For many philanthropic leaders, the word “community” has evolved in recent years to embrace the reality of an increasingly globalized economy, culture and society. Already in 2017, that term has been a contentious one, heavy on the nation’s mind, with recent events revealing a deep divide on what it means to be a community. Some believe it means closing our borders and putting up walls (both literal and figurative) barring entry to those who might be suffering from war or persecution, or who simply seek a better life and opportunity – that great American Dream. Others feel a responsibility to care for the world’s most vulnerable people, and see our diversity as our strength, where different perspectives and backgrounds all have equal value. In other words, they embrace a “global community” that extends beyond local, regional or national borders; one where all boats rise together, and where unity, compassion and collaboration are seen as advantages, not in conflict with our ability to care of our own closest neighbors in need.
One community that has felt this divide more acutely has been Silicon Valley, known for embracing this global community, with more than one-third of its residents being immigrants, and more than two-thirds of those under 18 being children of immigrants. As talented individuals are recruited from all over the world to contribute to the tech industry, many tech CEOs have spoken out against the immigration ban announced in late January, showing support for their global workforce. Google, for example, announced it would be setting up a $2 million crisis fund that could be matched with up to $2 million in employee donations, all of which will go organizations like the ACLU offer legal counsel and support to immigrants affected by the executive order.
One foundation that sits at the intersection of this global and local community is the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). Its roots are local, and firmly grounded in the needs of the counties and communities where Silicon Valley has emerged and flourished. However, its efforts over the past decade illustrate an expanded view of community, one that sees the needs of its immediate community, but also recognizes how interconnected its community is with the rest of the world. For example, in its strategic grant initiative on immigration, SVCF notes, “The region’s continued prosperity and quality of life depends on our ability to create communities that recognize immigrants as assets and provide opportunities for all.”
SVCF shares the spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation, and risk-taking that thrives in its neighboring tech companies and start-ups. These qualities have enabled SVCF to grow from a local grantmaking hub to a major force in policy and social justice worldwide. SVCF has gone through a significant transformation since its beginnings as a merger between the Community Foundation Silicon Valley and the Peninsula Foundation in 2007. Since then, it has given away $4.3 billion grants, and grown to a foundation of more than $8B in assets, with partnerships that extend to 89 countries.
Not only are they the world’s largest community foundation, but they are also the largest funder of charities in the Bay Area. In this way, SVCF has redefined the "community" in "community foundation;" To SVCF, "the world is home." SVCF has shown that redefining community to also look outward, does not preclude it from simultaneously looking inward and having a deep commitment to its Bay Area community. It defines community as Mumbai as well as San Mateo, São Paulo as well as Palo Alto, Cape Town as well as Santa Clara, in response to the needs and interests of its constituents. Being global, national, and local requires hard work and a strong commitment to transparency and trust.
We explore this 10-year evolution in our latest research publication, The World Is Home: A Case Study of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. During this time, SVCF has built explosive growth in its assets and grantmaking portfolio; successful initiatives relating to homelessness and hunger, disaster readiness, and education reform in the Bay Area and the state; thought-leadership on a national stage; and a strong suite of tools and services to support giving by large and small donors, both locally and around the world. The World is Home examines how SVCF has broken new ground as a 21st century community foundation, pushing the field to redefine “community” for community foundations. Key themes that the case dives into include:
How a foundation adapted, in a short period of time, from being the child of two geographically bounded entities to becoming both a global and local leader
How it balanced the demands of both global and local stakeholders, who had sometimes conflicting ideas on how the foundation should invest its time and resources
How the foundation built a culture of values and an organizational infrastructure around social justice, transparency and trust
How, lacking the independence of a private foundation, SVCF learned to operate through collaboration and listen to community
Under the leadership of Emmett D. Carson Ph. D., CEO and president, SVCF has demonstrated resilience and adaptability as a learning organization, ambitiously evolving and reshaping its strategies to better meet the needs of its growing constituency of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and successful dot-com executives and companies. SVCF is driven by a belief that its team can do anything it sets out to do through support, honesty, and imagination. We hope you will explore these lessons in greater detail by visiting: www.pfcsocialimpact.org/silicon-valley-community-foundation.