Civic Leadership

Listening, learning, and leading

Our $8.5 million effort to address inequity and racial disparities

The Foundation has never been satisfied simply addressing the symptoms of our social ills. We have always tried to focus on the underlying causes. But a clear-eyed look in the mirror prompted by the recent spotlight on racial injustice revealed that—despite the best of intentions—we had been falling short. We can do better. And we are about to.

The Foundation is committing $8.5 million, over the next three years, to both lead and strengthen efforts throughout—and with the community—that are focused on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion; with a first-focus on racial equity. The $8.5 million is on top of the Foundation’s regular yearly grant making, and will serve to reinforce our longstanding commitment to equity in the organization’s funding and civic leadership efforts.

The reality is that this work has been under-resourced in Rhode Island, and there has never been a community-wide focus on tackling these challenging issues. That begins to change with this investment. The hard truth is that we will never achieve our goal of a better future for all Rhode Islanders if we don’t eliminate disparities and close achievement gaps. Addressing the underlying causes of inequity and working to eliminate disparities is one of our core organizational values, and has been an important part of our work for years. It’s a lens that we use to make decisions about how we allocate discretionary funding and civic leadership resources. Now is the time to commit to listening more, and doing more, and to hold ourselves accountable to this focus.

It starts with the launch of the Rhode Island Foundation’s Equity Leadership Initiative, led by Angela Bannerman Ankoma, vice president and executive director, as well as a member of the Foundation’s leadership team. Angela is working across and within departments at the Foundation to maximize this effort’s impact, and is recruiting and stewarding a community advisory board to assist in developing the Equity Leadership Initiative. One of the key goals will be to identify, cultivate, mentor, and seek access and opportunity for individuals who identify as Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous, and Asian, from across sectors, to help build a pipeline of future leaders in established positions of influence throughout the state.

“I am pleased to join the Foundation’s team and lead this effort. Community foundations have a rich history of community leadership. I am enthusiastic about the Foundation’s leadership in advancing racial equity by addressing the underlying, long standing structures and systems that perpetuate racism and injustice. I am excited to support the next generation of industry leaders – bank presidents, hospital CEOs, and leaders in academia and K-12 education; corporate executives, policy-makers, judges and more – who are people of color.”

- Angela Bennerman Ankoma

“Here’s what we know – outcomes are not equal for Rhode Islanders of color, due in large part to racism,” said Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, medical director of community relations for Care New England. “What we need is cultural change, and community foundations – like the Rhode Island Foundation – can help to lead that by investing in organizations, people, and efforts that will bring about that cultural change.”

The Foundation already applies an equity lens to its discretionary grants and civic leadership efforts. That means investing in local organizations and initiatives that are working to ensure that individuals and communities have the resources, respect, and access they need to succeed. However, we need to do more.

“Eliminating disparities, and providing equitable access to resources and opportunities is a cornerstone of the Rhode Island Foundation,” said Polly Wall, the Foundation’s board chair. “And we are demonstrating our commitment to listen more and do more; it’s the right thing to do. While we’re fortunate to have funding resources available to support the community in addressing inequity, we know that we don’t have all the answers in terms of how best to do that. Community conversations will be challenging and also necessary to build greater trust.”

To initiate these conversations the Foundation launched an outreach and engagement effort to listen and learn from members of Rhode Island’s diverse communities about potential ways to best allocate the resources announced today. We will begin reporting on what we’re learning–and how we intend to move these ideas to action–in the coming weeks.

“Because we know how much place matters in tackling racial inequities and eliminating disparities, this $8.5 million commitment by the Rhode Island Foundation is exactly the type of investment we need right now,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “We have created community-led initiatives like the Health Equity Zones to have an infrastructure ready for funds designed to truly meet needs from the community’s perspective, strengthening quality education, health, economic security, the environment, housing, basic human needs, and so much more.”

We are grateful to the thousands of donors, over the last century, who have made this effort possible, and to our board of directors and staff who are committed to doing this work as part of the evolution of our internal team, as well as focusing on it externally, with the community. And, we’re humbled by the call to build on and complement the work our many grantee partners are already doing with an even more significant commitment. We hope other community and corporate leaders, as well as a wide range of donors, will be inspired and join us to make the ‘better future’ a reality for all, going forward.