Board Retreat in Alaska:  Living our Values

Board Retreat in Alaska:  Living our Values

Kiran Ahuja, CEO

What does it mean to live one’s values? 

As the new Philanthropy Northwest CEO, my recent trip to Anchorage marked my first board meeting, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But when a board and organization lead with values, especially when those values include a strong commitment to our communities, I felt right at home. 

While in Alaska, I reflected on the last several years of my career, when I worked closely with Native Hawaiians to ensure their voices were heard during high-level meetings at the White House and among federal agencies. We organized several philanthropic briefings with national and regional foundations to highlight the incredible work in Hawaii to spur community development, improve educational outcomes for young Native Hawaiians through Hawaiian-immersion charter schools focused on culture and language, and promote sustainable, community farming for better health outcomes as well as college readiness. I was really proud to be part of a collective effort to promulgate federal rules to pave a sovereign relationship between the Native Hawaiians and the U.S. that included Hawaiian leaders, Native American and Alaskan Native communities and federal leaders. I remember Hawaiian leaders sharing with me how important it was to them to have the support of Alaskan Native communities because of the shared values at stake.

“Shared values” was a dominant theme in our board’s discussion, especially among our four Alaska board members, who spoke passionately on the history, institutions, and the significant assets and persistent barriers affecting Alaska Natives, and what Alaska-based philanthropic institutions and government entities are doing to improve the welfare of the people of Alaska from the community up. It was the perfect precursor to our visit to the Native Village of Eklutna just outside Anchorage. 

According to Na’eda, Our Friends: A Guide to Alaska Native Corporations, Tribes, Cultures, ANCSA and More, published by one our member organizations, The CIRI Foundation, the Cook Inlet Region, Inc., is one of 13 regional corporations created by historic legislation, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Passed in 1971, ANCSA conveyed 44 million acres—a little more than 10% of the land in the entire state—and nearly $1 billion to the Alaska Native population. In a radical departure from the concept of “reservations” familiar in the lower 48 states, the parcels of land were divided between 200 village and regional Native corporations, including the Eklutna village.

In addition to visiting Eklutna, board members and I visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a wonderful, interactive space filled with demonstrations of traditional dances, large installations, and an award-winning education program to preserve the trades, culture, language and spirit of Alaska Natives. The Center, along with others in Alaska, are deeply committed to reviving, retaining, and furthering the preservation of Alaska Native languages.

By immersing ourselves several times a year in different parts of Philanthropy Northwest’s region, our leadership team can reflect on how best to grow and share knowledge among our network of members and truly live out our value-based Strategy Framework, including in particular “honor[ing] our past, people and our cultures.” This framework drove the discussion during our retreat about how it will shape our policy and advocacy work in the coming months, and how Philanthropy Northwest can provide a forum for important conversations that affect our sector and country. Our upcoming conference, October 3-5, in Vancouver, Washington is a great place to continue these conversations. I hope you will join us. 

Finally, I am incredibly grateful to Rasmuson Foundation—a longtime member and philanthropic leader in Alaska—for hosting a reception and our board meeting so that we could learn from our Alaska colleagues and hear about their expansive efforts to better serve local communities, especially during the state’s difficult economic times.

I look forward to visiting more of the Philanthropy Northwest region, and getting to know you, and the communities you serve. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @philanthropynw, and at my new Twitter handle, @KiranAhujaNW.