Ana Marie Argilagos “Optimism is important in the face of extreme challenges. It’s resilience, the knowing that we can get through this. We’re all working together in the same direction.”

Ana Marie Argilagos is the President and CEO of Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) and is guiding the organization with a bold vision: to usher in a new generation of philanthropy that is for, by, and about the Latino community. Under her leadership, HIP has spearheaded rapid responses to the biggest challenges facing Latinos today. Ana Marie is an entrepreneurial thinker with a track record of working within and between the philanthropic, public, and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining HIP, Ana Marie was a senior advisor at the Ford Foundation and a senior program officer at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She also served as deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where she created the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation (IPI) to deepen and scale collaboration between public and philanthropic sectors.


Ana Marie’s Story

Could you start by giving us a sense of your career trajectory? What led you to HIP?

In hindsight, HIP is the logical and natural progression of where I was going. I started my career in the 80s, working in community-based organizations on the front lines of social change. I cut my teeth working on immigration issues in Washington, D.C., focusing on TPS, temporary protected status, especially for the Salvadoran community. The 80s was an interesting time to come into this space. It was around that time that the word Hispanic was coined by the Census Bureau for the 1980 census. Even though Latinos have always been part of this nation, working side-by-side with others since before Jamestown, this is the first time we were counted. Then, in the 90s, organizations that had previously been regional organizations, like the Southwest Council of LA grew to be more national in scope. I was part of that movement as well. Early on, I realized that it’s important to work both very deeply in your space as well as very broadly in the ecosystem, which means forming coalitions. So I started connecting community work with national-level advocacy work. I then went to work in the federal government for five years, working as a political appointee in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a couple of different administrations. There, I focused on understanding and developing better partnerships so that we could scale programs. HUD was responsible for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) — flexible resources and monies that mayors and local cities use. I started examining the role of federal and local governments, looking at how they work with organizations that provide direct services, as well as with advocates working to address the root causes of social issues. That’s where I first discovered the role of philanthropy and understood its importance and potential. At that time, philanthropy was playing an important R&D role, testing and developing great ideas that the federal government could then adopt and amplify at scale. When philanthropy is good, it’s very good. Transformative. Although it can also be disruptive when it parachutes in without doing the homework. I went to work for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. At that time, Casey was investing in the Making Connections program, a place-based 10-year community development initiative. Ten years is a lifetime in philanthropy [laughs]. Making Connections focused on really listening to communities. That was my first experience of philanthropy by, for, and about the community. My work at Casey was focused on Indian Country and the US-Mexico border region, on designing a portfolio of investments and approaches that were relevant for these communities. That was a fantastic opportunity to make change. It was really powerful and to this day I still see the ripple effects. In 2010, I returned to HUD under the Obama administration. I created an office called the Office for International & Philanthropic Innovation (IPI). It’s still exists as the Office for International and Philanthropic Affairs Division (IPAD). That work showed that to achieve real change you need to develop partnerships — co-operations that are not just for convenience or that exist as only in writing or as MOUs [Memorandum of Understanding] — but based on really deep understanding of what each sector brings to an ecosystem and how each sector can leverage its roles and its assets. I learned that voice and expertise is as important as dollars. That office really was a game changer, and the approaches and expertise we developed expanded to other federal agencies: to the EPA, Education. It was through this work that I met Nancy Santiago Negrón, our VP, because she brought that model to the Department of Education. That led me to the Ford Foundation, where I worked on developing partnerships and strategies at a global level, bringing these approaches to an international space and to issues like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. When the job at HIP opened up I saw an organization that had a strong foundation, that had a strong legacy and was poised to serve the next generation. Between what I had learned and what HIP had already accomplished, I felt like the puzzle pieces were in place. The world is changing rapidly — and not just the political situation, also the social, economic, demographics. We need a new playbook. I’m proud that HIP has the right staff and a brilliant board. We have people who can build on the past, who are creative, and who can act as disruptors when needed. That’s how we’re going to bring this work into the future. My trajectory to HIP may have been unconventional, but you can see how it all goes back to the core of what I was trying to do. That has remained consistent from the very beginning.

Tell me more about this core — how would you describe it?

Maybe it’s both a value and an outlook. An outlook that is optimistic that says we can do better than this. That we should not be satisfied with what we have attained. That humanity is at its essence good and generous. It’s about justice and equity. And figuring out how we can be a vehicle for that. Optimism is important in the face of extreme challenges. It’s resilience, the knowing that we can get through this. We’re all working together in the same direction. Bringing it back to HIP, our values focus on equity, voice, and providing opportunities for more people to be leaders — beyond those who are anointed, appointed, or voted in. Beyond those with the connections, the means, or who are born in certain zip codes.

I’ve noticed that there has been a shift in language at HIP, from focusing on voice to focusing on influence. I’m interested in learning more about that nuance.

The concept of voice is important. But I’m also cognizant that voice alone is not enough. We need to be heard. We need to be at the table. Only then can we act to change systems and change behaviors. There’s a lot of work to do. There are such deeply ingrained and long-held narratives and misperceptions about what and who the Latino community is. For example, the misperception that Latinos are all recent immigrants and that we’re not contributors. So we need to affirm our history and highlight our contributions. Narratives influence policymakers’ and decision-makers’ thinking. They come to the table and based on their perceptions and they make decisions that affect the Latino community. After the 2018 midterm elections, I was really excited and pleased to see more Latinos and Latinas elected to government — Republicans and Democrats. I was also happy to see the election of Native Americans and Muslim Americans. We all benefit from a more diverse Congress.

Thinking about your first year at HIP, what are some significant moments or inflection points that come to mind?

Two connected moments come to mind. The first is the Family Unity March in June 2018. I saw hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets. Marches were happening all across the country. I was at the one in Washington DC and I saw grandmas, people in wheelchairs, white, black, brown. So many people, young and old, marching on behalf of our immigrant community. I cried. It really touched me and I went back to our staff and said: “We need to do a funders’ delegation to the border to see what’s happening firsthand — with no intermediaries — so that we can better understand how we can be helpful. Let’s pull together 15 foundation presidents. I know it’s in the middle of summer and we’re only giving them two or three weeks to adjust their plans, but let’s do it, even if it’s just for a few funders.” So that led to the second moment: With only three weeks notice in the middle of summer we pulled together an emergency tour of the border region. We had 55 participants — I had only expected 10 to 15. I thought, wow these are people are willing to drop everything, to cancel summer plans, because this is very, very important. These funders wanted to understand how to pull together and how to make a difference. I was surprised by the level of engagement and it made me realize that there are opportunities here to galvanize and do great work.

Both moments are examples of people coming together across differences — community, race, age, class. Coming together in solidarity, affirming shared values, and affirming the importance of these issues. I have the sense that the common bond is defining what this country is about and what we believe in.

It’s about seeing our humanity. If one community is not okay, no one is ok. We are all together. We decided to tour San Diego and Tijuana, rather than the tent cities in Tornillo, Texas, because then you see who’s really at the border. There are Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans — but also Haitians, Russians, Cubans, and people from Nepal and Congo. All of those people are stuck in limbo. I wanted to folks to see first-hand that this is not just a problem that affects Latinos. This is about all of us. Our country stands for more than this and better than this. The emergency tour demystified what was happening at the border. We wanted to provide unmediated access and put it into real terms. These funders are trying to figure out where and how they should invest: What do these people need? Where are they going? How can we make sure that women and children stay safe? HIP can help them do that with the best information possible. Related to this is how we connect philanthropy to crises and urgent issues — to the ideas, institutions, and individuals doing the work on the front lines. I joined HIP just as we were working on Hurricane Maria recovery efforts. It was a situation where we needed all hands on deck. We leveraged our HIPGive crowdfunding platform — the first time we used it to address a crisis. Two days after Hurricane Maria, there was an earthquake in Mexico, so we had a double crisis. HIPGive creates an on-ramp, so that people who want to help have a vehicle. It is also a way to democratize philanthropy, which is one of our core issues, so that whoever is able and wants to give can do it in an easy way. They can give again and again. They can join a community of other philanthropists. You don’t have to be a millionaire to write a check or hit send.

In your first year, what would you highlight as a moment in time where you felt a sense of success?

When I see HIP’s membership is growing. Or how our 2018 conference was bigger and very meaty and substantive. We have people really dialoguing with each other and exploring how we approach the problems of the world and of our current society from a new lens — and with a new playbook. The first six months were fantastic. I went on a listening tour. I met with members, stakeholders, emerging leaders, trustees, CEOs, and partners. I got to understand the amazing work and the foundation that HIP has laid over the last 35 years. I learned about members’ and partners’ relationships with HIP in the past — what is valued and where we can improve. I could have continued listening for a whole year because there was so much food for thought. I also really appreciated my first retreats with our board. We discussed how we can better work together. We challenged each other. We also had several staff retreats. I enjoyed getting to know our staff. That was really great. This is a new day. Our approach cannot be cut and paste. We need to change the game. It’s been a pleasure to work with others to develop the strategies for the next generation of HIP. We need to reinvent ourselves. Re-envisioning who we are, what we can be, and how we might engage others has been profound.

Looking back at your first year, can you tell me about a moment that was very challenging?

The first six months were fantastic because I got out and met so many HIP partners and members, but they were also terrifying because I didn’t yet have my sea legs. I didn’t yet have clarity about what to do. I had to face that I might be doing this wrong — and do it anyway. There’s a lot of uncertainty when getting to know a new organization, a board, and staff. We have staff who have been with us a long time, new staff, and staff from the east coast, the west coast, and in Mexico. Understanding and figuring out the best way to develop our internal culture is a challenge. You have to maintain your game face while you’re assessing and identifying strengths and gaps. Early on in the listening tour, there was some pressure for me to give HIP’s new vision — but I wanted to hear from others first. I felt that it was important to put aside my preconceived ideas and assumptions and start by listening and understanding what Hispanics in Philanthropy can be for the next generation. When you’re in listening mode, there’s a lot of chaos in your brain. You can’t predict what’s next — and that’s uncomfortable. It was a challenge to stay in that place of uncertainty and remain open-minded so that we can construct this together. Another challenge is that the narrative around Latinos has really taken a downturn. It feels like we’ve gotten a lot more xenophobic. There is a horrific backlash against immigrants, against our Muslim brothers and sisters, against the Jewish community, and others. There’s a need to come together and do more work around racial equity and a host of other complicated issues.

What challenges do you see emerging in year two?

We need to raise a lot more resources. There’s a lot of work. We need more Latino entrepreneurs. We need more Latinos graduating from high school and college. We need to be prepared for the next fire, earthquake, or hurricane. We need to build ways to be resilient. To be independent. We need to build our institutions and the infrastructure for civic participation. Right now, a lot of people are getting turned off and apathetic from participating in developing community infrastructure. We need to nurture participation and show how important it is. Right now, the civic sphere — the words and the rhetoric — looks scary, aggressive, and mean. I don’t want our folks to turn off and to not participate. This is vitally important with the upcoming census. But it’s also scary because no one can 100 percent guarantee that this information won’t be used against people. But we can say that it’s 100 percent urgent. The downsides of not participating have a huge impact.

What is your emerging strategic vision for HIP? What are the ideas that you’re looking forward to exploring?

At its core, HIP is about ushering in a new era of philanthropy. Philanthropy that is by, for, and about our people — and in solidarity with others. We’re doing this through our efforts to democratize philanthropy, boost resources, build a leadership ecosystem, and shift the narrative. We’re also paying attention to HIP internally, investing in training and professional development. When HIP was established, it was about reforming philanthropic institutions, with a focus on foundations. That’s how we started. There’s still work to do here: A study by GEO found that 40% of foundations are 100% white. Granted, a lot of these are small family foundations, but that’s a hell of a big number. And, as of 2015, only 3% of foundation trustees identified as Latinos, although we make up 18% of the population. We’re doing a little bit better in terms of program officers and mid-level staffers — the folks who will move up the ranks and become the CEOs and trustees — but we need to do more to contribute to a diverse leadership pipeline. This is why HIP is continuing to developing leadership throughout the ecosystem of philanthropy, focusing on foundation trustees and C-Suite roles. We want emerging leaders to have the tools, systems, and supports that they need to succeed. HIP will continue to look at foundations: who they are, what they’re funding, who they’re funding, how they’re funding — or not funding — in the Latino community. There is still a dreadful underfunding of everything Latinx and, with demographic and population shifts, even less funding is going to these these communities. At the same time, HIP is moving into an era of transforming philanthropy. Democratizing philanthropy. By that I mean not restricting ourselves to institutional philanthropy, but looking at all the ways that people give. We want to broaden the number of donors that are investing in the infrastructure of their communities. That could be the high-net-worth individuals that are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars into donor-advised funds. Or that can be millennials, grandmas, and other kinds of small investors donating through crowdfunding or giving circles. We’re also exploring the impact investing space, which very clearly is the future. We’re testing and scaling our work around impact investing, especially around entrepreneurship and education. HIP wants to make it easy to give and demystify how to be a giver. Philanthropy is not just for rich people writing big checks. Philanthropy is for all of us. We have to look at philanthropy in this broad sense. I’d love to do some studies to document how Latino giving happens, including remittances, monies that go to churches and schools, donations to community foundations for crisis response. Pew did a study just this past summer showing that that Latinos are very generous if you look at the amount they give compared to their total household income. If we aggregate all of the different types of giving, it’s a meaningful chunk of money. But it is dispersed, so we have little influence. We need to make giving easier, more effective, and more influential and counted. Sadly, I now understand that there’s always going to be a role for us to be working around crises and crisis response. I’ve responded to crises three times already and I haven’t even been on board for whole year. We need to figure out we can do this work better and more effectively. Finally, there’s our work around changing the narrative, which focuses on issues of voice and influence, and includes highlighting all of the ways we already contribute, especially when there’s a crisis. We need to address biases and change perceptions in order to change attitudes, behavior, or systems. Changing the narrative is the foundation for everything else. The future of our country depends on the Latino community succeeding. We have lots of assets in terms of people, people with buying power — 1.7 trillion dollars and growing. The numbers from the midterm elections show that we’re voting more as we start understanding what’s going on, but all of this needs to be long-term and sustained.

How do you see a revamped HIP network contributing to this broader vision?

I’d like to see that we transition from membership to membership plus plus. We need a network that is connected, well informed, influential, and able to mobilize. Action-oriented. What that looks like is still emerging. I want members of the HIP network to be able to learn from each other and leverage each other’s expertise, strengths, talents, and resources. A powerful network will allow us to solve problems in a more accelerated, deeper, sustained way. Related to this is deepening our partnerships. HIP is only 29 people plus our board members. Partners are important nodes in our network. We need to better understand how to activate them more.


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