Roberto Ramirez's is the classic Hispanic success story. Born on a farm in Mexico, Mr. Ramirez – along with his mother and eight siblings – immigrated to the United States at age 9 after the murder of his father. For years he shined shoes and sold magazines before founding a janitorial and custodial service in 1991 with just $120.
Tidy International has since gone on to big things. In 1997, the firm was named Chicago Hispanic Business of the Year by the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association. A year later, Hispanic Business recognized Tidy as one of the nation's fastest-growing Hispanic companies.
"I've been lucky and blessed. I've made some money and I've accomplished a lot through my business," says Mr. Ramirez. "Now I feel the responsibility of giving some of it back to the people in Mexico and America."
After realizing that he needed advice and information to ensure that his charitable donations would have the greatest possible impact, he joined Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas. The one-year-old educational program – which consists of a series of skills-building seminars, workshops, and site visits – is a joint venture of the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided $225,000 in funding, and Hispanics in Philanthropy, a donor association that seeks to increase investments in Hispanic communities.
"It's easy to give money away, but it's really hard to give it away well," says Salvatore LaSpada, director of The Philanthropy Workshop, the Rockefeller Foundation's donor training program, which developed the curriculum for Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas.
"Our goal is to form a new cadre of Latino philanthropists who can help support and retool Latino nonprofit organizations on both sides of the border. Ethnic communities have historically advanced socially, economically, and politically through philanthropic efforts. Now this is the moment for Latinos to claim and stake. This is an enormous opportunity for Hispanic business leaders to advance their own companies' objectives and the communities of their constituents."
According to a recent survey, Hispanic philanthropy is on the rise (see "New Dynamics for Nonprofits," July/August 2001). However, a 1999 study found that Hispanics prefer to donate money for immediate needs, such as disaster relief, as opposed to long-term projects. It also appears that they are just as likely to give to mainstream causes – the American Cancer Society or United Way, for example – as to minority-run foundations.
"Philanthropy is not a do-it-yourself project," says Diana Campoamor, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, underscoring the assumption underlying Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas. "Through this affiliation with the Rockefeller Foundation, Latinos of wealth can be part of a larger network of philanthropists. They can learn from each other and collaborate with others who are doing the same thing."
The program teaches philanthropists, who pay $5,000 each to join, how to use their private resources to create systemic solutions to social problems in Latin America and U.S. Hispanic communities. And because Hispanic immigrants typically maintain strong economic, political, and cultural ties to their home countries, the program has the underlying goal of promoting cross-border philanthropic connections.
"The program's transnational focus was the motivating factor for me," says Lourdes Miranda, who owned and operated Miranda Associates, a multimillion-dollar company that provided international training and technical assistance to government agencies. After retiring, Ms. Miranda created the Miranda Foundation, a private nonprofit philanthropy that promotes understanding between people and cultures. "It's about building bridges," she says.
Through her participation in Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas, Ms. Miranda says, she learned to use her resources more intelligently. "I became much more focused in my grants," she states. "Instead of being scattered and all over the place, I became oriented toward the root causes of problems, which gave me a framework within which to structure my foundation."
According to Ms. Campoamor, Hispanic nonprofits typically are small, decentralized, poorly funded, local in focus, and disconnected from each other. "They are doing amazing work, but they need greater support and visibility. In order to promote the educational and economic development of Latino communities, we have to develop these organizations' leadership and infrastructure," she says.
The Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas program aims to strengthen Hispanic organizations in the United States and Latin America. "But that doesn't mean you can just go around and say, 'I like this group; here, take my money,' " Ms. Campoamor says. "Instead, you have to ask yourself, 'How much money do I have to give? What are my values? How can I make a difference?' It doesn't matter whether you can give $50,000 or $50 million – the point is to give in the most informed, intentional, and effective manner possible."
For example, Ms. Miranda – who was born in Puerto Rico and now divides her time between Washington, D.C., and San Juan – had planned to discontinue her grants to the Aspiring Leaders Program at the Carlos Rosario International Career Center, a charter school in Washington, D.C., that provides occupational training for immigrants. "But after I learned to analyze the issues and the problems, my perspective shifted," she says. "I realized that the program is doing a good job of building leaders in the immigrant communities." She continues to support it.
As part of the Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas program, participants visit several nonprofit organizations. They learn how to assess an organization's soundness and to identify and build its leadership. They learn firsthand how a single donation can spur economic development and create jobs. Mr. Ramirez says one such trip to the Dominican Republic opened his eyes.
"I was able to see how just $10,000 can make beautiful changes to these people's lives," he says. "And the businessmen out there who are doing much better than I am can really make a difference in our communities – not only here in the United States but in the countries we come from."
In an effort to increase the involvement of emerging donors, this year the Philanthropic Leadership in the Americas program will place greater emphasis on local and regional issues affecting Hispanic communities, and will offer more workshops, training sessions, and networking opportunities.
The cost to participate is $5,000, plus all personal expenses, including airfare, hotel accommodations, and some meals. Upon completion, alumni become members of the Rockefeller Foundation's Philanthropic Workshop Association and are eligible to attend continuing education seminars, reunions, retreats, and travel programs.
For an application or more information, contact Aixa Beauchamp at (908) 273-3559.