What It Means to be Part of a Network a.k.a I Found My People

What It Means to be Part of a Network a.k.a I Found My People

By: Hafizah Omar

EPIP National Board Member, Christine Reeves, told us the four times she has felt that she was at the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people. One such time was as part of EPIP.

That’s exactly how I felt at the 2015 EPIP National Conference in New Orleans.  Networks are invisible, until you can feel the strings that connect you to other people, and the stronger the network is, the more visible and more visceral these strings become.

Being part of the National Conference not only gave me the opportunity to meet so many amazing emerging leaders, but also to learn that they share the same passion that I have for social justice and working towards a more equitable world.

The Chapter Leader Gathering showed me this exactly. We were able to have very honest conversations about how we “cover” at work, and in our lives. We were able to connect our passion for the work with how we feel and think about the world. It was heartening to listen to chapter leaders talk about how much they want to see their chapters grow and influence the sector.

Thinking about how EPIP Chapters can be an agent of change in the sector, and thinking about how this can lead to more equitable, sustainable and strong communities, I looked for answers.  There is a gap in the philanthropy sector between the communities it’s trying to serve, and what the communities are empowered to do if given the right resources.

What resonated with me the most from this conference was the importance of building movements within communities. One of the sessions I attended, “Community Change from the Inside Out” was one of those sessions where I was nodding at almost every single sentence said! 

We can’t build movements without first building civic infrastructure that will allow communities to be able to use their voice.

Building a Movement was a major theme of my learnings at the conference.  The amazing leader salon featured Linetta Gilbert, who was absolutely inspiring, and grounding at the same time. In a circle that felt very intimate despite the size of our group, she fielded questions from young professionals who want to know how to be responsive to current issues, when we are so early in our careers.  She talked about her experiences in the philanthropic sector, where sometimes her values were challenged, but then emphasized the importance of being that voice on that table. These voices are the sparks that create movements.

The closing panel featured another great discussion about movements, and philanthropy’s role in building them. The panelists talked candidly about how philanthropy has helped or hindered social movements, an idea that really resonated with me. Movements don’t announce themselves; they emerge. And they emerge through building relationships. Communities are the reason movements work.

While I am not a grantmaker (though I do still technically work in philanthropy), a lot of the ideas I got from the conference are interconnected with my job, my volunteer work, my community, and my life.

I think this is what it means to be a part of a network – being able to see the ties that connect us in different ways. Strong networks are built upon deep connections, and the honest conversations that I had with other EPIP members, whether talking about diversity and equity (or the lack thereof), to the sheer privilege of working in philanthropy and reconciling that with our values, to dealing with being a “millennial” in the workplace, are all part of the reason why EPIP is a network --  I have found my people. 

Strong networks can build movements.

I want to make these networks more visible, here in Chicago. I want us, as emerging practitioners in philanthropy to be able to think about our place in our community, and think about the issues plaguing this beautiful city (that’s right, it’s finally summer!) and how we can be part of the movement towards more equitable, sustainable communities, both inside and outside of our work.


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