Member Highlight: David Lewis


Leadership development in Southern philanthropy has long been part of SECF’s mission and work, as seen in programs like the CEO Forum and the Hull Fellows program.

It made sense, then, to establish a special group dedicated to applying an equity lens to this type of work – that group, the Equity Committee’s Equity Leadership Opportunities Subcommittee, met for the first time in April.

One of the subcommittee’s members, David Lewis, is an equity officer at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas. Leadership development, he says, is critical to promoting equity in Southern communities.

“Advancing any type of change requires a great deal of courage on the part of those organizing for change – as such, the movement for equity demands a courageous disposition,” David said. “Those who expect to lead the masses must be risk takers who are unafraid to support the unconventional and embrace the idea of reimagining how we show up in communities, how we support communities, and how we build agency within communities for sustainable change.”

The subcommittee is a natural fit for David in a number of ways – his portfolio at the foundation is specifically focused on leadership development and movement building. Plus, as a relative newcomer to philanthropy – he started at the foundation in October 2019 – he is on the same journey as many others who are new to the field.

“The Equity Leadership Opportunities Subcommittee is an excellent place for me to use my knowledge and skills in the areas of organizational and leadership development to advance SECF’s transformative equity framework throughout the region,” he said. “While there were many things that excited me about this opportunity, the most exciting has been the ability to bring a different perspective to the larger conversation as an emerging professional in philanthropy.”

David’s hands-on experience with leadership development in Arkansas – and how foundations can support that work – will strongly influence his work on the subcommittee, he said. 

“One of the threads within my role as an equity officer is to guide the foundation’s investments in leadership development throughout the state of Arkansas. A large part of that process is deepening my own understanding of how leadership – both formal and informal – influences positive change and where our investments, financial or otherwise, can make the most impact,” he said. “I believe my work on this subcommittee will require the same type of inquiry to build sustainable practices that not only achieve the desired outcomes but also reflect the SECF commitments articulated in the Equity Framework.”

As the subcommittee continues its work, David said he hopes it will have an impact not just on SECF members, but the broader philanthropic sector.

“I believe that our work on this subcommittee has the ability to transform how SECF members see themselves and their work as it relates to advancing equity, as well as how SECF peer institutions see their roles in organizing the philanthropic sector to be better positioned for the future,” he said.

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