Reflections on my experience with Indigenous Philanthropy

For two years, I had the incredible opportunity of working with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, initially as a Program Intern and later as a Junior Program Officer, working on Indigenous philanthropy related projects. The field of Indigenous philanthropy is still an emerging one and works towards creating partnerships between Indigenous peoples, organizations, and the philanthropic domain.

Leading-together-cover-300x300During my time with the Foundation, I worked on several notable projects in this area, including the development and coordination of a publication titled Leading Together: Indigenous Youth in Community Partnership. Leading Together illustrated 12 partnership stories between Indigenous projects and the non-profit and philanthropic sectors, with a particular focus on the learnings and failures of each project, and how to move forward. I also helped to organize a youth summit that brought together 25 young leaders from 14 organizations to discuss a potential joint collaboration on a youth reconciliation project—this project became the 4Rs Youth Movement, a national reconciliation youth movement.

Part of my work also involved co-creating two projects with The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada—a webinar on effective partnership practices and an Indigenous philanthropy presentation at a national funders conference. As well, I was one of six young leaders and worked as the Assistant Coordinator providing strategic and advisory support for the 4Rs Youth Movement.

Two important learnings stand out for me. First—I learned about the importance of collaborative partnerships. In order to create change, multiple partners need to collaboratively work together with Indigenous peoples for true projects to develop. Second—the importance of relationship building and mutual respect, which are by far the key ingredients for any successful partnership. Taking the time to build strong relationships among partners and leveraging the key assets in each one’s tool bag can help to solidify partnerships.

Over the course of my two years at McConnell, I learned so much about myself. I learned that as a young Indigenous person, I had a voice. By providing feedback on projects from an Indigenous perspective, I felt that my voice helped to inform decisions made by the Foundation. Another important lesson learned is the need for more Indigenous peoples to become involved in Indigenous philanthropy. As a young person working in this field, a new world was opened up to me —of organizations and individuals wanting to collaborate and engage. And finally, another take-away for me—there ARE resources and opportunities available in non-profit and philanthropic organizations that Indigenous communities can leverage to improve their overall health and wellbeing.