EPIP’s Summer Intern, Chad Salter, recently had a conversation with Edgar Villanueva, Program Officer at Marguerite Casey Foundation and member of EPIP’s Board of Advisors about his path in philanthropy. Following is an excerpt from their conversation.
Chad Salter: How did you become interested/involved in philanthropy (what has been your career path)?
Edgar Villanueva: The desire to help people and give back, support change in communities has always been a part of who I am – As an American Indian, I grew up in a culture of reciprocity to help others and to give back. Earlier in life, I didn’t know about institutional philanthropy, so like many others in the field, I stumbled into the back door.
I started my career in public health, and from there I developed a passion for health justice and health equity.
CS: What inspired you to join EPIP?
EV: When I got into the field, at my foundation I was by far the youngest. I wanted to connect with people around my age, I wanted to find a network, I wanted to learn and grow. Within philanthropy, at the time, there was not a training program – no one said “this is how you become a great program officer”. So I was looking around for people who were good at what they were doing and shared my values.
There was a desire to network, to be with like minded people, and to have an opportunity to learn and grow with my peers.
CS: What is the value of EPIP to you?
EV: I am a poster child of what EPIP is all about. I got into the field as a very young professional and really took advantage of all the programming. I attended the people of color gathering, I’ve been to the national conferences, and I have taken advantage of the career support services. As far as my leadership, I had the opportunity to serve on the the national board of directors from 2009 until this year.
For me EPIP has been a significant part of my foundation as my career has grown in philanthropy. I’ve received support, advice, and have found a safe space within the field to really have honest conversations. Frankly, I can credit the EPIP network for the job I have now. EPIP supported my development of a national network, so when this job opportunity came out, people thought about me. EPIP has served me very well.
CS: What have you learned by being in this network?
EV: EPIP really seasoned the way that I view philanthropy and made me want to participate in different kind of grantmaking than what I was doing.
From programming, what I have taken away is a better understanding of social justice philanthropy. I have always had social justice values as an individual, but the act of taking those values and putting them into practice in philanthropy can be challenging in some settings. EPIP has provided me training, support and discussion around how to push an agenda within a foundation and how to be a better grantmaker.
Probably most importantly, I’ve learned so much through the colleagues, peers, and networks I have made within EPIP. Being a part of the network, I have learned something from everyone, I have become better at my job.
CS: How has EPIP contributed to your development as a professional, and as a leader?
EV: When I got into philanthropy I didn’t realize that I had power…EPIP taught me that. I remember utilizing role-plays through Philanthropology training to become aware of that power and how to respectfully interact with communities. Trainings helped me understand the value of being very transparent, working to have more authentic relationships with grantees.
CS: How does EPIP inform the way you move dollars?
EV: What EPIP has done for me is, number one, to help me better understand how to practice grantmaking through a social justice lens.
In terms of how I move money and how I engage communities, EPIP has had a huge impact on how and why I do that. I think learning about early on about the power imbalance inherit in philanthropy – and how as an effective grantmaker we call out that power – we name it and set it aside and really try to engage the people – that is really social justice. As a grantmaker, celebrating the power that exists in communities and building trusting relationships to support communities is transformational.
As a person of color, coming from the community, how to survive and thrive in philanthropy brings a rich understanding to your work but you also need a lot of support.
CS: How do you see EPIP and philanthropy evolving together?
EV: I hope that we continue to evolve to be a better partner with community. I also hope to see EPIP and philanthropy engage more with the US south, where there is great need for social justice investment.
I also hope to continue to see inclusion in the field across different identities.
EPIP has always been a space where people across race and various identities come together across a shared agenda, so I hope that continues to happen in the field more broadly.