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Perhaps like you, I often receive professional development opportunities from colleagues. In my inbox, opportunities like “risk management”, “nonprofit strategy”, “building an inclusive workplace” come in regularly. And as much as I can, I participate in these training sessions if they align with my own professional goals. I do my best to log-in, not look at email, and capture a few takeaways that I can leverage in the future. Occasionally, I might leverage professional development opportunities to network with a few folks that have overlapping work interests. And at the end of the day, I participate, hope to find incremental growth, and move on.
However, the Capital Collaborative by Camelback Ventures is different. It is one professional opportunity that I still haven’t moved on from. In 2019, I joined a cohort of white funders seeking to deepen their equity journey. What started as a six-month experience turned into a multi-year experience of authentic growth and community.
The Capital Collaborative Cohort Experience
My cohort experience was a powerful exercise in facing and hearing real feedback. I heard leaders of color speak candidly about their fundraising journey and places that funders have made the journey harder rather than easier. Many spoke about how opaque, delayed, and coercive grant review processes can be. And many spoke to the trust gap that exists between white funders and leaders of color. And, in many ways, it was a sobering look at impact versus intent.
Further, going into the cohort, I knew sharing and receiving direct feedback with leaders of color was an ongoing growth area. Specifically, when giving feedback, it is all too easy to provide high level platitudes rather than direct, action-oriented feedback. And to collect feedback, it is easier to float an impersonal survey rather than sit down with these leaders to understand their experience directly. The cohort allowed me to get real-time training, practice, and reflection. I got in-touch with my own somatic experience with feedback, and I had offline conversations with leaders of color who helped me learn from their experiences in getting helpful and not-so-helpful feedback from white funders.
Last, the cohort provided structured venues and frameworks through which to think through ongoing challenges. I spoke with cohort members about our diligence process, our hiring and contracting efforts, and how we engage communities. For example, we used frameworks, like Racial Equity Inistitute’s groundwater approach, to think more broadly about the work and to help identify blindspots. As I encounter new challenges, I lean on these foundational frameworks.
Pushing Past Words To Action
Many months after my cohort experience concluded, my growth and engagement with the community continues to afford ways to support leaders of color and to improve my own practice. Each year, I participate in investor office hours, where leaders of color refine their investor pitch with me in a practice setting. Recently, through investor office hours, I connected with BIPOC leaders being supported by Camelback Ventures’ Fellowship like Natalie Tung. I was able to provide fundraising feedback to these leaders while also learning more about their experience and perspective – not to mention getting inspired by their work. I speak with lots of leaders who are seeking funding, yet investor office hours is a unique approach because we are together thinking formatively about fundraising, rather than the formality of a standard pitch setting. At the end of the pitch, I can remove the veil and say, “This is what I thought you were trying to communicate in that section,” or “Here’s what else I would need to know to make a compelling argument to my team.”
I have also stayed close with many of my cohort members like Kristi Kimball and Emma Hiza to discuss the next steps in our equity journey. For example, Kristi helped me, as a community member, think through how to support my neighborhood during a contentious school merger. Emma and I meet regularly to think about our identities as white funders, and how that evolves and impacts our practice. These relationships are invaluable when I have a vulnerable challenge, and I need a safe place to work through an issue.
And as the cohorts continue to run, my network of values-aligned funders grows. In the last few months, I’ve been able to bring a challenge to a structured consultancy made up of alumni from multiple cohorts. With helpful advice and support from folks like Art Reimers, I shared a particular issue around diligence. In this consultancy we discussed how we can cede power and remain asset-based in our application processes while also understanding potential risks of a grant. Art and others acknowledged the complexity of the challenge; their questions were inquiry-driven and pushed my thinking. And while complex issues like this rarely have simple next steps, I left with more clarity and confidence.
From my time in the cohort and since, my practice as a funder continues to evolve. At NewSchools Venture Fund, we have built out an equity advisory board to support our decision-making process, and we took deeper efforts to speak with folks who we did not fund to understand their application experience. And we make this progress while continuing to identify the new growth edges in our journey.
I believe white funders have a place to support equity insofar as they continue their own journey and continue to build authentic relationships with a diverse group of leaders. Toward these goals, my time with the Capital Collaborative by Camelback Ventures has been far more than incremental growth. And ultimately, I believe it is a meaningful step toward helping us create a more equitable, accessible, and just funding ecosystem.
Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity — but may not know how. You can learn more by submitting an interest form for the Capital Collaborative’s 2022 cohort or signing up for the newsletter!
Leo Bialis-White, PhD is a Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. He co-leads the Learning Solutions team, which supports organizations that partner with schools to reimagine the student experience, particularly for Black, Latino, and low-income learners.
Prior to joining NewSchools, Leo served as Vice President of Customer Success and Chief of Staff for Schoolzilla, an education technology company. In addition, he has experience as a school psychologist, teacher, and research consultant spanning charters, traditional districts, and nonpublic schools. He has a PhD in Educational Psychology from UC Berkeley in addition to Psychology and Sociology degrees from the University of Georgia. He currently serves on the board of the Family Violence Law Center.