(Part 2 of 3) Amanda Misiko Andere is Fighting to End Homelessness

Episode Summary

Amanda Misiko Andere has spent her entire career fighting to prevent and end homelessness and break the cycle of poverty. She has worked in the nonprofit sector, the public sector and now the philanthropic sector. For the past four years, Amanda has served as Chief Executive Officer of Funders Together to End Homelessness, which is the only national network of grantmakers working to end and prevent homelessness, and she sits on the Board of Directors of United Philanthropy Forum. In her ForumNation interview, Amanda shares with David how her longtime devotion to helping people in need has been strongly influenced by her immigrant parents’ experience getting help from virtual strangers who greatly improved their lives. She also explains why addressing racial equity is an imperative to ending homelessness in America, how her theater experience has come in handy throughout her career, and why “surrender” is her word of the year for 2020.

Episode Transcription

Dave Biemesderfer (00:05):

This is part two of my interview with Amanda Misiko Andere on ForumNation presented by United Philanthropy Forum. I'm your host Dave Biemesderfer. Your organization just two months ago, just talking about your racial equity work just released a really impressive commitment to racial equity that really is pretty comprehensive in sort of how you weave that into all of your work in your organization.

Dave Biemesderfer (00:34):

Can you talk a bit about how, I'm sure there was a lot of work behind that, getting to this point. I'm interested in learning more about what that process was like, what you learned from it and tell a bit about that commitment and how you hope it will impact your work moving forward.

Amanda Andere (00:52):

Yeah, so at the end of 2019 we released our eight commitments and four aspirations for our work around addressing structural racism and inequities that contribute to housing instability and homelessness and that felt like a really big piece of work that is actually just the beginning of what I think is a lifetime liberation journey, but it started in October 2016, I always want to say that to just give context.

Amanda Andere (01:22):

So a month later, I think our world, our country at least changed dramatically. And then October 2016, at our board retreat, we set a priority around addressing racial inequity. But what it really started was, so February around this time, four years ago, first day on my job, my all white staff gave me a list of things that they thought that we should focus on.

Amanda Andere (01:49):

And on the top of that list was addressing racial equity. My board took me out to dinner at my second week on the job at our first big conference and said, if we're not addressing structural racism, we won't end homelessness. And so I always tell that story because I think people want to believe that me as a black woman came into this job and said like, oh, we should be talking about race and not realizing a lot of black leaders, that's not the first thing they wanted to dress because they're black and all the things that come with that.

Amanda Andere (02:23):

And to me it tells a story about when people do their own work about examining the racial inequities and how they've enabled it. When the moment is right, you can have an organization that's ready to talk about it. So the staff and the board had been starting to do their own work. We really called it a learning to action journey. We did ... we saw the data.

Amanda Andere (02:48):

I mean for us, we've always been an organization that goes by data and evidence and best practices and the racial disparities in homelessness and the disproportionality that can't just be explained by poverty are huge and they're pervasive and in almost every community. And yet we had funders who said they wanted to invest in systems change. Well, the biggest system we needed to change is the system that's rooted in structural racism.

Amanda Andere (03:14):

So when we named it as a priority, we named it and said, we know we need to address it, but we don't know how we were going to do it, right? How do you end 400 years of oppression just by putting in your strategic plan. But what happened for us is also a process of vulnerability where we just started to learn. So, we did sessions with AFPBI and we did learning internally and we did learning with our members.

Amanda Andere (03:43):

We said, we're going to bring this programming to you and we actually are probably going to have more questions than answers, but we're going to start to learn about the history of housing in our country together. We're going to start to understand the structural inequities that lead to the disproportionality of black and brown and native folks in homelessness and the context of race in all of our systems.

Amanda Andere (04:08):

And as we did that learning, what we realized was we needed a commitment bolder than just in our strategic plan. We needed to start to put some things not just in writing. We actually were codifying things that we were already doing and have a vision for how the field could be. So how we were going to work differently internally. Some things that we thought could happen in the movement to end homelessness that would start to develop anti racist policies and start to dismantle structural racism.

Amanda Andere (04:43):

And so what our commitment is just, it is really aspiration and goals for us internally as an organization and for the field. And we know that we need to prioritize funding in a different way, change the way funders do their work, center people with lived expertise in that, really trust people with resources. Bring organizations who are not typically funded, who are seeing people who are suffering probably first to the ... too as priorities for grantors and really start from there.

Amanda Andere (05:19):

So we're just at the beginning of our journey, right? People always ask me like, so what's next and what do we do now? And I always remind people again, I don't know. I don't know that how we undo 400 years of oppression plus, right? 400 years plus, we're talking about when I'm chattel slavery started. We're not even talking about the stolen land that we're on. We have to work bit by bit to start to undo that.

Amanda Andere (05:45):

We have to examine all the tools that we have with the best intentions, what is their ... really their impact. And so that's what we're doing now.

Dave Biemesderfer (05:55):

Great. Thank you for that. Then when you were doing that learning with your team, with your members, were there aha's for some of your members particularly white folks like wow, I had no idea? Or was there any of that kind of ... or were they all already this, I kind of knew these things?

Amanda Andere (06:17):

I ... What's so interesting is for the field of housing and homelessness, as much as people work in this field, I don't think that we really sat with the history of things like red lining and segregation in a way of like, oh, might know that it happened, but how it still permeates our communities today. So that wasn't ... on a hob it was ... there was a heaviness of how we haven't actually sat with that and really learned from it.

Amanda Andere (06:48):

What was ... what's been so interesting as we actually start to talk about white dominant, white supremacy culture, I will say there's been aha's for white folks and for folks of color and especially for folks of color realizing if you look at the list of things that are part of white supremacy and white dominant culture that as people of color, we enable some of these things too because we're just trying to survive in a culture that says that for us to get ahead, for us to be able to be stable, we have to do those things.

Amanda Andere (07:21):

And so the like ... what's been surprising actually is that how we're all complicit in it, we all enable it and how it takes daily work to undo it. So we have a ... I have a list of white supremacy culture attributes when I am home in my home office and I try to look at it daily to remind myself that you will do these things. It takes work. It's like going to the gym. You have to work that muscle to have a racial equity analysis.

Amanda Andere (07:54):

So, that was the biggest thing. I think people didn't know how much work and muscle it would take to really look at everything with a racial equity analysis.

Dave Biemesderfer (08:03):

I wanted to ask you too about you've been a senior leader and a chief executive of a number of organizations at a fairly young age and I know why it happened because you're awesome.

Amanda Andere (08:18):

Thank you.

Dave Biemesderfer (08:18):

But, I welcome any thoughts about being a young leader in our sector, nonprofit sector, philanthropy sector. And also even more so advice you have for younger folks who are in our field today, whether working in a nonprofit foundation, in a PSO, philanthropic serving organization, advice you have for people who aspire to be senior leaders, to be CEOs some day.

Amanda Andere (08:53):

Yeah, sure.

Dave Biemesderfer (08:54):

That's a long question.

Amanda Andere (08:55):

Yeah. So I've been reflecting on this a lot actually. It's 11 years being a nonprofit CEO and I will be turning 40 this year. So-

Dave Biemesderfer (09:05):

Oh, milestone.

Amanda Andere (09:05):

Yeah, so I will say, so my first executive director job, I was not even 30, I had gone through a fellowship called the Future Executive Director Fellowship, which helped me tremendously, not in the hard skills, those are great but just hearing from other CEOs about what the job took and what it meant in terms of being a leader and how lonely it could be. And so, one of the things that I was so afraid of, because those folks really scared me to say like, yo, you could have a lot of stress and trauma and I mean, they really said in one meeting, like I almost died doing this job, especially for the women of color, right? That they had to show up in a different way.

Amanda Andere (09:53):

And so as a young leader I was so scared to ever say my age or be my authentic self. But I did try to surround myself with people so I wouldn't become lonely and isolated and sought out mentors in different ways. What I've learned though and now the last 11 years is that age is a number and that instincts and confidence and just being clear about what you know and what you don't know is the most important thing in leadership and that being your authentic self is critically important, especially in this work of human services and justice.

Amanda Andere (10:34):

And that the people that you care about, the people that you're fighting with will see that more than they'll see experience. And it took me, actually the last four years is the first time I've ever felt like I could be an authentic black woman leader in my role. And it was, I largely credit a board that let me do that because as they were learning about racial inequity, they understood how to just authentically welcome people in. And it also was my own learning.

Amanda Andere (11:01):

So, but I was scared for a long time like, okay, I've been given this responsibility. What does this actually entail? So the advice that I would give to young leaders is definitely find yourself, be yourself and don't give that up and really go deep and surround yourself with people. And that doesn't have to be people that are necessarily older, just people who you feel like are wise and that you think get it, get certain things that you might not get and have authentic, genuine relationships with them, not transactional relationships so you can mutually help each other. That's been really helpful in my career.

Amanda Andere (11:46):

And I don't know that the path is the same for everyone, but I also think, don't let tell you that you can't do it because you're young. I think there's a generation of folks who are going to be leading us in ways that we've not been led before. And I always remind as we're thinking, coming up on the Martin Luther King holiday, he was 33 when he gave the, I Have A Dream speech.

Amanda Andere (12:14):

John Lewis who I know we're all holding close in our hearts, who's given more to this country than I could ever imagine was 23 fighting for his rights and justice and liberation. What is age? It's leadership. And so that was actually a constant reminder in this war. They were super young and did amazing things. And I'm here because of them so I can do that myself.

Dave Biemesderfer (12:38):

Wonderful. And for people of color who also aspire to be CEOs and lead and senior leaders, anything else for specifically for young folks of color that you would add to that?

Amanda Andere (12:49):

Yeah, it's .... I'm ... It's hard being a person of color in this field. You still get looked at differently. You're still heard differently. Things are changing. I think there's more of us in this field and we're trying to support each other in this ... in the way, and when I say field, I mean nonprofits or philanthropy. So it's super important to have a network, right? Not just mentors, a real network, whether that's a text network or a, we get together for drinks or coffee network just to be with each other.

Amanda Andere (13:24):

And that's really important. And having that confidence is really important and really thinking about how you can dismantle white dominant culture and white supremacy culture in your work and not having to conform to, even in the nonprofit world, conform to those ways, just being really confident in yourself, I think is the most important thing.

Dave Biemesderfer (13:47):

Right. And I know, there's a lot of discussion about how ... when you are a leader in a nonprofit organization creating a culture that lets people be their authentic selves but I think that might mean different things to different people and you hear that term, but I'm really interested in how you would define that. So that for any leader who's thinking about that and how to actually operationalize that.

Amanda Andere (14:19):

It's ... I think it's a lot of work and it's really understanding what's the culture you want to have and develop as an organization and your culture might not, that you develop as an organization can be inclusive and still not be the right place for everyone. And so I think being inclusive is being aware of the unique gifts that people bring and how their background or their life experiences might impact how they do their work.

Amanda Andere (14:45):

And creating space for that. I have and I consider it a blessing in my career, have had colleagues and staff members who have experienced mental health challenges. And I did not realize the work of being inclusive until that happened and mistakes I made in managing that. But then understanding how creating an environment where folks who had passion and dedication and skills but needed extra time to deal with their mental health was one of the most important things I can do.

Amanda Andere (15:20):

And I only, I bring that as an example for like, because we think of inclusive around race and ethnicity and, but it's many different things and I think it's being flexible. It's a lot of times doing the things that you are asking the community to do for the people that you work with or serve. And it's talking about a culture. We talk a lot about culture in our organization, talking about what we want it to look like and examine ourselves and correct ourselves and creating an environment where people can be vulnerable to share their background and how that impacts how they show up at work.

Amanda Andere (16:02):

So I always, I wish there was always one answer to it, but I think it's opening up the dialogue and thinking about what's the culture you want to have that can be the most inclusive for the type of work that you do.

Dave Biemesderfer (16:14):

You mentioned earlier in passing that I caught, you said philanthropy moves forward, but often slowly.

Amanda Andere (16:23):


Dave Biemesderfer (16:26):

So were you, when you came into the field, was ... were you aware of that already or did that grow, and or did that grow on you more as a realization as you get into the field and what are your thoughts about why that is and what can be done perhaps if you think it could move more quickly to address issues, whether it's in homelessness or in other areas? How are we as a sector can think about that and address it?

Amanda Andere (16:59):

Yeah, so I don't ... I mean I think the roots of why it moves so slowly because a lot of times when you're funding, you're not doing the work so you don't have the same sense of urgency and slowness allows for people to be careful and thoughtful and deliberate, but not really responsive to needs. And so I think it's also rooted in our white supremacy cultural and structural racism and how we set up systems controlling things.

Amanda Andere (17:32):

So I think that's a part of it. We still a bit different in the housing homelessness fields. I feel like philanthropy can be a bit more nimble because of the sense of urgency, but the measure of what's impact or success has driven funding in a different way. And now we're seeing people who are in it for the long haul who get that this is a big 50 year liberation journey. So like affecting policy and change is the way to go.

Amanda Andere (18:01):

And so that requires responsiveness and to be more nimble but also requires patience and realizing investing in something that's bigger and deeper than a grant cycle. So I do see that changing. And I think that, that's because a lot of our members are on the ground and in the work and in community. So I think if ... I think there's structures within philanthropy and foundations that need to change, but the more and more we hire people who either come directly from the field or who are working on the ground and partnership with our grantees, that will change.

Amanda Andere (18:36):

One of the things that's been so interesting to me is when people are like, we want to hire someone that has grant making experience. What is that and why is that important? And how do you get grant making experience? Isn't it more important that the folks that you're hiring understand the issues and have been in community or know community well? As one of my board members says, philanthropy is kind of a made up thing. There's no ... there's best practices but we give too ... ourselves too much credit if we think that knowing how to get a grant off the door is the right thing rather than knowing what community needs, how we build our systems to be responsive to that.

Amanda Andere (19:16):

So I think that's changing because people are hiring folks that are different, that are in community, come from different backgrounds and different sectors and putting the pressure on foundations and grant making institutions to change.

Dave Biemesderfer (19:31):

So you said there are structures that need to change. What do you think? What's the ... If there's one structure in philanthropy that needs to change the most, what are one or two?

Amanda Andere (19:40):

Oh wow. One or two.

Dave Biemesderfer (19:45):

Or more but I didn't want you to have to ...

Amanda Andere (19:48):

Well, I think this idea of foundations or as an institution, as the gatekeepers to resources to me is ... needs to change and that there's like this grant-maker grantee relationship rather than, as we start to talk more about participatory grant making and centering people with lived expertise, how do people from community decide where resources should go and have agency and ownership of that and the process to get grants is less onerous and more about trusting community. I think once that starts to unravel, I think we'll see resources radically change and being given to community in different ways.

Dave Biemesderfer (20:46):

In part three of my interview with Amanda Misiko Andere, she explains how every year she chooses a board of the year and what that word means to her.

Amanda Andere (20:55):

Having a lot of time for reflection, I pick a word every year, last year where my word was clarity. This year my word is surrender. So, I want to surrender to the things that will happen and not in a way that's just like, oh, this is just going to happen to me. But really understanding why things are happening and what my unique role can be and being led in that direction to not just help people, but really be able ... a support system to folks.

Dave Biemesderfer (21:22):

Continue listening to part three of my interview with Amanda Misiko Andere on ForumNation presented by United Philanthropy Forum.