#PNWOnTheRoad in Alaska

#PNWOnTheRoad in Alaska

Photo of Philanthropy Northwest staff Mika (left), Jill (middle) and Nancy (right) in Anchorage, Alaska looking at scenery at a snowy mountaintop

Our Philanthropy Northwest staff had not been to Alaska since before the pandemic – so when I heard about our plan to head to Anchorage as part of #PNWOnTheRoad, I jumped at the opportunity to join the adventure! This was my very first trip to Alaska and there were so many things about Anchorage that surprised me: the light being out past 10 pm during this time of year, seeing a huge moose casually hang out in a church parking lot and the intense beauty of the mountains encompassing the city, to name a few. Through our meetings with Philanthropy Northwest members and partners based out of Alaska, I learned even more about the uniqueness of the state.  

An illustration of the Alaska Hand Map, courtesy of scissorkick!.

Whenever we had questions about where an Alaskan city or town was, our local friends would break out their Alaska hand map, created by angling your right hand down and curling up your middle, ring and pinky fingers to roughly resemble the shape of Alaska. This proved to be useful to us three Seattleites on the trip in helping us understand the distinct geography and vastness of the state. During The Foraker Group’s Leadership Summit, Elizabeth Ripley, CEO of Mat-Su Health Foundation, noted that the Mat-Su borough of Alaska alone is the size of the state of West Virginia.

Alaska is also America’s largest and northernmost state, and in our conversations with partners, we learned a bit about how access to resources can vary from city to city – making prices high for basic goods in some of the more remote towns and access to broadband more complex. Alaska is also home to many vibrant Indigenous communities: 229 of the 574 nationally recognized tribes in the U.S. are in Alaska. Our friends at First Alaskans Institute shared information with us on the wealth of Indigenous knowledge around topics like education and health, and how their systems are studied around the world.  

Learning all of this made the sentiment we hear from our Alaskan members especially clear to me: solutions that work in the lower 48 states, do not always work for Alaska. The sheer size of the state; the complexities around reaching remote, rural communities; the distinct Alaska Native regional corporation structure; the history and more set the state apart from others in our region. 

Two of our Momentum Fellows, one from Cohort Three and the other from Cohort Four, connecting for the first time in-person at our BIPOC Folks in Philanthropy Meeting at the BP Center.

Given Alaska’s unique strengths and challenges, our very first in-person BIPOC Folks in Philanthropy Happy Hour in Anchorage proved to be a great setting for our members to talk about their experiences working in philanthropy with fellow Alaskans. It was a pleasure to see the diversity of the Anchorage philanthropic community and the joy attendees had in seeing one another. This gathering illuminated the strength there is in troubleshooting with peers, laughing alongside each other, eating delicious local food and sharing candid feelings about your work. Folks really seemed to appreciate the opportunity to connect, showing the power of our Philanthropy Northwest network at work! 


Ayyu Quassataq, Nancy Sanabria, myself and Jill Nishi at a lookout point near Flat Top Mountain.


In all, I was incredibly moved by the graciousness of our Alaskan partners in welcoming us to their home state. This trip was a great opportunity for us at Philanthropy Northwest to deeply listen to our Alaska members: whether it be by sharing a scrumptious Vietnamese meal at Ray’s with our friends at First Alaskans Institute; connecting with local leaders at the Rasmuson Foundation Reception over hors d'oeuvres; sitting down with Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Conservation Foundation and the Denali Commission in their Anchorage offices; meeting folks at Foraker Leadership Summit or connecting in-person for the first time at the BIPOC Folks in Philanthropy Happy Hour. 

We absorb so much knowledge every time we venture out to our diverse and beautiful Pacific Northwest region, and I can’t wait for more of our #PNWOnTheRoad trips. Next up: Montana!