to philanthropy and the social sector – we mostly stick with the status quo.

By and large, we’re not as inclusive as we may believe. According to the Boulder County TRENDS Report, our county is predominantly Anglo, with minority populations below state and national averages. While 11% of community members countywide are Latino – indeed, Latinos comprise the largest and fastest growing minority population in our county – only a handful of public offices, commissions and the like are filled by Latinos who live here. Similarly, only a few of our local Partners represent the Latino community. We need to do better.

Local nonprofits regularly come to us asking how they can diversify their boards because they, too, have few – if any – people of color representing their organizations. And when they do have the opportunity to serve on a board or commission in our community, young people, people of color and other marginalized community members tell me pointblank that they often feel like mere tokens of diversity, equity and inclusion – and that they don’t feel truly heard.

As the CEO of our small nonprofit, my constant concern is whether we have done harm while trying to help create paths for more people in our community to thrive. I’m convinced that centering those who have lacked opportunity, who have experienced ‘isms’, who have been marginalized is crucial to doing better and to avoiding harm. So I left the SVP Global Summit intent on asking and answering these questions:

  • How do we better create spaces that allow for growth, inclusion and learning?
  • How do we better create spaces that acknowledge power dynamics?
  • How do we authentically center those who are most marginalized by systems of oppression?
  • How do we help others and ourselves find awareness? Understand our privileges?

I believe the challenge is clear: stop thinking we have all the answers, just because we know some of the answers. Instead, start asking questions, start listening and start learning. Try new things and be willing to make mistakes. Then own up to those mistakes and try again.

I hope you’ll join SVP Boulder County in these conversations. Together, we can do better for everyone in our community.

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