As a lifelong learner, social justice advocate, and Cleveland booster, I have the perfect job. Surrounded by folks from throughout the Greater Cleveland community and beyond, I share their passion for collaborating with nonprofits – both big and small – who are doing the heavy lifting in our community.
At Social Venture Partners, ours is a unique model of engaged philanthropy which regularly brings funding and collaborative, tailored brainstorming to bear on challenges facing nonprofits. We are also committed to educational programming that strengthens us as nonprofit activists and donor-volunteers in addition to supporting the nonprofits we’ve worked with over the last eighteen years and the communities whose needs they address. In addition to sharing our own insights and experience, we are constantly learning from those around us.
What has struck me over the last several years is the amount of UNlearning we’ve engaged in. As funders, we’ve grown increasingly aware of the unequal power dynamics between grantor and grantee. Although we consistently tweak our investment cycle and the demands we place on applicants, more change is needed. In removing certain hoops from the application process, we inadvertently create others. And we never feel we have done enough or learned enough. But we embrace this uncertainty, this questioning, this desire to make our world a better place for everyone.
One of the advantages to being part of an international network is to learn from one another and to share what works . . . and what doesn’t. An approach that works well in SVP Bangalore might be just what SVP Boston is looking for. An SVP Cleveland challenge might be echoed in SVP Calgary. And one of the ongoing challenges facing citizens around our world is one of equity. Many of us have been committed to greater diversity and inclusivity both in SVP and beyond. But equity has been a newer challenge for many of us.
As someone who has long been an advocate of civil and human rights, I’ve worked on Amnesty International campaigns around our planet and have spoken up when I’ve observed injustices in my own world. But what I’ve also discovered is how my own perspectives and even my learning has been shaped by the privilege I have as a white woman. I’m also aware of the danger of complacency, of the pitfalls of believing that my open-mindedness and advocacy for social justice means I understand more about social inequities than I do.
However, between the hundreds of conversations and the many equity workshops offered locally and across the country, I have started to learn more about implicit bias, about the grantor-grantee imbalance, about systemic inequities. Some inequities I have seen first-hand as a former public school teacher and former judicial law clerk in Juvenile Court. Others I am learning about from the nonprofits we collaborate with, year in and year out. But the learning – and unlearning – will take a lifetime. And I can’t think of a better way to spend my life.
As we share our own discoveries and ongoing questions, I urge you to join us and the many, many community partners who are equally committed to learning and unlearning. Embrace the discomfort that so often accompanies this equity journey. And strive, with us, to create a world that offers opportunity for all.
Hilary Sparks-Roberts | Executive Director
SOCIAL VENTURE PARTNERS CLEVELAND
8200 Sweet Valley Drive, Suite 100
Cleveland, Ohio 44125