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FUEL Convening supports grantees’ efforts to operationalize racial equity

Leadership and Infrastructure Funding Team

The Kresge Foundation’s Leadership Infrastructure and Funding Team (LIFT) collaborated with Community Wealth Partners (CWP) August 10-11 to host a virtual FUEL End-of-Year Convening. Roughly 30 participants attended the two-day event to share and hear stories of their peers’ experiences in FUEL; seek advice on their most pressing challenges related to racial equity work; and brainstorm together on the next steps in capacity building for racial equity across the sector.

Now in its third year, the Fostering Urban Equitable Leadership (FUEL) program offers a space for peer learning and relationship-building among FUEL stakeholders – including members of Kresge’s LIFT program, FUEL service providers and grantees – who are all working to enhance racial equity within their organizations and to influence the philanthropy field more broadly.

As grantee partners reflected on the successes, challenges and lessons learned from the program, one consistent theme resonated: the FUEL program ignited action.

“Racial equity work is not easy. It is intertwined in the fabric of white supremacy and the challenges will not just disappear,” said Edward Mbewe, chief finance and operations officer with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “The FUEL program really pushed us from conversation to action. It’s one thing to talk about racial equity, but it’s another thing to actually do something about it. It’s not a comfortable space, but to have someone say, ‘Put your money where your mouth is and make some changes…’ Kresge was really instrumental with that.”

Mbewe said his organization now has a strategic plan in place with a major focus on sustainability. “Once the plan is done, you have to go back into your corners and figure out how that work continues – even beyond your time with the organization,” he said. “I think the FUEL program helped us to manage that process very well.”

One of the many ways Kresge seeks to expand opportunities in America’s cities for people with low incomes and in communities of color is by offering leadership development programs to grantee partners.

Launched in 2016 in partnership with CWP, FUEL is a signature program of Kresge’s LIFT program. LIFT is a 13-person, cross-departmental committee comprising program, practice and operational staff that oversee grantmaking dedicated to supporting the talent and leadership development needs of Kresge’s grantee partners and sector wide capacity-building.

The FUEL program has a specific focus on racial equity to address grantees’ talent and leadership development needs. Leadership training and other operational assistance is provided to help enhance the effectiveness of grantee organizations and their individual leaders to better solve local problems in the cities where nonprofit partners work.

Ashlynn Polanco has been involved in FUEL since July 2019. Polanco is a program manager with ProInspire, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating equity and developing social-sector leaders at all levels. The ProInspire Leadership Institute provides leadership development training for a diverse group of rising leaders within Kresge’s partner organizations.

“We’re all in different areas across the country, working in different communities on different issues,” said Polanco. “But having this space to come together in very tangible ways around our racial equity goals is important. Being a part of the cohort allows grantees to have these conversations about operationalizing diversity within our organizations. Our main goal is for everyone coming out of this program to be in a much better space.”

Nichole Salaam, director of equity and engagement with Project for Pride in Living based in Minneapolis, said she feels fortunate to participate in FUEL – especially during the national unrest surrounding George Floyd’s death and the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

“Even before COVID and George Floyd’s murder – which was even more significant because he was murdered here – we were already operationalizing racial equity work within our organization,” Salaam said. “Many properties here were impacted by the unrest, but thankfully were in a position to address the safety issues and policing. The FUEL learnings were most beneficial for our Board. It helped us to solidify and set up goals on how to approach a DEI Committee and Charter – and how to implement this learning in our day-to-day work, or when faced with a crisis.”

Interested in learning more about the FUEL program?

  • Download the LIFT brochure to learn more about the Leadership, Infrastructure and Funding Team, including signature programs like FUEL.
  • Learn more about the services offered during the 2019-2020 FUEL program.