How do you define philanthropy?
It is truly an action verb. It’s an expression of love for humanity. Over the years, my understanding of philanthropy has evolved. I believe philanthropy is truly a tool that can be used to improve the quality of life of others.
Now, I’m much more interested in venture philanthropy. There’s a clear distinction between being charitable and being intentional about making investments where we see real metrics. I think they’re both important. There are times when people really need some help. A great example is natural disasters -- it is a call to humanity to rise up and be helpful. I also think philanthropy can be used in a lot of ways to bridge the wealth gap, the achievement gap in education, and improve equity for health.
What is your giving strategy?
I’ve been focused a lot on young founders of underserved markets, in particular at the friends and family level, and making investments and introducing them to additional dollars for their work. For the founders that I work with, their idea or concept has to solve a social problem. Impact investing has been my own personal lane that I see myself in.
What advice would you give philanthropists?
I think philanthropists should always be thinking about ways to improve education, and they should be thinking about it in ways that are non-traditional. Tech is a new tool and it’s a powerful tool. There are a lot of innovative models that can be used to address some of the education and achievement issues. We should be thinking about how to help people get through K-12. If there are opportunities for students to have a career outside of a traditional lens, we should think about that.
We should also be thinking more about environmental issues and the impact on the poor. I’m from the Gulf Coast area, I see what happens when people are displaced for long periods of time. I see what happens to small businesses, I see what happens to children in schools. For so long, people talked about environmental work but I think we have to be really clear about environmental equity issues. When you disrupt where people live and uproot them, it’s extremely complicated to fix that for everyone.
Finally, the world is browning. The country is browning. We need to think about who is doing the work to prepare the next generation of leaders for the issues we are facing.
What are you most hopeful about? Tell me about some bright spots you've seen in the cause you care about.
I’m hopeful because I see more wealthy individuals care about entrepreneurship. I like their approach: They are not just interested in writing checks. I hear so many great stories about them opening their networks to people they’re investing in. Whenever I see a startup or a new founder being embraced by someone that can really support them, it makes me so happy.
I’m also happy when I see new collaboration between the business community and the foundation world. There’s no need to be competitive about fixing problems. We can all pick one and likely work on it for a long time. You have business, philanthropy, and in some cases, academia coming together to fix problems.
Who are your philanthropic sheroes?
I have to lift up a woman named Stephanie Bell-Rose. She runs the TIAA Institute. Every year she hosts an annual event for women and I love the room that she curates. Last year, a lot of the focus was on higher education. How often are spaces created where women in higher education can intersect with business and talk about the work they’re doing and how they can build sustainability?
Stephanie is also an incredible mentor. I feel like she has an open door policy. I love the work she does around lifting and connecting women.
There’s another person I have learned so much from: Kofi Appenteng, president and CEO of the Africa-America Institute. I love the way he’s connecting the continent of Africa to the United States. When you think about how young the demographic is in Africa and all of the potential, I think it’s a great idea to start talking about ways to bridge those gaps and help equip people on the continent. How can we truly be effective partners? He launched an initiative this year, bringing together as many ambassadors as he could from Africa for two days of training. It was amazing to watch the information the ambassadors received and could take back to their countries and improve on areas around education and economic development.
They are my institutional shero and hero. Finally, I love when people in the entertainment sector decide that they want to make impact a real thing. I’m excited to see people who have resources and lots of options make this a priority.
Do Black women do philanthropy differently?
I think they do. Cultural significance is extremely important. Most Black women will likely tell you that their first philanthropy experience has been with a family member, in the local community, at their churches, and civic organizations that they’re part of. For us, we do think about it differently. We invest a lot of money in a lot of things. I’m looking forward to the day where we look at it in a much more comprehensive, organized way.
Read the Black Woman's Guide to Philanthropy at BlackHer.