Six Months and Six Questions for Zeeba Khalili, Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Newest Momentum Fellow

Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to Marguerite Casey Foundation and are incorporated into our employment, operations and grantmaking practices. We believe a diverse workforce leads to deeper conversations, greater collaboration, more effective grantmaking and stronger communities.

Here at the Foundation, we are committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive team as an essential part of our day-to-day work — in fact, people of color make up over 50 percent of our team. This diversity is the result of strong leadership commitment, culture of acceptance and internal practices focused on attracting, recognizing and developing talent.

Diversity is fundamental to who we are as an organization — starting with our mission and values —  and extends to our daily operations, grantmaking practices and communications focus. It is further evidenced with a Board of Directors that is fully engaged and committed to the strategic focus of the Foundation. More than 80 percent of our board members come from diverse backgrounds. One could say that diversity, equity and inclusion are in our organizational DNA. ZeebaKhaliliPhotoReceivedMarch2018

The Foundation also works to enrich the careers for people of color interested in philanthropy in the Pacific Northwest by embracing the Momentum Fellowship. Based in Seattle, Philanthropy Northwest administers the two-year Fellowship, which started in 2015 and offers work opportunities at foundations, mentoring and professional-development meetings.

Marguerite Casey Foundation remains a strong supporter of the Fellowship, given its core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. The Foundation’s first two Fellows, Janelle Choi and Elizabeth Posey, are now our Midwest Program Officer and West Program Officer, respectively.

In August of 2017, Zeeba Khalili became the Foundation’s third Momentum Fellow. Khalili, who serves as the Research and Evaluation Fellow, recently took a moment to answer six questions about her first six months at the Foundation. She spoke with Laura Boyle, the Foundation’s director of human resources.

Q: Why did you apply for a Momentum Fellowship?

As a young professional, philanthropy can feel like a closed door. An opportunity like the Momentum Fellowship doesn’t come along often. It pairs a position at a leading philanthropic organization along with professional development and coaching.

As I was finishing my master’s degree at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, I looked for jobs that would allow me to use my technical skill set in evaluation without losing my passion for serving marginalized and underrepresented communities. This position and the opportunity at Marguerite Casey Foundation are a great match.

Q: Talk about your family background, work experience and outlook on life. How do they align with your career interests and organizational expectations?

I grew up in a primarily White suburb in Kansas, and my ethnic and religious background often left me feeling like an isolated voice within my community. Even in that environment, my parents raised me to speak my mind and speak up in support of others.

After working in the nonprofit field for seven years, I transitioned to philanthropy to have a broader influence on youth and families. Marguerite Casey Foundation’s mission aligned directly with that goal, putting families in the center and ensuring that their voices are elevated.

Q: You started working at Marguerite Casey Foundation in August of 2017. What have you learned from your past and current projects?

Since day one, I have been floored by the work of the Foundation’s grantees. The rich data that exist at the Foundation, both qualitative and quantitative, paint a picture of organizations on the ground, working tirelessly in partnership with families to advocate for change.

I have been able to see how the research I examine affects families. Whether I’m researching disenfranchisement laws, undercounting in the census or child poverty in each of our grantmaking regions, I’ve seen that the stories of those who experience the effects of policies at all levels are the most powerful ways to illustrate the issues.

Q: Could you talk about a moment at Marguerite Casey Foundation when you realized you made a positive difference in the framework of movement building and philanthropy?

The Foundation’s grantees provide objectives of what they hope to accomplish during their grant periods. My director, colleagues and I looked at these objectives and listened to what grantees wanted to achieve. Then we identified a way to analyze their objectives and share feedback with grantees.

We hope this will build upon showing how grantee work has progressed over time. Sharing these findings is important because movement building through long-term unrestricted grants is powerful.

Q: As a Momentum Fellow, what would you like philanthropy to accomplish in partnership with working families over the next 10 years?

I’d like to see the reimagining of what impact in communities looks like and how these changes can be accomplished. Real change on the community level takes time and significant investment.

It’s possible to prioritize impact, but if you don’t see quick change, you can move on to the next idea or innovation. I hope there will be deeper investments in communities in the next 10 years, especially in ones in which families are advocating on their own behalf for change.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about applying for a Momentum Fellowship?

Anyone who is thinking about applying for the Momentum Fellowship should absolutely do so. Diversifying the philanthropic field can only occur when individuals from all backgrounds step forward.

For applicants, I would recommend identifying the strengths they have to offer to the field of philanthropy. Diversity takes many forms in this Fellowship. Many groups are underrepresented in philanthropy or underrepresented in foundations that are not affinity based.

Don’t stop with the Momentum Fellowship. Passionate individuals should apply for positions directly at foundations and articulate the value they bring to philanthropy and grantmaking in diverse communities nationwide.   

Date posted: April 16, 2018