I grew up in a white, middle class section of Worcester, Mass. My friends all looked the same. Their parents all looked the same. Even my extended social network was homogenous. We all went to the same churches, same schools, and we all shopped at the same stores. We supported each other and helped each other succeed and thrive. Relative to social environments that I have recently encountered in my work, I grew up in a comfortable bubble with systems in place to bolster me and ensure that when I fell, I would not fall too far or too hard.
My name is Paul Belsito (he/him/his), Executive Director of The Irene & George Davis Foundation based in Springfield, Mass. Camelback Ventures Capital Collaborative has changed the way I will approach my work.
After completing our recent cohort, I now recognize, deeply and humbly, that I have greatly benefited from a system that has been built to help me succeed and that possesses embedded safety nets to protect me. I now have a greater appreciation and understanding that Black and Brown members of my community have not had the same access to similar support systems or the safety nets that come with them. I grasp the urgent need for systemic change and realize that it is my imperative to do my best to be a part of it, in any way.
It Is Time for a Professional Reboot
There is a quote that I keep on my desk from Dr. Muna Adbi that says, “Instead of praising people for being resilient, change the systems that make them vulnerable.” This quote succinctly expresses my motivation and purpose in engaging with my community henceforth.
I have been powerfully inspired by the ideas for systematic change that I was exposed to during the Capital Collaborative cohort. I now realize that I must undertake vigorous analyses of funding opportunities and that when doing so it is essential that I conduct vigilant self-reflection to ensure that I am doing my part to root out both inequities and inefficiencies in funding. By doing so, I hope to ensure that the communities and people I affect are positively impacted in the most efficient, equitable manner.
My Path Forward
We read and discussed many influential pieces related to systemic change in entrepreneurial ecosystems. One such piece was Tema Okun’s Characteristics of White Supremacy. It blew my mind. The essay paints a crisp picture of the professional world that I matured in and it explicated traits for which I have been rewarded throughout my career. Reading and digesting the essay gave me a better awareness of these traits and helped me realize how they implicitly and explicitly materialize in me both personally and professionally. This piece made me grasp in the starkest terms that I, Paul Belsito, don’t have all the answers. So, knowing this, what can I do?
While reflecting on Okun’s work, I realized that I have always felt the need to be the specialist on every topic, to always have the right answer, and to play a key role in decision-making processes. I had a lot of experience with solving complex problems and dealing with consequential issues. Therefore, almost invariably, when any professional question or problem arose, my mindset was that I was in the best position to provide an answer or plan even if I wasn’t the person who was closest to the actual work that had to be done. Now, after twenty years in a career supporting communities, nonprofits, and its leaders, that mindset has drastically changed.
Every day in my community, individuals, and groups labor to make certain members of the community less vulnerable. They provide services for and assist many of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community -- most often with little support or assistance. They work to create small systems for people who desperately need aid and support to help them flourish and negotiate obstacles. These professionals are the experts and specialists, not me. They are closest to the work and they know how best to make their community members less vulnerable and less marginalized. They also have the best understanding of what the community’s most crucial concerns are. My commitment is to discover these experts and to support them and let them chart beneficial paths forward. It is time to find the people closest to the work in the community and to invest in them. I will be the generalist seeking the experts, not the expert providing answers.
I promise to make space and to listen. I will seek to understand before I ask to be understood. I have the great fortune to learn about a new community and learn how, as a representative of my foundation, I can be an effective partner in improving the quality of life for the community’s families and its children. I hope to do this while searching for ways to help challenge and help change important societal systems and structures so that they are more advantageous to everyone, especially underrepresented Black and Brown people in our community. I am dedicated to finding the specialists in our community that are closest to the work and facilitating them so that these goals can be reached.
I am committed to building authentic, trustworthy relationships in the community and to ensuring that our grantmaking is reflective of our community. I will also aid in reducing the implicit bias that exists in many philanthropic processes and make certain that access and trust are at the core of our grantmaking.
I don’t have all the answers and twenty years into my career I am finally ok with that. It is time to invest in the real experts in our community to see the shared goal of lasting, systemic change.
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. Our unique approach brings together a community of white accomplices to engage in an introspective and concrete curriculum, to diversify their networks and make their grantmaking processes more equitable. You can learn more and complete an interest form for Camelback Ventures’ next 2022 Capital Collaborative here.