by Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
WRAG’s mission statement reads, “The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers promotes increased, effective and responsible philanthropy to improve the health and vitality of the region and all who live here.” In other words, we utilize the tool of philanthropy to make our region better. There are multiple challenges that plague our region, multiple areas on which we might focus. WRAG has made the decision to focus on housing, education, and employment, and now we are adding the overarching issue of racism and racial equity to this listing.
Affordable housing – In 2011, the WRAG Board of Directors voted unanimously to concentrate a large segment of our work on this issue. Without question, there is a momentum building in our region – as evidenced by the powerful panel of leaders that convened in June to discuss this topic at the annual conference of the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers. This session was coordinated by the Greater Washington Housing Leaders Group, a collective that WRAG was instrumental in establishing. And just last month, Leadership Greater Washington announced that affordable housing will be its priority in 2015-2016. We believe that WRAG’s voice has been important in moving this conversation and soon, we will announce a new initiative that we anticipate will have even greater impact.
Racism/Racial Equity – Since the death of Michael Brown in August 2014, the country has been challenged to look at the issues of racism/racial equity. Not just in other parts of the country, but also in our region, the impact of racial inequity and racism surround us in ways that are sometimes open and easily seen, and at other times are invisible to many. We believe that philanthropy must elevate a conversation on this topic. A group of WRAG members is currently discussing how to move forward on this important topic. But for now, as part of that elevation, Dr. David Williams will speak on ”The House that Racism Built” on November 19th at WRAG’s Annual Meeting. More exciting announcements on this work will be forthcoming later this year.
Education – Several years ago, the longstanding WRAG Public Education Working Group ended due to a lack of funding. I am delighted that Natalie Wexler of the Omega Foundation has expressed interest in rekindling this group. This month, a very preliminary meeting was held with a small group of interested WRAG members. Next month, that group will grow and a learning agenda for education funders will be developed to be launched in 2016.
Disadvantaged Youth – In September, Dr. Karl Alexander was WRAG’s Brightest Minds presenter. A Johns Hopkins sociologist, he studied almost 800 disadvantaged youth in Baltimore over 25 years. His research, presented in his book, The Long Shadow, is sobering with its message that, essentially, where we start in life is where we’ll finish. To change that, he urged the philanthropic community to focus its investments on early education, summer learning programs, and keeping kids in school.
Employment/Economic Empowerment – Finally, WRAG was a part of a group that hosted a briefing on the Community Wealth Building Initiative in the spring. Since that conversation, interest is evolving around ways to grow and invest in the first business, the Clean Water Management Group. Also other ideas are emerging to morph the project in directions that respect both its core of employee ownership and its attachment to an anchor institution, while still looking at the work with new eyes.
P.S. WRAG’s third quarter report would not be complete without acknowledging that the 2015-2016 cohort of Philanthropy Fellows began their fellowships with WRAG members this month!