PEACE CORPS: A New Era of Possibility through Documentary Film

Republic of Mali, West Africa, 1993.  Twenty-three year old Alana DeJoseph followed the village midwife through the African night with only a kerosene lantern to light winding paths leading to a small, round, mud hut where a young Malian woman reclined stoically. Inexperienced, scared, and resolute, Alana did more than show up as a Peace Corps volunteer; she was a woman crossing a cultural bridge during one of the most unifying times in women’s lives: childbirth.

Alana DeJoseph
Alana DeJoseph, Producer and Director

With over 220,000 chosen Americans having invested their youthful idealism and fine minds in the Towering Task of Peace since 1961, this snapshot of the Peace Corps experience is one of millions shared by a declining number of souls who call the Peace Corps the most profound and transformative experience of their lives.  New graduates brimming with potential, they thought they would change the world; by Peace Corps’ design, the world changed them.

In response to the Cold War threat and a race for global favoritism over Russia, the Peace Corps was founded by John F. Kennedy, Jr. as an international cultural bridge, particularly among developing countries lacking infrastructure and vulnerable to oppression.  The Camelot ideal of peace was a beacon of hope for an increasingly cynical youth of America, including young Alana.

From a perch of relative privilege, Alana attended Washington and Lee University, an environment at the time more dedicated to educating young business leaders and lawyers than searching for new approaches to peace.  Yet a passionate business school professor noticed her shining eyes as he described engagement in the world, not as a periphery concept, but at the core of living a fully expressed life.  He suggested the Peace Corps, and Alana, like so many of her American compatriots, applied for the ride of her life.

President Carter Behind-the-Scenes
Behind the scenes of Alana’s interview with former President Jimmy Carter. His mother and grandson were both Peace Corps volunteers.

Since its inception, the Peace Corps has served in 141 countries, many of which have become stable global citizens and US allies, superpowers and peace brokers. They’ve led the charge on global initiatives like food security, disease treatment and prevention, and gender equity. These efforts went on to have an even greater impact through educated leadership:  In Africa alone, Peace Corps volunteers were the initial teachers to twelve students who went on to become top political leaders. In the face of opposing messages, their personal experience of the United States afforded unprecedented understanding and connectedness, and a shared vision of collaboration and peace.

Although difficult to measure in facts and figures, the global impact of the Peace Corps is overwhelming. For fifty-five years, volunteers have been striving to meet three main goals: Meet the need for trained men and women in developing countries; promote an accurate and accessible view of Americans throughout the world; and illuminate generations of Americans on the universality of the human experience among all peoples, regardless of race, religion, and geography.

But if you ask a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) how the experience impacted their lives, invariably they tell stories of knowledge transformed into wisdom, Western idealism transformed into humility, and above all, a deep connection and grace that bridges cultures to this day.  Now awakened world citizens, they embody a loyalty to humanity while identifying as Americans, and they take their roles as engaged “super citizen” to heart.

Juliane Heyman Behind the Scenes
Behind the scenes of filming for A Towering Task

As a celebrated documentarian with a powerful journalistic ethic, Alana has become a steward, archivist, and catalyst for the Peace Corps, a role she considers sacred and urgent.  To RPCVs, including Alana, the marginalization in the past several years of the Peace Corps is a form of blasphemy and a reflection of fading ideals; the overwhelming response among returned volunteers has been “Not on my watch.”  Within this community is a fierce determination to see the Peace Corps remain relevant and vital on the international stage and in the intimacy of the informed American dining room.

For Alana, that has taken the form of producing and directing an unprecedented landmark documentary not only as a vehicle to create a baseline history of one of the greatest global emissaries of peace in history, including capturing the early voices before they fade away, but to usher in a new era of possibility in today’s context.  With countless opportunities already squandered, the stakes are staggeringly high.

To warriors like Alana DeJoseph, the global leaders she has assembled, and Americans who care about how we show up in the world, the call to action is clear and urgent:  Keep the Peace Corps relevant on the world stage by honoring its iconic past, while ushering in a New Era of Possibility.

A documentary film is a considerable undertaking. If you are interested in helping to fund Alana’s sacred and important work , you can visit her crowdfunding site here. You can also spread the word about the film and about the Peace Corps on social media by using #IgnitePeaceCorps. 

Philanthropist Profile: Jacques Sebisaho, Wisdom and Warriorship by the Awful Grace of God

Cold sweat pours over the blindfold in the sweltering Rwandan heat of midday.  Exposed throat constricted, heart beating wildly, his hands bound painfully behind the trunk of the teak tree that would be the last physical connection to his homeland, to earth.  Engulfed in darkness and weak from torture, the accused Tutsi spy, Jacques Sebisaho, awaits the crack of the firing squad guns, praying for a swift end to a life fraught with suffering and despair.

Jacques Sebisaho of Amani Global Works
Jacques Sebisaho, Amani Global Works

Jacques Sebisaho was born in 1973 on the remote island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu, then a Zaire territory known for malnutrition and its high infant mortality rates, but also for the dignity of its people, notably the indigenous Bambuti (pygmies).  Dignity is a theme that would be woven throughout Jacques’ life:  admiring it, longing for its inherent power, to ultimately embracing it as a birthright, using its power to transcend a youth with fear and shame at its core.  Alongside the fear is a powerful undercurrent of love, a deep knowing of being cherished despite the dark skin and distended belly; a profound sense of being borne of something beyond the chaos and cruelty that lay beyond his front door.  For Jacques not only grew up on a geographic island, but on a familial island led by a deeply wise and widely respected father, and a mother whose voice and bearing as a businesswoman was a beacon in the village, despite her Rwandan roots in an increasingly pro-Hutu world.

By 1995, those Rwandan roots would betray Jacques repeatedly, despite the dominantly Congolese blood coursing through his veins.  The region became one of the most violent on earth as the Hutu extremists began killing their political opponents, the Tutsi.  At the National University of Rwanda, within the cocoon of academia, Jacques watched as Tutsis were being massacred beyond the University gates.  Within the gates, classmates began turning on each other, forming militia to expose suspected Tutsi to authorities known for their merciless brutality. Jacques was exposed daily to scrutiny by hundreds of Hutu students with the scent of blood in their nostrils, and hated in eyes that mirrored his own in color only.

Word arrived of the brutal murder of his cousin, Andre, an intellectual reduced by a butchering then dragged from a car as a warning to others.  Within the ensuing heated confusion, Jacques’ fate lay in the hands of a bloodthirsty crowd seeking his life, and friends who fiercely defended him as a Hutu compatriot, a Congalese, a brother, thus placing their own lives in danger.  In a pivotal moment that could decide all, Jacques fled inside a church for protection, only to be turned out by the priest who would not lay down his own life for the dark skinned young man seeking asylum.

In the midst of terror a resolve rose up in young Jacques, a clarity that can only be seen as grace:  “If I am to survive this, if I am to be given a second chance, it is not for me.” 

Jacques Sebisaho of Amani Global Works

Amani Global Works’ mission is to Care, Cure, and Make Whole by providing healthcare to the most impoverished and forgotten areas of Africa.  Its founder, Dr. Jacques Sebisaho, was educated at the National University of Rwanda, holds a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College, a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science from Catholic University of Bukavu (DRC) and a diploma in Philosophy from Grand Seminaire Monseigneur Busimba in Goma (DRC).  A general practitioner with a focus on internal medicine, he worked for five years at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and one year at the Millennium Villages Project at Columbia University.  Despite these distinctions and the trappings of a material western world at his fingertips, Jacques is at his core a deeply humble man, a soul moved to help the vulnerable and marginalized peoples on his beloved island, people for whom he feels a deep kinship borne of his own suffering and shame as one persecuted, oppressed, and ostracized in a world that valued hate over character and intelligence.

With his Congolese wife Mimy Mudekereza, R.N., at his side, regal in her own right and also a fearless warrior for social justice, Jacques founded Amani Global Works in 2009 to provide accessible and affordable healthcare for all residents of Idjwi, particularly the indigenous Bambuti, and to use health as a catalyst for sustainable development.  Their vision is not only to see Idjwi become the leader in healthcare and research in the Great Lake region of more than one hundred million people, but to be a stable haven in rural Africa where people can receive medical care, invest, and grow thriving businesses.  The word Amani means peace in Kiswahili, but to the largely forgotten people of Idjwi, it also means humanity and hope, words embodied by both Jacques and Mimy.

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”


Our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds, passions that are borne through the awful grace of God. As Jacques was given that second chance, having miraculously escaped the firing squad and countless other horrors of his youth, he has boldly stepped into living a life for others, transforming his own wounding into source of healing, power and progress for himself, his beloved Idjwi, and all of rural Africa through a successful healthcare infrastructure model created in partnership with the community. Pregnant women, the elderly, the indigenous, and the socially vulnerable receive free healthcare. Adults pay 1000 Congolese francs (1US$), and the children’s fee is only 500 Congolese francs (50 cents). The 50-bed hospital provides quality healthcare to all, with dignity and compassion a hallmark for all who pass through its doors.

url copy

The region now boasts no maternal or child deaths, 100% recovery of all cholera cases, and serves children through the Amani nutrition program that includes a “one garden per family” component, eradicating severe malnutrition in all villages they serve. Jacques shares, “If this kind of community approach to healthcare, an indispensable one for sustainability, is possible on Idjwi — one of the poorest, most difficult to reach areas in the world — it’s possible anywhere.”

As Jacques approaches Idjwi on the ferry from the shores of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he wells up with wonder and gratitude at the sight of the figures on the dock, dancing and singing to welcome their island son home. Upon arrival, Jacques asks an elder, “Why do the people do this?” The reply, “Because they love you. Because you have not forgotten us, but instead have shown us boundless love.” And with this, the pain that cannot forget, falling drop by drop upon the heart, is transformed into the greatest healer of all: love.

Official bio: Dr. Jacques Sebisaho is founder and executive director of Amani Global Works, which works to improve health on his native Idjwi Island in Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo with preventive and emergency healthcare through creation of sustainable medical facilities. He was previously president and medical supervisor of the community of Sant’egidio in DRC and managed and conducted the Pueri Cantores of Bukavu, a professional children’s choir. Sebisaho has received the Richard C. Holbrook Leadership Award, Rising Star Award, Visionary Making an Impact on Global Health Award, and Pharmacy Team Excellence Award. He is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. 

LIFE 2.0: What I Learned From Some Of The Wisest People I Know

A few years ago I was at a crossroad in my career.  I wanted my next professional chapter to be spiritually informed, and embarked upon an inner journey to discover a path forward that would have a profound impact upon our world, and myself.   To augment the journey, I selected ten of the wisest people I knew who I felt were living fully expressed lives, and invited them to a lengthy deep dive conversation (and yummy lunch).

While those with whom I met are incredibly diverse (from our “Bodhisattva Handyman” to several of Denver’s “Bold Face” names to a “Swami” in India), what everyone had in common is grace, humility, leadership, thriving relationships, happiness, and an authentic passion for leaving the world a better place.  In short, all of the qualities I most wanted to further cultivate in myself.


While I discovered many personal truths that I incorporated on a cellular and spiritual level, there was considerable universal wisdom I’d like to share here.   Themes emerged from many of the conversations, so I have categorized them as such:


*  Laugh at yourself.  Don’t take yourself so &^%$#@ seriously.

*  Talk less.  Listen more.

*  Speak your truth.  Stand your ground.

*  Only do elective things that are at least an “8” on a scale from one to ten.

*  Protect your time, talent, and energy.  Spend time on the right things.

*  Everyone is valuable and has something to offer you and the world.

*  Envision your life backwards.  Develop a life plan based upon desired outcome.

*  Someone else’s advice is that person’s truth, not necessarily yours.

*  If at a crossroad between two equally good choices, choose the one that is most fun.

*  Eliminate the word “I” from conversation as much as possible.

*  Forgiveness is understanding.  Take yourself off the pedestal and forgive.



*  When your soul is doing its dance, there is no selfishness or unselfishness. Only being.

*  Stay present. Smell the roses.  Soon it will all evaporate before your eyes.

*  Never underestimate your power.

*  Trust that life’s traumas are there to teach you something for the higher good.

*  While a spiritual life is important, be human and take the full curriculum.

*  Don’t consider yourself better or worse than others; you are simply on your respective paths.

*  Count your blessings.  Share your good fortune.

*  Humility means having the quiet confidence to allow your actions to speak for themselves.

*  Enemies are often your greatest teachers.  Love your enemies.

*  The ego is a wonderful servant and a lousy master.

*  You are the architect of your fortune and misfortune.

*  “A healthy sense of humor about our limitations and a gentleness with ourselves and others is what helps lubricate the process by which the manifested world grinds us inevitably and inescapably down and makes us the fertilizer for new creation.”



*  You are the monarch of all you serve.

*  Apply all you’ve learned and all you are to serving others in a sector that sings to your true heart.  Your actions will then be more energetic and inspiring, and the result will be greater.*

*  Create change in your own community first, strengthening that fabric.  Good will ripple out to the world at large from your own kitchen.

*  “Your job can be the vehicle for a higher purpose.  For me, it’s about loving my colleagues and nurturing their talents and helping solve problems.”


The result of my year-long odyssey:  Black Fox Philanthropy.

Which leads me to a piece of wisdom I often share with high school and college students:  “God has much bigger plans for you than you have for yourself.”   My heart of service is far larger than my wallet so I am grateful that my brain is wired to be strategist.  Through the learnings from those 1:1 deep dives with truly luminous beings, years in the trenches as a corporate and nonprofit executive, a life-long philanthropist, and my own inner journey (which at times I affectionately referred to as a “Monkey Knife Fight”), I am able to do the deeply sacred work of helping global nonprofits obtain the vital funding they need to scale their work in the world.

Indeed, God had much bigger plans for me than I had for myself.

If you are interested in learning more about the process of engaging with the wisest people you know in a profoundly powerful way, I am happy to share an abbreviated list of questions I used to lead the dance (abbreviated because each conversation was highly customized, and you’ll need to do the same). Email me at

*In my Soul Journey Philanthropy work with women and families, this pearl of wisdom has evolved into “finding what is uniquely yours to do.”

Work with Me:  In addition to our strategy work with global NGOs, Black Fox Philanthropy works with women, couples, and families in the early to mid-stages of their philanthropic journey.  Learn more here.

Maximize Charitable Giving in 2016: An Introduction to Giving Circles


Contributor: Elise Ridgway

The holiday season is officially in full swing, and like many of you, I am being bombarded by year-end letters from nonprofits, holiday parties, and general December craziness. As I scramble to get Christmas gifts bought and delivered, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, rather than comforted, by the “season of giving.”

Now more than ever, I take comfort in my community of friends, family, and my philanthropy family of giving circles.  In my October 26th post on 12 Ways You Can Move the Equality Needle, I made a brief mention of giving circles. Giving circles are a great way to re-focus your philanthropic giving and join a community of like-minded people in your focus areas. While Soul Journey Philanthropy is very much a story of crafting what is uniquely yours to do in the world, having companions can help to make philanthropy an incredibly fun and fulfilling part of your life.


I’m a member of a few different giving circles, including Women Moving Millions, a donor circle that is dedicated to inspiring women to donate a million dollars or more to causes that promote women’s empowerment; I also participate in the Power of Extended Philanthropy (PEP) Club at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO). They are both dedicated to the advancement of women, but those are just two of thousands of groups of people coming together to support a cause.

The term ‘giving circle’ might conjure images of ladies sipping tea and eating biscuits, but make no mistake; this isn’t your mother’s book club. These groups are highly impactful in the philanthropy world. Giving circles are a chance for men and women to pool their resources with others to give larger, more significant gifts, and these large gifts allow individuals to develop deep partnerships with organizations that an individual might not otherwise have. In addition to giving money, members of donor circles can contribute their time and skills with these organizations to deepen relationships even further. Donors who are part of a giving circle are able to bounce ideas off of others, give their money more strategically, and become more actively engaged in their philanthropy and community.

Who Belongs to Giving Circles?

In short, anyone can belong to a giving circle, but they particularly appeal to individuals who may be new to philanthropy, or who might have a hungry appetite but a smaller amount of money to donate. The composition of individuals may vary greatly depending on their area of focus. For example the Asian Women Giving Circle of New York City will probably look very different from than the Veterans Giving Circle.

Giving circles are also appealing to younger donors, including the ever-elusive millennial and gen-x age groups, and nearly 40% of all giving circle donors are under 40 ( These groups are popular for new philanthropists because unlike Women Moving Millions, which has a high donation threshold, many donor groups have a much smaller “buy-in,” making it possible for a wide variety of individuals. The beauty of having so many donor circles to choose from is that you will most likely have no problem finding a group of like-minded individuals who are focusing on giving to a cause that is near and dear to your heart.

 Is a Giving Circle Right for You? 

Before you join a giving circle, consider what you want to get out of it.  For me, being part of a community of women doing incredible work worldwide is affirming and inspiring.  Further, I thrive on the collective wisdom of a group and the larger financial impact that that can have upon an organization.

Giving circles can be as informal as a monthly potluck to talk about where you’d like to give a gift, or they can be as formal as large, nation-wide groups that have local chapters, and many are registered as 501(c)(3)s. Some nonprofits even have giving circles with their dedicated donors, like WFCO’s PEP club, or the Awakened Leadership Circle of our beloved client, Global Grassroots. Your decision might be made based on what kind of atmosphere and group you’d like to have for your collective philanthropy. After doing your research, you might even be inspired to start your own giving circle, bringing others into your own philanthropic journey.

The world of giving circles is vast, and this is a cursory insight into some of the benefits and options.  For more information on how to find or start a giving circle, here are a few resources:

Finding a giving circle:

Starting your own giving circle: 

May your journey be as fulfilling for you and our circle peers as it is impactful for the organizations you grow to love and support.

Philanthropist Profile: My Daughter, Sophie “Kitty” Lynn

Natalie and Sophie

On a cool fall day in Boulder, Colorado, Elise Ridgway visited with my daughter Sophie “Kitty” Lynn to discover how her heart of service has been shaped during her young life, and to talk to her about our book, “The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse.”  

At the tender age of seven, Sophie (the original Anonymouse) began writing secret notes to the faculty and staff at her school to show appreciation for their hard work. It was out of these simple but powerful gestures that Anonymouse began to take shape.

All smiles and eager to share her views, Sophie hopes she can be an inspiration to other kids who have big hearts and big ideas about making a difference in the world.

Natalie and Sophie
My daughter, Sophie “Kitty” Lynn, and me

Q: Your book is all about a mouse that helps her community by doing small acts of kindness anonymously. Is that something that you have experience with?

A: Yes, I like to send notes to people when they’re having a bad day, or need some encouragement. Sometimes I give them to teachers too, or a new kid in school. Notes always make me feel better when I’m having a hard time, so I know that they help other people, even if I’m not around when they get to read them.

Q: What do you do to give back?

A: My mom and I volunteer at a food bank where we sort through food and distribute it to people, and we’ve helped in a homeless soup kitchen, but that was hard because I was really hungry and they had chocolate cupcakes!  My nanny Anica and I volunteer at the Humane Society. I also like to fundraise, and with my friend Elle we’ve done things such as “Hot Chocolate for Haiti” and a lemonade stand in the dog park for the Humane Society.

Q: What advice would you give kids your age who want to make a difference?

A: Start small. Even kids are able to make a change doing little things for other people. They can raise awareness and money, and help people by doing kind things.

Q: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through your community service?

A: I’ve learned that there are a lot of people that need help in the world, and I can’t help them all. Even though I can’t save everyone, I know that my community service is making a difference.

Q: If you could have a socially conscious superpower and change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would grow food all over the world so that everyone could afford it and not go hungry.

Q: Who is the most inspiring person you’ve met so far?

My old nanny Cassie. She made me laugh every day and she always did good things that made me want to be just like her. One time she found someone’s wallet and instead of taking the money she asked everyone if they knew whose it was, and it got returned to the person who lost it. I think about her every day.

Q: What values do you live by?

One of my family’s values is “grit” which means that you have to hold on and not give up even if things are hard. I also try to be kind and give back whenever I can.

Q: What issue are you most passionate about?

I get really angry about animal abuse, so animal rights is very important to me. Another issue is world hunger.

Q: How do you think philanthropy is different for kids and adults?

I think that kids have more imagination and are better at picturing the world as a better place. I don’t think adults are as good at trust, so they have a harder time being hopeful about the future.

Q: How have your parents helped you to be active in philanthropy?

My mom always lets me know about things that are going on in the world like earthquakes and hunger, and she shares the news with me so that I know who needs help. My mom, dad, and my nanny Anica all help me volunteer at places like the food bank and the animal shelter.

From proud Mama Mouse:  

As you can see, I am incredibly blessed to have raised a daughter that has such a heart for philanthropy, and am delighted to be her co-pilot in helping to make the world a kinder, gentler place in which to grow up.

If you are interested in hearing more about our book, “The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse,” you can watch the video below!

Books can be purchased online here:

Kitty and I would also love children and parents both to join us for the book launch at the Denver Art Museum on Saturday, December 5th (also a free day at the museum!), which will feature readings by Kitty. Children can participate in a mask-making project to help inspire their inner kindness superhero.

The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse Book Cover

The book is available at, where Sophie Mouse invites young readers to share their stories, and a digital version is available on Amazon. A portion of proceeds support the “All in for Her” campaign to advance women and girls.

Raising Passionate and Engaged Children: Thanksgiving Guide

Child looking back

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and giving, and in some cases, a rare time when all family members are present, including “launched” children. It can be an ideal opportunity for discussion and reflection upon the year’s world events, blessings, and ways in which we’ve contributed to the greater good as individuals, and collectively as a family.

It can also be a time to look ahead at giving priorities in the realms of time, talent, and treasure, and ways to engage the entire family, particularly its youngest members. My hope is to provide you with a roadmap to family giving that makes the process as joyful and frustration-free as possible.

One of the most common conversations I have with parent-peers in my community, a community rich with blessings, is about how to raise kids to be thoughtful and empathetic vs. (God forbid) entitled. Yet, our children are often the ones who most embrace the true definition of philanthropy, love of humankind.

Child looking back
Image Credit: NYT

Tweet: As parents, we are the stewards of our children’s innate compassion and its promise of building stronger families and communities.

Philanthropy helps to solidify family values, communication, and trust. By deciding together where to spend your time, talent, and/or treasure, children can learn leadership, decision-making, confidence, organization, negotiation, investing, while developing empathy. Further, research has shown that the act of giving causes family members to have an increase in happiness; in fact, a recent study from the Lily School of Philanthropy at Indiana University cites that children who perform acts of kindness experience increased wellbeing, popularity and acceptance among peers, which leads to better classroom behavior and higher academic achievement.

(Shameless Plug Alert!) Kitty and I co-created a book to inspire countless philanthropic “anonymice” entitled “The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse.”

The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse Book Cover

It’s the story of a mysterious poem, a tiny mouse with a huge heart, and a forest that is transformed by all they inspire. It is a story of selfless deeds that inspire readers to join in their own kindness adventures. All are welcome to the December 5th book launch at the Denver Art Museum from 10am – Noon, which is also a free day for families!

Raising Passionate and Engaged Children: How to Begin

1. Lead by Example.  Children will do as you do, not as you say. Talk about your philanthropy. Talking about giving increased by 20% the likelihood that children would give. That holds true across race, gender, age and more. When appropriate, have children join in when you volunteer.

2. Show Enthusiasm and Support for their Interests. Encourage children to get involved in a cause they care about, or better yet, create opportunities for you to collaborate together on the cause. Explore options together: charitable giving, volunteering time or talents to a cause, or being of service to those in need. If the cause loses its luster and the child wants to move on to something else that catches their attention, they will take the skills and values with them to their next endeavor.

3. Make It A Family Affair. In our busy family lives filled with sports, homework, play dates, and more, engaging in philanthropy is a great way to spend quality time as a family while helping a worthy cause and instilling core values in our children. When your family has decided upon what cause you would like to support, commit to year-round service, even if only quarterly, and leverage Thanksgiving as a time to evaluate impact not only upon the organization you’ve supported, but the impact the giving has had upon your family. This can be formalized with creating videos, scrapbooks, and children reporting back at the Thanksgiving table: “What I learned this year about the cause, and about myself,” and more. And celebrate as a family your good fortune, and how you’ve shared that good fortune with others.

I work with families on creating their generosity plans, incorporating where each member intersects in terms of an issue area, and developing a strategy around engagement and impact (for the issue area and the family); but you needn’t have a sophisticated approach to philanthropy to begin.

In the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

"No one has ever become poor by giving." - Anne Frank


Getting Started, Getting Traction: Family Philanthropy Visioning Session

Call a special meeting involving pizza (or Thanksgiving turkey!) or some other special treat. At the risk of eye rolls, exude enthusiasm for the journey you are about to take with your family!

Rule #1: Have fun. This is an opportunity to create a unifying experience for your family, while bringing the conversation to values, gratitude, and giving back.

Rule #2: Every member of the family should have a say in the creation of a family philanthropy mission statement, including the youngest members if they are old enough to participate. Create a space for everyone to be heard and valued, reinforcing that their contributions matter.

Rule #3: Make the process and length of time age appropriate, and recognize that this can be done over the span of a few gatherings. For kids aged four to nine, 15 – 20 minute blocks work well. For older kids, a 30 – 45 minute meeting fits. A note of caution: toddlers are not developmentally equipped to participate in a planning session, and including them in a visioning session could be an exercise in frustration; however, there are age-appropriate ways to engage even your littlest ones in philanthropic activities.

Rule #4: Ask questions that will foster a healthy discussion. I’ve prepared some suggested questions to get you started:

  • What are some of our blessings that we feel everyone should have?
  • What are the primary family values we will use to guide us?
  • What are primary issue area(s) that most engage our heart and values
  • What is our personal connection to this issue area (our “why”)?
  • What are some of our superpowers? What is every individual really good at? How can those superpowers be used collectively for good?
  • What are ways we can engage so that the activity will bring us together?
  • What volunteerism can we engage in as a family? Would travel philanthropy apply here?
  • What are the feelings we want to enjoy as a family by doing this activity?

Rule # 5: Do It Ugly. Create an inclusive and playful environment for all, free flow white-boarding the big ideas and discoveries, capturing the information in its raw form.

Rule #6: Keep it Short.  Short is memorable. Try to keep your mission statement to two or three sentences to invite clarity and impactful language.

Rule # 7: Get 100% Buy-In. Write, edit, and re-write until everyone is happy with the final product.

Rule #8: Check your Authenticity. It can be an easy trap to create a feel-good philanthropy mission statement that gathers dust. The statement should something you all believe in, even if it is aspirational.

Rule #9: Hang your Family Philanthropy Mission Statement in a prominent place as a visual reminder of who you are as a family, and as community citizens. Refer to it regularly, especially during teaching moments around values.

Rule # 10: Use It or Lose It! ‘Nuff said.

Rule # 11: Refocus and Refine. Families change over time, particularly as children are able to take on bigger roles and responsibilities. Ensure that the mission statement remains authentic and continues to reflect the values of your evolving family.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! May it be filled with joy, gratitude, and deep connection to those you love the most.


Work with Me: My firm, Black Fox Philanthropy, works with families in the early to mid-stages of their philanthropic journey, engaging the entire family in articulating and sharing their hearts with each other, and their deep “why” behind what they care about. The result is to appreciate each other in deeper ways, and create a unifying vision for giving back that honors each family member while creating a legacy of impact and connection.

12 Ways You Can Move the Equality Needle

Woman standing in sunlight

One of my areas of philanthropic passion is women and girls, and I have mobilized large amounts of my financial resources in supporting organizations and causes that improve the lives of women and girls worldwide.

While mobilizing your financial resources is important and impactful, I want to emphasize that we are all richly endowed with resources other than what is in our wallets: our time, our talents, and our connections can all be powerful catalysts for social change. Today, I want to share 12 ways that you can help move the equality needle with your vast resources.

Woman standing in sunlight

For women:

Purchase products and services from socially conscious companies.  This is the most underused tool women have.  Every dollar that goes out of your pocket into someone else’s pocket is a shift in financial power.  Focus your portion of the U.S. women’s $10 – $15 trillion consumer spending on companies that have a critical mass of women on their corporate boards, an indicator of commitment to gender equality.

Become a sponsor to women and girls. Go beyond mentoring and sponsor a young woman with your connections and access.  Or become an elder to a tween or teen seeking guidance and a role model.

Join Women’s Donor Network or Women Moving Millions. Women Donors Network helps women invest their voices and more in the demand for change. Through collaboration and innovation, WDN accomplishes more together than could ever be done separately.  Women Moving Millions is a bold global philanthropic initiative whose goal is to inspire gifts of a million dollars or more to organizations that advance and empower women and girls.  Insurance and planned gifts can qualify.  Women Moving Millions also has an initiative for all women to become involved.

For everyone:

Support the 20-20 Initiative. The 20-20 Initiative is a national campaign to increase the percentage of women on U.S. company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020.  Learn more at

Invest in the leadership and philanthropic development of high school age girls.  Invest in those who are already showing up as leaders in their communities, and catapult them onto a national stage as role models and as a promise for the future.  There are several proven programs, often run by Women’s Foundations. Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s Girls Leadership Council is an extraordinarily successful example, and where I fund Black Fox Scholars:

Focus your philanthropic investments on women and girls.  Twenty-five years ago, 4% of funding went to issues facing women and girls; even now it is only 7.5%.  Without greater resources, true and lasting change cannot happen.

Participate in gender-lens investing.  Lean on big business with your investment portfolios. PAX Ellevate World Global Women’s Equity Fund is doing incredible award-winning work in this area. Pipeline Fellows is a visionary and leader in the field of women-focused angel investing.   

Support your local Women’s Foundation.  There are over 170 worldwide that are intentionally and powerfully empowering women and girls to achieve economic independence.  They do the research, vet and invest in the best-run nonprofits that advance solutions for women and girls, measure impact, and affect policy that is shaping systemic change.

Join or start a giving circle that invests in women and girls. For more information, click here.  

Vote, and hold your elected officials accountable.  Voting is the starting gun, not the finish line.  Hold elected officials accountable for the pledges they made that got them into office.

Focus your political funding on capable women candidates. Encourage qualified women to seek public office, and have their back.  Learn more at

Take a public stand.  Adopt a UN-sponsored initiative, and take a public stand for women that will further businesses in every way. Learn more at

These are just some of the many ways you can mobilize your resources to make the world a more just and equal place. What are you doing to move the needle? Share with me in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter for more of the latest on gender philanthropy, nonprofit news, and more.

The Mystery and Mastery of Opportunity Collaboration

Sunrise in Mexico at Opportunity Collaboration

As a former art curator, I marvel at the audacity and talent of landscape painters. How is it possible to capture such sublime majesty with humble pigment, canvas, and fine or coarse-haired brushes?

Attempting to interpret and describe the experience of Opportunity Collaboration is equally daunting. While I am no virtuoso with a pen, I feel compelled to share glimpses of this “unconference” mercifully free of PowerPoints, talking heads, and panel discussions.

While “OC” is billed as a conference centered on alleviating global poverty, all major issue areas are on the table; it is simply that poverty is underneath many of the world’s most pressing problems. The finest minds in social change — on topics such as elevating women and girls, impact entrepreneurship, awakened leadership via mindfulness, sustainable development, economic empowerment, and more — convene for four days in Mexico to take a deep dive into what’s working, share best practices, hone skills, deepen relationships, and celebrate failures (open mic “Fuck Up Night” was a feature).

Natalie Lynn Rekstad nameplate at Opportunity Collaboration 2015

Founded by Jonathan Lewis in 2009, OC’s purpose is to leverage resources and innovations, while eliminating fragmentation and traditional silos. Delegates from around the globe are fervently vetted, as OC seeks strong leaders with records of effectiveness, achievement, and an eye on the end game of tackling the complexities of poverty through collaboration.

Lizard at opportunity collaboration
An “unexpected delegate!”

While the brain trust at OC is staggering, what sets the convening apart from its glitzier counterparts is a lack of hierarchy. On some level, it mirrors the collective vision of a world based in equality. Strategically set at an all-inclusive Club Med (in sweltering off-season October), all delegates, including nonprofit founders and directors from around the globe, thought leaders and innovators, and strategic funders with millions to invest, are on equal footing, all bringing something vital to the conversation. What unifies them is a shared vision of a world where men and women lead together, children are safe and nurtured, the earth is cherished; a world where education and quality healthcare is accessible to all, varied cultures are honored, and all peoples are treated with respect and acceptance.

But the magic lies in synchronicity. “Accidental” meetings in the pool, at the beach, or the dining room tables abound, furthering global solutions to poverty, and fostering collaboration among kindreds. At last year’s OC, I had several “chance” encounters that resulted in powerful alliances, transforming Black Fox Philanthropy from a US-based consulting firm into an fiercely purposeful actor with global impact.

Jim nowak leading a talk at opportunity collaboration
My client, Jim Nowak of dZi Foundation, leading a discussion on Nepal post-earthquake.

While this may sound too good to be true, it actually gets better. Each morning, all delegates attend a “Colloquium for the Common Good” with no more than twenty participants in each. Masterfully facilitated, this confidential session drops participants from head space into heart space, a gorgeous transition that informs the rest of the day’s interactions.

Sunrise in Mexico at Opportunity Collaboration

Name tags (on beaded lanyards created by Ugandan grandmothers) feature first and last names only; no other affiliation is listed. In colloquium, it isn’t until the last day that we all openly share what it is we do in the world, and ask for what we need to move our work forward. Collaboration is rampant, with extraordinary alliances and deep friendships carried forth into the trenches of the difficult and sacred work of lifting our world.

If you would like to learn more about Opportunity Collaboration or keep up with the latest in news, you can follow OC on Twitter.

Philanthropist Profile: The Mindful Warriorship of Gretchen Ki Steidle

Gretchen Steidle

One of the most powerful ways to awaken your own philanthropic passion is to read the stories of those that have harnessed their own passion to create powerful change. This is the second in a series of philanthropic profiles – if you missed the first on Jim Nowak of dZi, you can find it here

Raised in a conservative, nomadic military family headed by an authoritarian father with a strong sense of duty, Gretchen Ki Steidle spent her early years in a constant state of upheaval.  With the nature of a seeker, and the resiliency of a military daughter, she forged a path of exploration and adventure, her awakening as a world citizen dawning at age ten in a Philippines fishing village among the rural poor.

Gretchen Steidle

With her Filipino exchange family she watched in awe the sense of community and unbounded freedom that had been missing in her own life.  Her Western standard of privilege and righteousness withered in the face of the beauty and grace of the impoverished villagers living fully expressed lives.  Through years of intellectual and spiritual unfolding, she developed a “Theory of Change” that honored the responsibility of being born into western privilege, while recognizing the inherent wisdom communities possess in creating and pursuing their own definition of prosperity.

1994.  While the world slept, the Hutu extremists began killing their political opponents, the Tutsi, in Rwanda.  Gretchen Ki Steidle was a student at the University of Virginia studying Foreign Affairs, a young scholar with a strong sense of service and commitment to achievement.  Naïve to the opportunities in the global humanitarian realm, she elected a career in international investment banking as an attempt to reestablish a sense of connection to the developing world.

Gretchen Steidle of Global Grassroots in Haiti

Yet her yearning to benefit a greater good was a constant companion.  Her social justice calling at last brought her to India, where she led an independent group of MBA students to work with an eco-social entrepreneur in the Western Ghats rainforest.

As her humanitarian journey continued to unfold, she crossed the deserts of Eastern Chad to learn from survivors fleeing the genocide in Darfur, to Thailand where she studied under a female Buddhist monk fighting a pandemic of domestic violence, to the townships South Africa where she learned at the knees of women living with HIV/AIDS.  She was inspired again and again by grassroots visionaries working with minimal resources to advance social justice; the insights and empathy took root, compelling her to serve in one of the most traumatized countries on earth.

A warrior with a towering intellect, a passionate heart of service, and deep sense of the power of community, Gretchen founded Global Grassroots in 2004 to help rebuild humanity and the fabric of society in Rwanda, communities that were shattered by the atrocity of genocide and systematic rape of an estimated 500,000 women as a tool of war.

While a great deal of misguided international development aid was pouring in, Gretchen knew that unless grassroots women had the opportunity to heal while also implementing their own solutions, the country could not be rebuilt in a way that history would not repeat itself.  With trauma and fear comes the threat of instability and oppression, and the need for compassionate leadership and restored communities was urgent.

Gretchen Steidle of Global Grassroots in Uganda

The solution:  Restore the dignity of the women and build the next generation of girls as leaders through deep foundational shifts that heal horrific trauma while inviting their highest, whole selves to become the spiritual leaders and community change agents for a new Rwanda.

What sets Global Grassroots apart from women’s leadership and empowerment programs in other developing countries is the deep knowing that we cannot change others until we change ourselves.  We cannot lead while we are bleeding and broken.  We cannot have a voice infused with power without trusting our own inner wisdom.  That while we can accept today’s reality, we can also hold a vision for what can be, and work relentlessly toward the dawn when we own the power to say “not on our watch.”

As a result of Gretchen’s passionate commitment to awakening and potential, her own and those of vulnerable and marginalized women, Global Grassroots is at the forefront of a new era of awakened leadership. Today, Global Grassroots change agents have established over 80 community organizations, and serve tens of thousands of other women and girls.

Gretchen Steidle of Global Grassroots teaching

The power of the Global Grassroots approach in one of the most brutalized and horrifically shattered places on earth was profound, the success of which pointed the way for other communities to learn, heal, and begin to transform.  Communities who seek the renewal, the resilience and the innovation that unfolds from the ashes of war into the rebirth of community, individual healing and new possibility for a better society.

It is a sought after model, having been requested by women’s groups in over 45 countries. In addition to offering its curriculum via a global, open-source elearning platform, Global Grassroots has expanded its own programs to neighboring Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorized communities in the North for over two decades as they established the world’s largest child army from abducted children. The replication of this work has been possible with a growing community of donors and local partners who recognize that the arc of a country from aid recipient to stable global citizen is precarious, and the stakes are staggeringly high.

Visionary and Thought Leader Gretchen Ki Steidle remains in the trenches on a concurrent journey with her Rwandan and global Sisters:  To Awaken, To Heal, To Lead, and To Transform.  Global Grassroots embodies the idea that transformation from “within ourselves and within our borders” will light the way for a new peace, and a new world.

You can find Gretchen on Twitter at @ConsciousChange. 

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: How You Can Help

Outstretched hands with sand

News about the Syrian refugee crisis is hard to miss. The UNHCR estimates that over 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, with that number continuing to rise. As with any major disaster or emergency, it can be difficult to know how you can help.

There are often many, many charities involved, and it’s hard to know which are worth your funds. If you’re not able to donate financial resources, it can be even more difficult to find a way to help, as these incidents can be halfway across the world. Today, I’d like to share with you some ways that you can help Syrian refugees – using not only your wallet, but your time and talents as well.

  1. Donate to relief organizations

In a crisis of this magnitude, immediate relief is key. There are many organizations on the ground providing food, water, toiletries, and other supplies to refugees, and one way you can help is by funding these organizations’ very important work.

  1. Donate to organizations doing work to improve life for refugees in the long run.

While meeting the needs of refugees in the short run is important, there is a lot more work to be done in the long run to secure housing, employment, legal aid and other necessities for Syrian refugees. The organizations below vary in activities but all are working toward the long-run sustainability of better lives for refugees.

  1. Use your voice to raise awareness about the issues facing Syrian refugees worldwide.

When it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, staying silent is one of the worst things you can do. Whether it’s writing a letter to your congressman asking him/her to support bringing more refugees into the U.S., or spreading the word about Syrian refugees on social media, your voice is one of the most powerful assets you have in making change. Even if you cannot raise large amounts of financial resources on your own, you have the power to rally your family, your neighborhood, or even your community around the cause. If you’re a teacher, the UNHCR has a great resource for teaching young people about refugees and migration.

  1. Give of your time and talents.

Through the UN’s online volunteer portal, you can register to volunteer your skills from home in research, translation, writing and editing, and more. If you’re looking to get more directly involved, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has volunteering opportunities in local chapters around the world, while the IRC has opportunities in the United States. You can also check out The American Refugee Committee International for domestic and overseas volunteer opportunities.

Tweet: A guide to how you can help with the Syrian #refugee crisis // via @SJphilanthropy

Note that not all charities or efforts are legitimate. Unfortunately, genuine crisis often breeds frauds and scams, so be careful of where your money is going! CharityWatch has released their top picks for effective and trusted charities helping Syrian refugees, which you can find here. Be wary of any outreach you see on social media from individuals supposedly involved with the crisis, and do your research before writing a check.

No matter your talents, time availability, or financial resources, there are many ways you can actively make life better for Syrian refugees worldwide. Are there any resources I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Note: Black Fox Philanthropy has not vetted these organizations to do with the Syrian crises, nor do we directly endorse any listed here. This list is meant to be a starting point toward thorough donor research.  If you would like for Black Fox Philanthropy to vet an organization for you, contact me at