Leading Voices

Glean insights from this diverse cadre of leading minds in philanthropy.

A Life Spent Trying to Solve the Bay Area’s Biggest Problems

Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, grew up in Oakland and did not consider himself the smartest or most talented among his peers. But he says that many around him ended up locked out of opportunity, and some even ended up dead or incarcerated.  “Where you live matters,” says the activist and one-time top administrator of the city of Oakland. “The advantaged across the Bay live 12 to 17 years longer. California has some of the worst income inequality in the U.S., and the Bay Area has the worst income distribution in California.”   It is for these [...more...]

Philanthropy is a Family Business

Charlie Casey inherited the family business, Pacific Foundation Services (PFS), and turned it into a philanthropic juggernaut.  After graduating from business school at Vanderbilt University in 2003, Casey assumed his career would be a corporate job in brand management for consumer products. But then, life took a twist.  “My dad basically said, ‘Well, if you don’t want me to sell this business to a third party, then one of you has to take it over,’” Casey remembers his father saying. His brother is a teacher in New York and wasn’t interested. “I happened to be the one,” he says. “I [...more...]

Bringing Environmental Justice Home

Rhea Suh spent years working for both the Hewlett and the Packard foundations here in the Bay Area before setting off on a career path that would see her in the Obama administration and leading one of the most influential environmental activism organizations in the country, the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “My journey unexpectedly took me back to the East and I stayed for longer than I thought,” says Suh, who became president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation in late 2021. The return to the Bay Area, where her parents and three siblings live, “truly feels like coming [...more...]

The Future of Black Nonprofit Power in California

Wanted: $100 million for an organization you have never heard of to be given away as unrestricted grants to Black-led California nonprofits that will be named later. That, in essence, was the founding proposition for the California Black Freedom Fund – and it was audacious in the world of philanthropy, let alone Black philanthropy. But timing is everything. George Floyd had just been killed by Minneapolis police officers, galvanizing nationwide outrage and a surge in support for racial-justice organizations. Within a few months, the fund secured $32 million in donations and commitments and quickly started putting that money to use. [...more...]

Philanthropy’s ‘Jerry Maguire’ May Just Change the Game

Lateefah Simon is on a roll. An eloquent and rapid speaker, she expounds on how philanthropy needs to change, how funders need to have closer ties to grassroots organizations and collaborate more with each other, and how hard she is working to forge those alliances at this inflection point in the fight against racism. Simon may be the president of Akonadi Foundation, with millions of philanthropic dollars at her disposal. But she retains the passion of the former community organizer who, while still a teenager, found her calling as an advocate for Bay Area youth most harmed by racism and [...more...]

Drawing on Family History, Sparks Charts Justice-Charged Path for Masto Foundation

In 1942, Harry and Masie Masto – along with more than 110,000 Japanese Americans – were sent to a World War II internment camp. After arriving at a government farm in Idaho, Harry was tapped to manage the internees and German POWs that worked the farm, and after the war he bought the land and launched a successful potato dehydration business just over the border in Washington State. As the business became more profitable, the Mastos shared their fortune with the community by developing an emergency safety net for workers, leading a capital fundraising campaign to create the first local [...more...]

‘What Good Is a Platform if You Don’t Use It for Good?’

I have known CNN host Lisa Ling for nearly a decade now. I never saw her as anything but a mentor, a world-class journalist, and someone with whom I had the honor of working.  Then, during the height of the heinous attacks on Asian Americans in 2020 and in 2021, I watched her on the TV being interviewed about the violence, braiding the history of racism against Asians in this country with her own experience. She spoke of the terrible things people were writing to her over social media, where she was extremely active in driving attention to victims of [...more...]

‘You’re Not Going To Be a Philanthropist Forever’

It can be argued that philanthropy swears too much allegiance to the idea of perpetuity. That the charitable foundations bearing the names of those who have done well, and were generous with their wealth, should become living legacies.  This ethos denies what one Silicon Valley philanthropist – Kathy Kwan – recognized early: that today’s pressing challenges require charitable giving to exceed what the tax code requires, and that, as Kwan says, “perpetuity doesn’t really make sense.” “I would love to see more philanthropic spend because if you look at the amount of money that is currently caught up in the [...more...]

Come to the Conversation Curious

“Come to the conversation curious.” If Emily Scott has a mantra, this is it. No matter what she is doing, the San Francisco-based philanthropist and financial advisor leans into the wisdom of curiosity and growth. Whenever she is faced with a thorny problem, or even an exciting opportunity, she digs into her toolkit of inquiry to figure out what to do next.  “Ask questions. Ask more questions. Challenge yourself and your perceptions,” Scott says.  Scott, who has served on the boards of KQED, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and Fostering Media Connections, inhabits a unique place in the Bay Area’s [...more...]

Money as Medicine

In 2018, a Native American philanthropy professional dropped a bomb on the industry. In his book, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, Edgar Villanueva laid bare the inequities rife throughout philanthropy and the financial system.  Now in its second edition, Decolonizing Wealth is the central text for what Villanueva simply describes as “modern philanthropy,” one in which capital is used for reconciliation and reparations through wealth redistribution. To move that effort forward, Villanueva launched Liberated Capital, a donor community and intermediary that is working with more than 350 individual donors and charitable foundations to support nonprofits [...more...]

Investing With an Eye Toward Equity

As president and CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), James W. Head has steered the nearly 100-year-old institution toward a racial and social justice equity model. Since Head’s arrival at EBCF in 2014, the foundation has doled out $450 million in grants to hundreds of organizations. It has roughly 400 donors and has an asset base of around $840 million. Head is leaving the organization after six years as the top executive, but before he goes, he discussed with The Giving List how the nationwide racial justice movement has solidified the foundation’s equity-based investment strategy and offered recommendations [...more...]

Using ‘Whatever Leverage’ She Has to Help Vulnerable Youth

After 40 years of leading organizations dedicated to stopping domestic violence and supporting imperiled youth, JaMel Perkins knows a thing or two about the field and her adopted city of San Francisco. Among other positions, she had been president of the board of the San Francisco Education Fund, which supports at-risk students, and Partners Ending Domestic Violence. But Perkins was shocked to discover that one part of the youth health puzzle had been mostly invisible to her – sex trafficking of youth in her own backyard. “When I thought of sex trafficking, I just assumed it was an international issue, [...more...]