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A Conversation With Ana Marie Argilagos, President/CEO, Hispanics in Philanthropy

July 24, 2018

It has not been a happy twelve months for Latino communities in the United States.

In September, President Donald Trump announced that he planned to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program within six months. Then in January, nearly two hundred thousand Salvadorans who have lived in the United States for more than a decade under a program known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) learned that the administration would be rescinding their protected status. To the dismay of many, that announcement foreshadowed a stepped-up spring campaign by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents against undocumented immigrants — most of them brown, many of them Latino — a campaign that culminated in June with a Department of Justice announcement of a new "zero tolerance" policy that has led to the separation of immigrant children from their parents seeking asylum at the southern border.

Since its founding in 1983, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) has worked to strengthen Latino equity, leadership, and voice and build a more equal and prosperous America and Latin America. It does that by bringing national foundations, local donors, advocates, and academics together to identify the most pressing issues affecting Latino communities, work toward shared goals, and strengthen the capacity of the Latino nonprofit sector.

In January, Ana Marie Argilagos joined HIP as its new president, succeeding Diana Campoamor, who retired at the end of 2017 after twenty-six years with the organization. In two conversations, one earlier this year and a more recent exchange, PND spoke with Argilagos about the Trump administration’s immigration policies and actions, the things she heard from HIP members during a recent listening tour, and her plans for the organization as she settles into her new role.

Before joining HIP, Argilagos was a senior advisor at the Ford Foundation, where her work focused on urban development strategies to reduce poverty, expand economic opportunity, and advance sustainability in cities and regions across the world. Prior to that, she served as deputy chief of staff and deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where she created the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation, and spent eight years as a senior program officer at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, where she spearheaded the foundation’s work in rural areas, indigenous communities, and the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Headshot_ana_marie_argilagosPhilanthropy News Digest: Since President Trump assumed office, he has taken lots of actions that have impacted the Latino community, and immigrants in particular — from rescinding Temporary Protected Status for two hundred thousand Salvadorans, to putting the status of DREAMers in jeopardy, to criminalizing immigrants crossing the border and separating children from parents. What has been your reaction to the administration's policies?

Ana Marie Argilagos: It breaks my heart. Dehumanizing immigrants is only dehumanizing us as a nation. Ripping kids away from their parents will have long-term and devastating impacts on the lives of children, on our communities, and on our nation. Families fleeing violence, survivors of domestic violence, and people seeking asylum in the United States are being punished instead of being helped. This is not the American way. This is not what Lady Liberty stands for.

And this isn't just about immigrants or Latinos. Immigrant justice is racial justice. Our country has a deep-rooted history of criminalizing people of color. The current administration's immigration enforcement efforts continue this history of punishing and criminalizing asylum seekers. It is not acceptable.

PND: Do you think the president's rhetoric has made people feel less safe?

AMA: Without a doubt. But it's critical to point out that his rhetoric doesn't just make people feel unsafe — it justifies policies and public acts of hatred. These policies and actions are making the world less safe for certain groups of people in a very real way. His rhetoric has empowered white supremacists to come out of the shadows, to hurt and even kill people of color. It also spurs the criminalization of immigrants who are crossing the border because they fear for the safety of their families and their children, has resurfaced hatred and discriminatory policies like the Muslim ban, and has resulted in the revocation of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians. Immigrants, people of color, Muslims, trans people, and many other groups now feel they are living in a country that is hostile to them because of the president's own words and direct actions.

PND: Let's talk about your organization, Hispanics in Philanthropy. What do you see as its role, especially now, in this political climate?

AMA: For more than thirty-five years, HIP has worked to advocate for Latino communities across the Americas. And today, in what is certainly an historic moment for the nation and the world, we have an incredibly important role to play. I see us playing that role in three areas. First, we must act as the conscience of the philanthropic sector. We must push on foundations to do more for the Latino community — not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's necessary if we want to advance human rights, guarantee the safety of the next generation, and ensure the growth of a more democratic and prosperous society.

Second, we're leaders in recognizing Latino nonprofits. We find organizations that are doing great work, we vet them, and we shine a spotlight on them so that foundations can see — and support — them. It also keeps foundations accountable for funding diverse organizations, instead of just funding the same well-known nonprofits over and over.

Last, as a pathmaker in philanthropy, we also mobilize Latinos to invest in their own communities. We were an early innovator in this space and launched the first bilingual crowdfunding platform for social impact work in the Americas. Now we're looking for new ways to innovate and engage our community on a large scale.

PND: When you took over in January, you succeeded Diana Campoamor, who served the organization for twenty-six years. What is Diana's legacy at HIP — and within the broader field?

AMA: Diana is a force of nature. In his remarks at her going-away party, [Ford Foundation president] Darren Walker referred to her as fierce and persistent, and that's one thing she has taught me, the need to be fierce and persistent. She also taught me to be impatient. At the same time, I bring my own innate optimism to the table. So, with apologies to Bill and Melinda Gates, I like to think of myself as an impatient optimist.

But what Diana also brought to HIP was a sense of urgency, a belief that the field wasn't moving fast enough and we had to do better, we had to do more. For me, she exemplifies the words of Nelson Mandela: "It's impossible until it happens," right? And that's because she never took "no" for an answer, and she always pushed to make sure that philanthropy paid attention to our communities and helped empower them to become part of the American story. For me, that's the essence of the work HIP does, and we plan on deepening that work.

PND: Back in January, on your first day in the office, you announced that you were planning to head out in the spring on a listening and learning tour of the U.S. How has that been going? Where have you been, and what have you learned?

AMA: I've been to dozens of cities so far, and it's been incredible to meet and engage with this vast network of people who are so passionate. I've heard from nonprofit leaders, givers, community and business leaders, philanthropies and philanthropists about how HIP can spark a new wave of philanthropy. And that wave needs to be by our community, for our community, and about our community. Latinos need to be behind the decision-making for our own philanthropy.

That means we need sovereignty over the institutions and philanthropy that impact our neighborhoods, our communities, and our well-being even as we are deepening our intersectional partnerships and working in alliance with other important stakeholders to achieve long-term, sustainable results.

There is a tremendous need to democratize philanthropy, to increase and change participation within philanthropy so that it delivers social impact where Latino communities need it most. Partners, members, and advisors believe that HIP, now more than ever, has a role to play in making philanthropy more accountable and more transparent. I am continually reminded that HIP has a clear role in speaking truth to power about the issues facing Latino communities and about transforming philanthropy to make it work better for Latinos. And HIP has a key role to play in focusing attention on and developing resources that enable everyone to be a giver and a philanthropist.

PND: It's interesting to me that Puerto Rico and Mexico City were on your itinerary. What did you hear from stakeholders there?

AMA: Why did you find it interesting? For me, it was a no-brainer. Our former board chair is from Puerto Rico, I have another board member who's from Puerto Rico, and we’ve been working in Puerto Rico for many years. We had a funders collaborative there that were very successful, and we have a lot of members there. We've been doing work the past couple of years in Loíza, where there's a sizable Afro-Latino population, and the day after the hurricane we put up a crowdfunding site that raised over $600,000. So, we've been working there to add capacity to the sector, and also are doing a lot of work around entrepreneurial and small business activity, with a focus on women-owned businesses. We have a lot going on in Puerto Rico, and it made sense for me to visit. I was also born there, so it has a piece of my heart.

As for Mexico City; we’ve had an office in Mexico for over a decade, and we’re doing strong work there. We are one of the largest funders in Mexico on issues of gender-equity, and we fund work on labor rights, human rights, and migration issues. The report we released in 2017 about human trafficking in Mexico was highly regarded, and even the government, the Department of Justice, put it on its website. We also do a lot around a capacity building in Mexico, and we have a strong and growing network there.

When you think about the Latino community, you need to think of it not just as a domestic community but as a diaspora. You see that clearly with Puerto Rico. And the importance of diaspora is not just what it means in terms of giving and remitting money; it's also about influence and power. Latinos are a multinational, multi-racial, multi-faceted community. It's about health and health access, and education and education access. It's about civic engagement. All of these issues are transnational issues, but they're also local issues and affect people where they live and work.

PND: In your capacity as president of HIP, you've suggested that the current political moment is an opportunity for the Latino community to embark on a new chapter of philanthropy. Help us unpack that statement. Are you calling for more philanthropy from the Latino community? A different kind of philanthropy? Both? Or something else?

AMA: As the conscience of the philanthropic sector, HIP actively pushes on foundations to do more for the Latino community — not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a necessity for the advancement of human rights, the safety of future generations, and for the growth of a more democratic and prosperous Latino communities across the U.S. and the Americas. So it's both, definitely both. I would like to see a new generation of philanthropists adopt a two-pronged approach. In our traditional work, we have always functioned as a sort of watchdog: speaking truth to power, looking at what's happening inside philanthropy, making sure that more people in philanthropy understand Latino issues. And you don’t have to be Latino. Look at Ronn Richards [president of the Cleveland Foundation] and Betsy Campbell [VP for Programs at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund], who's on our board; it's about people who are interested in and want to understand Latino issues, who want to be sure their foundations reflect that and are more effective and responsive to those issues, and who eager to leverage that effectiveness and responsiveness.

PND: You've only been on the job six months, but have you noticed anything different in the way young people think about philanthropy, and philanthropy to address Latino issues specifically?

AMA: I think the millennial generation, especially those with an entrepreneurial bent, want to see a philanthropy that is nimble, a philanthropy that is responsive, that isn't slowed down by what they see as bureaucratic architecture. Legacy philanthropic institutions are fantastic — I come from one of those [the Ford Foundation]. There's definitely a place for legacy institutions in the philanthropic universe, but there's also a place for new types of giving and new ways of thinking. For example, HIP launched the first bilingual crowdfunding site in the Americas, and that was in response to millennials. Or look at the Latino giving circles and Latino community foundations popping up in places like Georgia and Denver and California. They're all responding to the millennial desire to be more deeply engaged in how they give.

PND: Over the last year or two — really, since the emergence of Black Lives Matter in 2013 — we've seen a growing number of funders, especially those legacy funders you just mentioned, talk about, and in some cases, move to adopt a racial equity lens in their grantmaking. Do you think of the work done by HIP as racial equity work? And how does that work intersect with the work of groups like Black Lives Matter, Color Of Change, the Equal Justice Initiative, and others?

AMA: The work around racial equity goes back a ways. I remember back in 2002 when I was at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and we were working on racial equity issues — and not just on language and the words we use to talk about race and issues of race. That work was deep and meaningful, and some of it was shaped by the Joint Affinity Groups, or JAG, which today is known as CHANGE Philanthropy. But my point is, the work around racial equity has been happening in philanthropy for a long time, and it's nice to see more and more people in the field that are not just talking the talk and walking the walk but really understanding how important it is and what’s needed to advance that work.

You know, it's not just about race. At HIP, we're looking at class, we're looking at gender, at disabilities, at the intersectional aspects of how you get to equity. So, we think about ethnicity, and class, and race — you have to think about all of it — and we work with a range of groups, including the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, which is one of our CHANGE Philanthropy partners.

PND: Looking ahead five years, how do you think the organization you lead will be different?

AMA: Well, I'm interested in channeling this great cul­ture and tradition of philanthropy, of generosity, of giving in America and making sure that we are leveraging that and partnering with others and creating something that's even bigger and more impactful than what we're doing today. As I mentioned, the work we do has always had a watchdog component, an advocacy component, and a technical assistance component, and we've started to deepen all of that. I'd also like to see our network grow and become more active. We've been doing a great job around learning and research and sharing that research and making it action­able. I'd like to double down on all that, and I'd like to grow our NextGen leadership program. I'm excited, for example, to see that we have so many Latinos heading community foundations. These are folks at the forefront of having to bridge and dialogue very diverse perspectives and points of views, and they are doing it at a time when some people seem to think they have a license to say whatever is on their mind and not worry about the consequences. I hope we'll find ourselves in a place where we can point to these deeply moral, deeply courageous, deeply thoughtful people and say, This is good, this is America, this is the kind of country we want to live in. I am hopeful, but time will tell.

Mitch Nauffts

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