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A message from our CEO

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Together, we will continue with renewed energy to work with our communities to fundamentally change the outcomes of people’s lives – by addressing underlying causes, not just treating symptoms, while striving each day to be our better selves.

I’m full of sorrow … for the tragedies that have occurred across our country in recent weeks – in Minneapolis and New York City – which followed those in Louisville and South Georgia. I’m still processing the brutality and underlying racism that ended the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery – and that resulted in the indignity and injustice Christian Cooper was made to endure. I also know (as well as I can) that systemic bias and racially motivated acts happen to black people every day, not just when we see it on the news.

I’m full of sorrow … for the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people and communities of color, causing more death and exacerbating inequities that have long existed. We’re just starting to see what will happen to students who attend under-resourced schools, unable to support distance learning and the wrap-around services needed in many of our neighborhoods. And, we’re seeing up close the challenges faced by small and new businesses, especially for entrepreneurs of color, who are struggling to find the resources needed to survive. 

I’m full of sorrow … for my colleagues, Kauffman Foundation’s associates, who have shared deeply personal stories about their own experiences. They are grieving and tired. And as they think about their own children and loved ones, and the black and brown students we support through our work, they are terrified for their safety and rights.

The images we’re seeing on our screens are voices collectively trying to be heard. It’s easy for those of us watching to feel helpless and hopeless. I’ve felt that way. Yet, we can’t retreat. We need to listen, learn, and do the work together. 

For our Foundation, that work begins internally so we can do right by the students, educators, and entrepreneurs we support. We started that imperfect journey together last year. The events of the past couple of weeks underscore why it is so important to focus on “how” we do our work – specifically, how we build relationships and trust in the community.

Foundations like ours are unique institutions, but at the end of the day, we are a cluster of individuals – a group of people from different backgrounds, cultures, generations, identities, and families who happen to work at the same place. We have different perspectives and points of view. We don’t always agree, but we strive to celebrate one another and see our differences as strengths.

Some of us have backgrounds in business, while others have spent time in nonprofit and government settings; some were born and raised in Kansas City, the home of the Kauffman Foundation, while others came from far away to join our work family. We were all hired for various reasons, based on our expertise and experience.

We all work to be great at our jobs because we want to make a difference.

Our founder, Ewing Kauffman, believed he was a common man who did uncommon things. He wanted everyone to have a chance to be uncommon, to have a shot at success. He also wanted his foundation to be uncommon, so it’s one of our core values.

In these uncertain and unsettling times, perhaps the most uncommon thing we can do in philanthropy is to acknowledge that we don’t have the answers. And, rather than trying to jump to hasty solutions, we should just stop to listen – really listen – to what our colleagues and communities are saying, and then be responsive to the wisdom that comes from lived experience.

So, as the leader of this dedicated and talented collective of Kauffman Foundation associates, I humbly submit that we will acknowledge our imperfections. We will keep listening and learning. Yet, let me be clear – the history and systems of racial barriers will not be overcome with only listening and words. We will continue with renewed energy to work with our communities to fundamentally change the outcomes of people’s lives – by addressing underlying causes, not just treating symptoms.

And for the sake of better tomorrows, we will strive each day to be our better selves.