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Looking back: Kresge’s path toward a deeper embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion


The Kresge Foundation’s enduring social mission has attracted staff and sector partners committed to making a difference. And Kresge’s long-standing dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has enhanced the foundation’s ability to do value-driven work.

Kresge’s path toward elevating DEI, which can be traced back to 1993, is visible within its internal culture – what the organization’s employees want to be for one another – and its external grantmaking, all to align with the foundation’s work to expand opportunity and equity in America’s cities. In the last decade, Kresge has sought to operationalize racial equity more fully across all functions, including asking staff members to make personal commitments toward DEI .

That’s happened during a time when some organizations across the country have pulled back on DEI commitments. The events of 2020 – a global pandemic that disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities, police and vigilante killings of Black Americans, a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol – all underscored how far behind the nation is in fully realizing opportunity, equity, inclusion and justice. In the wake of these events, organizations from many sectors communicated a commitment to expanding diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Today, DEI commitments dwindle as fairness and equity come under siege in educationthe military and the business sector.

Meanwhile, Kresge has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to DEI.

Kresge President & CEO Rip Rapson

“We recognize that [these] events are only manifestations of a deeply entrenched system of inequities that privileges some over others,” wrote Kresge President & CEO Rip Rapson n 2021. “We acknowledge that it is more important than ever to ensure we develop tangible ways to advance our commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice, both internally and externally. We affirm that these steps must be coupled with lasting mechanisms for accountability.”

Kresge President & CEO Rip Rapson's drawing on Kresge's equity work.
The first signs of DEI

Kresge issued its first formal statement about diversity in its grantmaking in 1993. It read: “The Foundation’s Trustees believe that American Philanthropy should serve the needs and concerns of our diverse nation. Accordingly, [our] review of grant requests takes into account [that] potential grant recipients demonstrate, through their governance, staff, and individuals served, a significant commitment to serving diverse populations.” 

The next milestone came after President and CEO Rip Rapson arrived in 2006 and began to evolve the foundation’s model of philanthropy, providing the structure to support organizations committed to improving life outcomes of low-income people. This led to the adoption of the Urban Opportunity Framework, which provided the structure to prioritize support for organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of low-income people. DEI work then evolved through multiple phases. 


In these years, Kresge developed the preconditions for more ambitious DEI work by committing to the following:

  • Aligning staff to a core set of values and creating a talent strategy anchored in diversity.
  • Building organizational norms rooted in equity and inclusion.
  • Ramping up a learning process to elevate the understanding of history, behavioral science, and emerging frameworks for thinking about race and ethnicity.
  • Launching a strategy review in 2012 to ensure programmatic grantmaking was aligned with the Urban Opportunity framework.
  • Undertaking a year-long process in 2013 of developing five organizational values – respect, creativity, partnership, opportunity and stewardship.
  • Launching a series of equity-focused strategies and initiatives throughout 2014-2015, which set the tone for grantmaking to advance justice.
  • Hosting internal workshops, lectures and discussions throughout 2016 about how to give primacy to diversity and inclusion.

Throughout this phase, staff members were challenged to look inward to fully embrace diversity — to move beyond providing guidance to grantees about their diversity practices toward a full appreciation of how DEI is woven throughout the organization.

Kresge Foundation Chief Human Resources Officer Crystal Sewell

“We began to focus on the significance of diverse talent – the diversity of our staff, the process of creating diverse pipelines for new hires, the competencies required for us to work effectively in communities of color, the composition of senior leadership positions and a great deal more,” said Crystal Sewell, Kresge’s chief human resources officer. Sewell joined the foundation in 2008 as the inaugural director of human resources to lead the foundation’s newly established HR department. “We began to redefine our talent strategy by moving away from simply assessing professional qualifications. Instead, we focused more on a combination of talents that were necessary to contribute to Kresge’s DEI commitment as a whole.”

From 2016 to 2020, Kresge brought a greater focus to DEI efforts in all programmatic and operations work by:
  • Intensifying the organization’s learning curriculum by pursuing deeper education and analysis to normalize discussions of race, racism in all its forms and issues impacting other social identities.
  • Adopting a common language to understand better one another’s attitudes and beliefs about the importance of race in Kresge’s work.
  • Creating the first DEI workgroup in 2016 to increase staff capacity to facilitate difficult conversations and launch pilot projects to test learning.
  • Following the 2016 election – and the string of violence that followed – hosting the foundation’s first “Healing Circle,” a space for staff to come together and acknowledge tragedies following the election and learning sessions for all staff.
  • The first cross-departmental DEI task force (the “Change Team”) was established in 2017 to develop a roadmap for the organization’s full engagement and embrace of DEI.
  • Partnering with Race Forward to support Kresge’s equity journey.
  • Creating the Kresge Operationalizing Racial Equity (KORE) Team in 2017, a work group of 22 volunteer staff who participated in learning sessions over 18 months to deepen their understanding of race and racism, change management strategies and communications models for engaging in conversations about race. The KORE team then developed four pilot projects to learn about racial equity: diversifying vendors, strengthening DEI sensibilities in all aspects of talent, expanding a learning curriculum and excavating ways of strengthening equity through program strategies.
  • Developing the Equity Statement in 2019 and a commitment to elevating “Equity” as the foundation’s sixth organizational value.
  • Constructing packages of racial grantmaking in 2020 to support communities of color disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and to build the capacity of organizations working to advance racial justice. Internally, the foundation also added new holidays, celebrations, practices and forms of learning.
A framework for driving DEI in 2021 and beyond

The next phase of Kresge’s DEI strategy called for developing a framework to help staff better understand, track and share more about how Kresge seeks to advance equity.

In 2021, the Foundation adopted an organizational DEI Framework that captures five dimensions – Kresge as a funder, employer, economic entity, community citizen and community.

In January 2022, Kresge launched the Equity Task Force to steward the foundation’s DEI framework. This team of 13 cross-departmental members was created to support overall organizational learning and skill development and help shape institutional policies, directives and practices to better align with Kresge’s Equity value and commitment.

Kresge Foundation Chief People Officer

“While everyone across the Foundation plays a role in advancing DEIJ efforts, the Executive Team recognized the need for a more formal infrastructure to ensure we, as an institution, are doing all we can to further equity and justice,” said Jennifer Jaramillo, Kresge’s chief people officer who also serves on the Equity Task Force. “Our DEIJ framework is an organization-wide tool used internally and externally to operationalize equity in everything we do as a funder, an employer, a staff community, an economic entity and a citizen within the communities that we serve. The Equity Task Force has been an instrumental organizing body in moving this work forward in meaningful ways across the foundation.”


Throughout the next few years, the Equity Task Force held true to its purpose to ensure equity principles and practices were woven into every part of the foundation’s work. It successfully created processes and safe spaces to learn, reflect, course correct and continuously move toward action.

The Equity Task Force (above) now has 15 members. It is charged with auditing the organization’s progress in honoring and implementing the five-part framework, serving as an accountability partner to the Kresge’s leaders to create an inclusive and psychologically safe work environment, being a bellwether for the foundation to remain courageous and committed to equity, and providing learning and engagement activities for all staff to become more deeply engaged in diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

“The work to advance DEI is central to our mission and must be central to our way of working across the organization,” said Rapson. “It is an extension of our commitment to social justice, civil rights and economic opportunity. In every role within the organization, staff has a role to play in advancing equity.”