Civic Leadership

See the need, meet the need

Civic leadership in difficult times

Our civic leadership work — supported by 172 generous donors in 2020 — is part of our strategy, and allows us to be unusually nimble and proactive for a local philanthropic organization. We are able to see or learn of a need, a disconnect between systems or sectors, or a leadership void and quickly jump in to offer resources and solutions, connect dots, and use our voice to benefit the community. We do not do any of this work alone and are honored to work with fellow Rhode Islanders who bring the needed knowledge and expertise to the table.

Here are a few highlights of our civic leadership work in 2020.

Equity Leadership Initiative

In December, we announced the Equity Leadership Initiative, one aspect of our broad, 3-year, $8.5 million plan to eliminate inequality and racial disparities and promote inclusion and diversity. Angela Bannerman Ankoma, who brings nearly 25 years of public and health policy experience, joined the staff as vice president and executive director to lead the Initiative.

One effort of the Equity Leadership Initiative 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.

Central Providence Opportunities Initiative

Rhode Island has been awarded a grant to implement Central Providence Opportunities — a place-based initiative to increase social and economic mobility for residents of the 02908 and 02909 zip codes, and then scale these strategies statewide.

The investment will be managed by the Rhode Island Foundation, and leveraged by tapping into new and existing state-level resources. ONE Neighborhood Builders has been chosen to lead this $8 million, two-year initiative funded by Blue Meridian Partners.

The pandemic has laid bare the degree to which a resident’s zip code determines economic, health, and education outcomes. The Central Providence area — including the Olneyville, Hartford, Manton, Silver Lake, Valley, Federal Hill, Smith Hill, Elmhurst, and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods —has been one of the areas hardest hit.

The Foundation will serve as the fiscal sponsor, supporting ONE Neighborhood Builders, the Governor’s office and state agencies, and working in partnership with both to invest the funds with a focus on transforming lifetime trajectories for children and families in Central Providence.


In late-December, the Rhode Island Foundation dispersed $5 million in federal CARES Act funding to more than 120 local nonprofits across the state.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was designed by Congress to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses. “Federal CARES Act funding delivered by way of Rhode Island’s dedicated nonprofits has helped many families through this pandemic,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, “and the Rhode Island Foundation has once again played an important role helping nonprofits meet new challenges and reach more Rhode Islanders.”

The Foundation administered the pool of CARES Act funding in three ways — through the Nonprofit Support Fund and the Nonprofit Support for Domestic Violence Victims Fund, and to support outreach for CARES Act-funded rent relief programs — on behalf of the state.

Project Undercover is one of dozens of nonprofits that received grants through the Nonprofit Support Fund. The Warwick nonprofit purchased winter clothing for thousands of infants and toddlers from families with economic disadvantages, which was distributed through a network of 26 community action programs and social service agencies across the state.

We also awarded $1 million to eight organizations to address COVID-19 impacts on domestic violence survivors. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is using its grant to respond to the increase in demand for shelters and COVID-compliant housing and services for victims of domestic violence.

Vote Yes on Question 1

Ahead of the November 2020 election, we supported the effort to remove “Providence Plantations” from our State’s name by providing start-up funding to the Vote Yes on Question 1 campaign. Why? To truly address racial injustice and move toward equity, we have to confront our history, and that includes reckoning with the words we use that cause pain to members of our community. Former Governor Raimondo said it well, “The pain that this association (with American slavery) causes some of our residents should be of concern to all Rhode Islanders, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our state.” Rhode Island voters agreed, Question 1 passed with 53% of the vote. And now, we officially operate in a more united State of Rhode Island.