Dancing with Philathro-friends: Reflections on GEO's 2018 National Conference by Amarilis Pullen

  • By Amarilis Pullen, April 23, 2018

As GEO’s national conference approaches, our members share their hopes for our time together. We invite you to consider your aspirations as we gather in San Francisco next week.

The ability to be nimble, humble and uncomfortable can lead us to a place of growth in our work. In philanthropy, sometimes we sit comfortably on the balcony and observe society unfold from a distance, and sometimes we need to throw on our learning shoes and hit the dance floor. I sit with this dichotomy as a Latina, a social worker and a Program Officer new to philanthropy.

The 2018 GEO National Conference is our dance floor. The analogy of learning on the balcony versus the dance floor represents our positionality in philanthropy and the importance of taking a learning stance as a regular part of our personal and professional practice. In the words of Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú, “This world’s not going to change unless we’re willing to change ourselves.” At the Perrin Family Foundation, I oversee our grantmaking and capacity building initiatives for small, nascent and emerging youth-led social change organizations in Connecticut. I am most effective in my role when I spend more time on the dance floor with those most directly impacted by inequity and injustice. We believe young people’s voices are powerful and create opportunities for youth to share their truths, question the status quo, exercise leadership and take action to create social change.

Shouldn’t the same be expected of me as a responsible gatekeeper in philanthropy?

The conference is an opportunity to meet new philanthro-friends; to connect with colleagues who are proactively self-aware, reflective, speak truth to power dynamics, challenge inequitable grant making practices and are ready to leave the balcony.

When we sit on the balcony, we have the privilege of seeing what is happening on the dance floor without being directly affected. We have the luxury to move between the balcony and the dance floor at our leisure and without an invitation. We have the advantage of seeing the bigger picture and connecting patterns, but we miss essential details like the uniqueness of communities, cultures, and norms that we may not be privy to from the balcony.

Alternatively, the dance floor is a continuous and intentional learning space. When I join the dance floor, I realize I am a little rusty as practitioner and a little green in philanthropy. I acknowledge that although I am a practitioner at heart, I now belong to the givers instead of the doers, a challenging notion to hold. I understand that I have much to learn from those regularly on the dance floor and go put on my learning shoes. My GEO conference dance floor will include: a site visit to the organization 826 Valencia, attending workshops that focus on the content areas of collaboration, equity and systems grantmaking; highlighting, our grantee partner PREST Movement in the session on “Maximizing Grantee Impact and Partnerships through Foundation Operations.”

The GEO 2018 National Conference is a time to intentionally make room for learning, explore difficult conversations and cultivate relationships with new philanthro-friends. Will you leave the balcony and join me on the dance floor?

Amarilis Pullen is a Dominican-American Latina, leading youth-led social change grant making and capacity building strategies as a Program Officer at the Perrin Family Foundation. She believes identity is a central way to navigate spaces and brings her authentic self while working with communities. Amarilis earned a Bachelors of Arts in English from Temple University and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University.

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