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Shawn Kravich's Challenge to Power, Privilege, and Belonging in Philanthropy

Thursday, December 10, 2020
SCG is excited to announce that Shawn Kravich (Executive Director, Snap Foundation), Raúl Bustillos (Senior Vice President of Community Relations, Bank of America), and Jennifer Price-Letscher (Vice President, Grantmaking & Initiatives, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation) will join SCG's Board of Directors in January 2021. We spoke to our new Board members about their professional values, the role of equity and trust in their grantmaking, and what's giving them hope for the future. 

Shawn Kravich had an awareness of privilege even before he had a name for it. Shawn grew up in a household with little financial security and often didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. When he received a scholarship to a prestigious private school, Shawn felt like he lived a double life as he navigated an elite institution filled with people with vastly different home-lives. During this time at private school, Shawn first experienced how his white identity served as an insulator that allowed him to “pass” in the space without question — protection not afforded to his peers of color who were equally qualified to be there. Shawn was grateful for the privileged position, but he began to be critical of the systems that created a sense of belonging for a few while actively excluding others. 

It was not until Shawn attended UCLA’s Public Interest Law and Policy program that he acquired the language to speak to his childhood experiences. While he originally intended to only focus on civil rights work involving disability, gender, and sexuality, he decided to also specialize in Critical Race Studies, a decision that shaped his entire practice moving forward. The program helped him learn about racism’s intrinsic and insidious nature in every system and the intentional work required to combat white supremacy. In his decade of law practice, Shawn understood that he needed to apply an intersectional lens to his policy and litigation efforts to affect change at the systemic level. Through his legal work, Shawn had the opportunity to develop housing and health access programs for low-income communities of color, represent transgender individuals in discrimination claims, and direct a national cancer-related legal services program.  In 2013, Shawn received a Ford Foundation grant to serve as founding director of a collaborative medical-legal partnership designed to meet the legal needs of over 60,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.

In Shawn’s time in the philanthropic sector, he has taken significant steps to shift more accountability onto foundations and help grantees better support their communities. At the John N. Calley Foundation and the Snap Foundation, Shawn has been committed to breaking down funder and grantee power dynamics by eliminating administrative obstacles around compliance, reporting, and evaluation to help organizations devote more time to service provision for their communities. And yet, Shawn knows there is more philanthropy must do to meet this moment. He believes the sector needs to abandon its historic paternalism and forfeit more of its power to those with lived experience, particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) individuals. Shawn is an advocate for community participation and wants to see philanthropy invite community leaders into spaces and decision-making processes that have historically excluded them.

In his grantmaking work, he prioritizes authentic relationships and approaches grantees as if they were friends or family members. The Impact Fellowship program Shawn developed at the John N. Calley Foundation reflects his approach. The Fellowship program created a new channel to hear the voices of people historically excluded from philanthropy. “Frankly, my entire childhood and my experiences at UCLA have all reinforced my views on equity and my moral obligation to move the needle to improve people’s lives,” Shawn stated. “Those experiences are all facets of my approach to philanthropy, from the systems we create internally to the grants that we, ultimately, make as an organization.”

When asked what gives him hope today, Shawn enthusiastically discussed the Snap Foundation's Youth Advisory Council (YAC), a group of eight young people of color ages 18-24 who make decisions alongside the foundation’s Board of Directors. For Shawn, the YAC is an example of intergenerational collaboration and trust and a testament to his Board’s commitment to creating space for individuals not traditionally included in the foundation's work. The YAC operates through a unanimous decision-making model, making it imperative for every member to feel safe and respected enough to make their voice heard. Shawn shared that this level of trust required months of rapport building and profound interrogation of the systemic variants like white supremacy, gender-based differences, and class disparities that actively work to exclude voices from the conversation. Through this trust-building process, Shawn found himself frequently asking how he could give up some of his power to more meaningfully include others in the conversation. “Yes, I grew up poor, and that gives me a sense of empathy with another low-income person,” Shawn reflected, “But that does not give me any ability to understand people going through a crisis right now. The only way to understand is by including people with present lived experience.” 

Looking ahead, Shawn is eager to continue his philanthropic work by joining SCG’s Board of Directors. “I feel so indebted to SCG for helping this attorney who was unexpectedly thrown into an Executive Director role learn more about the inner workings of philanthropy,” Shawn shared. “Today, SCG’s vision of philanthropy—that it should advance transformative change by collaborating with communities and across sectors to create an equitable and thriving society—feels like an extension of my personal philosophy. I look forward to continuing to extend a hand out to community leaders and inviting them to help us push our sector forward.” 


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