Our Hunch About Democracy, Equity and Philanthropy

Our Hunch About Democracy, Equity and Philanthropy


Natalie Camacho-Mendoza, Northwest Area Foundation
Antony Chiang, Empire Health Foundation
Mike Halligan, Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation

As we mark Philanthropy Northwest's 40th year as a network of family funds, foundations and corporate giving programs, our work in communities is more important than ever. So it's fitting that Philanthropy Northwest's annual conference in Missoula, Montana on September 13-15 — just five weeks away! — will feature a different kind of conversation.

Our conference theme is “Under One Sky.” Together, we will explore the ever-shifting nature of our work and our communities through the lenses of democracy and equity.

Why these lenses? While these concepts have always been a part of our annual conference, the times are calling us to talk about democracy and equity with greater intentionality. As Interim CEO Audrey Haberman summed up in a recent blog post, our communities are facing serious challenges on the ground. We are dealing with frustration that results in the persistence of fear, injustice and inequities. We know these issues are complicated. We also know that we have an important role to play in policies and solutions to address these challenges. As practitioners, how are we shifting to address these challenges?

Democracy as a system can be frustrating. While we naturally associate it with civic engagement and participation, we believe it is also related to community capacity, the complex web of attributes that enable a community to build solutions to public problems and improve community and individual well-being. We also need to ask ourselves, whose voices are being heard? Whose voices need to be lifted?

This will be the starting point of our inquiry together: Are democracy and equity just nice to have? Or in the extreme, can our communities survive without them?

We are well aware that many of us don’t have a democracy portfolio or an equity portfolio. You are not alone — neither do our three foundations. We will not be asking you to divert your resources; rather, it is our hunch that you are already supporting these areas as a means to an end. Both democracy and equity are enormous topics and can be addressed in many ways. We’ll approach our exploration through issue areas like education, arts, health, impact investing and capacity building. We’ll lift up some of the most dynamic projects and collaborations in the region while experiencing the beauty and vibrancy of western Montana. We may not know the answers but we invite you to lean in with your peers, to question, connect and be inspired.

We believe this is why we come together and why our network is worth celebrating. Please join us.

Natalie Camacho-Mendoza, Antony Chiang and Mike Halligan are co-chairs of Philanthropy Northwest's 2016 conference.

Staff and trustees from more than 60 family funds, foundations, corporate giving programs and government agencies will meet Under One Sky, September 13 to 15 in Missoula, Montana. Contact Senior Program Manager Lyn Hunter, lhunter@philanthropynw.org, to learn more.