A Mission Designed For the Moment
Board Chair, The Kresge Foundation
It is a humbling thing to become the Chair of The Kresge Foundation’s Board of Trustees at a moment of challenge and opportunity such as this. The Board has been exceptionally well led for 15 years by the extraordinary Elaine Rosen, who contributed mightily to nurturing Kresge’s commitment to developing opportunity in America’s cities, and led courageous decision making at pivotal moments such as the Grand Bargain that helped resolve Detroit’s financial crisis. Those are some dauntingly big shoes to fill.
I take some comfort in knowing that this board transition comes at a moment that the Kresge Foundation is especially well built for. The pandemic, and the economic downturn which accompanied it, have inspired that rarest of things: a bipartisan moment of investment intended to help Americans through the crisis, as well as a long-overdue infusion of resources for the infrastructure that we rely on for the health of our economy, and even for our very lives. A good portion of these resources are going to cities, and they are being administered by a federal administration which is making admirable commitments to ensure that these investments are implemented with an eye toward equity. To put it simply, there are billions of dollars heading to America’s cities, which makes this a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do big, impactful things.
“This is a moment for engagement, for big thinking, for leveraging a huge infusion of federal dollars for the common good, and an enormous opportunity to strike a blow for equity.”
This is a chance to leverage historic investments in a way that addresses some of our biggest challenges: providing a quality education for all of our children from their earliest years through adulthood; protecting our planet and helping cities build resilience as we endure the effects of climate change; strengthening our cities as robust engines of culture and opportunity where a rich diversity of people thrive; supporting health and other human services in a way that strengthens the well-being of all members of our community, especially those who are typically overlooked. This is a moment for engagement, for big thinking, for leveraging a huge infusion of federal dollars for the common good, and an enormous opportunity to strike a blow for equity. But the equity play, the chance to make sure the dollars reach where they are most needed, won’t happen by itself.
Enter The Kresge Foundation, whose very mission seems designed for this moment. This team has deep knowledge of the challenges America’s cities face, and a robust understanding of how those cities work. We bring the experience of helping Detroit navigate a devastating economic downturn a decade ago and emerge from its bankruptcy with hope, promise and results. We have built a social investment practice with deep expertise in leveraging capital for community development. We know where the federal funds are going, and we know how to leverage them in a way that engages the deep knowledge of community leaders and nonprofit institutions that understand what works and how to make it work for everyone. This foundation is in a position to invest its resources in a way that shapes an even greater pool of funds for the greater good.
“I arrive at this moment with a deep awareness of how much work remains for [the promise of opportunity] to become true for all Detroiters and for all Americans.”
That, by itself, would make it an honor and a challenge to assume this role at this particular juncture. For me, though, the most moving thing about this moment is that The Kresge Foundation has built this engine of expertise by deeply investing in its hometown of Detroit, which is also my hometown. My immigrant parents came to Detroit as newlyweds from Bolivia. For them it was a place of beauty, optimism and possibility; a place to raise a family and realize the American Dream. I have had the privilege of spending a career focused on doing my small part to ensure that the opportunity that Detroit offered – that made my life possible – is real for everyone. I arrive at this moment with a deep awareness of how much work remains for this to become true for all Detroiters and for all Americans. And with even deeper appreciation that The Kresge Foundation is so well prepared to make the most of this moment to expand opportunity for America’s cities and their people.