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The Art of Philanthropy

A Conversation with Jen Ford Reedy

As president, Jen Ford Reedy helps the Bush Foundation invest in great ideas and the people who power them. Jen sat down with Chanda to talk about philanthropy’s role in transforming systems, the leadership challenges she encountered in 2020, and the art of philanthropic strategy.

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Souphak Kienitz  00:02 

So, you know, when you meet someone, and you’re an absolute awe of appreciation, you admire their presence, respect them, and appreciate the way they carry themselves. Well, for me, one of those people is Chanda. She truly executes what she speaks, and another to add to the list, and whom you’re about to meet, is Jen Ford Reedy, president of the Bush Foundation. Jen sat down with Chanda to talk about philanthropy’s role in transforming systems, leadership challenges she encountered, and the art of philanthropic strategy. There are many, many things to take away from this show, and I hope you enjoy it. 

Jen Ford Reedy  01:00 

So first, can I say how happy I am to be here? 

Chanda Smith Baker  01:03 

Of course, you can. 

Jen Ford Reedy  01:04 

Yeah, and one is like getting to have an hour that I’m going to get to chat with you, which I am so excited to do under any circumstances, so that’s a thrill. But then also, I just really, really admire what you’re doing with this podcast series. I listen, I get a lot out of them, and I feel really honored that you think I, maybe have something to contribute to this conversation. So I’m really, really happy to be here talking with you today. The story of how I got into philanthropy, I mean, they’re sort of like long story, short story, medium story, I’m not sure how much to spend on it. If we work backward, I guess, as opposed to, you know, starting from my birth, I would say that, you know, I, I’ve really looked for different ways to think about having an impact in the world, always, it’s been sort of a theme of my life and exploring different ways to think about impact, and I’ve always been really, really interested in cross sector work, and the idea that our toughest problems, really require bringing the best of what the private sector can do, bringing the power of government, bringing in what nonprofits can do, and coming at a problem from a number of different angles in a coordinated way, and so part of what was appealing to me about philanthropy is feeling like it’s actually a space. it’s a platform, to be able to engage on issues in a cross sector way and come at them creatively, and I had the opportunity in life to work in each of the three sectors, at least to some degree, and see the power of each of those sectors and also see the limitations, and so to me, philanthropy, offer that best opportunity to think strategically about how to bring different kinds of actors, different kinds of motivations, and in harness to come at problems and in new ways, and hopefully, you know, make progress on those things that have been the toughest for us to figure out how to address. 

Chanda Smith Baker  03:12 

Right? Do you see it as a creative space? 

Jen Ford Reedy  03:16 

Yes, yes, and I mean, it can be. It’s not always. So maybe I see it aspirationally. I believe in the power of creative philanthropy, I believe there’s lots of room for creativity in philanthropy, but I will say that part of what was appealing to me about working in the Bush Foundation, particularly, was actually believing that it was a platform for some creative problem solving, because I do think there are a lot of people probably working in philanthropy that don’t feel like they get to do anything creative, every day. So it’s not that that’s, you know, the common factor across all jobs. When you can get into a philanthropic space that does have that room for creativity, it’s just an extraordinarily flexible platform, I think, potentially to do creative work. 

Chanda Smith Baker  04:01 

Yeah, I think that’s what I appreciate the most, and thank you for your comments on the podcast, because what the podcast has done for me, personally, has been a vehicle for sort of my creativity and curiosity. It has been as much as a gift to me to learn from the people that are on here, even in the prep, but it just expands the way that I look at things in ways that have been so beneficial to the work that I’m leading at the Minneapolis Foundation, but one of the benefits that I did not anticipate were the number of people, largely women, in the sector that have reached out to me to say, I see this as such a creative outlet. I can’t figure out how to find a place where my voice is being heard and seen. I can’t find a way that I can contribute. I can’t figure out a way that I can help the foundation contribute but I want to add more of my essence into that work, which I feel is largely not being welcomed, and I get a lot of those phone calls. 

Jen Ford Reedy  05:11 

I can believe that. Yeah, I can believe that. I mean, I think there’s what’s possible within philanthropy, what’s possible within any particular institution and philanthropy and then what’s possible within any particular job within any particular institution that we’re in, and I think sometimes it can feel very confining, I think, frequently very confining. To me, there’s so much possibility and philanthropy, but that does not mean, you know, that we’re living up to that potential day to day for a lot of folks working in the field. 

Chanda Smith Baker  05:47 

Have you discovered or if you had to offer, because for some, sort of, the more creative your team is, the more you are controlling what happens on the front end, right, like you’re leaving the door, open the possibilities, which requires a different organizational culture, a leader who has, you know, some comfort with ambiguity, but I would, but some clarity on what you’re trying to accomplish? 

Jen Ford Reedy  06:18 

I think, yes, all that, and I think there’s also a, you know, when is it about the creativity of people within the foundation versus when is it about supporting creativity, outside the foundation, right? So, I got into philanthropy, because I loved the idea of this community problem solving, thinking about issues, how to come together, and solve a problem, and I believed I actually was good at doing that, and some, you know, gotten to do that, and some past roles and thought, oh, this is something that I like to do and, and get energy from doing and think that I do well, but I don’t do it, myself, anymore. In the same way. I mean, I think, my role, in particular with the foundation, but then our foundation’s role more broadly, when we’re doing our best work, we’re actually you know, it’s in our mission statement, we’re inspiring, and supporting, creative problem solving. So it’s, if we get into the idea that we’re always the one being creative and having the ideas, then I think we’re limited by our own thinking, and our own capacity, and I think that’s not likely to be the highest impact strategy, as a foundation that I think one of my mantras when I came into the Bush Foundation was do less enable more. Like, the more we get caught up into what are we doing, and how are we creating, and we do things and then sometimes we can have our heads down, be consumed by our own stuff and not be looking out to say, what are the most exciting things out there? How do we put energy support money, and other kinds of resources to either lift up or fuel? The most exciting things that are happening out there? that weren’t our idea? 

Chanda Smith Baker  08:07 

Yeah, I think that’s a fair point. I think, you know, one of the things that I will often say is that, you know, I feel like my role, right is to create the conditions for other people to be a support, so their ideas work, but it does mean that I have to suspend the way that I might approach something or think about something and some institutions are thinking about how to do that, but they’re working on their readiness. 

Jen Ford Reedy  08:35 

Yeah, I think about it sometimes as bold followership, right, like, how are we willing to take risks and take chances on other people’s ideas, that sometimes it can be comforting to have developed the whole thing yourself and you, you have seen all the process and you have confidence that you’re doing just the right thing, and just the right way, you know, you want it purple with yellow polka dots, and you can design it just that way versus, you know, something else that someone else has, you know, identified, that maybe isn’t exactly the color you would choose, maybe it’s a plaid or you know, but it actually has community buy in, and momentum and ownership, and that’s going to be a much greater chance of succeeding, then, you know, the perfect intervention that we’d have designed within the foundation and the hope that others will, will really buy into and support and make real. 

Chanda Smith Baker  09:31 

So there’s so many things. So I want to talk about 2020, what you learned all of that sort of thing, but in this vein of creating spaces for creativity, you also in boards, and we’ve talked about this in the past of boards that are very interested, or companies or whoever that really want to understand what is their ROIl, and we are out here trying to solve major community issues that have existed for centuries and it’s challenging sometimes to put the level of creativity and impact into a formula. What advice do you have to offer on that? 

Jen Ford Reedy  10:11 

I really agree with that observation. I think there’s a risk in philanthropy, when it can, you can get there a lot of different ways, but one way is getting there by saying, we want to be able to measure our impact. We want to be able to show our impact. We want to be able to have an issue, you know, an impact on this particular issue, and then you’re trying to line everything up to show your own impact, and I think there are examples in the history of philanthropy where that has worked pretty well, but it also, there are lots of examples where that has caused harm, and where that has been really ineffective, and I think about, sometimes I think about the field of philanthropy. I picture you know, that story of Babe Ruth coming up to the plate, and like, pointing his bat out to this part of outfield and then hitting the ball right there, and, I mean, the reason that’s a story that people who don’t even care about baseball, you know, people who, you know, are have been born decades after that know that story is because it was so outrageous that he was able to do that. He was able to point exactly where it’s going to hit and then hit a home run there. That’s what we’re trying to do in philanthropy all the time, say, okay, now, we are going to hit a home run right there on that issue, and the odds of doing that really aren’t great, and it’s, it’s interesting to me, because that’s such strong conventional wisdom within philanthropy, that the way to have an impact is focus, focus, focus, focus, get as narrow as possible, and then say, you want to have an impact right there? Well, that requires a lot of things to line up, right? So many things have to go right to be able to really have transformational change in an area, and I think there’s a lot of things that make sense that draw us to think that would be, have more impact by being more narrow, but we’re missing all those opportunities where other people are actually lining up, and there’s momentum, and there’s an opening. There’s something happening over here, it’s in right field, left field. I shouldn’t keep extending the baseball metaphor, because I won’t be able to, I won’t be able to stay with it, but that ability to stay open and see where is the possibility for change right now, and we want to go there, because we have the best chance of making a real difference, when there’s community momentum, when there’s a new idea that’s taking off when you know, like, if so we can be open and alert and a spotter really of opportunity, and developer and supporter of opportunity, I think we have a better chance of having transformative impact. Now the trick is back to your question about the board’s you can’t say up ahead, then our impact is going to be this, our impact is going to be that and that is unnerving, because you want to have a sense that, you know, we’re focused on a goal, and we have a sense of what we’re going to do, but I think that that mindset means we leave a lot and lot a lot of opportunity on the table, because we’re not open and conditioned to be spotting those opportunities, and then doing all we can to make good things happen when things are lining up. 

Chanda Smith Baker  13:15 

There’s so many phenomenal leaders, there are just bright stars coming into the fold every day, as community issues explode around us, you see the emergence of new leaders with fantastic ideas, and, you know, I often think about, you know, not just where’s the issues, but where are the leaders, and Bush has done such a great job of identifying and supporting leaders, and I’m curious on what you’ve learned about that? 

Jen Ford Reedy  13:49 

You know, when I came into this job, I actually thought, Oh, you know, Bush fellows, we’ve done that for a long time, we’re known for that, but it’s not that strategic and you can’t measure it, you know, but we’ll keep doing it because we’ve done it for forever, and, boy, have I changed how I go about that program, because I would got the job would be what going around the region, talking to people and over and over and over, people would come up to me as if they had a script and say, I was a Bush fellow, it completely changed what I thought was possible in my life, and hearing it maybe after, you know, the 312th time, was like, wait, what is this and realizing, okay. When we invested in this human being, and changed in some ways, their capacity to do work, and also their vision for what kind of change they could make. We had an impact on everything that happened, that person helped me cabin for the rest of their career, the rest of their lives, and to me, it was an aha on multiple levels. But one was, what if all of our philanthropy was like that? What if everything we did was actually about helping people think bigger and think differently about what’s possible, and about changing people’s capacity or institution’s capacity to do, not just this particular project that they have, but everything that they do, from there on out, and we’re a place based foundation like, like Minneapolis Foundation, right, we’re about a place, and what I’ve come to understand very deeply, is that the future of this place, is fundamentally defined by how big the people in it are dreaming. Right? We’re fundamentally limited by what people believe we can be, and what people are willing to work to be. So if what we care about is place, that’s what we should be most concerned about. I think and so even any of the grant making, we’re doing because we’re doing grant making, and of all different kinds, but always thinking about it as fundamentally an investment of people, and an investment toward a vision of what the region can be. 

Chanda Smith Baker  16:29 

I love that so much I, you know, I often tell this story to Maureen Bazinet Beck, who’s on our board, and I just adore Maureen, and she’s just been a huge supporter, and I came into connection with her when she supported North market.  

Jen Ford Reedy  16:44 

Which is very cool, and which we’re super proud that contributed to that super cool effort. Yeah, that is like epitomizes good creative community problem solving, by the way. 

Chanda Smith Baker  16:52 

Right? What I said to her, and I use this as an example of North market that, you know, grocery store that we opened them in the north side of Minneapolis. Well, how do you measure impact, well, you can look at it at population level health, you could look at it from an economic perspective and a building that hadn’t been developed for 10 years, you could look at the access to food for seniors, like there’s some different ways that you could look at it, but I’m like, one way you I really want you to see is like what it did for me. Right in terms of opening up the possibility of what was possible within that organization, within my own leadership, how it allowed for new leadership within the organization to we march through that project. There are so many things that that project gate and that investment from folks like, you know, Bush and Marine and others. Like To me, it was an investment in me. Yeah, right. Like, that’s how I read it write a belief that this wild idea about a nonprofit opening up this grocery store. It’s a wild idea. Right? the investment I always understood was more than the idea. 

Jen Ford Reedy  18:14 

And I mean, the only way change happens is through people. Right? So Pillsbury, as an institution never did anything. City of St. Paul doesn’t do anything. University of Minnesota doesn’t do anything. Right. The institutions aren’t doing something. There’s somebody within the city of St. Paul, that has an idea that talks to some other people about it. Or maybe the idea was outside the city of St. Paul, maybe they sell somebody within the cities in public. Somebody says, Oh, that’s an interesting idea, and then talks to some other people about it. What would that take? And then how do we enlist? You know, Billy to come on board to and how do we talk to one and he comes in or you know, like, that’s how change happens. There are people who have an idea or get excited an idea and then are willing to work it, you know, to make it happen, and one of the things that I love about doing work in rural communities, is that there you can always see it right there. You go in and you’re like, Oh, that’s amazing, this new park that you guys built, it’s great. Well, how did that happen? Well, Mary Jo thought of it, and then she talked about, you know, so you can really see it sometimes in the small towns, and we’re in our Metro context, kind of sometimes think institutions. Yeah, but it actually happens the same way, and so it is, you know, we need people thinking of their power that way, and we need people who know how to use that power that way to be able to make you know, the change that we all want to see happen. Let’s talk power for a moment. Last year, I don’t know, how did you do last year? Like, how did you do, before we talk about the work like, Oh, this could derail us. Both of us. How did you do? I know a little how you did. 

Chanda Smith Baker  20:00 

No, it was, so for me, it was one of the most challenging leadership moments that I hope I ever have. It was a moment where it was an isolated group of people in community in pain. Right? It wasn’t like the Drake fire where there were 170 people that were like in pain, that we could figure out how to get them settled, that we could solve some of the needs that they have, put in place, the things they lost, but we can certainly get them things that they need it. This created a level of pain in a community that I’m from, like both, like Minnesota community, the black community, the black mothers community like theirs, like the communities in which I belong, was in such deep pain, and the leaders of color, were just in turmoil, and it was incredibly complicated, and I think one of the things that I will appreciate the most that came out of last year was that in our isolation, and in our collective understanding of grief, deeper relationships were formed around supporting our wellness, in leadership, and I hope that I don’t forget to maintain that, because you never know when you’re going to need it. It was a reminder of all of the things, all of the isms, all of the fears, all of the barriers that are always lurking, that we’ve learned how to navigate, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not painful, it just, it was pain that wasn’t discussed. 

Jen Ford Reedy  22:00 

Yeah, no, and listeners can’t see me nodding like crazy as your, as your jockey. Yeah, no, that’s all begun, and real, and I think leadership in most institutions in the last year has been very, very difficult, in a lot of ways, and I look at leaders like, you know, our state officials or people who are running schools, you know, and there are a whole lot of leaders that I think, you know, my job is easy. Guess what they’re going through, and still, it was really hard. It was really hard, and it was hard, depending on, you know, how you were personally impacted by issues, whether that was COVID, or whether it was George Floyd’s murder. You know, it hits people in different ways, affects them personally, what other things happen in your community and your family, like there was a lot beyond just, you know, the hard decisions that leaders had to make the difficulty in, in maintaining culture. In organizations during this time, the difficulty of trying to support people in an incredibly difficult time in different ways for different employees, and for organizations like ours to also do the work like, you know, people needed us, and they needed us to stay in it at the same time, we needed to care for ourselves, and do in both those thing. Getting that right was really, I think, really hard. I feel, you know, a lot of leaders, you would be, you know, high on that list of leaders who I mean, Oh, my gosh, the number of ways you were showing up, leading, pushing, throughout the last year I saw, I mean, I’m sure I only saw a fraction of it, and I saw you everywhere. I mean, you were an example of one of those leaders who’s making the most of the moment, right, because when you have a moment of pain, when you have a moment of tragedy, when you have a moment of crisis, right, there’s opportunity in that, and I saw you working to make the most of that moment and the opportunities within it, and knowing at the same time, you know, you’re as pain and struggling with it, as everybody and I really, really admire. That what I’ve saw and you and I know and other leaders too, and I’m so grateful for it. So grateful. I’ve tried within the Bush Foundation, to think about the moment as an opportunity, you know, and how do we how do we in this context, make bush more of what we’ve always meant for it to be? So we ended up making some pretty dramatic strategy changes, you know, in the course of this last year, and I think some of it was I, when I’m thinking about strategy for Bush Foundation, one of the limits I have, at least in my head limiting me is that people get exasperated with foundations when they change. It’s very frustrating, you know, have a funder say, Okay, now we care about this, or now we’re gonna do this and, and we, we institutionally have a history of doing that, and, you know, across the foundation community in the Twin Cities, you know, we have foundations that adjust and people get frustrated with us, understandably, what I found last year is that each time we announce something like, Hey, we’re not going to do Bush prize this year, because we got to get the money out to relief efforts, or we’re going to cancel or adjust this and do this. If we were getting thank you notes back from people of saying thank you for really trying to do the thing that is most needed right now. It was really unusual to me and realizing, we were in a moment where people actually wanted us to change in a different way, in the same way we’re looking at all our institutions to change, it felt like an opening, where we could say, if we really want to be the institution, we need to be to make a bigger difference on challenges in our community related to race, related to poverty, related to other kinds of inequities in society, we have to focus in a different way, we have to work in a different way, and people were saying, Yes, do that, and so, it was. In some ways, a hard decision to do that much strategic change when we were already I mean, our institutional capacity was in some ways weaker than it usually is, because we have lots and lots of folks who, you know, have kids at home that they were working through, you know, homeschooling or home learning, virtual learning, and then we had a lot of people who were had mental health challenges people who, you know, lots of lots of ways in which, you know, our organizational capacity was diminished. And, and people were, you know, upset and depressed and, and all the things that were natural to be insane. We’re gonna, even as, even as that’s true, we’re gonna make change. We’re not, we’re not gonna just be business as usual, we’re gonna, we’re gonna shift gears. I wouldn’t say we totally shifted direction, because I think some of it was, we were already headed towards some of this direction, but it was saying we’re gonna we’re gonna go further faster, because it’s what the community needs us to be. 

Chanda Smith Baker  27:33 

Yeah. Can we talk race? Yeah, yeah. So, you know, you’re white leader. All of the things pandemic, who it’s impacting, and I’m clear that it’s impacted everybody, and then there’s sort of the economic impacts, and then the vulnerable lead, who were, you know, sort of the folks that didn’t have the option to work at home right now, with low income folks of color. So I don’t want to diminish other people’s sort of impact on the pandemic, because there’s so much grief and loss associated with that, and then George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, like allof those things. You can feel the pressure on our institutions and within our institutions from diverse leaders that exists within and from younger leaders, who are like, yo, do you see what they’re doing out there? Like, why are we here talking about like, the lines or whatever? Like, yeah, like, right, like, we need to, we need to move not only faster, we need to be doing XYZ, which might be different than how you see it, and I’m curious on were you challenged as a white white leader, and if so, how so, and, you know, what was that experience like for you? 

Jen Ford Reedy  28:55 

Yes. So we had already fortunately, been doing work with the Bush Foundation for a lot of years to have frank conversations about race and put priority on racial equity and be willing to name it and prioritize issues of racial equity as an institution. So it wasn’t a new conversation for us or new questions. It was it was much more of a are we real enough? Are we deep enough? Are we big enough? You know, and how we’re thinking about racial equity? I think, you know, we had strong reactions, I think to already to seeing how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting people of color, and more broadly, the most vulnerable in the region. So we had been having that conversation internally about amplifying efforts and then had George Floyd murdered, and so by the time we got to was really Our August board retreat, you know, the topic was what are we doing on racial equity now, and what more can we be doing and the response was strong and clear, like, we thought we were doing things to address racial equity, but we’re not even you know, we are not enough. The world is not enough, like everything that people are doing is not enough, we are not making a big enough difference. And we have to go deeper, bigger, more real, and that’s in our internal work as an organization, but also in our programmatic work. So, you know, a lot of the strategy changes that we’ve done in the last year are putting greater emphasis on racial equity, including, you know, at that August board meeting, or we decided to issue social impact bonds to be able to do more now. So we bonded for what was 10% of our assets at that point, and we got to get him out now, because if we don’t address issues of racial inequality, now, nothing we do, for the rest of the time that Bush Foundation exists, is going to have the kind of impact that we want, like, this is so fundamental, it’s got to be the focus, and we’re using those resources to take what we consider reparative action related to closing wealth gaps for native and black communities. 


Chanda Smith Baker  31:17 

Can you just share more about what that means? You took 10% of your assets, and did what like just, can you just describe what that means? 


Jen Ford Reedy  31:26 

Yeah, so we bonded where 10% our assets is $100 million. So we issued social impact bonds to have $100 million to be able to give that faster now, and that’s basically taking a loan out, right, this was basically taken out a loan, we pay it back 30 years from now. So it’s still our money, we’re still spending it now, but it’s a way of, kind of, financing that spending to be able to still be available for community as much as possible in the future. That’s always what we’re trying to think about. I mean, to us, there’s no difference between what’s Bush Foundation assets, and what’s the community’s assets, like Bush Foundation assets are the community’s assets. So we’re just trying to think, how are we stewarding these for the best interests of the community and we believe we should be spending more now. So that’s an extra 100 million dollars that we’re putting out on top of our regular payout that we’re continuing to do, and we actually went above, you know, that that payout, but with that 100 million dollars, we are doing something that we think of as smart strategy, but also as an acknowledgement and way of atoning for historic injustice related to race that is manifests today in in racial wealth gaps. So that money we’re not granting in the same way, we usually grant dollars, we consider that money to belong to the native community and black community in the region, and we’re just seeking and steward organizations to receive that from us, and then decide how to distribute that money to individuals in the black community and native communities to support wealth building activities, like buying a house or going to school, starting a business, and we want to be as supportive as those organizations want us to be, but also as hands off, as they as they want us to be insane. This is not like our normal grant making, and this is something that we consider a different kind of action, both in spirit and in process, sort of for how we’re, how we’re giving that that money, and at the same time, you know, our core grant making work. We’ve put greater emphasis on racial wealth gaps, and I’ve committed another $50 million, that’s just going through our regular grant making that is about that systems change work. You know, in all those different ways we need to change and work on anti racist strategies to change, whether it’s education system, whether it’s, you know, how banking works, whether it’s housing, all those different areas that play into the creation and perpetuation of racial wealth gaps. 

Chanda Smith Baker  34:10 

Do you think that our city is actually this is such a leading question? Like the way I’m asking it? 

Jen Ford Reedy  34:16 

I’m gonna guess yes, I’m gonna guess, yes. 

Chanda Smith Baker  34:20 

Do you actually think we’re in a period of racial reckoning? 

Jen Ford Reedy  34:24 

I do but to varying degrees, because we’re interested in this reparative work and we, I, myself, am interested in working to spread understanding of how history plays into racial wealth gaps of today and having that conversation and saying, what does that mean for where we are now? What does it mean for how we would go forward? I am really alert to and maybe particularly attuned to the efforts around the country that I see where I see institutions really reckoning so that doesn’t mean that everybody is across the country, but you know, like I look at what Georgetown is doing when they’re really, really reckoning with their history, and for them, it’s like, who are that particular individuals that were harmed, and how do we make amends for that, but I look at… 

Chanda Smith Baker  35:12 

But why, before you go, I was at Georgetown, the weekend or the week that they invited the family of the slaves, that buildings I was on the campus that weekend. I didn’t even run into them, and I felt sort of the presence and the energy, and the commitment of that institution. It was not it did not come across as an easy decision, did not come across as everyone was into that decision, but it had an impact on me that I don’t think that I will forget, right? Just the simple acknowledgement of how that building, the buildings were built, that there was an honoring of their family being seen meant a lot a lot to me, coming out there. But that’s a great example, and I just happened to be there that one weekend, I missed one event. 

Jen Ford Reedy  36:06 

That’s really cool that you got to see it because I think that, I hope it’s going to be something that inspires lots and lots of other actions, similar actions around the country. I think sometimes when we talk about reparations as a concept, or truth and reconciliation kind of work, it feels like that has to be big and federal and I think there is something that can only be big and federal, and I think, to me, there’s an opportunity to think about, okay, as an individual, what’s my own version of truth and reconciliation and reparative action as an institution for the Bush Foundation. What’s our version of thinking about reparative action and, and believing that every individual, every institution has an opportunity to have that reckoning and take action, do something that acknowledges, atones, make amends, in the way that you can now, it’s different for different kinds of institutions, like when things that’s kind of amazing about Georgetown is that they’re actually able to find those individuals, or descendants of those individuals who were harmed for the Bush Foundation, you know. We’ve had a diversified investment portfolio for decades and decades. So for us, it’s more a general a more general sense of, Okay, we have benefited from an economy that has exploited people and land, and we have been able to grow and thrive because of involuntary sacrifice of others. So what’s our moment now of sacrifice, that shows that we recognize that and shows it in a way that’s actually we hope gonna make a difference on changing the future, and creating different cycles of prosperity and opportunity in our region. 

Chanda Smith Baker  37:58 

Sure, I interrupted you because I want to tell my Georgetown. 

Jen Ford Reedy  38:02 

Yeah. But you know, I don’t think I didn’t answer part of your first question was like the particularly as a white leader, I didn’t say, I didn’t talk about that part, and I think that was part of the heart of your question. I think, and I think, you know, I’ve heard you talk different times about lanes, you know, sort of like what’s, what’s your lane, like? If we all have share this goal? We all want to get to the same endpoint? What’s, what’s your lane? And I think there’s sort of an understanding of based on who you are, based on what power you have, based on what skills you have based on what credibility you have, you know, What can your role be in, in advancing racial justice? And I think it’s different for everybody, right? People have different opportunities, but I do think that identity really matters in that like identity matters for your credibility, on some issues, and I have foundation leader friends who, you know, where we counsel each other irregularly be saying, well, you can do that, but I can’t do that, or I can do that, but you can’t do that. Right? You can do that because you’re a native man. Right? You can do that, because you’re a black woman, I could do that, because I’m a white woman or you know, like, understanding that it does matter in what, in to large degree and whether we are credible, or have the connections or can be legitimate or effective in different kinds of strategies, but that’s tactics, right? So I think you can all be into the same goal and all be working arm and arm towards something, but recognizing that your tactics are different based on you know, what you can do effectively, and for me, I’ve really gotten interested in the idea of your reparative work, and the really, really understanding generational nature of wealth, the generational nature of harm, and what it means for institutions and individuals to wrestle with that, and I feel like that’s an area where actually, as a white person, I actually have an opportunity to have a stronger voice there, then may actually be as easy for a leader of color to do, and so and you may disagree with that, you know, may think I’m not finding the right spot, but trying to find that place where it feels like, Oh, I think I can be credible and effective leading in this way. 

Chanda Smith Baker  40:30 

Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I think that the piece, I think is important is that there are different people that can lead different strategies and tactics, because that’s where they’re gifted, then there are different ways that leaders are heard based on their identities. Yeah. Right, and I think that’s, I think that’s sort of where a lot of the angst, if you will, of the black leaders that I was interfacing with, and that I do continue to interface with feel, right? is that recognition, and maybe it’s beyond, maybe it’s not even as I’m talking out loud, I don’t I think it’s been the angst of leaders that I’ve talked to on the limitations of where they actually have credibility, or where they might be minimized because of their identity. I talked to white leaders that feel the same way like, yeah, as a white leader, I don’t think I can go into this space, because you’re not gonna hear me, or I’m a black leader in this place and it’s, you know, my leadership is being minimized in this way. I think we’re all recognizing that actually, race does matter. It always has mattered in this intense moment. It is showing up and being challenged in a way that I think white leaders have not been used to, and I think leaders of color have been very used to navigating that space, and I do think that that’s a little bit of a different tension, I think the shore sort of pressure of last year, right, the urgency of everything all at once, I think created a different sort of cocktail. But yeah, I wouldn’t limit it actually, now that I’ve said it out loud. 

Jen Ford Reedy  42:11 

I think I mean, that answer has to be for white leaders to be willing and able to take on racial equity as a priority in their in their leadership and help to make change. I mean, I think we need all our leaders to be working toward that goal, but then I think there’s a humility, then that’s required to think, okay, what does it mean for me to be a leader on issues of racial equity, given my own background and experiences and I think. 

Chanda Smith Baker  42:43 

There’s a lot of people that are jumping into it, Jen, that don’t have the understanding of what it’s like, they’re jumping into solutions. So what work, what work is required, 

Jen Ford Reedy  42:54 

I don’t want to assume that my path is the path that everyone needs to take. But I would say from my experience, the work is deep and hard in understanding your own experience, your own bias, ease and what you bring to every opinion that you have, what you bring to every interaction that you have, you know, what is behind it, and then understanding how is that different for other people with other experiences, and then how do you understand what it means for you to need to adapt, to be able to truly work effectively across difference to be able to truly understand issues from different perspectives to be able to work together in partnership with people to develop solutions that actually work well, for everyone. You know, it’s personal work first, I think, and then institutional work, and you sort of keep kind of move out from that individual sphere, but I think it’s forever work. I think it’s, it’s not like, what you need to do is do this first and then you’ll be able to go out and credibly do this or effectively to this, it’s like, it should be like a continuous exercise in humility, to keep trying and, and being open to learning and seeing what you didn’t know about yourself, what you didn’t know about an issue, what you didn’t know about another person, and now what does that mean for how you adjust and and go forward differently based on knowing better, it’s that, you know, no better and do better philosophy. 

Chanda Smith Baker  44:39 

What I was also gonna say is that when I interrupted you, I appreciate hearing that and then when I interrupted you about Georgetown, I think you were going to give us a couple of other examples. 

Jen Ford Reedy  44:50 

You know, I have an example that I love that’s here in our region, which is, South Dakota State University, is a land grant university like lots and lots of our university and they did the work to say. Where did this land come from? How did we get this money? How did the government have this money to give to us and they did the research to understand where the land came from, which was native people, and they have dedicated the funding that they still get from the original land grant to supporting native students, and now at South Dakota State, native students have the same level of supports, as athletes, you know, in the community center and like affected is having is really big, like the degree to which the students feel supported and then are succeeding within the school is really remarkable. I think it’s a success on on actually, you know, those intended outcomes of better supporting native American students, but it also, to me, is like an amazing model of going back understanding how you got to where you are, and then making a really quite meaningful change, and so I would consider that also an action of reparative intent, reparative action. I love that example. 

Chanda Smith Baker  46:10 

Yeah, that’s a good one. 

Jen Ford Reedy  46:12 

And we’re starting to see cities do things, you know, that people cite, Evanston, a lot in and around the Chicago area, we’re starting to see people wrestle, I think sometimes people get a little freaked out at the national conversation, because you see estimates of, you know, what would it really mean to compensate descendants of slavery? It’s like trillions and trillions of dollars, right? So then you kind of think, we can’t do that. You shut down, like you get nervous about, like, how big is this, or what does it mean to do land back to native Americans, like other people have that land? Like, how would we do that? I think you’d get so people get locked up a little on sort of the scale of the injustice, right? is a scale of injustice means a scale of reparation? That is kind of mind boggling, and then the practicalities of how would that work? Or you know, so I think there are things that hold us back, because sometimes from that bigger conversation that we can practice, in cities, in institutions, and at the state level, like start building these reparative muscles, in some ways, and work toward maybe bigger solutions. 

Chanda Smith Baker  47:24 

Do you think that the understanding of the harm that was done, I mean, you know, even just recently talking about Black Wall Street, right, like, it is always been a challenge for me to listen to how disparities are spoken of? And because for me, it did not consider the historical harm. 

Jen Ford Reedy  47:44 

Yeah, I think that’s fundamental. It’s fundamental. So on our website to like, every time we’ve been out talking about our, our work with 100 million, we’re calling them reparative trust funds. But we try to talk through that history where we can and we have a sort of info sheet on our website, try to explain it, but you have to understand a few concepts or you have to understand that well, particularly, in this case, but also just generally Harmon effects at generational, right? So how, you know, someone being disadvantaged 200 years ago can make a difference on what happens today, right? That’s a concept that people have to get, then you have to understand the way in which we’ve had race based policies and practices in the past that, you know, did dramatic harm and create a dramatic disadvantage, you know, we get figures on, you know, just pick any one of the acts that were taking land away from Native Americans, and what did that do to community wealth within the native community? And think about, you know, what does it mean to have centuries of slavery, where you’re breaking up families, where you’re not allowing people to get an education, or you’re not paying people for their labor, like, you know, those are the fundamental building blocks of wealth and creating power and in our society, and then, and then you layer on top of that, centuries of policies that we really lift up sometimes as those great wealth building opportunities that we had, right, like the Homestead Act, right? So you give land to people and I read something last summer that blew my mind on the percentage of Americans who today who benefited from the Homestead Act, it’s something like 50 million adults in the US today benefited from the Homestead Act, and you think of like for the Bush region, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, like a lot of that was happening right in our area, you know, so that was something that we say, Oh, this was great in building wealth. Well, who did it build wealth for? It’s overwhelmingly building wealth for white Americans in the land taken from Native Americans, right? You look at the Social Security Act, which was huge and thinking about wealth and building wealth in America for retirement benefits and unemployment supports, you know, and that didn’t specifically say, was specifically discriminatory, and how it was written in but who was included and who wasn’t included? Right? If you didn’t include domestic workers, you didn’t include agricultural workers? Well, you effectively made a race based policy or a policy that had huge, very disproportionate advantage to white Americans, and the same is true of the GI Bill, the same is true of you know, National Housing Act and FHA work, like you have these policies that were quite successful, really successful at building wealth for some Americans, right. So all of this compounds to create the situation we are in today. So you cannot understand wealth disparities in the US today, without understanding this history. And I think you can’t address then wealth disparities today, without having interventions that actually acknowledge and address the history, the forces, the injustices that have gotten us to this point. 

Chanda Smith Baker  51:15 

Yeah. Do you think philanthropy sort of as a sector is, or has come into a better understanding of that history? And then the second part is, do you think that the changes, the energy, the commitments that we’ve seen over the last year, do you think that it will be sustained? 

Jen Ford Reedy  51:36 

So the first part, I’m not sure, we’re, I think it was kind of like your question of reckoning in general, like, are we reckoning and, you know, what’s, what appears to be happening? What superficial? What are we? Where are we really digging in? I don’t have, even though, you know, I think last summer, and then New York Times bestseller list, at some point, there were like, nine out of 10 of them, you know, books were related to racism, or race based history or, you know, so I think there’s been effort within the field of philanthropy, and broadly, to try to understand some of that history. I don’t feel like we’re still always making those connections. I think we see regularly in a wonderful way. big headlines of this bank commits $100 million dollars to this or this, and, you know, foundation commits this many million dollars to the sins that you see people responding, and prioritizing issues related to race, for sure. When, you see that I think in a big way, there’s a part of that, to me, that feels like great, super, glad you’re doing that, and that’s just kind of doing your work the way you should do your work. Like that  feels like to me, like, okay, great, now you fixed some of those things that maybe like you’re bringing in something that should have been a part of how you were doing your work for a long time and awesome, but now how also, are you thinking about, you know, something deeper, bigger, something that does actually get at? You know, one of the, some of the things that are, the hardest in our field, right? We work in philanthropy, which means we work by definition, really, with wealth inequality, right, and if for us to have jobs in philanthropy, it means that some people made so much money, that they couldn’t give it away themselves, or paying us to give it away, right? We are the embodiment of wealth inequality. We are an embodiment, embodiment of wealth inequality, and all that means for layering on race and equality, because you cannot separate wealth inequality from racial injustice in this country. So we are that like it is in us, it is part of us, and I think, as the, as institutions that embody this, and also say, we want to do good, and we want to change the world, I think the opportunity for us to be moral leaders and to be role models, in thinking about wealth in a different way is huge. It’s huge, and if we’re not, within foundations, really wrestling with those bigger questions about how did we get to, how did we come to be, and how are we not just a bystander institution trying to make a difference on issues, but how are we a part of the issue? How are we part of wealth inequality? Are we part of racial inequity, and thinking about our own inner, our interventions within ourselves, but then also our own actions and sacrifice and willingness to act differently part of that necessary solution. 

Chanda Smith Baker  55:10 

Part of what came up for me there, and I think it came up even like in the bush fellowship, and in a number of ways that we have been discussing is like, who is the expert, because it’s such a hugely personal conversation to have and particularly if you’re on board with trustees that have wealth, right, they’re white, they have wealth. If they’re white, without wealth, they’re wrestling with the advantages that they may see or not see of, you know, privilege, white privilege, white supremacy, words that are thrown around and said more freely than I’ve seen in a long time that they’re encountering, and yet they’re the majority of the leadership of our sector. Yeah, and so how do you rustle, if you don’t have to start by understanding, if you have a racial construct that has excluded, the people that have been harmed. Who, like, how we define who’s the expert in these conversations, I think is what can be challenged, perhaps? 

Jen Ford Reedy  56:20 

I agree, and I’d say that baked into the original concept of philanthropy was the idea that if you were rich, you were the expert. You know, that, that when Carnegie was creating the first Foundation, or Rockefeller, like, it was a time of social Darwinism, and it was an idea that like, boy, if I made money, like I figured out how to make this money, it says something about me and my moral character, and now my, you know, obligation is to now help uplift others because I am the model of how to do that. So I think there was there was definitely the sense of being rich was a sign of character, and embedded in the sort of original concept of foundations, I think, is this idea that rich people could then know how to turn around and, and uplift other people. So you know, to get to the point of realizing, oh, wait, actually, I’m maybe the worst person. Not just I might not be the best person or having money might not make me, you know, the moral authority on poverty, or the realities of people’s lived experiences that are nothing like mine, it may make it harder for me to do that, because if I’ve been somebody who has thrived in systems, right, because if you, if you have made a lot of money, generally, either you inherited it, right? So you had a life and upbringing that involved that level of security and wealth, or you made it which means some way you were very successful, you’re super talented, hard working, but somehow we’re well served by institutions enough to be able to create that wealth, generally, you know, those are the ways you, you make it. So your ability to say, okay, you know, I loved school, I thrived through school, it was great. I was successful, I got my PhD, I did whatever, like, how do you understand then if the need is to think about institutions that work? Well, for people who didn’t do well in school, right, you’re trying to actually who are the people who are not well served by the institutions we’re in. So if you are somebody who was really well served, you know, you have profound limitations and your ability to understand, you know, what needs to change or how other people are experiencing that system or those relationships, and so it’s, you know, I think we, we have it still in our field, like the sense of, you know, I was successful in business, so I’ll apply those principles now to change how changing people’s lives you know, or I was successful in this way. So you’re shaking your head. 

Chanda Smith Baker  59:09 

That’s a little bit exhausting, but yeah, I hear that. 

Jen Ford Reedy  59:11 

We still have that sense, and so I think the work of recognizing, like, who, who actually has expertise, and knowing that expertise can’t be completely outside of lived experience, and if it’s not your lived experience, then what have you done to really, really understand the lived experience of others with within a system because, I think, you can be, you know, have grown up wealthy, thrived in systems and be excellent in philanthropy, but that requires acknowledging a lot about the limitations of your own understanding and your own experience and working hard to get proximate to really understand different perspectives, to understand different experiences, and putting aside a lot of the assumptions you have, or opinions you have, based on your own experience and whether you know, systematically within your philanthropy the way you do philanthropy or the way you practice making sure that you are not over overvaluing, you know, your own experience, as you’re thinking about, you know, what might actually work and what might actually truly be supportive for people you’re trying to support. 

Chanda Smith Baker  1:00:34 

Yeah, you know, I’ve said to, you know, a few people that have asked, and I’m like you are wildly successful and used to being seen as a person with the answers, and I can imagine, it’s very difficult to show up in a space, right, very uncomfortable, very unsettling to be in a space where you don’t feel like you have a level of expertise, but what you do have is an understanding of navigating systems, you have a network that can be supportive to people, like there’s so many other things that you have to offer into this. Being the expert isn’t necessarily the role. Yeah. But you can support the expert in a way that can lift the work that you can be a huge contributor, and probably more of a contributor by doing that work and helping in other ways, and a background row. 

Jen Ford Reedy  1:01:32 

Yeah, and it goes full circle back to where we started, I think on the, you know, sense of how you’re creating goals, how you’re defining what successes and philanthropy what your purpose is, and whether you’re, you’re setting yourself up for failure from the beginning, by having objectives and having a sense of success in philanthropy that doesn’t actually allow you to be a capacity builder, be a supporter, be a champion of other people and other people’s ideas and be truly open to learning and adjusting then and, and failing and, and relearning, readjusting, based on, you know, the real experience of people, I think that there’s a, I love philanthropic strategy. I think it’s one of the most interesting kinds of strategy there is I was a strategy consultant for a lot of years before were coming into philanthropy, and one of the things that makes it so fascinating, I think, is that in philanthropy, you have some influence, but you don’t control anything. Right? So if you’re like, Best Buy, and you say, I want to put like, kiosks in 2000 malls by June, and you like, put people to work, and they you pay them and they do what you want them to do, and you, you can make it happen, right? In philanthropy, you’re providing resources you may have influenced based on for a variety of reasons, either because of the money itself, or because you are bringing some other perspective or things, but you don’t control the people doing the work, and if you don’t have that at the core of your strategy, or you’re thinking about strategy, then you’re not going to have a good philanthropic strategy. The other thing that’s really critical, I think, to philanthropic strategy is realizing usually you’re trying to affect people’s lives. So people may or may not want their lives affected by the way that you’re suggesting, Right? So what makes philanthropic strategy an art, I think, is that it’s about people working with people and you don’t necessarily have control over any part of that people you’re trying to think about how do we create the conditions. We use, I use the term always Inspire, Equip and Connect, like how do you inspire people? How do you equip people? How do you connect people to be able to have the change happen, but to believe that you can import a business mindset of strategy where you have a totally different control over resources and objectives to a situation where you don’t in the same way, like that’s just kind of madness and in our field, we watch people learn this over and over and over, right you just because people keep getting rich, right, keep getting rich and say no, I’m gonna come disrupt philanthropy. I’m gonna disrupt poverty, you know, and then they’re humbled and go back, but it’s like over and over not realizing like, you know, basketball strategy is different than chess strategy, right? Like, there are different kinds of strategy apply in different places, and I think there’s a philanthropic imperative, or you know, the core of philanthropy driving strategy requires acknowledging like, this is a human endeavor among a bunch of humans and your mindset needs to be, how are we? How can we help support change to happen, given those truths about the world and about the limitations of philanthropy, I think you can’t, you can’t actually get to the great promise and return on philanthropy if you don’t actually understand the limitations of philanthropy to because you work within that creatively, and that’s where you can make things really happen or support things to happen.  

Chanda Smith Baker  1:05:26 

So philanthropy is art. It’s not a science? 

Jen Ford Reedy  1:05:30 

It involves human beings.  

Chanda Smith Baker  1:05:33 

I love it. I love this conversation. I could obviously talk to you all day, 

Jen Ford Reedy  1:05:37 

I would love to talk to you all day. 

Chanda Smith Baker  1:05:39 

Oh, I appreciate Bush’s investment in leaders. I think it’s more critical now than ever. Folks have worked really hard over a long period of time, but last year, in particular, you know, we’ve always, you know, sort of talked and touched on place to replenish. Yeah, sabbaticals. All these types of things I hope folks in philanthropy are thinking about how do we create space and opportunity for leaders to have plays to connect, to strategy to replenish, because there’s great talent that I hope we are thinking about how we sustain and support and you have done that so masterfully within the space, I think being able to uplift sort of leaders of color, communities of color, the impact of communities of color within the region, in providing consistent support. You know, I certainly admire the way that that has evolved under your leadership, and I appreciate you a lot for that.  

Jen Ford Reedy  1:06:43 

Gosh that’s nice. Thank you. In the Apple Store, this podcast has an E for explicit, buy it and each of the episodes come up with a little E buy it and I haven’t listened to all of them but I’ve listened to a lot and I haven’t seen much that seems like you’ve earned that E radian so I didn’t know what we could do. We could do something super shocking or super inappropriate to really justify that, that E. 

Chanda Smith Baker  1:07:16 

That’s really funny. So my first thought was, you know, maybe talking about race is every now and then, someone drops that bomb. 

Jen Ford Reedy  1:07:30 

So I am not much of a curser, but I felt like is curser a word and my cursor is like a word in a computer. Not much of a, I’m not much for cursing but I could, I would, I would do it. Without like it could really add to the legitimacy of the podcast for me to swear a lot. I would do that for you. 

Souphak Kienitz  1:07:54 

That’s Jen Ford Reedy and our host, Chanda Smith Baker. If you’re interested in sponsoring this podcast, or looking for ways to do more, please contact me. You can find more information on our website at Thank you to Sarah Gillund for making her artwork and copy for this episode, and thank you to Darlynn Benjamin for coordinating and making this conversation happen. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you soon. 

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About Our Guest

Jen Ford Reedy

Jen Ford Reedy has been president of the Bush Foundation since September 2012. The Bush Foundation invests in great ideas and the people who power them in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and 23 Native nations. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jen served as chief of staff and vice president of strategy for the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation, where she led the creation of and Give to the Max Day. Jen was also a consultant with McKinsey and Company for nine years and directed the Itasca Project, a CEO-led regional civic initiative in the Twin Cities. Her current board roles include Region’s Hospital, GHR Foundation, Independent Sector, and Council on Foundations. She is involved in a number of civic groups and committees and enthusiastically serves as an election judge. She also teaches a graduate course in philanthropic history and strategy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Jen has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago. She has been honored as a “40 Under 40” leader by the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Business Journal, as one of the “100 Minnesotans You Should Know” by Twin Cities Business Magazine, and as a NextGen Fellow by Independent Sector.