My work this summer has been in storytelling. In short, I interviewed alumni who graduated from the School of Natural Resources and Environment between 1950 and 1980 and helped to come up with ways to tell their stories, their pieces of the larger history of the institution. Earlier this summer, I did a presentation about why storytelling was important to me and my work. As we have continued to learn, stories are incredibly powerful tools in philanthropy. I would like to share with you a brief reflection on the story of DSIP.
For DSIP, the story was not driven by the conflict, which can often can seem timeless, inescapable, and overwhelming. After all, the world has so many complex needs that it can be difficult to see how philanthropy can address them all. Our D-SIP story was driven by the character development of everyone involved.
This summer, we were encouraged to ask the tough questions and to challenge those who opened themselves up to us because we had been giving an opportunity, a privilege to engage in ways that were most meaningful to us.We were told that now is the opportunity to learn and reflect. From Orientation, we hit the ground running, asking deep and necessary questions around philanthropy, engaging with donors and philanthropy professionals about the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work, about how your personal values were reflected and challenged in your work and how, if there was an issue, you reconciled those conflicts in values. We started to create a community. We shared in each other’s struggles, offered hands of support and spilled generous amount of tea. During the retreat, we reflected about what we had learned, how we had grown this summer, and so much of those reflections were focused on the community we had built together and how that community had helped us grow. And also understanding and appreciating the larger community of DSIP, a decade in the making before us that knew the power, the magic of this program and helped make it what it is today.
Stories are exciting and thrilling. They make us laugh and cry. Sometimes, they are real. Too real, but they all have purpose. Stories help us make meaning of the world around us. They help us to connect to one another. They help us heal, explore, and grow. But the really good stories challenge us. They force us to ask questions and leave us trying to make meaning for ourselves. They leave us wondering: what if? And that is what D-SIP has done.
I think very deeply about my own character development. I think about how in the wake of national tragedies, in the context of a world plagued by systems of oppression like racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, institutionalized violence against black bodies– how do I make sense of this conflict? What power does philanthropy have in addressing such immense problems? I am an advocate. I work to raise the awareness of issues affecting marginalized populations. My work is rooted in a message of empowerment, constantly asking myself how I can center and uplift these voices in a society that often seeks to erase and silence them. I have learned that understanding comes through experience, it comes through research, it comes through listening and connecting. Perhaps the meaning I have made for myself is this:
The meanings we make for ourselves, from our stories and the stories around us are different: each tailored to specific needs, passions, identities, and experiences. For me, I’ve seen the budding result of this story: to empower us. For me, philanthropy is about realizing how you would like to make change in the world and feeling empowered to do so. Whether that empowerment is through a commitment to justice, an expression of your faith, a part of your culture, connected to your personal values or rooted in the legacy you want to the leave in the world:so many people in some way wants to make this world a better place. And what that empowerment looks like: financial contributions, through connections, through education, through activism: all are valuable. However, we must push ourselves to think about who is afforded the opportunity to feel empowered, recognized, and valued and most importantly who isn’t. Philanthropy has a long way to go, there’s no denying that. As a scholarship student, standing before you today as a product of the amazing work that this community does, I can tell you that philanthropy must continue to be critical, it must continue to be transformative and work not only to create opportunities to empower communities, but we have a responsibility to keep growing, challenging ourselves to be more inclusive, more diverse, and tackle those big problems. Through the many facets of the DSIP experience, we have developed to the ability to see where we would like to make change and maybe how we want to do it.