The murder of George Floyd and the vast racial inequities highlighted by the pandemic prompted us to take pause to listen, reflect and reexamine our work as a Foundation. We had many open discussions with our team, nonprofit partners and philanthropic colleagues, to better understand the needs of the community, how others were helping to advance equity through calls for systemic change and what we could do to be a part of the solution.
Transparency and Humility are two of our core values, so when we recognize that we have made mistakes or have fallen short as a funder, we admit it and do our best to quickly right the course. As we started to take a deeper look at our Foundation and grantmaking practices, we realized that equity was not always a primary focus – not because we did not think it was crucial, but because sometimes doing good just isn’t good enough. While we always fund in alignment with our mission to improve the quality of life for ALL residents at the Central Jersey Shore, we had to ask ourselves what we were truly doing to make that happen – for ALL.
In order to engage in deep transformative work as a Foundation, we knew we had to support learning at both the individual and organizational levels. From actively learning by gathering resources to attending racial equity trainings and joining task forces, we were embarking on a lifelong journey.
We won’t pretend to have the answers when it comes to helping eliminate structural racism and making the world a more just and equitable place. There are so many groups and organizations who have been engaged in this work for decades that we can learn a lot from. We started by consulting with Idea2Form (I2F) to develop a multi-dimensional Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy. Our I2F partners have years of experience creating social impact and advancing racial justice and have been a critical part of our work.
For us to really understand how we could make a significant impact, we started internally with a team survey and one-on-one interviews with our I2F partners. This process helped us to identify blinds spots and differences in how each of us understood issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion. Once we solidified our internal team groundwork, we surveyed regional nonprofits and community partners to identify:
- Obstacles to EDI in our area,
- Effective strategies to address these obstacles, and
- Individuals or groups interested in collaborating with us on EDI initiatives.
We believe that it is not our Foundation that should be determining strategic priorities when it comes to EDI., but rather helping to uncover and support the work that needs to be done. Hearing from members of the community who are on the front lines every day is key.
From the survey responses, we learned that 96% identified diversity as extremely important, 81% grapple with issues of diversity in their day-to-day and 43% said they did not know of any current EDI projects taking place in the community. After carefully analyzing survey responses, three core strategies for change were chosen, inspired by the insight of our nonprofit and community partners:
- Empowering Youth Changemakers
- Amplifying Diverse Leadership
- Empowering Communities that Center Equity
The next step to deepening our work was holding three focus groups which were led by our I2F partners. The goal of the focus groups was to fully engage with participants and receive comments in a feedforward manner regarding the three EDI pillars we unearthed from our survey. Feedforward is the process of replacing positive or negative feedback with future-oriented solutions. We received honest and valuable information during these sessions and will be using it to move forward and create working groups in the near future.
Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Vision
As we work towards the ultimate impact of our equity, diversity and inclusion strategy, we envision:
- Youth being seen as a key driver of change at the Central Jersey Shore and beyond
- Diverse leaders being plentiful and widespread; and
- Equity being seen as an asset at the Central Jersey Shore and beyond.
We vow to stay committed to making our community a more equitable place and will ensure our partners share in this commitment. We know that change is an ongoing process and everyone is beginning their EDI journey at a different point, so we pledge to meet people where they are while remaining a fierce advocate for equity.
Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commitments
As we work to integrate EDI principles into our current and future grantmaking and Foundation operations, we will focus on the following five commitments:
- Increasing access as a pathway to wellbeing
- Fueling entrepreneurship for those on the margins
- Reducing systemic barriers to economic excellence
- Championing a just and equitable society
- Investing in and developing diverse leadership
We will not be doing this work alone. Our goal is to partner with those working to build more diverse and inclusive organizations and communities.
One of our first projects in this space was convening higher education partners from Monmouth University, Georgian Court University, Brookdale Community College and Ocean County College to create the Monmouth University Social Justice Academy. The collective goal is to foster educational equity by bringing a four year Social Justice Academy to support participating K-12 school systems at the Central Jersey Shore. The academy kicked off in July 2021 with a year-long professional development series, including seminars and lectures led by experts in equity, diversity, and inclusion, and a two-week inaugural summer workshop to establish a strong experiential foundation for the program. You can learn more by visiting the Monmouth University Social Justice Academy website.
Our EDI Strategy is not a band-aid solution, nor is it just an “on the surface” change. This is a forever journey that will be integrated into all we do at the Grunin Foundation. This is a chance to do better, to truly live into our mission of making the quality of life better for ALL residents of the Central Jersey Shore. And, in staying committed to our Transparency value, you will see changes and updates to our website, including our EDI framework and coming soon, information about how our projects align with our EDI commitments.
We believe it is essential to our mission to find meaningful ways to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do. As we strive to become a better funder, we pledge to co-learn and work with our partners, colleagues, and communities to help break down barriers, uplift marginalized voices, celebrate diversity, and champion a more just and equitable society.