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An Interview with James W. Head | Solutions for Sustainability

Monday, October 24, 2016

James W. Head is President and CEO of The East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF). Read his interview conducted by Constance J. Walker (Connie), President of Walker and Associates Consulting discussing his commitment to enhance the growth, sustainability, impact and sense of community of Black-Led Organizations in the Bay Area.

Join the conversation and learn more about the unique challenges faced by Black-Led Organizations and potential solutions at Moving Black-Led Organizations from Crisis to Change: Solutions for Sustainability, NCG's upcoming program on November 15, 2016. Learn more and register!

CONNIE: As a leader at the center of philanthropic activity in the East Bay, there are many pressing needs that you are called upon to address and many people and communities ripe for transformation. What sparked your commitment to mobilize financial resources and community leadership to focus on Black-Led Organizations?

JAMES: A small Working Group of funders – which organically grew over time to include representatives of The East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), The California Endowment, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, The San Francisco Foundation and The Y & H Soda Foundation – initially came together to discuss the impending closure of one particular Black-Led Organization that focused on education. As we learned more about this nonprofit and its challenges it became clear that it was too late to impact its trajectory. At the same time we learned that several other Black-Led Organizations, including a health care center and affordable housing developer, all closed their doors, leaving significant voids in services to communities with significant Black low-income populations. To get ahead of this phenomenon, we needed to elevate the conversation from how to save organizations currently in crisis to proactively supporting vital anchor institutions providing critical programs and services to prevent future crisis and additional closures.

CONNIE: How did you go about engaging Black-Led Organizations in order to uncover insight and receive input that could inform and shape future action?   

JAMES: Before jumping to conclusions about what needed to be done, we wanted to better understand the landscape, needs and ideas of Black-Led Organizations in the Bay Area. We commissioned the Bay Area Black United Fund (BABUF) to engage Black-Led Organizations in focus group discussions and survey research culminating in the groundbreaking report Black-Led Organizations in the Bay Area: From Crisis to Change. The report revealed a sense of isolation among leaders who felt a lack of funder transparency, acknowledgement and partnership, and philanthropic support to Black-Led Organizations and the issues they address. I was also struck by the fact that even mature Black-Led Organizations with great community impact and value are significantly under-staffed and under-resourced compared to nonprofits nationally. Since the report’s release, we have worked diligently to review the data, research best practice in capacity-building, including those at work in the high-tech sector, and create innovative solutions honoring the Black-Led Organizations’ guidance.

CONNIE: Throughout your career you have served low-income communities of color in many capacities from philanthropy to nonprofit management; from technical assistance to community and economic development; and even public interest and civil rights law. What about your previous experience makes you feel personally connected to and passionate about finding new ways to address the needs of Black-Led Organizations?

JAMES: Personally, as a Black man who grew up poor in the rural south I understand the unique needs and issues faced by low-income communities of color, but especially low-income Black communities. Growing up, Black-Led Organizations in my community were essential to bringing out the talent and drive that has led to my success.

Prior to joining EBCF, I spent decades leading under-resourced organizations fighting against all odds to transform the lives of low-income people and communities. Back then, I could only imagine how different it would have been if I had access to coaches, advanced technology and systems and capital to seed innovation and growth. Fast forward to 2016, and my current leadership role in philanthropy, and I see that equal access to resources and technical supports to carry out mission-critical work in low-income communities remains an elusive goal, especially for Black-Led Organizations and communities of color throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. As a lawyer and adjunct law professor, fairness and equity are values at my very core and I am motivated to find strength in the Bay Area’s diversity and differences.    

CONNIE: The Working Group decided to partner with NCG to host an event, Moving Black-Led Organizations from Crisis to Change: Solutions for Sustainability, from 4-5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at The San Francisco Foundation. Why do you feel it is important for this conversation to be lifted up before a broader set of your peers and what do you hope participants will be able to take away from the event?

JAMES: I believe we often miss the value and contributions Black-Led Organizations play in creating successful impacts and outcomes within and beyond the Black community. While we refer to this briefing as a “Crisis”, it’s more an acknowledgement of the critical role Black-Led Organizations play in creating vibrant, thriving, Black communities and residents. I believe success with Black-Led Organizations using the strategies and resources we are generating will allow us to replicate this work with Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander organizations supporting their communities and residents.

As philanthropic leaders committed to social justice and equity, we have an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with our communities’ Black-Led Organizations. If we act now, we can stem their erosion and invest in our rich and rapidly vanishing diversity—one of the things we love most about our region. My colleagues and I have grappled with this topic for some time and are tired of just talking. After pouring over the data and best practice in capacity-building – including those at work in the neighboring high-tech sector – we have a fresh, dynamic and replicable approach to shoring up these anchor organizations with a lens toward race and equity and we are excited to share our vision with our peers.

This will be an opportunity to gain insight on the unique challenges, needs and solutions being unearthed in other places like Philadelphia and Chicago; to hear highlights from BABUF’s research report focused on Black-Led Organizations in the Bay Area; to have engaging group discussion directly with nonprofit leaders who face these challenges daily; and to talk about forward-looking solutions that can create lasting change in organizations and communities.

Black-Led Organizations need our focused attention and I commit the resources and influence of The East Bay Community Foundation to move them forward and challenge my colleagues to do the same. Working together, and being inclusive and supportive of the needs and ideas of Black-Led Organizations, we can have great impact and provide a platform for better serving other communities of color in the future.  

James W. Head is President and CEO of The East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF). Serving Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, EBCF’s mission is to be the organization of choice for philanthropy in the East Bay through leadership in leveraging all assets in our communities to speed the transformation of low-income, disadvantaged, impoverished, underserved and underrepresented people. We believe in creating “A Just East Bay” in which all residents are able to achieve their fullest potential and enjoy the economic, social, and environmental benefits of the Bay Area.

Constance J. Walker is the Founder and President of Walker and Associates Consulting (W&A). W&A is a management consulting firm that meets the unique needs of nonprofits, intermediaries, foundations and small businesses, helping them fulfill their missions, achieve their goals and better serve communities of color via talent acquisition and development; strategic planning and execution; marketing and communications; and event planning and facilitation. For over 20 years, W&A has specialized in Community Economic Development applying a customized approach and creating innovative solutions that give clients and communities a boost

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