Nurturing Your Spirit
We are flipping the script for this episode of Conversations with Chanda. Instead of hosting, Chanda answers questions from the Minneapolis Foundation’s Senior Director of Impact and Collective Giving, Patrice Relerford. Chanda opens up about her personal story, approach to philanthropy, and what the podcast has meant to her.
Souphak Kienitz 00:04
You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda — a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:16
Super excited to have you on the podcast, Patrice. Today we’re doing a little bit of a switch and that you’re going to be talking to me and asking questions. I’m super excited to have the conversation and see what questions you have for me.
Patrice Relerford 00:29
I’m super excited to do this to work with you now for what, almost five years, it’s been great to see you really like grow and blossom in this role, and, and also the podcast, it’s just been great. Like, I’ve been so impressed with it. So I’m really excited to be able to do this.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:43
Good deal. So now I’m a little bit in the hot seat, although I’m likely to come up with a question or two for you.
Patrice Relerford 00:49
Okay, so one of the questions I want to kick it off as a person who’s worked at the foundation, before you join Chanda and since you joined, I do see distinct ways in which we’ve like shifted how we work. For me, I want to ask you give the viewer some insights into how our approach to philanthropy has changed at the foundation in recent years, under your leadership, and our president and CEOs, R.T.’S, we shifted from a theory of change to a theory of philanthropy, would you tell the listeners like what that means?
Chanda Smith Baker 01:26
So one be thinking about your response to like how things have shifted, since I’ve been here, because I think, you know, I have my my point of view, but you certainly have a point of view because you knew what was before. But I think the timing of this conversation matters. And now, when I came in, and 2017, the foundation was in its final years of what our plan was at the time was was was growth for impact. My plan was very distinct about getting more resources into the community, there was an opportunity with R.T., as you know, maybe one or two years into his time and tenure here at the Minneapolis Foundation, I was very new, we went into a very thoughtful process of where do we go next, as a community foundation? What are the core elements that we need to be thinking about? Who should we be listening to? How should we be engaging, and so we went out on on a really thoughtful journey. And you might remember, we engaged Olivia Mastry her company to come in and do listening sessions with our grantees. My direction was, I didn’t want any staff there we go in we welcome our partners that are funded by us. And I didn’t want anybody from the foundation represented because I wanted the most honest feedback that we could get in a process like this, to inform our decision making in it, it absolutely has influenced our decision and contributed to what our strategic framework is today. And we did that with our donors. We did that with key partners, we did that with thought leaders in philanthropy. You know, I know I did probably 50 one on ones or more, because I do position towards listening and being thoughtful and getting sort of the blind spots covered. And I hope that we did, I certainly got a dose of of a lot of really helpful critical feedback. But what I would say is that sort of the timing of me coming in, corresponded nicely with rethinking, our strategy going forward, that strategy going forward, based on information that we also received in those listenings was very much like you’re not the only authority, there are other people that know how to do work, stop forcing your ways from your ivory tower, upon the people that actually have the expertise, right, like, I mean, that’s in summary, some of the patterns that I heard super loud and clear, as well as our processes were too cumbersome, that philanthropy wasn’t as accessible, particularly a community foundation that has donor advised funds. You know, you’ve got some work to do. And so we discussed that as a team. We brought those elements in. And so just to attack, the question that you you asked is the theory of change was basically, we have a theory of how things change in community. And we are writing our grant guidelines and our approaches based on what we think those levers of change are. And then we will grant you to do that work and where our framework is now is we really care about these issues in community, and we care about making this community as equitable and just as possible. We want to partner with people that are as committed to that as we are, and we are open to the how you get there. So, we are moving from being prescriptive, to open. We are moving from having grant reports be about compliance to being about learning and evolving and we are moving our processes from it. Being just us informing it to including more voices in decision making, and the development of our processes. So that’s in short, some of the how we do things differently. I would say that we also centered our why differently in the previous framework, it was very much around resources in and out the door, it was very much on the technical aspects, our business model, the what we do, this framework is very much focused on our why to make a difference to have impact for this community just and the how, how we partner, how we show up, how we include how we exclude, we are being way more thoughtful on what is our role responsibility in dismantling the systems that need to be dismantled?
Patrice Relerford 05:48
That’s great. When I think about too, like the how of it as a person who was here before and who’s now here still at the foundation, it’s been so satisfying, to work differently. And I think of one of the examples I think about is in 2019, when we invited, what was it like 1500 kids across the metro area, to the convention center. And this was back when you could still get a bunch of people in the same room with no masks on, like, who knows that we’ll ever be back there again. And just to hear their thoughts on what needed to happen in the education system. And I remember just like showing up that day. And just like being so like, oh, my God, this is like, what’s one of the examples of what’s different now with working here is that we’re going to ask all of these kids, what they think. And it led to a report, and it informed our new education guidelines. You know, it wasn’t like, there was the risk in bringing those kids together from like, all around the metro area. But the day was incredible. They were engaged. We still have videos on our website they loved it, and they gave us such great advice. So that’s one of my like examples of before you and after you in terms of the how we work. Do you have any other thoughts on just like how its influenced how we work at a community? Well, that was a community example. But at a systems-level or community level, just to give people another example.
Chanda Smith Baker 07:23
I mean, yeah, we’re sharing favorite stories. I mean, that’s certainly one of them. I wasn’t there that day. But I mean, I remember the first time I watched the video, and it for sure brought like tears to my eyes, because there’s so much talent, and we spend too much time talking about the deficit, to hear the brilliance that came in that room. Every time we put that grant out, or every time we get a report, I think about some of the actual video, and the direct tie to how we’re deploying resources. I think it’s incredible. The other one for me was actually the live event that we did following when they see us when that documentary came out. And I interviewed Yusef Salaam, the one of the Central Park Five. First of all, it was a very, very long day that he came into town. And we did a live Conversations with Chanda, which was recorded and people could listen to but we did that. Well, actually, we did a live event. Then we went back to the office and did a podcast. Then I took him to lunch with a group of emerging leaders, black male emerging leaders, including one of my sons, Malik, and then we did an event at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. And I walked into the church and it was packed. Again, no mask, it was packed. It was 95% people of color at different ages, there to hear the conversation that Yusef was bringing to the stage. And then followed up with a panel with Keith Ellison, who is now our AG and our police chief. Rondo. Chief Arradondo. And then our Commissioner Harrington, John Harrington. Here’s a moment where we have all of these black men in rows around justice in our system, one of them that was targeted by a system that put him in jail for a crime he did not commit on one stage in front of a community audience. And I remember having this moment of this is exactly what a community foundation is for. I mean, I haven’t experienced it in the same way since but it for me, and I led the work I saw like It surprised me. And it just opened up to the possibility of and the importance of convening, amplifying the leadership when it is different. When it is reflective, amplifying leadership that is bold, that is justice-oriented, and then making it trusting enough and accessible enough for anyone in our community that wants to have access and to participate to do that was actually as a true highlight.
Patrice Relerford 10:20
That day was great. It was so packed in there, I had to sit up in the bleachers. I was way at the top of the church, I worked for the foundation, I could not find a seat on the floor. So that day was incredible. And you have since worked with the attorney general? And the commissioner, right. Yeah. On, on some work related to deadly force. Do you want to tell the listeners a little bit about that, too?
Chanda Smith Baker 10:49
Oh, god, yeah, I can, because there’s, there’s lots of parts of the story, the part of the story I will tell you is that we have some discretionary funds. And when you go over a certain amount, I have to bring in the board, there was a request, and I needed to bring in the board. And so here we are. And I’m like, you know, we’re in the middle of a national conversation. It’s not yet localized to the extent to need to, you know, it could have been, but we for sure had experienced the death of Philando Castille, we had experienced the occupation following Jamar Clark’s murder. And we had experienced a few in the middle. But here’s a conversation where it’s like, are we taking sides? What are we going, what is this? And so, I came to the table and said, I know this fun is for this reason, but I absolutely believe we should make a significant investment and support the work of the police deadly force task team that will be co-chaired by our Attorney General Keith Ellison and our Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington, it was a really great conversation that went from should we be in this to why wouldn’t we be in it? In the course of our committee meeting, and I thought it was important, I figured we get protested, you know, the committee would, and it did, I figured it would be complicated. I knew that it was very political to sort of jump in, because there’s lots of perspectives to look at. But if we’re not willing to jump where the mess is, then we’re not ready to make the type of difference that we proclaim. And I was happy that we were willing to jump into the mess. Lots of great things have come from it. And I certainly invite listeners to go check that work out on the state website to show the progress. Did it prevent George Floyd from happening? It did not, it won’t prevent. But it certainly will position us to hopefully reduce the number of deadly incidents, to respond more justly when they occur, and more sensitively to the families that are also victims to these incidents and to community and to higher our expectations around. What does it mean to be a peace officer in our city, while also prioritizing the health and wellness of those officers? Because when we work together, everyone is safer? The work is yet to be completed. And there’s still more to do other things that you are hopeful on, are there things that you think we should continue to push on?
Patrice Relerford 13:24
Ah, there’s a lot like, I’m pretty hopeful about the way we have showed up in the criminal justice space. And the fact that we’re willing to be in conversations that are messier have the potential for to be controversial. I’m pretty excited about the way in which we’ve involved community members in grantmaking, and also even people who work on staff with us. We have an advisory committee for the fund for safe communities, which is made up of younger people, I don’t know if they consider 30 young I do but 30 and under younger people who have advised you and our fellow Brandon Williams, on some investments we made last year during the trial. So, I’m pretty excited about community-influenced and community-led grantmaking and also just having groups of people that we rely on for advice about okay, this is our strategy, but how can we continue to evolve those strategies. So just for the listeners, um, last year, during the trial of Chauvin, during this round before it, we did micro grants for groups that were working on community healing, violence prevention, and it was very well received. And it felt great to work with this group of younger people and have them review grants with our staff and help and help to make those funding decisions and did it pretty quickly. And distributed over a quarter of a million dollars last year. Um, is there I don’t know if you want to maybe just say more about the value of having the community involved with like grantmaking at that level? And then also informing our strategy? Because I think that’s a concrete way in which we shifted on your leadership?
Chanda Smith Baker 15:20
Yeah, I mean, first, it just, I don’t know, I’m smiling. I don’t know if people can hear my smile. But you know, whether or not it’s, you know, me now using new technology or like doing more work on my cell phone, because they’re, you know, the way that they use technology is just different. So, I feel like I always grow in that respect. It’s always interesting to sort of get the push back, which I love, because it just really speaks to me on how we set the table and how trusted it is. Because I don’t think one of them on that advisor has any problem telling me where they think we should be funding, or why we shouldn’t fund something, why we should give them more or to say, Hey, I know we landed here, but I think we need to revisit it. Let’s bring this group in. I don’t know if you landed in the right place on this. And it’s exactly what it should be is. Yeah, yes I’m in the role. I’m not the only expert like you are valuable, I expect for you to contribute in an honest way, because we all care about making our community more safe. And so, they do that. And so, I think the risk of if risk, right air, quote, risk of bringing community into a process is that you got to be prepared for community be in a process. So, if you are a taskmaster and you want to get get it all done, and you want the agenda to flow in the way that you laid it out, in a timely manner, you know what the time allocations on the agenda, like it will be challenging? Because you get into a meeting and it’s like, you think you’re gonna go one way? And they’re like, yeah, so no. And I thrive in those and so no, or, you know, yes. And, or did you even consider conversations that I have, because that’s where we learn. That’s where we grow. And even though our team is very reflective of community, it doesn’t mean that me, you know, African American woman living on the north side has the same experience of a 20-year-old African American male living in the north side, or the south side, or the places that they represent. So, I love having I need my blindsides covered. And that’s why I appreciate it. And of course, I’ve mentioned the brilliance that exists in community. And I believe it’s there. And we just benefit from bringing it to the table when we make decisions.
Patrice Relerford 17:51
Definitely. And I would encourage the listeners, we have a video about the Fund for safe communities on our website that I would encourage people to check out and when she can see and hear the stories of some of the young people that she’s referring to from this committee that we’ve been working with.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:08
You know, I mean, I just have to say like, it has not been easy.
Patrice Relerford 18:12
No, it’s not been easy. I am more of like taskmaster type. So, it has been like, you know, just like, Okay, you have to slow down, engage more, and but also still move pretty quickly. I think one of the big things that’s changed under your leadership is like, we do more grant rounds, and we do them pretty quickly. I mean, we were a place where it might take like, four months to get an answer about a grant for grant round. And we’ve really sped that up and done grants as quickly as like four to six weeks where we’re pushing the money out. And I also think just having more of a trusting relationship with the groups we found even to the extent where and this sort of made me like a little crazy, like working with groups that have a fiscal sponsor, or even in some cases don’t have a fiscal sponsor. So, I do really think there’s been some innovation in how we work with grantees that has been really exciting for me.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:13
Yeah, and let me just clarify too, like the 4 to 6 weeks is for an actual grant round. And then we have moments that were reacting to like the Drake fire or like even some of the pandemic stuff where I remember Drake fire we had like a check out the door by noon the next day like the fire happened like Christmas night. We had a check out the door and Jo-Anne drove it to the grand to buy the next day at noon like that would have been unheard of. And I think that for us it was been a matter of reorienting our work to the end users convenience not ours, that we have the we need to have the nimbleness to respond when the community needs us. We are imperfect. And there are things that we can do better and we seek that feedback. But there are moments where I’m like, man, you know, a year ago, we would not have been able to get that check out and delivered, or we would not have been able to get this grant round going in two weeks, because we’re responding to a pandemic. And, you know, in a remote environment, like, I mean, we’ve really done some pretty miraculous things, I think, are they feel miraculous, they’re probably things that people have been waiting us to do for a long time. But it felt it felt pretty mighty to me based on where we were, and some of the resistance that we’ve now overcome. And, and we we do it on a regular basis now.
Patrice Relerford 20:37
Yeah. And just the involvement from people across the foundation, under your leadership, as a person who was here before, and just like breaking down some of those internal silos that then allowed us to be more in user focus. I definitely credit your leadership and R.T.’s leadership with that.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:55
I appreciate that. Yeah, it’s just it’s all about the team working and being clear on why we’re in the work I love. I love the work because there’s so many tangible things that you can see that has changed, and then coming in contact again, with really great ideas and community. And, again, the value of a community foundation is you have an opportunity to invite many people into different doors, if you will, and I get I get a great deal of satisfaction out of that.
Patrice Relerford 21:30
Well, you’ve definitely created multiple doors and multiple types of groups have been able to walk through them since you joined the foundation. So yeah, I think it’s been fun and fast paced.
Chanda Smith Baker
Yeah, I’m usually like, if it’s too much like Uncle if not, let’s keep moving.
Well, it’s just felt like for the community. We can’t say uncle. Things just have shifted so quickly, in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, especially, like I’ve lived in this community for over 15 years and never have like, like, I would say, yeah, before the past few years, and a lot of people would still asked me like, Okay, what state is that in?
Chanda Smith Baker 22:09
Minneapolis, Minneapolis (jokingly mispronouncing).
Patrice Relerford 22:11
You say it the wrong way of this, like, no, that’s not how you say, Minneapolis. So, I just really think like the pace of change and community has required us to think differently, move at a different pace when needed. I think it’s essentially like things were put into place allowed us to be able to respond when things started happening, starting with the Drake fire, then with the unrest. So yeah, what surprised you when you transitioned into philanthropy, and join the Minneapolis Foundation in 2017?
Chanda Smith Baker 22:45
Yeah, you know that I had a lot of surprises. But I describe sort of that first year as being really unsettling for me, because I had been on the other side of raising money and working with philanthropy very differently. And so, there were a lot of assumptions that I had made good, better or indifferent, in some cases, the thoughtfulness of decisions that really surprised me. And the way and how connected the team at the Minneapolis Foundation was with community. in other instances, I was surprised that there wasn’t a deeper connection. So there was like, some of my assumptions were busted. And then there were also some really great surprises. My hardest transition coming was actually going from being a CEO to not being a CEO, getting reoriented from that way. Like I was surprised that I struggled with that as much as I did.
Patrice Relerford 23:38
What in particular about that transition back to the other layer of management, like would you like highlight as being really surprising?
Chanda Smith Baker 23:45
There’s a whole lot of unspoken rules about how a place functions that when you’re in top leadership, you don’t always know or see. And so, there was just a lot of reflections on that. For me, in terms of my previous role, I see myself as an organizational leader, so it was definitely reorienting, to have, you know, to sort of be in a different role of having a CEO and coming back. I mean, everything about being in the role I opted into, and I was very clear on there were people that I knew for years that would, you know, call R.T. up instead of me. And I’m like, man, they used to call me up, but I guess I used to be in charge. So that sort of surprised me. And then I think the amount of meetings that we have was surprising.
Patrice Relerford 24:31
As in more than you were used to or less?
Chanda Smith Baker
No, like, way more.
Oh, wow. Internal and external? That was surprising.
Chanda Smith Baker
Okay. You’ve had quite a few guests on the podcast really talked about the state of philanthropy where they think it needs to go. I’d like to hear a little bit like after reflecting with those leaders, what are your thoughts on sort of like how the sector can improve and what we need to do next and especially from the perspective of a community foundation.
Chanda Smith Baker 25:00
Yeah, I mean, one of the reasons why I feel like the Minneapolis Foundation is such a perfect and unique fit for me is because I come out of a multi-program multi-service organization. And so I really appreciate sort of the dynamic, the responsive nature, that philanthropy can be. And I feel strongly that community foundations are in the best position to do so where I think the field is going for those that are paying attention is to be more inclusive in their grantmaking to think differently about how equity is built into how they do their work, who they fund, and how they think about issues, the way that philanthropy worked. For instance, when I started at Pillsbury United communities in 2000, right, the way that I interacted with it, or the way that I responded to it was they were the authority. And then they gave us money, because they research these issues. And then they wrote these grants, we reply to them, because they knew best kind of thing. Like, there was very much this positioning of power. And who sort of understood the issue better, right? Like, that’s a very simplistic way of me describing it, to where now I’m seeing way more practice of listening and embedding the perspectives, the expertise of people that have lived experience that have direct experience, and have proximity with the issues that are happening in community,
Patrice Relerford 26:29
I definitely would agree with you about the uniqueness and the role that community foundations can play. The approach, though, that we’re moving into, some people would describe it as being just like, it’s not as clean. It’s, it’s a little bit messier. And there is like, there’s varying levels of like comfort with that. What would you say to the people who are a little less comfortable with this direction? And the way philanthropy is moving to be more responsive to community and involve community?
Chanda Smith Baker 26:57
I think the question is, who is the audience that you are centering, at Pillsbury as part of the strategy that I lead under, and something that I fundamentally believe is that poverty, racism, and challenges in our community are complex, sometimes you need solutions that match the complexity, you know, a simple solution doesn’t always work for a complex issue, that there are ways of maybe summarizing it in a way that could be simplified, but working with families that have had multi-generational challenges related to race, access, economic ability to sort of move forward is not something that you can resolve simply, and it’s multi-dimensional. So, I think that it depends on the audience. I think that there are places in philanthropy and there’s places in programming where it makes a lot of sense to have sort of a straightforward, here’s an, you know, an A through Z process. And here’s the funding, they get you right through this pipeline in it, and it works smoothly. But we know for a lot of people life is just not smooth, it’s up and down. It’s been up and down for me. And it’s been up and down for a lot of people that I’ve even been in relationship with. And so, I think we need solutions to meet people where they are and how they receive help and and also how they can contribute. And I think that’s where philanthropy is going. Certainly, the way that we approach it is that we’re working with, we’re working in partnership that, you know, regardless of one station, we believe that they have something to contribute to solutions.
Patrice Relerford 28:26
That complexity has been so in here with a lot of the guests you’ve had on the podcast, and that view of coming at things from a lens of asset base rather than deficit-based, and you’ve had such heavy hitters on the podcast, too, but also those unexpected voices. This podcast has had guests ranging from Van Jones to Doctor Chief Brackney from Charlottesville, just an impressive mix of people. So as a person who’s got an interview such an eclectic group who surprised you in terms of maybe like changing how you view something or shifting your perspective, and what was that like?
Chanda Smith Baker 29:05
Yeah, I mean, I’ve had moments, right. So, Van Jones, by the way, it was the first interview I did on the podcast. So, you know, like, I got my nerves out real super-fast. And I did it at the conference room at the foundation, you know, and I had my glass of coffee, and I was super nervous. And at one point, he just took the cup out of my hand.
The coffee cup, he just took it?
Chanda Smith Baker
Out of my hand in the middle of one of my responses because I think I must have kept hitting the table with it or something. I really respected sort of the fact that he knew that this was my first podcast, and that even while he was doing the interview, he was softly coaching me. After we stopped recording, he said something that I reflect on a lot. He shares this piece in the podcast, but he talks about being locked out of the White House and just having a really hard Moment, Prince was one of the first calls that he had that basically was like, What? What are you going to do next? Right? Like, whatever you’re gonna do next, I’m willing to help you. But what you’re not going to do is sort of sit and mope around, right? Like, that’s the summary, you can go listen to the podcast, going, wow. But after the mic sort of went off, I’m like, you know, what, what is some good advice, and he said, you know, manage your ego, manage your ego, and nurture your spirit is sort of the summary, right? Like, you need a healthy dose of ego, to push you into territory, that you may not go without feeling like I can do it, I’m capable. But if it’s out of control, you have the potential of abusing power or reducing the power of others, you know, that you should have a community of people around you that nurture your spirit, that they’re committed to your success, that they have navigated some of the waters that you’ve navigated, you have a practice of pouring into them, and then pouring into you, so that when you hit those moments, you have you can hit them and safety. And I’ve always sort of remembered that particular moment, which was way more personal to me and around my leadership, as was talking with Ron Heifetz, who, you know, I talk about that book all the time, leadership on the line, I believe this was not long after George Floyd and everything that we were going through here and in community and some dynamics that were playing out in lots of spaces that I was in talking about people of color, or people being tokenized. And he basically said, the root of that is to teach. And if you understand your role and accept it as creating spaces for people to widen their points of view, and to be able to be in community differently, because you are teaching, then you control that narrative, and you will not be tokenized, more or less, right, like so it was in this incredible moment of a lot of people sort of talking about the weight of being the teacher, the weight, and the practices of tokenism, particularly in our sector. And he just, he talked about it in a way that just sort of gave me pause, I think he might have framed it in a new way for me.
Patrice Relerford 32:12
Wow. That sort of brings me into my next question, when you reflect on your personal life, your career, what are the assumptions people have made about you? And then like, how do you? I’m just telling everybody, I’ve known her for five years now, this woman is unexpected. What are the assumptions people made about you? And sort of have you managed those assumptions, and then like, work to push back against them? When they weren’t, like helpful?
Chanda Smith Baker 32:41
I think you knew me more than five years ago, you were a program officer to Pillsbury United. I mean, I didn’t know you know, you, but I knew you.
Patrice Relerford 32:48
Yeah. So we’ve known each other longer. But I feel like over the past five years, we’ve gotten closer. So, I sort of like that’s part A and part B. There’s before Chanda, and there’s after Chanda. So, the BC stuff was great, but AC has been like incredible.
Chanda Smith Baker 33:04
Okay, so here’s the thing, so I think I will answer it. And then I think I’m gonna flip it back to ask you what might have been some assumptions you had about me that were disrupted. What I would say is, I was a pretty quiet reserved, shy kid was fairly introverted, not not as social, not a social introvert. Like I’m a social introvert now, right? Like, I’m, you know, I’m pretty social. It took a lot for me to sort of push and be more relational. And I still wrestle with that some. And as a result of that, I don’t think that people always thought I was open, accessible or friendly. And so, I’ve had to deal with that a lot and find ways to be that more. I can see you laughing.
Patrice Relerford 33:55
I’m laughing because we both like we’re both more like analytical, like thinking types. And a lot of times as women, if you’re not, like always helping people to manage their emotions about you, so I just had to chuckle with that. Because you can be seen as unfriendly when it’s really like, not unfriendly. I’m just not helping you to manage your emotions all the time. But as you can see our feelings about that. So we’re gonna move on.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:21
I think it’s that I mean, I think it depends on different stations. I think that I can be more reserved. I think people have underestimated me in terms of what I can bring to the table. I think that when I’ve reached out to people, I think that because I am busy. I have a lot on my plate. The assumption is that maybe sometimes I’m not paying attention to things and I think I surprise people when I’m like, I noticed you were doing this. I’d love to figure out how to support you. And I love those types of surprises. I love surprising people in that way. But I don’t know what you think? You had probably an opinion before I got here.
Patrice Relerford 34:57
We both were in direct service before we claim on more so indirect SAR was you especially really embedded in community, I thought you might struggle with in terms of being in philanthropy being a bit more removed from the direct work. I mean, I mean, Chanda lead the process and the the grocery store that Pillsbury united community started very like concrete. This is the contribution that the organization you lead made to the Northside community and other communities in South Minneapolis. So, I thought he would struggle with that. But my prediction was wrong. Again, I’m always happy to make predictions and be wrong about them. So, I thought you would struggle with that. But I don’t know, do you want to sort of reflect on that? And then the other thing too, before you reflect the up-close view that we get to have a community foundation of wealth, and like privilege, and just how close and especially as me as a person from a low lower wealth background. From, I would say, middle income, the lower wealth background, just like, I thought you might struggle with that. But I don’t think you have and just I don’t know, would you want to reflect on that a little bit?
Chanda Smith Baker 36:58
I’m not necessarily a title person. I’m all about making an impact. Well, I was surprised when I came in, or how many people asked me about, like, some people thought, like, why would you go from being a CEO to not a CEO, or like you taking a step back? And then other people are like, Wow, that’s great. You’re taking on a bigger role. So how people see title was very interesting in that particular transition. What I would say about that, though, is that in my role, whether or not I was directing a center or a project, being the CEO of Pillsbury United Communities or being in the role I’m at the Minneapolis Foundation, I always felt like my role was to create the conditions for others to be successful. That it’s always been sort of an enabling role of like, how can I help with this particular issue or challenge? Or how can I help push this forward. And so, coming here, it feels like it’s the same thing. Like while I was at Pillsbury United, it was still people in community and others that were really driving a lot of the ideas, the work and some of the execution, but I got to be in a role of pulling the strategy and the ideas and convening the people together. It’s not that different in this role. And I think I still have an opportunity with my, you know, free time air quotes. As part of my leadership, my role in how I lead is beyond the place I work at. So, there’s still places that I can give my time and talent and treasure, as they say to, that keeps me in proximity to community, I think in terms of being around wealth and privilege, and foundations, I think it was, again, to that first question of, there were times where I was just surprised and how easy it was to move a lot of money. And sometimes how challenging it is to move a little bit of money. And sometimes it’s very dependent on who the audience is. Sometimes it’s dependent on who the donor is. But you get to see a lot of difference-making and how resources are deployed, not just at the Minneapolis Foundation. And our work is largely been on making that less often the case you get to see it in the field. And I think that if the field continues to examine, where are the assumptions at where do we assume trust? And where do we need trust to be proven? How have we defined leadership? And whose standards has it been based on right, who do we see as the expert? I think there’s a series of questions and things that shape, how we run process, how we make decisions, and who we see are valuable and worth investment in. And I think that if philanthropy continues to attack those questions, we will be more inclusive and be driving more towards equitable outcomes and justice.
Patrice Relerford 39:58
A lot of that makes me think about empathy, and how we can like as people who have access and proximity to wealth and privilege, and then also just the reflection in terms of empathy, and who just who we value and the grief that’s been present in the Twin Cities for the past two-plus years. When you think about your own like journey in your own life, what types of things have helped to in terms of like dealing with grief, having empathy for other people during their grief that you might want to share with the listeners?
Chanda Smith Baker 40:34
Yeah, I had a moment over Martin Luther King weekend and I spoke at St. Joan of Ark Church, and they wanted me to share a piece of my story. And so in reflection, I thought about the richly diverse neighborhood that I grew up in, in North Minneapolis, a white man in a wheelchair, Paul, who was wheelchair-bound because of polio, when he was a child who married a Thai woman who came from Thailand, they opened up the King and I, her sister, Supenn opened Sawatdee, we had a Native American family, a white family, like we just had, you know, really my best friends growing up their parents were white liberals and adopted kids from Alaska, you know, other backgrounds that came in. And then they had a biological daughter named Beth and I also grew up in North Minneapolis, right? So, went to North High School, what I realized and what I’m getting to is that I was never shielded from life, right? So, like something you could actually catch something and end up in a wheelchair, you could actually love a country and be like, no longer there because of whatever the circumstances are war, or poverty or opportunity, or whatever these circumstances were right. Like, wait, you can grow up on a reservation, why are you on a reservation? Like these were questions that I was interacting with as a child from being very young, and meeting people from different walks of life. I remember when the Ryan’s the dad died in a car wreck when I was a kid. Well, I played at their house all the time. And now he died, right, like life and death and these experiences. And what I shared at that church was like, I grew up in 3d. I grew up in a dimensional world where everyone actually did not look like me. And I was always sort of in the midst of some level of diversity or diverse experience, which included at times tragedy that my parents didn’t shield me from. So I have more of a muscle of dealing with grief than a lot of people do, because I wasn’t shielded from it. And I’ve experienced it. My uncle Richard Green, he died my senior year, my last month of high school from an asthma attack. He was the first African American superintendent of schools, he was important in my life important in our family, in this community and in New York. And it was very public. I really struggled with that. Four years later, his son was murdered. very public, right. The first year I was CEO of Pillsbury United communities. My first week, my cousin Chris was murdered. So, I’ve always sort of been in the middle, or I’ve always had life show up. It’s no more dramatic than anyone else. I was equipped with coping abilities. I just never felt like things couldn’t happen. Right? I was raised in church, it was like, this is why this church, this is why you have faith. This is why you don’t sort of rest on your own understanding. So, I say that to say that it’s not that it wasn’t hard. But I also recognize that there are people that don’t experience grief until they get older, there’s people that don’t experience diverse situations, or have access to people that aren’t like them, for whatever reason. And so, when you confront these things, as an adult, I think it’s probably more unsettling than my experience of confronting them throughout my entire life.
Patrice Relerford 43:54
Wow. A lot of that goes to network. Also, definitely back to empathy, not leaning on your own understanding, like or just on your own understanding, that’s really powerful. When you think about the podcast and the future direction of it, where do you want to go to sort of just keep broadening people’s understanding, as you do this work? And maybe like, who’s your dream guests or type of guest for the podcast moving forward?
Chanda Smith Baker 44:21
Yeah. I mean, so there’s a lot of questions in that. I mean, I think, you know, this year, we hope to bring in more conversations around art and culture and environmental conversations, because it aligns nicely with the work that we’re doing at the Minneapolis Foundation. I want to continue to talk about race and diversity of experience and humanizing issues that we’re struggling with in our communities. I’d love to add sort of more reflections at the end of the each podcast to talk more about why that guest why that issue. Because if you know me, I’m a little bit organic. It’s like I’ll talk to one guest and I’m like, oh gosh, that’s great. Now I want to talk to this other person, though I’m a little bit organic and a plan for way. But I’d like to be able to have the conversations flow in a way that feels natural for me, because I get so much from them. It’s sort of my built-in way to continue to learn and to expand my own point of views get guidance for how we do our work here at the Minneapolis Foundation. So, for ideal guests, I have lots of them.
Patrice Relerford 45:26
Okay, you don’t have to give up. At this point. One of your guests said something about this. I think it was Dr. Brackney, Dr. Chief Brackney, from Charlottesville, that women often don’t put ourselves forward, even when we’re like, can check all the boxes have all the qualifications. Sounds like you, you definitely have like, work to build yourself up to not do that. Let some advice you give to women about that.
Chanda Smith Baker 45:55
I mean, give up perfection. Just take that off your list, like you’re going to be imperfect in every space you show up in and I think it’s this, the search of being perfect will keep you in a constant sort of cycle of I’m not enough, I’m not doing enough for my job, my kids, my relationship, my whatever, you kind of have to give that up to be like, I’m gonna do my very best today. And it might have been less than yesterday, it might have been more than yesterday. But you got all I got today. And I’ve really learned how to do that. I also think asking for help. And I think it’s both women. And I think you see people that have more means do it, where I think women and sometimes people that are less resourceful like they have to do it themselves to prove something you don’t like, it’s all about asking for help. It’s all about leveraging your network. And for me, some of my life circumstances have been more obvious or public. And so, there was a vulnerability around it that felt uncomfortable at first. And now I don’t know any other way to lead, but to just be like, this is who I am, and all of its imperfection. And I’m just doing the best I can every single day, that’s all I have is to give up the idea of it. Life is fun and hard. Both things can be true when the same hour in the same moment in the same day. The other question is, you know, how do you get it all done? First, I love what I do. So I probably pack more in because there’s not a lot of separation from who I am and what I do and how I do it. So I recognize that I don’t have I do this during the day and this at night, like this is who I am, I love giving back and being from community. And that’s just sort of how I operate. I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader. I whip through books as a kid, I do it. Now that’s not something I’m adding to my plate. It’s something I’ve always I’m bringing through what I’ve done since I was young, I tell people that have you know, one kid, they should have had five because the other kids pitch in. So, I don’t do that. I don’t do all the kids by myself, either. I’m sort of joking. But like, you know, the kids, like in my house, for instance, I’m like, hey, we’re household and everyone contributes. So, if you want clean clothes, you should wash them, right? Like I don’t feel responsible for taking on everyone’s task. And I think sometimes as women or as people in leadership, you feel obligated to take on all the tasks, and everyone can contribute to getting work done, whether or not it’s in work or in community or in your home. And so, people pitch in and we figure out how to make it work. And sometimes it falls short. And I think being able to identify that it fell short. And then you can get up the next day and make a difference, I think is how I was raised which I don’t get ruffled when things don’t work out. Because sometimes things aren’t supposed to work
Patrice Relerford 48:41
A lot of resilience through that response. Or just like how do you build resilience within yourself. What’s it been like to have this podcast which is titled conversations with Chanda and you are Chanda. What’s it been like to tackle some of these issues?
Chanda Smith Baker 48:59
I think for how I lead I always need a place to sort of be creative. So, it’s been satisfying for me in that way. From my personal career perspective. I’m a learner in orientation. So, it’s allowed for me to do that. It also has allowed me to channel some of my questions, frustration, fears, into the conversations, being able to in a moment like where our community went out to George Floyd. I don’t know I’ve mentioned this quote before Zora Neale Hurston, where there’s a quote that said, some years bring questions and some years bring answers. It was kind of a year of a lot of questions. And being able to ask them other people and see where they are coming, having conversations with Eddie Glaude. And him like communicating something that I felt in here he is a black man living on the other side of the country, you know, and being like I resonated with that, like that. affirming. Ron Heifetz again, white guy, you know, teaching at Harvard and he says something and I’m like, I get that I feel that at a time where you know, racially we’re very divided. And I’m like, resonating with what he’s saying. And, you know, that’s what I love about the conversations or when people call and say, man, I’ve been in a lot of conversations about race. But when I listened to yours with Dr. D’Angelo, like, I got it. I got it; I see what I can do differently. Or, man, I listened to this. And I sent it out to my entire leadership team. And now they’re listening to one and discussing it, would you mind sending me some questions for that? Like, that’s the daily difference that we make. And so, when people are like, What difference does you know, listening to a podcast, like I get to see the difference that these conversations are making on individual understanding, and sometimes group dynamics. But I certainly have felt it personally, for me in terms of my own evolution on issues, my understanding what’s happening on different parts of our country. I don’t know just being able to stay connected to the people. As we’re trying to make progress, we’re talking about people doing better. We’re not just trying to change numbers and eliminate things, we’re actually talking about people and their experiences. And I think keeping that front and center has been pretty special for me. I don’t just bring guests on the podcast that I agree with. I have guests on the podcast that I’m honestly some days, like, I don’t know what they’re gonna say. And I don’t know if they say something who it might make mad. So, there’s a level of risks that I have in this podcast. So Christian Picciolini, was one of them, for me, who was a former White supremacist, and I really paused and having that conversation, because how do I be in conversation? Who was someone who formerly hated someone who looked like me? And how do you formally hate someone? Like, I mean, like, there’s a lot of trust that I have to even have to go on and establish synergy. And he still tattooed it up, and he’s got all this stuff. And like, what do you ask a former White supremacist like, I mean, it was an emotional piece for me, or, you know, or Decolonizing Wealth where Edgar and his book essentially equates brown and black people working in philanthropy as, like in slave talk, you weren’t on the field, you were in the house in like you, you become more accommodating. Like, there were like, analogies that were in that book that were very unsettling for me. Right. And so like, while I believe we need to do some work, it’s not like I don’t principally believe with, like everything. So, it’s disrupting my own thinking. But I think what’s important is not just me, but the foundation and its leadership have been willing to create the space for me to go in conversations, that I have no idea sometimes where it’s gonna go to, and that there are conversations that I’m in that are personal disruption. And that could be disruptive to the work that I’m leading. And there’s a level of vulnerability in that. And I just want to say that because I do want people to know, like, I’m not just picking people I like, like, I would say, a lot of the guests I have I’ve never met, or I ended up in this round the way and then I get into a deeper conversation, the longest conversation perhaps, that I’ve had with them. And, and there’s times in my head where I’m like, man, I don’t know about that. You know, and I might ask the question, but this is not me just talking with people that are reaffirming our direction at the Minneapolis Foundation or cosigning whatever my beliefs are. And that’s what I think the beauty of it is. And I think that’s what we’re trying to communicate as a strategy at the Minneapolis Foundation is actually being with people you don’t know in conversations that you haven’t had on issues that you’re less familiar with is how we begin to make a difference in our community.
Patrice Relerford 54:13
That’s great. You’re very well-read. And you remind me that I used to read more because you read so much. What do you read now? What’s on your nightstand?
Chanda Smith Baker 54:22
That’s a good question. So, one, I have not been as disciplined and this COVID reality, it’s actually thrown me off. Like I realized the routine of reading is one of those anchors in my life that allow for my steadiness and I need to embed it more. I do want to read the Sum of Us I’ve started it I have not finished it. Heather McGee.
Patrice Relerford 54:45
That was long-listed for the National Book Award. Right. Right. And it’s definitely I think it’s a book a New York Times bestseller. That’s great. Yeah.
Chanda Smith Baker 54:53
I’m really interested in bringing that book. I can’t think of anything else right now. That’s sort of on my read list. Part of what I struggled with is Should I be reading everything that’s serious and work-related all the time? Or do I need to mix it up a little bit? So, I don’t know, I’d have to think a little bit more about that. But that book is definitely on my list. I was gifted that book and started it and I need to get back to it.
Patrice Relerford 55:12
I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I think like the podcast, the work you’ve done at the foundation, it’s been really wide-ranging, and I mean, I’ll just like, be honest, when the idea of the podcast came up was one of those things where I scratched my head, but it was sort of like watching a really good movie, or good boxing match, or for the first like third of it, you know, you’re just like, what’s happening here? What’s happening here? And it gets into the second third, you’re like, oh, this is good. This is good. Like, not like the guests were good from the start, obviously, Van Jones, but just the point of it in the connections. I mean, again, we’ve had guests ranging from Robin D’Angelo, Van Jones, Keith Ellison, just been a great mix. I really enjoyed this opportunity to talk with you. Thank You.
And that’s Patrice Relerford and Chanda Smith Baker. If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcast. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, and Darlynn Benjamin. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening.Close Transcript -
Patrice joined the Minneapolis Foundation in 2015 as a policy associate and Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow. She was promoted to lead the Foundation’s education grantmaking and strategy later that year. Patrice continues to guide the Foundation’s Reimagine Education strategy which focuses on advancing equity and closing opportunity gaps. However, she also guides our Collective Giving and related strategies (OneMPLS Fund, Giving Circles, etc.) to ensure local philanthropy is more inclusive and responsive.
Patrice worked for People Serving People homeless shelter in Minneapolis prior to joining the Foundation. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and began her career as a K-12 education reporter at the Star Tribune. Patrice also completed a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Patrice is a proud first-generation college graduate who credits her parents, brother, mentors, and public high school for her accomplishments.