This Fresh Take interview features Tonia Wellons, CEO, Greater Washington Community Foundation. JB and Tonia discuss Greater Washington Community Foundation’s extensive work in the pandemic relief and recovery efforts and insights on how the region is doing as we work towards a more inclusive and equitable future for the region.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Christian Rodriguez, and Nina Sharma. Edited by Christian Rodriguez.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Tonia Wellons is the President & CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, leading an organization with a $335 million in assets under management, and $60 million in annual grants, Tonia oversees the day-to-day business of the organization, serves as chief development officer, and works with the Board of Trustees and staff to determine the strategic priorities of The Community Foundation. Tonia has successfully launched and led programmatic and development efforts for several key initiatives at The Community Foundation, including VoicesDMV, the Resilience Fund, and the Partnership to End Homelessness.
Previously, she served as a political appointee for the Obama Administration as head of global partnerships at the Peace Corps. Tonia was responsible for leading the agency’s relationships with other federal agencies, the private sector, international NGOs, and donors. Tonia previously served as fund manager of a multi-donor initiative focused on financial access and inclusion at the World Bank Group. She also spent a significant part of her career working on USAID-funded capacity development initiatives during the immediate post-apartheid era in South Africa and the broader sub-Sahara region. In 2010, Tonia founded the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund (PGCSIF) in an effort to 'shift the narrative' and build social capital in the County.
Tonia has a master’s degree in Public Administration and International Development Policy from the University of Delaware, and a bachelor’s in Political Science from North Carolina A&T State University.
Tonia Wellons 0:00
On average, we disburse between 75,000,080 5 million per year in grants out to nonprofit organizations, about which three fourths of which stay in our region.
Nina Sharma 0:22
Welcome to fresh take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region. These one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:42
Good morning. This is JB Halston. I'm the CEO of the Greater Washington partnership. It's great to have you join us today for today's fresh take, and I'm honored to have as our guest, Tanya Wellons. Tanya, hello.
Tonia Wellons 0:56
Hi JB, hello, everyone. Nice to be here.
JB Holston 0:58
Thanks very much for joining us. We do these weekly. And we do these to talk with really critical leaders in the region and nationally on a diverse range of issues, but a lot of focus and all of these conversations on inclusive recovery and inclusive growth. And there's really no one in this region who is better to talk with on all of those topics than, than my guest today a little bit about Tony's background, if I read the whole thing that would take the entire entire time, so I won't do that. But Tony is the President CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, which is the largest public foundation in the Greater Washington region. The mission of the foundation is to build thriving communities by galvanizing philanthropy and investing locally to maximize community impact. The vision is for a more equitable, just and thriving Greater Washington for all and especially for those who've been systematically marginalized in the region. And that will be a great topic for us to discuss that in the intersection of the business community in particular today, Tony. Prior to this, Tony served as a political appointee for the Obama administration, as Head of Global Partnerships at the Peace Corps previously served as fund manager of a multi donor initiative focused on financial access and inclusion at the World Bank Group. She spent a significant part of her career working on USA ID funded capacity development initiatives during the immediate post Apartheid Era in South Africa and the broader sub Sahara region. I don't know if you've been following the fires down in Cape Town. It's a sad story. My son was in school down there for a while as well. But in 2010, Tonya founded the Prince George's County Social Innovation Fund in an effort to shift the narrative and build social capacity in the county. Hopefully, we'll have a chance to talk a little bit about that, because that certainly was early in the move toward those kinds of funds. So I'd love to hear more about that as well. Tony is on the board of leadership, Greater Washington and the Washington regional association of grantmakers. He's co chair, the black voices for Black Justice fund DMVs Black Justice fellowship and a member of the Prince George's forward taskforce federal city council, the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness. She was recently named a hero of the crisis by Washingtonian magazine 2020, nonprofit leader of the Year by the Washington Business Journal, in the 2020, philanthropist of the Year by the AFP DC chapter. I think we can just stop right here, Tony, I don't even need to talk about anything else. Just remarkable background. But thank you, again, for joining us.
Tonia Wellons 3:23
Thank you for having me. Again, I'm really delighted to be in conversation. And as I was saying, in the prep, welcome to our region. And I look forward to hopefully what will be the beginning of a great partnership with the greater Washington partnership.
JB Holston 3:37
Thank, you know, as do I and I've looking forward to this conversation for for some time, because I think that kind of partnership is going to be critical for for for us, certainly. And I think for those hopefully for the region as well. I thought we just start talking you by talking a little bit about a couple things a little bit about your background. So I have I have these, these fun questions. And I'll answer them too if, if that's more appropriate. But what was the first career you dreamed of having as a kid? And you're probably gonna say, global coordinator for the Peace Corps? I'm pretty sure.
Tonia Wellons 4:06
You know, it's interesting, I was thinking about how to answer there were two dreams. One was to be a diplomat. So I felt like the Peace Corps and some of the other international development work has sort of tick that box. And the other one was to be a civil rights lawyer, which I sort of decided not to pursue, and just to pursue this kind of work. Ultimately, I think that it just as well.
JB Holston 4:30
Absolutely. Well, certainly the contributions are, are huge. The I'm going to come back to the piece of advice question at the end here, as we have time, but I'd love to talk a little bit about how you found the Community Foundation found you and how you found them because obviously you've done a lot of really wonderful things in the past. May we just take us through the journey of your career if you don't mind?
Tonia Wellons 4:52
No, I don't mind. Thank you. I thank you for the very generous welcome at the introduction. induction the community, especially in the last year has been very, very kind to me, and supportive of me, particularly as a new CEO. I know how much that means. So JB, and again, I'm happy to be as supportive to you as this community has been for me. I consider myself like a bit of a local government girl, because of my Master's in Public Administration. And that was the decision to rather than go to law school to pursue a background in public administration public service. And I finished grad school moved to the DC region, really in search of international development work. It was either going to be in New York, or DC or abroad, and I've done some work early, like it was a junior in college and in grad school abroad, and I wasn't ready to go just yet. So DC it was and landed a number of really exciting jobs in the DC area, first with the National Council. For women under Dorothy Height, they had really important USA contract that had me doing work in Africa right out of grad school. Eventually, I went on to work for ICMA, looking at sort of the local government role of governance internationally, then to the World Bank, and eventually the Peace Corps. But all along, I had a home base in Prince George's County. So I've been home based here for 26 years. And I knew at some point, I want to sort of get back into doing locally oriented community work using some of the skills I've gained and learned in development, right here. So my kids were going to public schools here. You know, I had my membership in PTA s and my sorority here, but I wasn't really connected or active here, because I was so busy, you know, traveling and, and doing the work abroad, that I decided to do something here. I set up the the Prince George's County Social Innovation Fund first in 2011. So exactly 10 years ago. And I tell you, it's so interesting, because I set it up as a fund at the Greater Washington Community Foundation had no idea that 10 years later, I believe in the the Community Foundation, so it's a nice bit of, you know, a beautiful irony.
JB Holston 7:34
Well, that's, that's, that's wonderful. And thanks. Thanks for that. Let's talk to the audience a little bit about the foundation, because so many people do know what a community foundation is, but also some folks hear the words and just think Community Foundation, what, what is it? So maybe tell us a little bit about what it's about how it fits in the kind of philanthropic landscape here.
Tonia Wellons 7:57
And I appreciate that it's one of the running jokes in my family is how many times a day do I say community. And I'll probably say close to 50 to 75 times a day. But we I'm so proud to be a leader in this community, and to be the greater Washington Community Foundation. So we are a bit of a community development organization and a community development financial institution. So behind our community development, front facing work, is really you know, a bit of a trust or a bank where individuals or institutions can establish funds with us, they can place their charitable giving with us. They can direct their giving themselves or they can work with us based on the work that we do to listen to learn from be a part of this community, understanding the needs to make strategic philanthropic investments, we are part of a network of about 750 to 800, Community Foundation's around the country. We are considered actually JB a medium size Community Foundation, which is one of the things I want to shift because for a region of our wealth, of our size of our capacity, we should be and this is based on assets under management. We should be a much larger community foundation and I came to get us there. We we raised philanthropic capital we invested on average we disburse between 75,000,080 5 million per year in grants out to nonprofit organizations, about which three fourths of which stay in our region. So we are really an everyday philanthropist. You know, we Have some fund holders who will open up a, you know, a $50,000 fund based on a sort of a lifetime event. And they want to place their charitable gift with best and sort of walk with us as we are making strategic decisions. And then others place multimillion dollar gifts with us. Or if a foundation rather than a company create a foundation, they can establish a fund with the Community Foundation, and let us support their charitable giving. So we have the range of partners and funders and investors who work with us. And then the other group, that I'm really proud that we get to work with just regional philanthropy, you know, we are a partner, I hope they're a good partner with our peers and philanthropy, as we are all thinking through, you know, how do we best both fill gaps and create catalytic opportunity to make it to build a more equitable and thriving Greater Washington region?
JB Holston 10:59
That's great. Well, thank you for that. And I'm just going to dive in. Because you, you, you set up the question, so I'm just gonna dive in on that. How big should the organization be? If you think about, you know, the? Because I do think it relates, obviously, to the business and business support that question to you, maybe you just start by just how much what are the assets under management? And if you had your druthers, what should they be?
Tonia Wellons 11:22
So we are currently at around 375, and assets under management, 375 million. That's a medium size foundation, I think Buffalo New York is about 600 million in assets. And, you know, San Francisco, much larger than that New York Community Trust, significantly larger Chicago Community Trust, you know, we were just coming out of strategic planning. And so I don't want to give more away than I'm supposed to. But we should at least be a half billion and trending over the next many years toward a billion dollar foundation. One that is more, more in doubt than we currently are. Which gives us the ability to pivot on a dime to both crisis and urgent need more flexibly. So right now, JB, in order for us to do what we did some of the work that we did in COVID response, I have to convince a lot of people, and that's great for partnership, right? To, to convince a lot of people that we're listening and learning and able to respond really fast based on what the community is telling us. But I had to convince people before we can do anything, we need to be able to do things, and that and bring people along with us as we go. And by you know, shoring up our capacity to do that strengthening our endowment, strengthening our unrestricted giving, we're going to be able to, to do that even more quickly.
JB Holston 13:06
Yeah, that's great. Well, I appreciate that. Thank you for, for sharing that. One quick follow up. But the buffalo number, of course, is striking. I mean, it's, you know, a lot of snow up. What, what has driven that in other locations? Is it just, you know, time is it? But what are the factors that go into that?
Tonia Wellons 13:29
A number of things? Yeah. So having a clear stake in the ground around where you're going. And I'll tell you for Buffalo, a lot of it was when they made the decision to focus in on racial equity and inclusion. And imagine that, imagine that this is part of what we wanted to talk about, JB, but some of the Community Foundation's that experienced the most growth, I've seen in the last 10 years, decided that they had to, there was a period of Community Foundation's kind of we, our remit was to be good stewards of philanthropic capital, and to do whatever the donor wanted us to do. And there was a bit of that that will remain, you know, we will be a place where you can house your fund, and drive your own charitable giving. But more and more, it's important that we lead with a very strong purpose. I say that we are not partisan, but we're not neutral. In that we have an agenda that is strong and forward leaning, that is clear to communicate and understand. And I think you'll appreciate it again. It's so hard to know a thing and not be able to share it. But coming out of our new our new strategic plan. I think there's going to be a lot of alignment with where we are going and where the greater Washington partnership and your members are curious about and interested in particularly as we look Get the racial wealth gap and inequity that exists in our in our region. So I'm super excited and charged him. I know my comms team is saying Tonia hold out. We don't have the talking points yet, because we don't. But I'm really psyched about where we have the potential to go. Yeah. Yeah, so I'm super excited about it.
JB Holston 15:23
Well, that's great. Well, that Thank you. Thanks for sharing so that my comms comms team regular he's like, What did you do? Yeah, but, but that's, that's really helpful, and also very timely. So appreciate that. And that gives us a chance to talk a little bit about the last year. Yeah, cuz you know, you did. I think part of the as I read it, the the accolades were because you were able to pivot and provide so much help so fast. You talk a little bit about if you would a couple of things. How did you go about that? You mentioned lots of stakeholders. And in particular, how did you choose what to support? Because of course, the needs are, are all over. And they'd love to just talk about, like the next 12 months, right, because we're not done. That's right. Let's start by looking back if we can.
Tonia Wellons 16:07
I appreciate that. So I want to start by giving a huge set of accolades to like all Community Foundation team members who came before me, we're not new in the crisis response work, actually, in September of this year, we will be acknowledging that sort of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. And most notably, our Community Foundation served as community quarterback, particularly around the Pentagon attacks and sort of sprung into action in the in the very same way. When it came to galvanize the philanthropic capital, communicating, touching base supporting the families who were impacted. So we've developed over I'd say at least 20 years, a reflex for, you know, for community quarterbacking during a crisis, good some some good institutional knowledge, their experience during the 2008 economic crisis 2011 prices 2019 When the federal government shutdown, and so we knew that this would be a role that we play, beginning on March 13. So amazing team that helped us to, you know, pull our collective memory together to think about how we ought to respond. I'd say that, looking back, a couple things one huge, just, I don't think I can underscore the value of partnership, it's in your name, we have community in our name, you have partnership and yours. But a community partnership is really what made all of this work for us. And transparency, and frequent communication. And so, you know, we were on the phone every week with our peers in philanthropy. My team members were on the phone. And in my in our pews and philanthropies, team members were on the phone basically every day with nonprofit leaders and members of community that helped us to know what we needed to prioritize what we needed to focus on which communities were experiencing what and how we ought to mobilize. And then JB we put together this really rudimentary Google Doc and shared everything across philanthropy. We shared who was funding what, at what level, we broke it out, we had everything, all the nonprofits, we were supporting, you know, who was working together on specific issues, we created work groups. And we really, I mean, the amount of sharing and transparency and communication is really what led to our ability to raise a $10.5 million fund. That's the one I think that gets the most attention in the in the media. But we also set up $30 million in parallel funds that support it a broad range of issues, you know, from care first, establishing a fund to support PPE, throughout the region to clients restaurant, for example, supporting setting up a fund to support their employees. And then we tracked an additional 25 million that our peers and philanthropy were funding outside of us. So we'd had a purview over, you know, 65 million that was going to nonprofits to organizations across our region, that we really moved and acted like a regional partnership. And I think I know that for sure that the nonprofits are grateful that we were so organized, we lower barriers to applications, we turn things around the far more faster pace than ever before. I think philanthropy shifted, and we changed, because we needed to. And because the crop the crisis called us too. So I'm really proud of the partnership that we were able to leverage across our philanthropic partners and with our corporate partners, I'll have to acknowledge them as well. You know, companies stepped up we received for the COVID Response Fund, we counted about 15,000 um 1,500, individual gifts, ranging in from $50, to a million dollars. But of course, the larger gifts were from our corporate partners, who, you know, called us saying, We trust you all, we know that you, you're listening. And we want to place our resources with you, also, from the Amazon, to the banking industry, to companies who, you know, had no real footprint here in the greater Washington region. But they saw our numbers. And they were battling a lot of crises here, right, they were in the middle of a lot of political turmoil. The COVID numbers were high. And our group hit really hard from an economic perspective. And so they're, you know, we got funds that came via the New York Community Trust that came by Silicon Valley Community Foundation. And landed here with us, we have a few folk who attended local school systems here and said, Hey, there's lots of resources flow flowing out here on the West Coast, I want to make sure that our people on the in the Greater Washington region are covered. And so they sent their resources our way. So I'm incredibly grateful for, for the generosity, but also for the recognition that, you know, our region is special and unique, and deserves and requires a different level of care. And I think it was significant that there was so much political crises that the George Floyd murder happened. While we were all sitting at home. You know, that people were not sure about where they would get their next meal in a lot of ways. And there was a lot of care about, you know, our people here in this region.
JB Holston 22:46
So if you think about the process you use to collaborate with all those other parties in order to pull the funds together quickly and decide where they were going to go, etc. And the Google docs are great, great story. I love that. What are the lessons going forward? Because, you know, it is easy for everyone to fall back to kind of the old foods of grant making and lack of collaboration in many cases, right?
Tonia Wellons 23:12
Yeah, it's so it's interesting, because when we were around December, ish, after the elections, we had a one of our last really big meetings with our corporate response steering committee. And I said, it feels like we're breaking up. We were breaking up a little bit, you know, it's hard, it's hard to maintain such a high level of engagement for a sustained period of time. But there are some lessons that we have to go back to, I think we all had to go back and sort of sort out our own homes and, you know, figure out work situations return to work policy, just things that we didn't have a chance to take care of, in the preceding 11 months. We're all sorting those things out now. And my hope is that will come together. But there's some things around transparency of information. That is galvanizing. Just knowing who's doing what, in real time, you know, we can't wait for this sort of one year and a report that's backward looking to help, you know, guide day to day decisions, like you need access to a tool, again, as simple as it needs to be. That gives us real time about who's doing what, so that you can figure out how to leverage it, build, build on it, you know, not duplicate, like that, to me was one of the most, that that is the most simple thing that we can do going forward. And then, you know, just being clear that we're in partnership and not in competition, that we get to share, I think both the burden and the ACT Ladies, you know, I feel like I said this to the steering committee, a lot of really nice, and I'm very happy, especially the newest CEO, I won't get to use that for much longer, that a lot of accolades came my way. But it could not have happened would not have happened without one, the amazing team at the Community Foundation, and then to without a partnership and trust of our peers in philanthropy, and I won't name them because I won't get to name all the names, but they're all on our website. But it really required just trust in an effective practice and partnership. In order for us to, to work together, for support sustained period, and to have the impact that we did, I'm very optimistic about what we will be able to do in the future, because I am, I am committed, once you meet, you know, JB, once you experience something like that, I mean, you know, what it feels like, like to win. So you want to replicate that even, you know, without the because we have crises every day, right? I mean, we have crises of the economy, and, you know, violence, and discrimination and racism every day. And so there is enough already for us to galvanize toward different outcomes. I want us to pursue an agenda that that supports that.
JB Holston 26:38
Let's talk about the next 12 months or this calendar year, the rest of this calendar year. I think one of the things that a lot of folks in the business world had upon had a propensity to do over the last 12 months was to think in a binary way. Yeah, about the pandemic, you know, it's going to be over at dataxe. And once it's over, we're back to well, maybe the new normal, but we're back to, but I think the reality I'll be it with a very different federal administration now supporting in ways that the last did not but the reality is this is gonna linger and say that inclusive growth path to inclusive growth is through inclusive recovery. How are you thinking about? What you what were the needs will be greatest this calendar year compared to last? Any any real shifts? In your view?
Tonia Wellons 27:22
Yes. And some have, you know, something to do with kind of how philanthropy will respond, a lot has to do maybe with how the business community has an opportunity to respond, and to perhaps even respond differently, longer term. And then I think, of course, there's a role for government. So I'll talk about philanthropy. First, I think where we are headed is really around three or four core issue areas, we want to make sure that we're responding to the mental health needs. In our community. That was one place, we were trying our best, but there was so many other things like basic needs, that took precedence over mental health, so supporting the mental health needs across various elements and aspects of our community. vaccine confidence and accessibility is important for us. So making sure that everyone who wants to or needs to get a vaccination has the access, and the ability to get one quickly. We'll start working with our local school districts on return to school plans sooner rather than later. You know, this is right, right now is the time to start thinking about the fall and what they will need from us, the broader community to be able to return to school sufficiently, and a number of things are coming up. Now, I have a call later on this afternoon about those kinds of plans. And I'd love to be the opportunity to come back and talk to you about those and even with school leaders because it is going to be important for us to care support provide the available to school districts. Because the return to school is an important part of our all of our ability to return to, to work, etc. I think the piece I mean, those are the those are the areas for us. I am so curious, and I'd love to hear from you how the business community is thinking about it because, you know, one of the first things that we were asked to do when the economy shut down, was to get cash in the hands of everyday working people because they didn't have enough money. And this is pre pandemic JV where, you know, wages have not kept up with the cost of living in our region. Like you know, we have a housing bubble crisis for one of a couple of reasons, right? And one of which is that is too expensive for hourly workers who we have come to depend on to make it for two weeks with with something that when things fall apart, and that's not a normal that any of us should aspire to return to. You know, one of the things that I find curious is that I read some of the local publications that some employers are having a hard time luring people back to work, because the social safety net is paying more than ever, that's a problem. That is not the individual's problem, right. But that's a systemic problem. If your social safety net can pay you more, then then all of the potential benefits of returning to work, right. So that means that it's not just the wage, but perhaps it's absent, paid leave, or paid, or health care benefits, certainly probably not a 401k contribution, because all of those things packaged would make return to work far more attractive, right, than having to rely on the social safety net. And so I'm curious about how employers are thinking about, you know, what can be different or game changing? For us to return, but not not necessarily back to normal?
JB Holston 31:42
Yeah. It's, it's definitely a topic. And I think if you think about the largest employers, in particular, particularly in this region, where many of the organizations, whether they're federal government or other are very information tech dominated, you know, it's very screen based, there is a lot of conversation about what's going to happen to city centers. Yeah, you know, if we're, if we're returning on a more hybrid basis, which is what it looks where it looks like folks are going, what happens, you know, if you've got 30% of your workforce, you know, only back three days a week or whatever, whatever those numbers mean, that's going to have a huge impact potentially, on smaller businesses, you know, in in Baltimore, in DC, yeah, in Richmond and DC, ironically, more than elsewhere, because it's got a higher preponderance of those kinds of those kinds of businesses. That will depend to some degree on the federal government, you know, do they? Do they require people to come back? And will it be five days a week? Are they also going to be kind of flexible in their in their work? So a lot of conversation about, you know, how can business collectively, with the cities, in particular address that? You know, are there things that can be done? Not just support for the small businesses, but, you know, what does it mean to ensure all of them are digitally modernized, appropriately? Do they all have 5g access in the right way? Or, you know, where are where are things that we could collectively be working on to? To do the most possible? Certainly, you know, there's a lot of talk of courses, you know, well, upskilling, rescaling things like that. Those are great. But, you know, if you think about the kinds of small businesses affected, right, it's, it's, you can't just run in and say, great, you know, become a drone operator, or whatever, whatever it may be. Right. So a lot of conversation about about that, certainly among the larger businesses and how they can help with that. And I think maybe this is where you were going a little bit, but I'll take you there anyhow. Because Because unfortunate, we're going to run out of time, too soon. But as you probably know, the partnership collectively, in light of George Floyd's murder, in light of all the activities last year, collectively, the the organizations behind it, it's not the partnership, per se, it's organizations behind it have all said, Look, you know, now's the time to address these systemic racism to address these issues. And as behooves large organizations that are thinking very quantitatively about it, and and I think surprisingly, he said, Well, gee, what if we set out over the next period of time to close the the wealth gap, not the income gap, but you know, what would that what would that mean, what would that look like? And I think, and again, I you know, when you can reveal your strategy, it will be it will be great to have this conversation more openly. But, but I think is encouraging, I think I hopefully everyone is encouraged to see an organization like ours, which represents a lot of the largest employers saying that is a defining opportunity for the region. And we've been talking about it in the context of Inclusive Growth and the words are intentionally chosen inclusion, I think, because it relates to that opportunity for equity etc, but growth because it also speaks to how you know business organizations tend to think about opportunity. If we're if we're the most inclusive regional economy, we will be the fastest growth.
Tonia Wellons 35:09
Absolutely. Well, we've reached the same conclusion. This is awesome, JB, because we've landed on a strategy that will focus on closing the racial wealth gap, and increasing economic mobility. We believe that all of the other things are kind of the outgrowth. So the outcomes of not having close the racial wealth gap. And so I see some really wonderful alignment in the possibility of working together in the future. That's awesome.
JB Holston 35:37
Well, I know we'll get into it as the strategy gets unveiled, so that your, your my mark on people don't run out of the room saying, okay, just stop YouTube. But, but if we, if we talk a little bit about where some of the gaps are, what are some of the things that were some of the areas of work, if you will, that we're gonna need to collectively be working on over the next decade? What comes to mind just as sort of general areas of work?
Tonia Wellons 36:03
Yeah, there's so many I mean, and it's the it's both the sort of looking at the pipeline of things that we need to sort of correct for from the past. But also looking looking ahead to the future, I know that one of the things that we all care about, are building the pipeline for, for young leaders to be prepared for careers of the future. Absolutely. I'm a huge proponent of education and supporting, especially public schools. And we have to think about how we're going to support their families and parents. Now, I do believe that while we're in this in between, of sort of the existing economy, and then in the new economy, we're gonna have to pursue various mechanisms of sort of a basic income, that will give time and make some allowances for people to transition, I think we're gonna have to use some sort of an asset based frame, and look at what are the kinds of strategies that people who have wealth have used, that we have to make available on a larger scale, you know, whether it's baby bonds, or, you know, some other forms of scholarships, and five investments and 529 plans, you know, it's reparative resources that have been, you know, through investments in community, communities that have been, you know, under invested in for many, many years, I mean, we really have to think through the scale of investment. At the same level, that we've, over many decades, pursued disinvestment, I mean, many of the communities that we care about, that we know, need more attention, and that we're looking to, to address the broadest range of issues is because we've purposefully in some ways disinvested, we've not invested them in the way that we need to, we just gonna have to double down. And we have to do it in a in a pretty unapologetic way. This is where I know that some people get really uncomfortable by thinking about prioritizing businesses that are led by people of color. Nonprofits, even though led by people of color are even more deeply investing in communities that I live by. But if we don't name it, one of the things I like to say, JP is that what gets measured gets done. And if we're saying that, you know, all of these disparate outcomes are happening in communities of color. And we're not saying but we're gonna invest even more strategically and more deliberately, in communities of color, they're not really trying to, to solve the problem that we are that we're naming. And, you know, I believe I know for sure that it's really hard to be poor, and a person of color in the Greater Washington region, you know, of nine of the 20 wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, nine of them are in our geographic footprint. And that says two things for me one, it's a proof point, especially in DC, I think the wealth of white people is 81 times that of people of color. We got to figure it, we got to figure out how to how to shift that and we have to do it with a lot of deliberate action in a deliberate and deep investment. And it also says to me, that we have an opportunity to grow a community foundation in a way that speaks to and addresses the broadest base needs. of our community, you know, I hope for the day when philanthropies not focused on basic need, you know, because basic need is covered, you know, through both some combination of of government interventions and through the private sector doing what it ought to do to support workers and employers, employees, so that we're able to focus on, you know, climate, and parks and recreation, and art, you know, those things are additive to the community, rather than sort of the basic thing.
JB Holston 40:35
Yeah. Well, it's, um, there's gonna be a lot to both talk about and work on together, Tanya here in the years to come. And I look forward to that. You know, one of the things that we're also trying to consider in your, your help and thinking through this will be really vital is the whole social capital question. Now, it's, you know, as you know, we've done a lot of work in education, digital skills that will work. Oh, that's wonderful. And yet, you know, that's, of course, only part of the part of the equation you can you can have a certification that's modern and not have opportunity.
Tonia Wellons 41:10
Absolutely. I want us to come back and talk about portable benefits for our region too, I think there's a real opportunity for us that we should certainly explore.
JB Holston 41:21
Yeah, yeah, it is. It's a little astonishing that in this day and age, people have to get tied to where the benefits come from, to such a degree. It should not have to be to be the case. Well, there's so much more that we could talk about one last quick question for you. Who am I 20? How do you define the region because obviously, you've got a regional remit. And I know we all, we all are a little constructed differently in that regard.
Tonia Wellons 41:50
So interesting. One of the things I wanted to make sure I said to you before we got the call was that running a regional organization is hard. And for our regional footprint...
JB Holston 42:04
Philanthropist of the year, that when I talk to my board, it's hard.
Tonia Wellons 42:09
It's so hard. So our region includes Washington, DC, Montgomery, Prince George's County, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun. That's our sort of our regional footprint. And it's so interesting is because I pulled up the language to share with you of how we are from our strategic plan, how we're defining regional presence, but I think the language might be helpful to you too. So we say that the Community Foundation is a fully allied as a united organization serving the entire Greater Washington region, on our Board recognizes the value of local character and needs, the contribution of local advisory boards and the importance of place based strategies across the region. So it does mean both being regional in terms of identifying priorities that are cross cutting, but then also having the nuance of understanding, you know, how some of our jurisdictions are prioritizing some issues differently, and being available to support that prioritization as well.
JB Holston 43:18
Yeah, that's great. And I think, to your point about school reopening, that as a category probably expresses as well as any how critical that balance is between the local perspective.
Tonia Wellons 43:33
And the regional. Yeah, but here's the other thing is, I know that I worked in international development for many years. And so if in the global context, we can think about sort of Latin America as a region, Middle East, Middle East and North Africa as a region SubSaharan Africa as a region and work out regional priorities and issues, and we can do it globally, I am 100% Sure, we can sort things out at a local level as well. So that gives me a lot of confidence about what's possible for us.
JB Holston 44:02
I agree. That's what brought me here. I mean, I think there's just a tremendous opportunity. And of course, we're associated with the nation's capital.
Tonia Wellons 44:08
Absolutely. And that matters for a lot. It does.
JB Holston 44:11
And I think if we do it, well, here, the rest of the world can watch and take note, you'll be back in the SDG international business before, you know, because I really say come over here and let me do that here. Well, it's been wonderful to talk to you today, my guest has been Tonia Wellons, who's the CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. And I think we only use the word community 18 times. Every conversation today so you can report back to the family. Tonia, great to talk to you thank you for your work. I look forward to the partnership. There's so much that we're going to be able to do together.
Tonia Wellons 44:47
Absolutely me, too. Thank you for having me and all the best with your sort of all the work that's ahead of all both of us.
Nina Sharma 44:59
Thanks for coming. into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb. Justin Madison Turner, Kristian Rodriguez and Nina Sharma. If you liked what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington partnership.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai