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The New York Foundation’s (NYF) Executive Director Rickke Mananzala and Board Treasurer George Suttles sat down with Kim Kastorff, Director of Kimpacto (and on behalf of Community Capital Advisors) to discuss how the foundation is aligning its investments with its mission and values – and the partnerships it sought out to do so; including hiring a Black-owned-and-founded investment advisor.
NYF is a private foundation, with a history dating back to 1909. Currently, it supports grassroots organizing and movement building for racial, economic, gender and climate justice in New York City. The foundation holds an average of $60 million in its endowment and distributed nearly $4 million in grants last year.
Below is part two of the interview where we discuss how NYF sees investing with a social justice lens and learning for mission-aligned investors.
Check out part one of the interview: “New York Foundation: Investing for Racial Equity" or watch the video of the full interview.
Investing with a social justice lens
CCA - Now that you have this new advisor, how would you describe your new approach related to diversity in your Investment Committee (IC) and with the funds overall? Also, how does this focus on diversity fit into the bigger picture, both today and as you look forward?
Rickke: We don’t view diversity as a stopping point. Our goal is ultimately around racial equity, and to get there, we need an inclusive process where we’re bringing more diverse voices into the decisions that we’re making, into shaping our values, and into both the investments and grantmaking work. As George said, we are very intentional about who we are including in the conversations, the representations that we have with our Investment Committee, particularly around race and gender from communities and individuals that have often been historically excluded from these opportunities. I think that’s why we’ve landed in such a good place in terms of having a strong investment committee that are aligned with our values, have investment expertise, and understand mission-aligned investing. It’s also why we were able to make “quick progress” on these shifts from traditional investing toward mission-aligned investing. We can largely thank George and his leadership of investment committee members, and the process building alignment through the RFP process with CCA.
It’s important to note that shifting our investments, values, and practice is part of a larger project that the New York Foundation has been undertaking for a couple years. This shift that we’re making isn’t a standalone project, but part of what we’re calling our broader Intersectional Racial Equity work, which includes everyone—staff and board—and every department—operations, grantmaking, grants management, etc.—across the foundation. Everyone knows their role and function and leadership position in advancing this racial equity work.
Just as we’ve been more explicit about supporting Black-led, trans-led and start-up organizations in our grantmaking, the investment committee set a goal to find leadership and an investment partner to help align our assets with our mission, values, and racial equity commitments. And that’s true for our other committees too. Right now we are talking about the investment committee and our investments, but everyone at the foundation is busy and asking questions so that racial equity isn’t a thing we do, it is how we do all things.
George: That is it, Amen. If I had my church fan, I would be fanning myself down because Rickke definitely delivered a word.
CCA - Going forward, what are the investment themes or key initiatives that you are most excited about?
George: We already explored some of the low hanging fruit like ESG and other screens to do no harm, but we want to go beyond that. We want to look into proactive investment solutions around racial, economic, gender, and climate justice in New York City and beyond, leveraging all our resources. We’ve got the resources to strategically deploy, so we want to do that across asset classes if possible.
Then, as Rickke always says, we approach this with humility and the understanding that there are frameworks to help us—like Justice Funders’ “Just Transition Investment Framework” and the Center for Economic Democracy’s “Social Movement Investing Framework.” We hope to do that cutting edge work in this space one day, but right now we’re just following and connecting with some of the great work that’s already been advanced. We want to be doing that great work as well. We’re also reevaluating our Investment Policy Statement (IPS), because we understand that that is the premier governing document that’s going to codify a lot of this work, especially from a process and methodological standpoint. We want someone to pick up our IPS and say, ‘Wow, this is what the New York Foundation is about from an investment management standpoint.’ I’m excited about the policy work, leveraging the IPS, and I’m also excited about proactively being a racial, economic, gender, climate justice investor, and thinking about those opportunities across asset classes.
Rickke: Just like we’re trying to be more transparent about where our grantmaking dollars are going, we should be doing that on the investment side, too. If we make grantmaking commitments around supporting Black-led, trans-led and startup groups, we should share how we’re doing, which we will in our 2022 Year in Review. George had a great idea to create a similar transparency report for our stakeholders, internal and external, about our shifts and our process.
What gets me most excited is that point George made, on listening to the frameworks from organizers, movements, and communities in this space. This is the stuff that I think most folks aren’t touching yet in the foundation world because it is new, because it is challenging some of the status quo, because it is challenging the logic of investing from extractive economies to regenerative economies. Ultimately, it’s the stuff about power that we’re most interested in given the role we hope to play in shifting power from philanthropy to the grassroots. The way we think about our investments in alignment with grassroots movements is an exciting and challenging place to start – as it should be. But a challenge doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying, if anything, it means the opposite.
George: Going back to an earlier point: We won’t need to lean on the benefit of the doubt anymore. So, when people talk about the New York Foundation, we hope they will know us as an organization that wants to try the hard things—not just with our grantmaking and operations but with our investments too At the end of day, as stewards of these resources and in support of our grantees, we want everything that we are doing to make sense to the people we care most about. That means communities that have traditionally been excluded, and individuals whose agency has been taken away, and we are just trying to help them activate our power. From a very emotional standpoint, it will feel really good to not have to lean on the benefit of the doubt anymore, but to say yes, the investments are exactly where you would expect them to be from the New York Foundation.
Learning for mission-aligned investors
CCA - Everything you say seems so logical and it makes sense now, but I am sure that if you reflect back, it hasn’t always been so straightforward. So, could you share one or two of the biggest challenges that you faced? Also as a closing thought, what final advice would you give to other foundations who are looking to change their investment committee or impact investing strategy?
Rickke: I appreciate this question because it’s another opportunity to remind everyone that we didn’t have all the answers. But I would offer three pieces of advice:
One: Don’t do it alone. That’s why we choose to work with CCA. We needed to rely on their help, facilitation experiences, and relationships. We also really leaned on our peers—General Services, Jessie Smith Noyes, among others—that have been further along in this journey. Leaning on and doing this work alongside peers allows us to engage the work with humility—as organizations and individuals—and lead with questions and curiosity.
Two: Don’t assume that everyone’s going to be fully on board, all in the same place to even start that conversation. In fact, use the process to build alignment as we did. It really, really worked.
Three: Challenge orthodoxy. Things don’t have to look the way they looked before. In fact, if you’re engaging in this work, it means that you're looking for something new and different and getting your foundation into new directions. So, challenging the status quo thinking is one thing that’s been really big for us.
CCA - Thanks Rickke for this great advice (1) Do not do this work alone, (2) Use the process to build alignment, and (3) Challenge the status quo. Any other final closing thoughts?
Rickke: Yes, thank you to Bert, Marc, and CCA for their support and leadership. It took us about a year to land this and they were really integral for that, and so that part of the process is done.
Now, the exciting work with Bivium-Westfuller begins. We’re so happy to be jumping in and experimenting with them, and shifting and shaking things up.
This interview was edited for length and clarity by Maggie Colgan, Communications Manager (New York Foundation) and Candice Wynter (CW Consulting).
February 23, 2023
00:00 - Introductions
03:38 - Overview of NYF
09:00 - Leveraging the benefit of the doubt and learning from established foundations
13:00 - Myth-busting to reach a shared understanding internally
16:00 - Engaging with Community Capital Advisors
18:00 - Unique strengths of the current investment committee
19:40 - Investment partnership with Vivian West Fuller
20:52 - New approach to diversity, the Investment Committee, and funds
22:46 - Implementing broader intersectional racial equity work
25:00 - Investment themes and key initiatives for the future
31:00 - Biggest challenges NYF faced and advice to other foundations shifting their impact investing strategy
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