Why Philanthropy Needs the Diversity Fellowship Program

User .Minh Luu
Posted Date : February 14, 2013

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At Proteus Fund we’ve pondered how to address the challenge of increasing the number of professionals of color working in philanthropy, not just to increase the diversity of faces around the table but to expand the life experiences and perspectives that foundation professionals bring to their decisions about funding. The Proteus Diversity Fellowship recruits talented young professionals of color from a variety of fields and life experiences into a rigorous, year-long training program with placements in hosting foundations in Massachusetts.

We understand that fellows cannot on their own bring change to the perspective of their hosts. But with support from the program and by engaging the staff of the host foundations, they can spark conversations that lead to change. We provide a supportive environment for these emerging professionals and their host organizations to see change at both personal and institutional levels. Placing them in the same region means they can meet weekly for training, problem solving, and participation in an extensive curriculum.

This fellowship program works in part because in philanthropy there are no established credentials to indicate professional accomplishment. Often people are recruited from grantee organizations and academia, resulting in an iterative process that brings homogeneity to philanthropy. While the diversity fellowship approach of learning on the job might be somewhat overwhelming to these emerging professionals, they all have landed on their feet because of the program’s support and elaborate curriculum. And because of support for the host foundations, the experience of bringing new perspectives to the work has been positive.

The fellowship curriculum and the implicit theory of change, practically applied, seek to ensure that institutions will also reflect on what diversity means in real terms, have these internal conversations, and begin the process of organizational change. The end result is that the focus is not just on the fellows themselves. Hosting a fellow is just the beginning of the process.

Our goal is to expand this program into other parts of the country and to engage networks of foundations in creative strategies and programs to bring greater diversity to our field. There is an engaged and passionate network of diversity fellowship alumni who are already beginning to transform their host institutions in interesting ways; ultimately we envision that these alumni will help re-examine structures and biases in place within philanthropy. We imagine future investments to combat structural racism will address areas such as criminal justice, inequitable schools, economic reform, and death penalty work. We hope communities that are most affected by inequality will be empowered to affect change.

To learn more about the Proteus Diversity Fellowship, visit www.proteusfund.org.

Margaret E. Gage is president of the Proteus Fund.

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