Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Takema Robinson

The expression “the more things change, the more they stay the same” could easily be applied to New Orleans, where despite the wake-up call and crisis sparked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city still suffers from troubling inequities the storm highlighted.

That pattern isn’t unique to New Orleans – across the region and the country, responses to crises often result in a return to the status quo without addressing whether that status quo was desirable in the first place.

Takema Robinson, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Funders Network (GNOFN) and CEO of her own consulting firm, knows this reality well.

“Following Hurricane Katrina, we witnessed $1 billion pour into our city during the recovery, and while much good work took place, we missed the opportunity to create long-term structural change,” she wrote recently on GNOFN’s website.

A similar situation is now unfolding with the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson says, joining others who have rejected calls to “return to normal” and instead use crisis as a chance to invoke overdue change. She believes that philanthropy, specifically, must not let this opportunity pass it by.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with yet another opportunity to reimagine our philanthropic investments and truly invest in our communities, which have been deeply impacted by this health crisis,” she writes. “Given our city’s dependence on a tourist-driven economy and history of persistent racial disparities across all indicators of well-being, what are we going to do about it?”

Robinson will bring her call for lasting change to the Annual Meeting, where she is among the speakers at the Thursday breakout session, “Planning for Change – and Being Prepared When It Happens.”

For funders, Robinson has specific ideas on what actions they can take now to embrace change.

“For philanthropy, this begins with supporting nonprofit leaders of color,” she writes. “Funding leaders of color is a critical aspect of philanthropy because those leaders can offer insight into the shared experiences of their communities.”

Robinson has worked to put these beliefs into action as GNOFN’s executive director. Since 2017, GNOFN’s Action Tables ­– its main vehicle for collective action – have invested approximately $8.4 million in the Greater New Orleans region to support systems change in urban and coastal water management, criminal justice, equitable development, and youth and education.

“We need this level of investment from our philanthropic partners to ensure we have equitable communities,” Robinson writes. “Frankly, philanthropy needs to put its money where its mouth is.”


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