Member Highlight: Mijo Vodopic

This Member Highlight is part of a series profiling new members of the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees elected at the 2021 Annual Meeting.

National funders looking to become more involved in the South – and build connections to foundations based in the region – have long turned to Philanthropy Southeast as both a conduit and a source of information and research.

The key role of national foundations as partners in building an equitable South is one reason why Mijo Vodopic, a senior program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, based in Chicago, was nominated to serve on the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees.

Partnership was also a main reason why Mijo said yes when he was asked to serve.

“Philanthropy Southeast has been a helpful partner to the MacArthur Foundation’s grantmaking in the South and to me personally, as I work to be a reliable, helpful funding partner, albeit one from farther away,” he said. “Having an opportunity to serve on the Philanthropy Southeast Board is a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work more closely with colleagues dedicated to the region.”

While he may live and work far outside the Southeast, Mijo already has plenty in common with fellow trustees and others in the region. For example, he sees incredible potential in philanthropy’s convening power.

“From my experiences in the United States and internationally, the wealth and influence we help steward can bring together unusual, powerful, effective, etc. partnerships,” he said. “That ability to convene is something we can share and magnify as a philanthropic sector and where I believe we can learn much from each other.”

Philanthropy’s power, however, must also be tempered by humility, Mijo argues, saying that the field must prioritize hearing from a variety of voices, particularly those from the communities it supports.

“In our positions of privilege, we have access to all sorts of information and experts, as well as civic, business, and government leaders. Our experiences and knowledge also need to be tempered by the communities we invest in,” he said. “The recent past impressed upon me the additional effort philanthropy must undertake to hear and learn from a variety of voices, so that we can be most supportive to the organizations we fund and communities we serve.”

As a newcomer to the Philanthropy Southeast Board, Mijo says his initial focus will simply be on finding out how he can be most helpful – though his work at the MacArthur Foundation on affordable housing and climate issues means he will come in with knowledge of two issues critical to the South’s future.

He also has a strong personal interest in the environment – one he demonstrates in Chicago by serving as a TreeKeeper, a community ambassador for trees and caring for the urban canopy in and around Chicago.

“I had been doing a lot of walking these last couple of years, especially with my pups, Penny and Peanut, admiring all the beautiful trees in the neighborhood. I also noticed how many trees were stressed or being lost,” he said. “So, I signed up to be a TreeKeeper, and learned about identifying species, pruning, planting, and benefits of a healthy urban forest.”


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