MAY 2019

I am still processing the positive, provocative value provided by the many participants and speakers at AFN’s sold-out biennial conference earlier this month in San Antonio. The AFN sponsors, funders of San Antonio, and the staff at the St. Anthony Hotel were terrific hosts—our thanks go to them.

At this time of post-secondary commencement speeches, our conference speakers reminded me of the same serious future focus – indeed, one college’s admonition to gain “wisdom with understanding” to ground one’s engagement with their community seemed particularly on point.

A great many seeds were planted during the conference as we explored the themes of building common ground through investments in equity, inclusion and economic opportunity. Most discussions sought to frame the ways philanthropy can think intentionally about accelerating system change and asset building ideas into action.

Many of the issues we face today are intertwined:

  • low and unstable wages
  • economic insecurity
  • the potential threat of tech to many jobs
  • debt drivers (including post-secondary, local government fees and fines and health providers)
  • spiraling housing costs
  • the reduced economic benefit of post-secondary education
  • discrimination and exclusion
  • reduced civil, anti-discrimination, and consumer protection enforcement
  • stagnant upward mobility

Speakers addressed these topics and focused on the importance of understanding historic and current systemic drivers of racial and gender wealth gaps and of how the social determinants of health reflect economic standing, and of the potentially bleak future of work.

Participants were encouraged to embrace the presented ideas and consider new ways to reflect both the wisdom of understanding and the courage to lead (or provoke) uncomfortable discussions with the intent to disrupt the practices and policies that sustain the inequities and exclude so many.

The message was clear—to achieve progress, funders and financial institutions must be bold in taking action and by doing so, the pathways to restore the hope in real, equitable, upward mobility and shared prosperity are possible:

  • engage the consumer and understanding what would work
  • influence local and state government to develop local debt reduction strategies
  • create meaningful pathways to quality education, middle-skill jobs, and apprenticeships
  • provide the investments for laws to be enforced
  • challenge the systemic practices that exclude so many from desired health outcomes, the tools for economic opportunities, the capital for business ownership, and postsecondary education without crushing debt

The changes in the world economy, national political stage, and the fate attributed to our zip codes were universally seen as drivers, or realities in which we must operate, but certainly not predictive of results to which we resign ourselves. As many noted, we have the opportunity to partner and harness creativity, to reframe the narrative, to engage communities to disrupt and reinvent practices and policies, and to change the trajectory.

Philanthropy that leads with intent on accelerating ideas of equity, inclusion and economic opportunity into action in our communities defines AFN and will define the pathways we need to take if change is the goal.

We hope you recommit, join your peers at AFN, engage your community and private and public partners, and invest with intent. AFN looks forward to hearing from you, and to learning, supporting and amplifying your efforts.


Excerpted from the May 2019 Newsletter