The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

The Role of Foundations Can foundations be the catalyst for increasing civic engagement and community organizing?

Foundations play an important role in funding programs that assist the poor and other marginalized groups. They can also play a role in advancing social change. In this conversation, SSA Associate Professor Jennifer Mosley discusses the role of foundations with Grace Hou, President of Woods Fund Chicago. Mosley studies how nonprofits use involvement in policy advocacy to more effectively support the communities or populations they serve. Woods Fund Chicago is a private grantmaking foundation focused on the promotion of social, economic, and racial justice by finding and funding projects that draw on the power of communities to fight the brutality of poverty and structural racism.

HouHou: Woods Fund Chicago funds community organizing, public policy advocacy, and the intersection of those topics. What we hope to do is to contribute to transformational change versus transactional change because we care about issues of poverty and race. Through our grantmaking and relationships with our grantees, we’re trying to attack systems and structures. 

One of the things that I believe is critically important to the work that we do is that when you look at outcomes that are negative for certain populations—in Chicago, it’s predominantly people of color, African Americans—that it’s not because of a lack of personal agency. It’s actually that they’re the product of systems and policies that are creating the conditions that these [populations] find themselves in. And so if you believe that to be true, the way to undo that is to impact the systems and the structures through policy change legislatively, administratively, and judicially. As a private foundation, we can’t actually advocate and lobby unless it’s for self-preservation. But we can do that through our grantmaking. And that’s what our grantmaking does, and has done for a really long time.

MosleyMosley: It’s great that you take that approach, because there are so many foundations that seem to avoid supporting advocacy—even communicating directly to grantees, “You cannot use any of this funding for advocacy.” They’re so fearful of restrictions that they ask grantees to stay away from advocacy, which might ultimately end up causing grantees to be less effective in meeting their mission.

Hou: Yes. In fact, I think that that is a super important point. One of the things that we try to do at Woods Fund is to communicate not just with our grantees and our board, but also with our foundation colleagues. I think that Chicago is really lucky, because we have a pretty rich foundation community. We see them kind of as our extended family, so through interaction and discussion, we understand our role within the ecosystem of foundations and issues. We do try in various ways to work together. I like to think that with the Woods Fund being in a relationship with our colleagues, that there is an increased understanding of organizing and its value.

Mosley: Do you believe that there’s a growing awareness on the part of foundations nationally around the importance of doing more systems work? One of the things that I’ve noticed is that it seems as if there are more and more foundations that are interested in affecting the political process through very strategic grantmaking around specific things as well as their own sort of engagement, but not so much on the community organizing side.

Hou: Yes, there can be a little bit of a disjuncture there. I believe that there are probably more, but I don’t want to quantify it. There are foundations that feel comfortable with civic engagement and civic education. And civic engagement is a component of community organizing. And for some reason, there is a stigmatization of those two words “community” and “organizing” together. 

Mosley: People can wrap their arms around why we need community and why we need organizing, but when you put them together, people [immediately think] protests and agitation, and the other sort of physical acts of community organizing. In many instances that’s a very small percentage of what actually happens. 

Hou: To your question about national foundations . . . I’ve been here for five and a half years now and had never been in philanthropy previously—only in nonprofit and government work, but never in philanthropy. So I’ve been focused on Chicago, because the Woods Fund only funds Chicago. I now feel as if I have a better sense of foundation work and the community in Chicago and establishing ties, and [am thinking], “OK, I need to get a better understanding of the national landscape.” I recently joined an interesting national board: Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees. And I feel as if I’m getting a better grasp as to what the national ecosystem looks like. But it’s very reflective of what we have in Chicago, which is a continuum of foundations who say, “We’ll only fund service.” And then there are some who only want to fund systems change and social justice work. And so I think it’s very similar. GCIR is interesting because it engages foundations who cover either or both. The common thread amongst the members is that we care about immigrant and refugee rights. Some feel more comfortable funding legal services, application assistance, and services while some of us are more interested in policy change.

Mosley: It seems when you think about civic engagement and community organization, immigrants and refugees are very important. In creating those face-to-face ties and helping create power within those communities, you’re helping people who don’t have much of a voice in the political system that affects them. You are finding ways [for them] to communicate and participate politically, even when they are disenfranchised. That can be really powerful.

Hou: Yes. I started my career in the immigrant and refugee rights and services community—services as well as advocacy. If you think about the naturalization process, immigrants who come to this country and are legal permanent residents—in order to be a citizen, you have to take the naturalization exam. If you think about the content of the naturalization exam, it is grounded in American history and is also civic education. Immigrants and naturalized citizens have a foundation. So we are organizing within citizenship classes to say, “OK, now that you have this information and the power to vote, what are you going to use that power for?” It’s taking it to the next level. 

Mosley: It’s interesting, when you think about your work in terms of increasing civic engagement and community organizing in marginalized communities. It’s also a push that we see nationally. I’m thinking about the Indivisible group, or other kinds of groups that have come about post the Trump election, even trying to get people who aren’t necessarily from a marginalized community, but still feel as though their voice wasn’t heard in the last election, more active.

It does seem as if we might be in a national moment around organizing and engagement, and really thinking collectively and strategically about how we can participate politically in ways outside of just going to the voting booth.

The following is the online-only portion, and continuation of the Conversation.

Mosley: Have you noticed any change in the communities that you're working with, or in your grantees since that moment [Trump’s election], in terms of how they're approaching their organizing work? Or is it more focused on local issues?

Hou: The observations that I would make would be that there’s a lot more resistance work that needs to happen. We fund a lot of immigrant and refugee rights work. For obvious reasons, they're actually trying to protect what they have now, through state legislation as well as advocacy that get rolled up on to the national level.

There’s also of all the work that was being done by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) as it relates to policing in Chicago, that the federal decisions have significant ramifications on the local level in terms of institutionalizing the requirements for reform.

With the DOJ saying, “We're not going to do consent degrees (court oversight). We're going to rely on local folks to actually hold themselves accountable,” I believe that we've seen kind of local pressure to ensure that there is a consent decree because we've learned from other cities that it is actually a key catalyst to ensuring change.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ attorney general has entered into a legal process with Chicago’s mayor, to make sure that happens. While there continues to be reactionary work from what’s happening on the federal level—and quite frankly, the statewide level too, with the lack of a budget, and all the changes that are happening on a statewide level—I believe that there is kind of protection and resistance. But there also continues to be amazing strides that are being made that are proactive and positive. It’s a combination of both that continue to happen.

foundationsMosley: What are some of the positive changes that you're thinking? We could all use some good news, right? And sometimes when I think about our state politics, it’s easy to become pessimistic.

Hou: I spent time with a couple of our grantees talking with people who were formerly incarcerated or people who had been involved in the justice system as arrestees, and heard about the work that they've done to not only become more aware of what their rights are as it relates to Miranda rights, but then also to push for reform, to ensure people all across Chicago not only know their rights but also are given access to phones and lawyers.

There was great progress that was made in Cook County to require posters in the station houses, to ensure that people could call and access, [public defenders] for arrestees. And the public defender was going to make their public defenders available at all police stations, to support arrestees. I actually always thought that it was happening, but it really doesn’t.

If you think about kind of what traditionally happens, even if you're just watching Law & Order, the state's attorney is at the station, right? But the public defender is not at the station. And unless you have your own private means, you're not calling a lawyer. Many times what we've heard from arrestees is that they don’t actually have access to a phone until further down the process.

We're raising up these issues [as] it’s so important to include those who are negatively impacted by the policies in the policy solutions. If I wasn’t doing this work; I would think that people’s rights were being afforded them. But they're not.

Mosley: Right.

Hou: So that’s a great success. We were also talking with some people who are homeless, who go to school in the Chicago public schools, and [who are] really fighting for increased services for homeless students as well as more supportive services for formerly homeless families. [They are] also expanding the definition of homeless to those who are doubling up, who are living with other family members or just friends or sometimes even strangers, and having access to services for homeless students if [they are] in that situation. Homeless students and parents and family members fought for those things to come true.

[Another] victory in working very closely with the mayor’s office, was the Airbnb surcharge, which will go to benefit the transitional support services that go along with permanent supportive housing. So those are huge successes. And the Illinois Trust Act passed on the statewide level, which was a result of a lot of work and a big coalition of folks. [Note: The Act is a law that prevents Illinois law enforcement officials from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status, and limits local agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities.] So there continues to be positive forward momentum even as if it feels as if we're taking a few steps back on other issues.

Mosley: One of the things that you and I share in terms of an interest is looking at philanthropy and the non-profit sector and the public sector, and how all three of those groups can work better together. I’m wondering if you've had any sort of lessons that you've taken from your recent work around that.

Hou: I feel as if I have the amazing opportunity to work at a foundation where we have long-term relationships with our grantees. We don’t take breaks unless there is a lack of alignment between what we fund and the work of our grantees.

Mosley: Very rare.

Hou: It is. So in that way, we actually are able to develop a relationship and trust, which is critically important. That can be very hard to develop when you have a funder/fundee relationship, because it’s not necessarily a natural, equitable relationship.

Mosley: Sure.

Hou: And I don’t pretend to believe that that’s not present even in trusting relationships. We are able to build that trust and then to have more [of an] intimate glimpse into what’s happening, especially when things are going wrong. To be seen as a partner to help figure things out and to help solve the problem, versus trying to hide and say, “We got this” and “Oh my gosh, we don’t want them to find out.”

Mosley: So you really can see yourself as a partner to your grantees.

Hou: Right, we try to. That’s what we hope that we do. And I’m sure that we don’t do it across the board. But when you have these long-term funding relationships with grantees, the drawback is that we can’t—we're not letting swaths of new organizations come in.

Mosley: Right.

Hou: Because for the most part, it’s a static amount of money that we have to work with, which is why it’s important to work in collaboration and partnership with other foundations.

Mosley: Absolutely. Do you have specific issue areas that you fund or is it more open? How much flexibility do your grantees have in terms of seeing emerging issues and responding to them?

Hou: Because we operate within the spirit of organizing, we don’t have issue areas. It would seem a little bit counter to the spirit of organizing when we're saying what you have to work on.

Mosley: Sure. [laugh]

Hou: But with that said, the majority of our grantmaking goes to the organic issues that they make decisions on. And most of our funding is for general operating so it’s not necessarily earmarked.

Mosley: Which is such an important conversation in philanthropy in general.

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: The importance of increasing general operating support.

Hou: As you know, general operating support actually gives you as the funder and the grantee more freedom in terms of these issues around lobbying and advocacy.

Mosley: Yes.

Hou: Because when you actually fund project-based work, there’s more work as it relates to documenting that. So that’s another reason why it’s better. So we don’t have issue areas. But I would say that through data collection, the main issues that our grantees work on has to do with criminal justice—which includes juvenile justice reform—affordable housing, education reform, immigrant and refugee rights, government accountability, and workers’ rights. And so in some form or fashion, they're working on those issues. That’s the big chunk of our funding.

Sometimes, we also dig deep on special issues. It really has been the Woods Fund tradition to say, “OK, from our vantage point, being in relationship with these grantees, these are the areas where we think that we can inject some awareness, excitement, energy.”

Recently, those issues have been around restorative justice. Justice reinvestment in schools as well as community. Moving away from punishment to restoration. We've been working with other foundation partners in funding the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), which is a focus police reform, community input, and oversight on police actions. And then racial justice, which is not an issue, but more of an overarching lens. Those would be the special projects which are a complement to our core grantmaking.

Mosley: That makes a lot of sense. There is so much misunderstanding about the role of philanthropy, and what philanthropy can and can’t do. One of the pieces of information that I always try to make sure that everyone in any of my classes walks away with is that philanthropy cannot be the answer to all of our problems around supporting our safety net.

Hou: Right.

mosley conversationMosley: That philanthropy is there for targeted interventions and that there is simply just not enough money in the philanthropic sector to ever be able to support social services in this country.

Hou: Absolutely.

Mosley: Even with our sort of measly welfare state. It’s still so much more than what philanthropy would ever be able to support. And so that’s one of the things that I really try to emphasize to our students here, and then think about, “Well, what are the ways that foundations can be strategic in using their kind of unique degrees of freedom?” There are not very many institutions that have as many degrees of freedoms as foundations do in terms of being able to be fully self-funded and accountable to no one but their boards.

Hou: Right. Exactly.

Mosley: But at the same time, it’s a very privileged position to be in, and it’s a very powerful position to be in. But it is much less powerful than I believe a lot of people think that it is, in terms of the amount of money that you have to give away.

Hou: Right.

Mosley: And so you have a lot of power over your individual grantees in some ways right?

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: But in terms of changing society, you're really reliant on your grantees and that relationship in order to fulfill your own mission. Which is a very different kind of situation to be in.

Hou: I also believe that just the power of giving away money is one-dimensional. It’s really important to also be someone before you came to give away money. That has been a value that we have at Woods Fund. I would say all the folks who make grantmaking decisions have written grants themselves, have been former executive directors, have been organizers.

And so, I believe it’s hard to make decisions when you haven't actually experienced it. That’s definitely one of the values that we have at Woods Fund. And I absolutely agree with you. Having worked in government before, for a $5 billion agency, there is no way philanthropy could even like make a dent in terms of trying to replace any of those services.

To your earlier question, I believe that philanthropy can help transform policy to make policy stronger and better. It can lift up and through its funding shed light on inadequacies or things that are actually working, and maybe also inspire innovation and creativity, such as with their grantees.

But it’s not going to replace [the welfare state]—so when there was rhetoric floating around during the [Illinois] state budget impasse, what was really exciting about Chicago philanthropy, [is that] when it became clear a couple years ago that this budget process was not going to be so successful in the short-term, a group of foundation folks had a press conference and said, “We can’t replace what the state [provides]—if the state pulls back significantly.” That was one of the first times, I believe, in Chicago where philanthropy actually came together and did that.

So I believe we are changing and advancing. You're seeing slowly but surely a more diverse set of foundation leaders. People who have [had] a lot of lives before that wasn’t just philanthropy. That creates a richness of conversation and understanding of the complexity of the problems that we face.

Mosley: It’s so important to think about—and from the perspective of making sure that you are not just encouraging the implementation of the programs that you already want to see, right?

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: So recognizing [that] this is a privileged position, and from this position, are people going to be willing to often say what they believe we want to hear?

Hou: Right.

Mosley: I believe [that] to be effective in your job in philanthropy you have to be very self-aware and very reflective about that role, and what that means, and how people come to you, and the way in which they sometimes can change—the way in which you can change that conversation, right?

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: Having a more diverse group of leaders, just in terms of their own personal backgrounds and characteristics and identities, but also work and life experiences, I believe [that one can] really help change the tone in terms of what kinds of ground level activities are valuable and what sort of things are worth funding.

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: Or not worth funding. And who we might want to listen to, in thinking about what an effective strategy might be. It’s so easy sometimes to say, “Well, this is a supported thing, and we want someone who’s going to implement this,” instead of really listening to the communities themselves in terms of what they are seeing on the ground, in terms of [what they are] ID’ing as issues, which it sounds [as if] you're really focusing on.


Hou: Yes. And it’s interesting as I think about our staff, we actually have three University of Chicago grads. And we have a very small staff. So it’s a very high percentage.

Mosley: [laugh]

Hou: And then, two of the three actually graduated from SSA.

Mosley: [laugh]

Hou: So the educational foundation is also important. Obviously the faculty are, I believe, good about sharing with the students what the reality of our public landscape really looks like.

Mosley: And what that can look like. I’m writing a paper on philanthropy right now, and thinking about the ways in which philanthropy can encourage what we're calling coalitions of interest. [I’m looking at] the ways in which foundations can operate as interest groups –facilitating, or funding these coalitions of interest, if you will -- to help form more robust groups of people who can come together to change policy.

That can be a unique way for foundations to play a role in the policy process—by convening people and bringing people together, and playing that intermediary role. So I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on that as I move forward.

Hou: Absolutely. Well, I talked a little bit about the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability. That’s actually a coalition of organizations from across the city that we brought together for a conversation with members of the Police Accountability Task Force last summer.

When the Police Accountability Task Force report came out, there wasn’t a very clear kind of community process in terms of taking those recommendations and figuring out how they become implemented in various ways, and how community can have input on that. It was an amazing process for the development of those recommendations, but it was also a very short timeframe.

From those initial conversations emerged this coalition and they have spent a year together. They've also developed leaders from each of their constituencies, who have developed relationships with each other. Now they’re in the process of developing recommendations for what the community oversight authority may look like. So it’s a roller coaster. I believe that there is huge power in terms of bringing folks together. But I believe that there’s also an important role in foundations in terms of not leaving after the check is written.

Mosley: Sure.

Hou: Because it’s a delicate balance. You can’t be too in the weeds, but you can’t completely wash your hands of everything that’s happening. A lot of lessons have been learned along the way, and organizations have for various reasons, after understanding the trajectory of the work, have felt as if it wasn’t perfect—it wasn’t in alignment with the way that they wanted to continue to work. It’s a hard process.

Mosley: Right.

Hou: But I believe that we can only be there to support and to facilitate dialogue, and so that’s an important role. One of the lessons is to—because we had regular touchpoints, that we had a sense of what was happening, and we could inject our perspective and opinion—[was that] it was important to say, “This is your decision.” But coalition work is so hard at the foundation level and at the grassroots level too. I was at a national conference, and somebody said, “Chicago. Oh, the city of sharp elbows.”

Mosley: [laugh]

Hou: As it relates to organizing. And we see that. So while coalition work is super important and it’s so powerful, I believe that the drawback and the challenge is that some organizations—and this may come off wrong—it’s as if they only want to work with who they want to work with, and who it feels easy to work with, rather than letting strategy and tactical decisions dictate who they work with.

Mosley: And sometimes the most powerful strategy from an advocacy perspective can be joining up with an unlikely ally.

Hou: Absolutely.

Mosley: Someone that you disagree with on pretty much everything, but you can go to Springfield and say, “We disagree on everything, and even we agree on this!”

Hou: Right. I think back to when the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights was working on [issuing drivers licenses] for undocumented folks [so that they can get car insurance]. The immigrant and refugee communities actually partnered up with law enforcement because it’s safer for people to have driver licenses and insurance. So it was an unlikely partnership.

Mosley: And that can be so effective. I believe that foundations do have a strategic advantage in being able to play that role of matchmaker sometimes between those unlikely things. But as you point out, it’s hard to know when to wield that sort of power, and when to really push someone into that kind of thing, when it’s not the way that they are already thinking about working.

Hou: That’s right.

Mosley: So it’s a very fine balance, for sure.

Hou: Yes. Sometimes I feel as if we're interpreters.

Mosley: Sure, yes. I can see that. We've talked a lot about legislative change, but another thing that you see a lot is how important the regulatory process is, and how important implementation of these different policies are.  This is particularly concerning in the immigrant and refugee community, right?

Hou: Yeah.

Mosley: Policies can be implemented in ways that work more or less well for different groups. I was wondering if you ever stick around in that sort of way, after you've seen a policy success. Seeing it through to that next phase of implementation…

Hou: Yes. That is increasingly important. I believe somebody once said, “Policy is just a piece of paper until it’s implemented and comes to life.” And I believe that there have been lessons learned along the way around, “You can’t walk away.” So it’s not necessarily about us walking away, because we continue to provide funding. I believe it’s the organizations having a follow-up plan -- an implementation plan.

Mosley: Sure.

Hou: Various organizations have been successful around that. There was this school discipline bill, which was passed several years ago. The organization that led the [its] passage is now working actively on implementation. They see that as a continuation of the work. The passage of the legislation is actually just one milestone to the work that needs to happen.

And that’s true of the work that I was just telling you about homeless students, is that the coalition of folks who worked to bring that forward understand that their work is not done. That they have to stay vigilant, and they have to make sure that it comes to life. Because some of [the work is] not—they're not even legislation. It’s school code or school policy. And with the reams and reams of things that people have to attend to with diminishing staff, they have to prioritize, and they're going to prioritize what people are agitating against.

Mosley: And keeping that pressure on is not sexy, but it’s really important.

Hou: Yes. There are a lot of lessons to be learned with the minimum wage ordinance, and the home rule municipalities acting out. And there could be a lot of retrospective examination as to what could have been done immediately after, or even during the strategy process, to forecast that, and to mitigate it.

mosleyMosley: Do you find that there are any misconceptions that politicians and urban leaders have, that are different or unique from the rest of the general public, about foundations and what you can do? My impression is that they're sometimes a little better on it than the general public, but I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Hou: I believe the biggest misconception is an area that we already covered—that we have enough assets to make things work. I do believe that there is an understanding, because I think of the mission-driven non-profit world as including the public sector. Because all of our bottom lines are actually something greater than making money, we hope. I feel as if there’s a lot of movement of people and issues that work throughout the foundation, non-profit, and government thread. This is why I believe that I gravitated towards foundation work after I came out of public service. It was a natural extension. It was just a different set of tools that I had and certainly far less stressful.

Mosley: [laugh]

Hou: I actually think that public sector doesn’t often think about philanthropy because we're behind the scenes a little bit. We're not the ones who are testifying at appropriation hearings, or hearings at City Hall, or in front of county commissioners. We're kind of off the grid a little bit.

Mosley: Especially a group like the Woods Fund, you want to promote your grantees, and help them get their message out.

Hou: Exactly.

Mosley: You're there to help support their mission.

Hou: Yes. So I don’t believe that they're always thinking about us necessarily.

Mosley: Now, not every foundation works like that, though.

Hou: That’s true.

Mosley: I’m thinking about other foundations that do a lot of policy work like Annie E. Casey or other people like that, that created a brand name for themselves. They want to be the hub…

Hou: The KIDS COUNT stuff, yes. I believe we—to the extent that we want people to know about Woods Fund—it’s that we want them to understand the power of organizing and advocacy funding and to know our grantees. If there’s some way that we can use our power to lift up that work, that’s the end game. Because we're not raising money. We don’t need that sort of awareness. Only as a way to lift up the work and the value of organizing and advocacy.

Mosley: Do you ever work with other foundations that are similar to the Woods Fund across the United States? I don’t know if I mentioned that I worked at the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles for a little while, which is similar to the Woods Fund in some ways. There are several of these foundations founded in the ‘60s and ‘70s and they sort of work underground -- really focused on local issues because of the way that their work is done. But [they] have been very effective in changing discourse in those local communities. Has there ever been talk around those different groups coming together in a more national strategy?

Hou: Yes. There’s an affinity group called—Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG). Various staff of ours are very active in that. NFG actually tends to work along issues areas. So there’s a workers’ rights group, Funders for a Just Economy. It focuses on workers’ rights and understanding what’s happening on a national level. We've been able to attract national funding for the local coalition of workers’ rights organizations called Raise the Floor. So that is a place for learning.

Mosley: Yes, I’m thinking those foundations could learn a lot from each other about what you've learned from your own grantees. When you're talking about workers’ rights that was something that was so central to Liberty Hill’s work with sweatshops in Los Angeles. They were really focused on that, and less on the police—at least at the time I was there. And so there are different kinds of lessons that could be learned from different people in those different long-term campaigns.

Hou: Absolutely. That’s the value of focusing nationally a little bit, because there are ways to learn from others. Like GCIR—so that’s a continuum of folks. But I think NFG is the space for organizing and advantage foundations. And there’s also something called Change Philanthropy, which is—we used to call JAG—affinity groups of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, LGBTQ—I can’t remember all the other categories. But that was JAG. Now they're Change Philanthropy. And so there’s a lot of discussion around racial justice, and organizing and advocacy in those spaces.

And they're gaining power too. I feel as if the world of philanthropy is feeling more comfortable talking about racial justice, racial equity, which I believe is important. [What] we do with those discussions is critically important. But I’m actually really heartened to see what’s happening in Chicago, with our colleagues in foundations. We are working with the larger foundations in Chicago on these issues and grappling with them together and what we're recognizing is that we each have different strengths to bring to the work.

Mosley: Sure.

Hou: And I believe that folks are understanding the value of community organizing, when we're trying to dig into entrenched issues such as police reform, racial justice, and that you can’t enter into those areas unless you have long relationships on the ground. That’s what we're able to bring. We can’t write multimillion dollar checks, but we can catalyze. We educate. We can convene and raise greater understanding, which has been beneficial to our grantees.

conversation mosleyMosley: It might be another interesting intermediary role for a foundation with the size and the focus area of the Woods Fund, is playing that role of helping push the larger foundations from the bottom. It’s almost a ground-up movement within philanthropy to think more about racial justice, to think more about social justice, to think more about system change. Think about general operating support and things like that. Being able to talk about your successes and how that works, and help them understand the different ways in which they can play a role.

Hou: Yes. One of the things that we've been doing on a monthly basis is what we're calling Thursday Thinks. It’s an open invitation to foundation colleagues in Chicago. One of our staff curates —we watch a movie together, or we read books, or we attended the Alphawood Gallery exhibit. We went to The Field Museum to see the Malvina Hoffman exhibit just to spark something around race to—I believe as if [its] one of the things that we need to—is normalize the ability to talk about race, within the world of philanthropy.

Whatever we carry as individuals sometimes gets in the way. But if we can get used to talking about it, then that gets us closer to begin figuring out how we can change—make good policy— actually good politics. For the most part, if you're an expert on housing, or education, or criminal justice, you know what the good policies are. It’s just not translating into good politics yet.

Mosley: Sure.

Hou: And that’s what organizing does. That’s what civic education does. And that’s why that kind of transformational work is so critical to making things better.

Mosley: Well, and I believe that we're in a national moment where hopefully, we're having more of these conversations about the reasons why we need to talk more about race. And we talked about foundations being the seat of privilege, right? And they certainly are there, and they are a historic place of white privilege, right?

Hou: Right, right.

Mosley: And so I think helping white people become more comfortable [laugh] thinking about that privilege and talking about race, and bringing that into conversations, and not assuming that because you have the right intentions with your work, that it’s all going to work out in the end. That’s an uncomfortable place to be for many people, but it seems as if this is a moment in which it can happen for philanthropy as well.

Hou: Yes I was talking to someone around these issues of race, and one of the things that we were talking about was this idea of being an ally. I always felt as if that was not an active enough role. And so I recently [saw on?]—I think it was—I don’t know, Facebook or something, that there was an activist saying, “We don’t want allies. We want accomplices.” This is venturing into the illicit category when you think about accomplices, but that is closer to the word that I believe that all of us need to be. We need to be accomplices to the work that’s happening. Allies is like, “Yeah, I’m with ya! Lemme know how it goes!” You know what I mean? [laugh]

Mosley: Right. You can be sort of a quiet supporter in that sort of way. If you're an accomplice, you are actively engaged.

Hou: Yes.

Mosley: And finding ways to help philanthropy be more actively engaged and help move the whole non-profit sector along in its struggles to sort of process and understand privilege within that community, and how it operates, and keeps some organizations from being able to more fully meet their mission—I believe, is important.