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SVP International

Looking Forward After 20 Years of History

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

The discussions first began in early 2021: How can we better walk our equity talk? How can we share power and invite the voices of the communities we serve to participate in our governance? How can we do our part to move philanthropy forward, beyond the dominant-culture norms that permeate the sector?

As the celebration of our 20th anniversary comes to a close, we are looking ahead to our future. We’ve told the SVP origin story, explored our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal to impact early childhood education, and reflected on our equity journey thus far. And through a series of events we have revisited some of our proudest accomplishments with SVP Beginnings and Transformative Change, Morrison Family Services, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), CASH Oregon, and Adelante Mujeres. What’s next?

The short answer is governance, a term that rarely inspires or excites. So, let us pull back and examine how an evolution of our governance delivers on our mission, aligns with our values, and advances our commitment to be an anti-racist organization. What is the overarching goal of such an endeavor?

  • To recast the organizational hierarchy of power and privilege to become community integrated, adaptive, and equitable
  • To reduce the gap between access to outcome, while ensuring excellence of governance and fiduciary responsibility
  • To grow the Partnership’s engagement and open leadership opportunities to a broader community

Following the Board retreat and Partner input meetings in August, it became clear that the next step was soliciting input from our Community Partners. Through an anonymous survey and 1:1 interviews we compiled learning from Community Partner perspectives to further inform an ad hoc team of staff, Board Directors, and Partners charged with exploring this novel restructuring. The resulting proposal was a three-prong approach:

  • Adapt the Board of Directors to establish a minimum viable governance responsibilities that  maintain compliance with state law and ensure stewardship of the organization
  • Maintain standing committees and teams to continue seamless and stable operations of ongoing work
  • Build a framework allowing the creation of dynamically configured teams, project-focused and limited-term, to ensure diversity of perspective in addressing critical issues, expand inclusion, and share strategy development 

As Executive Director Lauren Johnson put it, “This approach really resonates because it aligns with what we heard from our Community Partner feedback. They said, SVP, you’re an influencer and you have an opportunity to advocate and champion change within philanthropy, placing equity at the center. This is one of those opportunities: we’ve heard, we’ve been asked, and we need to figure out ways to be responsive to what our Community Partners are wanting of us.”

At the November Board meeting, adoption of the new governance framework was unanimous. Director Kerry McClenahan reflected on the journey, “It’s a testament to what a great process it has been even though it’s been many, many months in the works that we’ve talked so openly with Partners and Community Partners about, that we were able to get to this decision pretty quickly and unanimously. I think this is an indication that we’re learning about processes that work when we’re trying to make changes in partnership with community.”

All along we approached this work knowing that our “answers” would be imperfect. We expect that we will continue to adapt the model as we move forward with humility and a learning orientation. There remain many open questions we will need to explore and solve together as we refine our framework. Regardless of this discomfort, we took action. As Director Charlie Gilkey put it, “We’re not talking about whether we’re doing this anymore. We’re just figuring out how we’re doing it now.”

Just last week, the Board of Directors took its final steps in 2021, approving new bylaws that reflect the adopted governance framework and electing a slate of interim officers to begin the Board’s work in 2022. We are excited to welcome Bob Tate as interim President, Larry Fox as interim Treasurer, and Steve Fields as interim Secretary. Bob shared, “The 2021 Board charted a bold new course, designed to decentralize our governance operations and power our work with more inclusive and deeper community leadership.  We’re expecting this to propel our potential for even greater impact, while continuing our drive to become an anti-racist organization.  I’m excited to take on this new role as we thoughtfully and humbly advance this new concept, together.”

In 2022, we will form our first official dynamically configured teams. These will likely include focus on recruiting for leadership roles at SVP (e.g. Board and Teams), strategic vision work, and re-examination of our Partnership model. The goal is to continue to deliver on our preschool readiness goal, align our values, and advance our commitment to be an anti-racist organization.

You’ll be hearing much more about all this work in the coming months. In the meantime, if you have questions or feedback, please contact Lauren, or are eager to engage in our work, please contact Rose.

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