Over the past four months, Gates Family Foundation has had the pleasure of hosting two inspiring young leaders who are driven to help change the world and our communities for the better.
Tonara Goldsby and Eamon White joined our team through a new program called the Growing Insight and Voice (GIV) Fellowship, led and coordinated by YouthRoots. Gates team members Ana Soler and Whitney Johnson helped to develop the fellowship, in collaboration with YouthRoots and other foundation leaders.
Tonara was born and raised in Denver, and her passion for activism runs in the family — her mother is a leader for Caring and Sharing, a family resource center in Aurora. Tonara is currently a junior at the University of Northern Colorado, and one of her dreams is to become a psychologist for youth with autism. On her GIV application, she shared this motivation for joining the fellowship: “As a black young woman, I commonly feel like my voice is not being heard so I am glad underrepresented voices are being included in decision-making.”
Eamon is a third-generation Coloradan, and described himself in his fellowship application as “an inquisitive spirit who loves birdwatching, video games and travel.” For the past two years, he has worked as an assistant English teacher in a public school in Madrid, Spain — but yearned to make a difference closer to home. “My voice is queer, sustainability-minded and cross-cultural and I believe that these viewpoints are often absent in decision-making of all types including the non-profit and philanthropic sector,” he wrote. “I am also passionate about the environment and ecology and I would bring this focus on conservation and sustainable practices to my work.”
Through their participation in the inaugural GIF class of 2021, Tonara and Eamon learned the basics about why foundations exist, how they work, and the role they play in the nonprofit sector — providing financial capital, technical support, convening power and alliances to help communities in addressing our most pressing challenges and opportunities. They also met with each member of the Gates team, to deep dive into our mission and work, and joined us on site visits to meet some of our community partners.
In the end, the Gates team learned far more from Eamon and Tonara than we ever could have expected. Their energy, curiosity, resourcefulness and creativity were truly inspiring.
But enough with our reflections; below, let’s hear directly from these two emerging leaders!
Reflections from Tonara Goldsby
Before being a fellow at the Gates Family Foundation, I did not know too much about philanthropy — honestly, close to nothing. I had a narrow lens of what truly went on within the field, but I knew it was dedicated to helping others, which intrigued me. Since being a fellow, my idea about philanthropy has expanded significantly and now, I know there are many roles to play. At first, I was not aware that so much goes into helping others and it’s not just nonprofit organizations that are doing the helping — funding from foundations is a critical (piece) as well.
If I could radically reinvent Gates Family Foundation, I would ensure that having diverse voices and perspectives is a priority when it comes to the hiring process and when it comes to who Gates Family Foundation is supporting. It is important to have individuals who come from different backgrounds and experiences be a part of decision-making processes, because diversity can lead to more wide-range creative ideas and diverse perspectives, can keep the group more honest, and result in a more open-minded foundation.
The best part of the GIV Fellowship at Gates was being able to present my experience and passions to members of Gates Family Foundation at the end of the fellowship in the form of a capstone. This was important to me, because Gates gave me a safe space to give my thoughts and was open and accepting of my unique perspective as a young Black woman, which I appreciate.
Reflections from Eamon White
Before this fellowship, I only had a vague understanding of philanthropy and I really only knew that it entailed giving away money. I first heard of the Gates Family Foundation when I went on a middle school field trip to see a film at the Gates Planetarium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I always felt like philanthropy was something reserved for large institutions, because I had seen the names of philanthropists adorn galleries in museums — but never realized that the philanthropic landscape was so wide and diverse until this program.
Being a fellow has given me a lot of insight into philanthropy and I have learned about so many new innovations and changes happening in the field. There is definitely a lot of work to be done in improving diversity and equity in philanthropy, but I also got to meet so many people passionately working to make a difference in many different sectors of the non-profit sphere. I think that there is still a lot of potential to do even more good work and I am more optimistic about philanthropy in general after this fellowship.
Foundations need diverse voices and perspectives in order to better reflect the communities they serve, so that they can serve the interests of all of their constituents. More diverse viewpoints can also help to diminish the impacts of cultural and social bias that may be unknowingly present. Staff turnover is relatively low in philanthropy and so it is also important for foundations to gain fresh perspectives — because even well-run organizations can get stagnant, and this is not in the best interest of the foundation or the community.
My favorite experience was being able to attend a site visit and to get a behind-the-scenes look at the grant evaluation process. I also really enjoyed all of the conversations with staff from GFF and so many other organizations; it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to ask questions openly and learn.