Emerging Leader Series: Hannah Clark

EPIP Chicago is excited to introduce this new interview series featuring emerging leaders in philanthropy in Chicago. In our first interview, we meet Hannah Clark, Manager of Grants and Program Administration at the Grand Victoria Foundation.


What do you do?

I am the Manager of Grants and Program Administration at the Grand  Victoria Foundation. The Foundation invests resources in Illinois communities to strengthen  opportunities for young children, protect the natural environment, and promote robust  employment development opportunities. In my role as the grants manager I maintain the  Foundation’s grants database, manage correspondence and documentation to ensure  prompt payments of grants. I also field questions from grant seekers and others about the  Foundation’s guidelines and funding strategies.

What is your role in EPIP Chicago?

I am active on EPIP Chicago’s steering committee  as a founding member and chapter co-chair.

How long have you been an EPIP Chicago Member and why?

I joined EPIP in 2013  after participating on the planning committee for the National Conference that was held in Chicago. I was approached by some colleagues who had experience working with the EPIP network early on in their careers. They encouraged me to explore this platform as a means to hone my skills as a young professional and expand my network of peers.

How did you get into philanthropy?  

I have always been interested in social entrepreneurship and the role it plays in solving community problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value. I was first introduced to the world of philanthropy through my role as an Americorps VISTA member at the Taproot Foundation in Chicago. Unlike traditional foundations, instead of awarding cash grants, Taproot gave service grants to local nonprofits. By managing teams of pro bono consultants to create and execute specific capacity building projects for nonprofits, Taproot was able to significantly leverage investments from private donors.

I am fascinated by the role that philanthropy can play to catalyze an idea whose time has come.  It is a privilege to work in service to so many great thinkers and leaders in Illinois’ social sector. I enjoy the opportunity philanthropy presents to facilitate networks, bring in new partners, improve coordination, and build towards solutions at scale.

What do you think is the most important issue in philanthropy right now?

One of the conversations we have regularly in our work at Grand Victoria Foundation is how to promote progress in fields that are hindered by historically inefficient and fragmented systems.  As more practitioners begin to think about systems change and define what that means for them in their field, there is an increasing emphasis on building networks to sustain this work.

An important challenge for philanthropists right now is to figure how to connect, align, and support joint action for specialized outcomes. I am learning that engaged philanthropy provides technical assistance when needed, opens lines of communication, provides continuous interaction with foundation staff, promotes in-person convenings to build community, and is driven by a social change theory.

As an emerging practitioner in philanthropy, what do you think the field can do in cultivating and building leadership?

I believe that the best way to cultivate and build leadership is to put it into action. As children we are generally encouraged to answer our own questions by experiencing something for ourselves. As we get older and engage in larger endeavors, this method of learning tends to give way to learning from theory and existing knowledge. It is usually some time before people are considered sufficiently well programmed with available information to start asking questions again which will lead them to find their own solutions to unsolved problems.

I think the field is shifting to recognize that both modes of learning are important, and that important growth can take place when the two are combined. Thus leadership and learning becomes a combination of programmed knowledge, questioning insight and gaining experience. The ability to ask the right questions at the right time and taking action is at the heart of developing leadership.

What's your favorite neighborhood in Chicago?  

I am a big fan of the Pilsen neighborhood. The street art along 16th street is among some of the best in the city not to mention all the delicious local taco joints. My favorite street fest is Mole de Mayo, where local chefs compete for the honor of best mole - a savory sauce typically served over meat that can include a variety of chilies, spices, tomato and even chocolate!

What's your favorite after-work happy hour venue?

My backyard - I love having friends over for dinner and drinks to chill out after work, especially when it warms up enough use the fire pit. I’m also a fan of Piece Pizza in Wicker Park. They have excellent New Haven style pizza and craft beer from their brew-house. My teammates and I frequently go there after our Ultimate Frisbee games.

What do you do to survive Chicago winter? 

Chicago winters are a great time to experiment with new recipes, brew homemade beer, and play a lot of board games.

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