Member Highlight: Upendo Shabazz


One year ago, Upendo Shabazz was in a role that suited her extroverted nature: As leader of Allegany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, she got to work in the community with individuals and organizations in three underserved Florida communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended all that – being out in the community, at least physically, was no longer an option. But that’s when she discovered her pandemic mantra: “TRUST THE WORK.”

“This saying has shaped my entire scope of work this past year,” she said. “I work in community on the ground with residents, stakeholders, government and philanthropy. When the pandemic began, I had to ‘trust’ that everything we set in motion through the Common Good Initiative would continue. I had to let go of the power and allow the power of community that we had invested in to cultivate.”

It turned out that multi-year investment paid off – the Common Good Initiative had helped build relationships and capacity that allowed organizations to respond to the pandemic in ways they might not have before, helping local businesses secure federal loans and ensuring connections developed with business and faith groups persisted despite the need for physical distancing.

The Initiative is shaping up to be a Passing Gear philanthropy success story, an example of how foundations can use multiple forms of capital to achieve a greater impact than through grantmaking alone. That work is one reason why Upendo was a natural choice to lead a module at SECF’s recent Philanthropy Essentials program called Maximizing Impact with Large-Scale Strategies.

“Traditional grantmaking will always be a strategy to addressing basic needs and will continue to be a measure for charity,” Upendo said. However, large-scale strategies often involve listening, learning and leading – convening – and development of an ideal that represents the ‘solution.’ This type of approach becomes less about activity and more about building relationships that become vested in a collective outcome.”

Upendo’s influence will soon be felt on another SECF program: the 2021 Annual Meeting. As part of the session design team, she’s helping plan one of several sessions to be offered this November in Asheville, North Carolina.

She said her increased involvement with SECF is a direct product of her experiences and interactions in recent years.

“SECF leadership has been inspiring, that includes the Board, staff and membership,” Upendo said. “I have observed the bold conversations, I have experienced the connections and this past year have relied on the communications that come from SECF to remain connected.”

Upendo is also excited that the Annual Meeting will provide plenty of opportunities for the in-person interaction that she draws her energy from – ideally over dinner.

“I am definitely an energy person who loves to connect with others which connecting virtually has its limitations,” she said. “So, I am looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues as well as establishing new connections. I’m looking forward to the sessions – which I know will be amazing. Lastly, I’m looking forward to Asheville food. I still remember the Shrimp & Grits the last time I was there.”

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