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Outside In: Finding Diversity & Inclusion in Philanthropy in the Midst of National Crises & Augmented Reality

Mon, August 01, 2016 10:43 AM | Laura Parshall

Outside In: Finding Diversity & Inclusion in Philanthropy in the Midst of National Crises & Augmented Reality

by James Cheng, Development Data Analytics Specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and  NEDRA Board member

As the popularity of the "augmented reality" game Pokémon GO began to spread exponentially like a virus, my snarky comments on friends’ social posts of captured cartoon images increased correspondingly. When a couple of these friends pointed that out to me, I started to contemplate my critical responses. Were they a personal retaliation against what I saw as nostalgia-induced Pollyanna-ish myopia? Or was I perhaps reacting against the apparent surrender of higher reasoning to a tribalistic hive-mind?

As the newsfeeds flowed, the reason became clear. This craze came directly at the heels of the police-shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the retaliatory escalation of gun violence leading to the deaths of Officers Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, and Michael Krol. While my African-American friends began to post and share videos of demonstrations and personal stories of struggles and fears, I also saw many of my Asian-American and Caucasian friends posting their personal and collective struggles… in capturing imaginary pocket monsters on their handheld devices.

And yet perhaps I should include myself in this indictment of inaction. Rather than immersing myself in games, my avoidance mechanism of choice is finding solace in the workplace. Here, I am the data master, being able to grow, train and transform my variables with the slightest of codes. Here, in the truest exploratory fashion, all my variables are considered “equal” a priori, giving no preferential treatment to some predictors of my outcomes over others. Here, I can ferret out dirty data and “dummify” them dichotomously, thus reducing their informational importance to my predictive models.

At this moment, you may be asking, “Why are you writing about national tragedies to talk about, of all things, Pokémon GO and your job? Where is the common sense, the courtesy and respect, the emotional intelligence? Are you reducing national headlines to water-cooler conversations? What do these things have anything to do with diversity and inclusion in philanthropy?”  

These questions are on point, and I have no definitive responses. At the same time, I feel like I've reached a personal tipping point. The boundaries between the professional and the personal, the societal and the social, the extraordinary and the routine, the pivotal and the mundane, are becoming permeable. As I type and retype, the phrase “Outside In” is on mental repeat. There is a sense of the “macro” --reality that is “outside” our spheres of influence: things that are happening on a national or even global level. Our "micro" reality--our "inside"-- would be those personal, social and even profession circles where our actions and decisions do have visible influence.

For some of us--those who have more melatonin in our skin than others, or who are activists fighting the good fight in social justice--the boundaries between the macro and micro often blur, if they exist at all. Those national and global conversations can end up affecting us on a personal level. Unfortunately, for others of us, those boundaries are as distinct ever--people can, and do, ignore the large-scale problems that don't affect them directly. As some people hunt for their diminishing civil rights/dignity/social justice, and as snipers hunt for police officers as targets, others blithely hunt for the next Pikachu or Charmander. 

Yet I believe a group of us are caught in that awkward in-between, where that “Outside” is coming “In.” We are bringing what is happening in society at large into our personal spheres and we are not sure what to do about it. Questions beget more questions, and I find myself walking in circles. 

What I do sense is that one of my micro-spheres may be aligned with the macro-sphere of our national conversations on diversity and inclusion. While my past and present colleagues have countries of origin and experiences that are truly global, I question our diversity and inclusion within the philanthropy sector at large. Who are our donors, and how diverse is our constituency?  Who are our gift officers, and what diverse experiences make them better fundraisers?  What about the diversity of the leadership and boards within our organizations?  Does diversity and inclusion within our non-profit organizations actually help with the “bottom line” of raising more funds?  If so, how do we become more diverse and inclusive without creating an environment of resentment and division within the workplace?  What IS diversity? What IS inclusion?

Could beginning to think about--let alone talk about and act on--the subject of diversity and inclusion in the philanthropic workplace be of any consequence to the national debate about civil rights, social justice, and race relations?  Is it possible to create some bi-directionality where what we do on the "inside" can impact the larger conversation "outside?"  I hope beyond hope that it is.


If you are interested in sharing your thoughts and stories about diversity and inclusion in philanthropy, to listen to those sharing, or to be an ally, please contact us at office@nedra.org or me personally at chengj@mskcc.org. We are currently hoping to bridge our macro and our micro spheres by forming a committee on diversity and inclusion within the NEDRA community


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