After an extensive national search, Kelly Brown has been selected to direct the D5 coalition. Kelly brings to the position stellar credentials and more than 20 years of experience working on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. She’s served as Director of Programs and Evaluation at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Grants Director at the Vanguard Public Foundation, Administrative Director for TransAfrica/TransAfrica Forum and a consultant to nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and individuals working to strengthen underserved communities. Read the news release on Kelly’s appointment.
Kelly recently sat down for an interview to share her hopes for the D5 coalition and the greater work of growing philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Q: What excites you most about D5?
KB: What is exciting to me about D5 is how it builds an institutional mechanism with a broad vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It brings to bear the capacities and expertise of a variety of organizational partners in one concentrated push. In this way, it exemplifies the nature of inclusiveness we’re trying to create as a field.
Q: What do you see as the field’s big opportunities here?
KB: A lot of work has been done on diversity in the field. The groundwork has been laid. But there are now larger demographic shifts in America that put the wind at our backs and make clear why we need to take this on.
The broad range of affinity groups in philanthropy that has emerged over the years has created the leadership and expertise that allow us to create a coalition like D5. We’ve got the critical mass of leaders we need to move the needle substantively and in a way that may not have been possible 10 or 20 years ago. We can now create a space to help foundations constructively engage with a more diverse workforce and more diverse communities.
Q: In your mind’s eye, what would greater diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in philanthropy?
KB: It’s numbers and it’s more than numbers. The larger vision of what we’re trying to do is found in the creativity that comes from diverse perspectives. This is the real potential.
We will face intractable challenges over the next 20 years in our country and in our relationship to other countries. We’re going to need our best strategic thinking. So it’s not just about more diverse people making decisions; it’s about having a greater variety of ideas around the table. Philanthropy is a field that has more freedom than most to work on this. We can lead the way to finding constructive and creative solutions for the future.
Q: Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion issues important to you personally?
KB: My grandmother was born in Mexico. My uncle’s first wife was Japanese. I had an aunt who was profoundly independent and suffered from crimpling arthritis from the age of 18. Without any intentionality around it, diversity has been my lived experience. Professionally, I went from TransAfrica, a far left progressive organization, to business school.
These experiences have strengthened my capacity to deal with differences, build bridges, and draw strengths and insights from a range of perspectives. I see a future where being able to do that–to bring people together to solve different kinds of problems, to create a space where people feel heard and respected–is imperative.
Q: Has your previous work led to any lessons or “ahas” about how to make philanthropy more diverse, equitable, and inclusive?
KB: When I was consulting with the Marin Community Foundation–located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country but with real pockets of poverty as well–we were trying to build the capacities of organizations to serve diverse populations. And a big part of building that capacity was for the leaders of these organizations to work and communicate with each other. The service providers in the room were a diverse group, but they had a lot of work to do on diversity.
We realized that as an individual you have to grapple with your own identity, assumptions, and experiences if you’re going to effectively serve diverse populations. It is a good example of a foundation creating a space for this. The fruits of making that space a priority surfaced in more effective and collaborative work on the ground.
Q: How can people work with D5?
KB: We want to hear what others have to say about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how they are manifesting this work at their own organizations–especially in ways that differ from D5. The most helpful thing would be for others to share their views and strategies, hear our perspectives, and be open to having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in their own spaces. And engage us in how we can support them with these conversations.
Q: You’ve worked a lot on network theory and social movement dynamics. How are you thinking about applying these concepts to D5?
KB: D5 has already been built as a network ready to grow. Approaching this work informed by network theory can help us to be more creative about how to strategically bridge the different kinds of relationships we need with different kinds of people at all levels. It can also help to highlight key points of connection and influence that could otherwise be overlooked.
Q: It’s 2015. Where do you want to see the field?
KB: Certainly we should have more diversity in leadership positions. We have the larger demographic momentum and strong leadership development strategies to facilitate that. I’d also like to see more foundations that have policies and practices on diversity in order to institutionalize change.
I also think the degree to which issues around diversity are more spontaneously generated throughout the field at large, rather than through an entity like D5, will show success. And to have diversity be included as a fundamental part of the way foundations do their work, in the same way they pay attention to evaluation, effectiveness, and impact right now. I think this is doable. And D5 will definitely contribute to it happening.