It has been a little over a month since I joined Akonadi Foundation as the new president. As I settle into the role, I want to take a moment to share a bit more about myself as well as some initial reflections based on early conversations with grantees and partners.
Like many Bay Area transplants, I came from a far away place. In my case, I came from the Philippines, by way of San Diego, where I spent my teenage and early adult years. Coming from San Diego to the East Bay, with its rich cultural diversity and political activism, I felt like I was coming home. That was over 30 years ago! Since moving to the Bay to study public policy at UC Berkeley, I have lived in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and now Albany.
Over the last 30 years, I’ve had the privilege of building a career in public service focused on advancing racial and economic justice – first in local government, then in non-profit community organizations, and most recently in philanthropy.
Building Power with Community
My early professional experiences were transformative. My first career experience, as a policy analyst with SF County Department of Social Services, gave me important insights into the structural forces affecting low-income communities of color. It also gave me a deeper understanding of the role government and public systems play in improving (and sometimes harming) the lives of people and communities.
My first-hand experience in power building came just a few years later when I led a small community organizing and advocacy organization in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. In this role, I worked with organizers and leaders throughout the Bay Area who were shaping and implementing policy from the wisdom and experience of community members most marginalized.
These roles taught me the necessity of building power with community residents and organizations, and exercising that power to pursue equity and justice for low-income communities. My experience on the ground in SoMa has been critical to my understanding of what it takes to transform systems–and has informed my subsequent work at the Rockefeller Foundation, Policylink, and The California Endowment, where I spent 16 years.
At the Endowment, I led efforts to strengthen the community organizing and advocacy infrastructure in Oakland and throughout California to improve the health and well-being of low-income communities and communities of color. I learned how philanthropy could be an effective partner to movement leaders, and I forged partnerships with a wide array of stakeholders that I hope to continue and build on at Akonadi.
Early Reflections at Akonadi Foundation
It’s a true honor to join Akonadi at this moment. I’ve long admired Akonadi for its unwavering commitment to racial justice, and for being in close partnership with Oakland leaders, artists, and activists who are building a beloved community. I’m excited about working deeply in Oakland, with its rich diversity, history, and culture, and home to some of the fiercest and most strategic warriors for racial and economic justice.
I spent my first weeks talking to many of our grantees, Oakland leaders, and other funders. From these conversations, I heard concerns about the economy, housing, public safety, the opportunities and pathways available for our kids and families to succeed, and the continued impact of the pandemic on our colleagues and loved ones. We continue to see the deep inequity in the Bay Area that is rooted in systemic racism and severe wealth disparities.
However, I also heard a genuine sense of hope and determination. With new leadership in Oakland and Alameda County, there is tremendous optimism and belief that we have what it takes to overcome the challenges our communities face and create a better future for Oakland.
Working Together for a Racially Just Oakland
Looking ahead, Akonadi is committed to continuing our support for racial justice organizers and movement leaders who are creating a new vision for our community’s healing and growth. The Board is committed to completing our five year initiative – All in for Oakland – focused on people of color-led organizing, base-building, and policy advocacy to end the criminalization of Black youth and youth of color in Oakland. We know the job is not over and the impact of the pandemic continues to challenge us. We will work to make sure we are meeting the moment in partnership with our grantees.
The fight for justice is an ongoing journey, and we continue to be committed to supporting Oakland’s movements and changemakers.
I would love to connect with you further and answer your questions. You can reach out to me via email and also stay connected with the foundation on our social media channels on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Let’s continue to work together to make a racially just Oakland a reality.
Akonadi Foundation, President