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‘Homegrown’ leadership is the way to make meaningful change in communities

August 13, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
For Pedro Ramos, a first-generation Philadelphia Puerto Rican, community outreach programs and neighborhood advocacy permeated every aspect of his life.

“I can’t even tell you how much support I had growing up,” he said.

Pedro Ramos. (Courtesy photo)

The son of parents who hadn’t received an elementary school education, Ramos graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan with degrees in urban studies and law, and became immersed in the world of activism with other twenty-something Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia.

In the early 1990s, the group decided to fundraise to build a statue of Roberto Clemente in front of the middle school of the same name. They opened a fund at the Philadelphia Foundation, a step that Ramos said was made possible in part by Carmen Febo San-Miguel, a Puerto Rican activist who was the board chair. [Editor’s note, Febo San Miguel is the executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño.]

Nearly 30 years later, Ramos is the CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation, a community foundation that supports organizations and causes through grants and resources. Because of his first-hand experience, Ramos believes a diverse and dedicated group of leaders is the key to racial equity when it comes to giving.

“You have to have people in decision-making roles for whom the opportunities and challenges in the community are not just a concept,” he said. “ You need people who have relationships and insight into where they’re doing work.”

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By bringing a diverse group of people onto the team, the Philadelphia Foundation has found ways to get people to express things that matter to them that aren’t often publicized.

“When you look at those issues, they’re not necessarily what’s dominating the headlines or top priorities for grant-making organizations,” Ramos added.

"You have to have people in decision-making roles for whom the opportunities and challenges in the community are not just a concept."
Pedro Ramos

The foundation now hosts “On the Table,” an opportunity for community members to get together and talk while sharing a meal. Ramos calls these events “chat and chews.”

“It is not people getting together in an auditorium and talking about concepts,” he added. “It is neighbors and colleagues and folks in different homes and workplaces talking about what they can do together to make communities stronger and what issues are of concern to them.”

One of the “On the Table” events sponsored by the Philadelphia Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Anderson)

Ramos said that about 5,000 people came to On the Table events in 2018. About 61 percent of attendees who filled out the postevent survey were Black, Asian, biracial or self-identified as non-white.

“That doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “We started thinking about how we were going to ensure we could reach the whole community. Instead of at the end saying ‘how do we make this more inclusive,’ we made an inclusive process from the start.”

After On the Table events, the Philadelphia Foundation uses that feedback to guide decision-making about how to allocate resources and better serve the community. The foundation has emphasized public safety, affordable housing and economic security because of these chats.

The foundation also gives community members a more direct link to support their community: an online voting system that allows the public to vote for a cause they want to see receive a grant.

The Philadelphia Foundation collects demographic data from about 10 percent of the organizations they give recurring funds to. The data is one of several things taken into consideration when grants are renewed, said Phil Fitzgerald, the foundation’s director of grantmaking.

Ramos said these ideas and programs were built by the community for the community — and without leaders who have lived as a part of underserved and underrepresented groups, it’s difficult to make sure those people are being heard.

“We need to be continually adaptive and responsive to the communities we serve,” he said. “Doing more to build homegrown leadership is important. We don’t want to fall into the trap of doing what you know with who you know and later trying to diversify it.”


On the Table Philly

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