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SVP International

Amplifying the Voices of Change

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham City Jail

At SVP Portland, we have been reflecting upon the courageous leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in celebration of his legacy this past week. His vision, values, and wisdom are particularly relevant right now as we navigate significant division, distrust, and conflict within our country. Executive Director Lauren Johnson shares some thoughts.

As a partnership of philanthropists, we should recognize that we have immense privilege. Not only in our collective resources, but also in our voice and influence. With frequency, we face decisions of how we use this power. Although we still have much to learn, I believe we should work to leverage our privilege, with integrity and humility, to advance our mission and goal. Philanthropy can better meet the challenges of today when we trust and amplify the voices of our Community Partners — who are experts on the barriers children and families face — while not exacerbating the myriad demands and burdens on communities of color. This requires us to recognize unique moments when we can rise up on our own and speak truth to power, in ways aligned with the tireless advocacy many of our Community Partners have been doing for years.

One of these occasions arose in response to the recent insurgence at our nation’s capital. I, as Executive Director, joined philanthropic leaders across the country in signing this nonpartisan letter to convey philanthropy’s unity against the recent violence:

While we have different funding approaches, vary in our areas of focus, and are ideologically diverse, we share a belief in the importance of finding common ground to solve problems and serve people and communities… To our duly elected leaders, we… encourage you to listen to diverse voices — including those of people who have been overlooked, forgotten, and excluded, and who are facing persistent threats to their lives and livelihoods… And we stand ready to work with you to move our country forward and increase opportunity for all who call it home.”

Unfortunately, words and actions reflecting an ideology of white supremacy are all too common, creating myriad opportunities for philanthropy to use our voice to advocate for equality and justice. In light of this, we must strengthen our allyship capabilities. Therefore, Partners in leadership roles across SVP — from our Equity Team and the Board, to Communications, Portfolio Management and Policy & Advocacy Teams — met last week to discuss what effective allyship means to us. While we only scratched the surface, one thing was clear: there was consensus that SVP’s allyship muscles need strengthening, as we want to be more active allies to Community Partners in our fight for racial justice for our children. Therefore, this group will be working to clarify the purpose of and strategies for allyship, to ensure we have a strong foundation, and are positioned to realize our goals for impact.

MLK said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This resonates deeply, and inspires our commitment to leveraging all of our Partnership’s assets — including our voice — to work toward the greater justice that is critical to achieving our mission.

Thank you for being part of it.

In partnership,


P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about allyship, we’re happy to share resources for your independent learning. We also invite you to attend Stanford’s free series on Race & Power, or SVP LA’s Anti-Racism for White People series.

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