As we contemplate the events of the past year and anticipate what’s to come in 2023, I am once again privileged to be in the position to share my thoughts and reflections on where we find ourselves today – on the heels of a pandemic that transformed all aspects of society, in the midst of rising political polarization and immense generational shifts, and on the eve of a potential recession.
Despite this, I believe there’s reason for hope following our recent midterm elections — especially when you consider the details: Across major races, the political landscape looks much the same, but it’s encouraging that some of the worst case scenarios we feared for democracy did not come to fruition. Even more hopeful is the historic victories of diverse candidates throughout the country, including the election of our nation’s first openly lesbian governors, the first Gen-Z member of Congress and Maryland’s first Black governor. These outcomes, as well as the promising results of local elections and crucial down ballot initiatives, all serve as clear indicators of progress in communities of all shapes and sizes across the country.
Even within the deafening chaos of recent years, our current systems are functional, and are capable of bringing about positive gains for society. So let us harness the new year as a time for strengthening the systems we already have in place with innovative and out-of-the-box ideas that spur greater opportunity for all. And though this certainly can’t be accomplished by philanthropy alone, we as funders are uniquely positioned to find and scale the institutions, organizations, and individuals that anchor this hope.
At Siegel Family Endowment, we believe that philanthropy is society’s risk capital and that our giving can help build, test, and scale emerging ideas that can help create the transformative change we so desperately need. As our world grows more complex, it’s critical that our investments take into account the multidimensional nature of today’s systems – to see beyond students to schools, beyond workers to the economy, and beyond technology to the infrastructure of tomorrow.
That is why we’ve expanded our portfolio over the last year even further beyond traditional silos to focus on catalyzing systems-level change throughout and across our interest areas.
We’ve extended our understanding of schools to include much more than the classrooms in which learning takes place.
Grounded by our latest whitepaper, we’ve laid out a vision of our education systems as vital pieces of community infrastructure with paths forward for how both schools and their communities can be strengthened in tandem. We seek to actualize this work by continuing to partner with grantees designing holistic ways to improve outcomes for all students, modernize curriculum, and support educators – all the while continuing our focus on future-forward skills like data science that play a critical role in student success. Our partners, such as Building 21, CSforALL, and the Stanford d.school are pioneering approaches to meet the rapidly evolving needs of young people in our education systems today and for the future.
We’ve introduced a refreshed workforce strategy centered around creating a more equitable innovation economy.
Recognizing that not all individuals have equal access to the tools, resources, and mentorship that make innovation possible, we are committed to making investments that bring more diversity into high-growth and transformative industries. This is already underway through our longstanding partnership with Pursuit, which has expanded its reach in New York City to help more people access crucial job training and career pipelines.
It also includes new investments in organizations working to remove the many barriers to inclusive wealth creation, capital markets, and entrepreneurship, such as ICA Fund. Moving forward, we’ll continue to aim to strengthen the connections between traditional education and workforce training, while also exploring ways to bring inclusive economic development to more communities across the country.
We’ve deepened our commitment to grantees pioneering a multidimensional approach to much-needed infrastructure solutions.
And with technology’s role in our world continuing to expand, we’ve shaped much of this work around the growing field of Public Interest Technology, which aims to ensure all people have equal access to and are able to benefit from digital technologies, which we believe are the infrastructure of tomorrow. Our incredible partners in the space span the range of interventions that are needed to build this ecosystem – from working on capacity-building and governance like TechCongress and the Day One Project, to building alternative digital and data platforms like Mozilla’s Data Futures Lab and New Public, and beyond.
More broadly, we continue to place our grantees at the heart of everything we do.
And while we have long based our grantmaking around the potential of people and ideas, this year we began seeding a cross-portfolio and place-based investment strategy starting in Atlanta that we are excited to grow in the months ahead. We also introduced responsive grants, which were rapidly deployed to address especially timely and pertinent issues affecting our grantee communities — such as the $50K in digital infrastructure grants we awarded this June in NYC following Mayor Adams’ cancellation of the NYC Internet Master plan.
As a result, we saw the deepening of our core equity practices, including co-authored grant recommendations, prioritizing general operating support, and offering various options for reporting. We continued to invest in diverse grantees, more than half of which are led by women and one-fourth of which are led by people of color. We also ground our giving on the basis of ideas and potential, rather than just age or experience, and are proud to share that our funding this year was broadly distributed between early stage (0-5 yrs), growing (5-10 yrs), and established organizations (10+ yrs).
While there is much to be proud of, there’s just as much work that still needs to be done. Our schools face catastrophic teacher shortages. A potential recession threatens our workforce. The rapid progression of climate change jeopardizes the infrastructure we all rely on. Democracy is still very much in peril. Our work continues to be more urgent than ever, but there do exist bright moments of hope, and we draw strength from our grantees and partners that exemplify that hope in action. Let’s use these instances as momentum to keep building the world we all deserve in the year to come.
As always, thank you for your support and I look forward to our continued collaboration in 2023.