Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in San Francisco in a small house on Majestic Avenue in the Ingleside neighborhood. From our living room window, we saw the Bay Bridge stretch to the East Bay where our family church had been built by my grandparents.
Family values first taught me about philanthropy. We shared what we had with those less fortunate and performed service through Girl Scouts and our church. We cared how others lived and fared with a humanitarian conscience.
My first nonprofit was the Milagro Foundation, started in 1998. Our mission was to serve children in the areas of art, education and health. For nine years, I was Vice President, reviewing every grant request and visiting many of our grantees. Our first grant was to the Albanian Adoption Committee, providing cribs, blankets, toys, and necessary items for sustenance. One of the little baby girls was named Deborah on my behalf. Milagro funded music programs, camps for homeless children, an art bus, diapers to a Diaper Bank, afterschool programs, Latino college prep courses, Cinnamon Girl for brown and black girls in Oakland, theater for hearing impaired youth, and hundreds more.
In 2007, I created Do A Little as a Donor Advised Fund with the San Francisco Foundation, changing my mission to serve women and girls in the areas of health, education and happiness. I had been introduced to SFF as chair of the Community Leadership Awards Committee, given the rewarding opportunity to work with Dr. Sandra Hernandez, Tatwina Lee, Belva Davis, and Sheryl Wong. My time on the committee was a phenomenal education in the graciousness of being of service and I learned about Bay Area community needs and organized efforts to serve diverse populations.
Tell us about an organization you’re passionate about.
My foremost passion is girls’ education. Around the world, a girl is still not guaranteed a seat in a school environment. More than 80 million girls are still not attending school in 2019, and thousands drop out before the sixth grade to help their families or because there is not enough money for uniforms and textbooks. I have made my work with young women a call to action through my support of the Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya, a free boarding school for exceptional girls without funds to attend secondary school. I have hosted seven benefits to raise funds to cover the modest annual tuition fee of $2,500. I have asked Daraja supporters to sacrifice buying a store-bought grande latte for one year at a cost of $1,332.25 – more than half a girls’ education at Daraja. Since I began sponsoring girls at Daraja Academy, 125 students have graduated, 82 percent have been admitted to colleges and universities, and 37 percent of graduates hold leadership positions. Daraja students’ successes show how young women can profoundly change their lives and the lives of their families and communities by completing their educations.
SFF has supported my philanthropic endeavors with exceptional generosity. The staff hosted an event for Joia Mukherjee, M.D, M.P.H., who was Chief Medical Officer for Partners in Health, one of my grantees, whose work brings health care and health systems to the world’s poorest families. Last year, the foundation hosted a powerful evening of readings for an anthology I published: All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World, with five authors of color and the magnificent moderator, Maisha Quint.
As a native San Franciscan, SFF is a perfect fit for my values, my goals as a servant leader, and as a feminist and promoter and defender of women of color. Opportunities abound for all of us to have a positive influence on the challenges of the hostile environment we are living in now. My goal is to inspire people to “do your little bit of good where you are. It is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu
SFF donor Deborah Santana is an author, business leader, filmmaker, and activist for peace and social justice. In 2005, she published a memoir: Space Between the Stars. Ms. Santana has produced five short documentary films, four with Emmy-award winning director Barbara Rick: Road to Ingwavuma, Girls of Daraja, School of My Dreams, and Powerful Beyond Measure. She is mother to three beloved adult children: Salvador Santana, a songwriter and instrumental artist, Stella Santana, a singer/songwriter, and Angelica Santana, an archivist and film producer. Deborah is a leadership donor to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and has a master’s degree in philosophy and religion, with a concentration in women’s spirituality.