GreenLight Fund Philadelphia, the regional arm of a national venture philanthropy fund launched in Boston in 2004, last week introduced new Executive Director Felicia Rinier.
Rinier, a first-generation Philadelphian whose family came from Guyana, South America — where they lived on Philadelphia Street, of all places — brings with her a breadth of leadership experience in the nonprofit sector, including stops at Reinvestment Fund, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and her most recent position as the director of the Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity at Thomas Jefferson University/Jefferson Health. Her vision is one of growth and impact that seeks to nurture and expand GreenLight Fund Philadelphia’s current portfolio of philanthropic beneficiaries.
A practitioner of Brazilian jiu jitsu, Rinier, who spends her downtime laughing at Helium Comedy Club, also brings strength and optimism to her new role.
“[I’m] always very — when I think about just Philadelphia — very hopeful about the future of this city and the residents that live here,” Rinier said. “And I think, at GreenLight, we’re no different.”
GreenLight Fund Philadelphia seeks to identify pressing needs and systemic barriers to economic justice in partnership with neighboring communities, using its innovative venture philanthropy model to invest in proven solutions. The organization offers its philanthropic beneficiaries lasting partnerships, which create sustainable models for change in economic mobility. In Philadelphia, GreenLight Fund has a portfolio of five nonprofits, which reaches almost 5000 individuals and families, with a committed dollar value of over $4 million.
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Rinier comes to her new position after a national search, following the departure of long-serving former Executive Director Omar Woodard, who stepped down in March to become vice president of of the national consortium, Results for America.
The mission drew Rinier to the job, she told Generocity, because investments in people have some of the best rates of return. For Rinier, helping children and families experiencing poverty is a core priority. GreenLight Fund Philadelphia is the solutions-oriented space where she feels can have the most impact.
Giving, kindness, and generosity were values imparted to Rinier early in life, as she watched her parents — immigrants to Philadelphia — navigate the difficulties of a new land. She recalled the programs and services that helped her family make the city a home — something that stuck with Rinier and led to her career in nonprofit services.
And that path led her to GreenLight Fund Philadelphia.
“When [I] think about GreenLight’s work and what I think is innovative about their model is that in no way are they trying to replicate any programs that already exist,” Rinier said. “It really is about being additive to [the nonprofit] space and seeing ways that we can work alongside nonprofits that already are doing great work in Philadelphia.”
As news of Rinier’s hiring became public, Philadelphia’s nonprofit community sent out well-wishes, words of encouragement, and a strong indication of readiness to begin the work. In a statement, Katherina ‘Kat’ Rosqueta, the founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, who’s also on GreenLight Fund’s board and was a member of Rinier’s search committee, said she’s “thrilled” to work with the new executive director to tackle some of the city’s most significant challenges.
The highest praise came from GreenLight Fund’s CEO and co-founder, Margaret Hall. She praised Rinier’s experience and set the stage for her future leadership.
“We are delighted to have Felicia on board,” Hall said in a statement. “Her experience building trusted relationships with community residents and organization leaders along with her passion for Philadelphia will make her an outstanding executive director in this community-driven work. We look forward to her leading the work in Philadelphia as we continue to center equity and partner with the community to address longstanding and deep-rooted inequities.”
Expectations are high for Rinier at a time when uncertainties run deep. She’s tasked with philanthropic leadership at a time of economic divide in the nation’s poorest big city, where the racial wealth gap is multigenerational. And if that wasn’t enough, the politicization of COVID-19 continues to delay the post-pandemic recovery.
Still, along with her skill and talent, Rinier brings hope to the job because, she says, GreenLight Fund Philadelphia doesn’t exist in a bubble; community organizations are among their most significant stakeholders. As executive director, Rinier will partner with the venture philanthropy fund’s selection advisory council, which GreenLight describes as a cross-section of community leaders with lived experience. Together, the group will lead the charge to pick the next portfolio of investments.
Mid-2021 has been marked by vitriolic public debate about critical race theory, which can feel like a reactionary step backward from the discussions about diversity, equity and anti-racism that started to take place after George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
But, again, Rinier is optimistic.
“[Philadelphia] is very generous in spirit,” Rinier said. “Everyone really was able to reflect in many different ways what the last year has been for us, just from a humanity standpoint.”
“Humans as a group are just committed to moving forward, acknowledging what’s happened in the past and learning from that, and growing from that,” she continued.
In terms of COVID-19, Rinier praised GreenLight Fund’s efforts to care for the needs of its stakeholders. In addition to following all public health guidelines, she plans to meet one-on-one with community partners, community residents, staff, and others to evaluate and reassess everyone’s needs.
Rinier steps into a leadership role with deep respect and appreciation for the work that’s come before her. While she brings a genuine spark and vision to the role, she plans to spend her early days tiptoeing rather than disrupting.
“What’s great about GreenLight is that clearly the model works really well,” she said.
But she’ll definitely bring something new and unusual to the job. The native Philadelphian, whose family lived on Philadelphia Street in Guyana, who sees the positive side of everything in our city, also brings jiu jitsu’s mindset to her new role.
“You’re used to dealing with hard situations,” Rinier said. “[Jiu jitsu] really puts into perspective a tough situation.”-30-
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