Public Health & Racial Equity:  What Our Foundation Has Learned in the Time of COVID

By Deborah Hoover

I set out to write a column about what we have learned over the past few months working from home, putting in place coronavirus health and safety protocols, making grants for basic needs, small business loans, and racial equity.  In addition to our entrepreneurship grants approved at the June meeting and detailed in this Pipeline, since March we have crafted a package of emergency grants to respond to needs precipitated by the pandemic, followed closely by a round of grants designed to support nonprofits advancing racial equity efforts nationally and regionally.  We assembled these recommendations by drawing upon our experiences supporting inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Our team is proud of this work and we believe the funds we invested in the community during the pandemic have helped people pay their rent, put food on the table, and keep employees on the payroll.  Grants just approved by our Board in late June will build awareness about social justice and racial equity issues.  Our team learned a lot from the interdisciplinary nature of this grantmaking and we can see that developing grants that support broader issues in the community will help us perform our entrepreneurship grantmaking mission with a more expansive lens and clearer focus.  

But when I set about defining what we have learned about diversity, equity, and inclusion grantmaking this year, the story became much more complicated.  I think what we really learned is that we have so much more to learn.  

Grants in support of racial equity issues are not new territory for Burton D. Morgan Foundation.  We co-led the Forward Cities Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative from 2014 to 2016 in Northeast Ohio, worked on Growth and Opportunity initiatives with the Fund for Our Economic Future for more than decade, and supported Racial Equity Institute training in Northeast Ohio.  The Foundation has funded many programs for youth, college students, and adults aimed at supporting entrepreneurs of color, yet we recognize that we can and should do more.  We should be more vocal, more intentional, more influential about the criticality of ensuring that entrepreneurs of color have access to programs and capital to grow their businesses.  We are committed to working toward this goal and strengthening our region’s ecosystem so that high quality inclusive programming is readily available to all.    

Our team is on a journey.  Our Board recently provided staff members with discretionary dollars they can allocate to support racial equity, to be matched through the generosity of a Foundation Trustee.  We will apply what we have learned in recent months to ensure that we do the hard work, learn what we need to learn, and get better at executing on our mission so that we are more inclusive and deliberate in all that we do.  And then we will listen and learn some more.