Leaders for Our Time

It seems that the date for when the United States will become “majority minority” (as it was first labeled) is fast approaching and approaching faster. Years ago the projected date for this shift was 2050. In 2008 the Census Bureau updated their projection to 2042, and children will become majority minority by 2019. But the shift doesn’t happen on that day, the shift is present in multiple aspects of our day-to-day life. Many California schools are “majority minority” already. The analysis of the recent elections, both statewide and nationally, focused on the impact of voters of color in electing President Obama and many of our elected officials. Since then, pundits are observing the shift in the political discourse, especially on immigration reform, as a direct effect of voters of color flexing their political muscle.

As California and the country brown, the need for civic engagement and leadership indigenous to the various racial ethnic communities increases; leadership and engagement within and across communities is the platform upon which our civil society, our very democracy, rests. One of the ways in which we at The San Francisco Foundation are—and have been—addressing this critical issue is through our Multicultural Fellowship Program. What now looks like a stroke of genius started as an experiment. The Fellowship program was established over 30 years ago partially to address the lack of diversity in philanthropy; today there are 70 alumni exercising leadership in various sectors.

The program focuses on becoming an effective grantmaker via hands-on experience; it also provides an array of training, networking, mentoring, career coaching, and opportunities to strengthen the Fellows’ professional networks. The direct, on-the-job approach is a stepping stone to the next career opportunity. “My success in managing the CHANGE Coalition is a direct result of my experience managing a coalition at The San Francisco Foundation,” explains Kathryn Alcántar, Environment Fellow, 2005 – 2007. “This experience taught me the skills to manage obstacles, deal with challenging conversations, and keep people excited and motivated to work with each other.”

And just as important, it provides the Fellows with the opportunity to explore the most pressing societal issues with their teams, with our Foundation leadership, and with their cohort, creating professional relationships that often endure for the rest of their careers. Jaime Cortez, Arts & Culture Fellow, 2006 – 2008 observes that “it is hard to overstate how important it has been to build this network of authentic relationships. This is how I learn of professional opportunities; this is how I learn of art opportunities (calls for entries, performances, panels, openings, lectures, etc.).”

Today, February 7, we will be welcoming about half of our alumni whose homecoming will allow them to catch-up with each others lives and continue to learn from each other. The agenda allows an opportunity for alumni to share effective strategies that lead to greater engagement and leadership opportunities within and across many racial and ethnic backgrounds. The topic is timely; the expertise is abundant; the passion unfailing. These are our Multicultural Fellows.