Letter From Our Founder
Our Founder, Susan Hirsch, reflects on the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion for philanthropy, ourselves, and the communities we care about.
My earliest inspirations and mentors in life were my mother and grandmother. They were curious, open-minded, and compassionate women—each with a conviction to use their privilege to serve community.
As a young girl, I listened in on calls and meetings with my grandmother, Mimi, witnessing her commitment to programs and fundraising for low-income communities at the Hudson Guild in New York City. Earlier, during World War II, she helped establish a store called Trade Winds for immigrants seeking a better life, where they could create some economic stability by operating a restaurant and selling homemade baked goods and other items. She also funded the first overnight childcare center for working parents in Chicago in 1916; I learned this from a newspaper article decades later. Mimi put in the time required to do the work and was never looking for recognition.
My mother, Doris, was a strong advocate for many issues, primarily access to abortion. She was so motivated to advance reproductive rights that she became a psychiatric social worker at age 57 and continued working at Planned Parenthood well into her late 80s, even after dementia took hold.
My mother and grandmother rolled up their sleeves when they saw a need and then stuck with it for years. I learned that service is a constant act of being immersed in the work, because change doesn’t happen overnight and you must stay engaged for as long as it takes. Their steadfast commitment to uplifting communities and advocating for civil rights had a profound effect on shaping my moral compass. They were also aware of their own privileges that gave them the time and resources to undertake work they were passionate about. These values guided my career as I worked in different sectors—public affairs, community engagement, the corporate sector, and eventually, philanthropy.
In 1999, when I founded Hirsch Philanthropy Partners, my vision was to build partnerships that would help ‘level the playing field’ for communities facing systemic barriers. Equally important to the work itself was how we would do it. Were we distributing funds and building programs that were effective while also advancing justice? Were we seeking out and elevating community wisdom and leadership? Internally, were we building a culture that was inclusive, where we could show up as our whole authentic selves? As a proud gay, Jewish woman, I knew that our work would be more inspired and impactful if our team felt a sense of safety and belonging with each other.
These starting points were the beginning of our firm’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), though I didn’t think of them as such—they just felt right. Over two decades later, my learning journey continues thanks to our brilliant community partners, multi-generational team (from Gen Z to Baby Boomers!), and our racial equity advisors at The Justice Collective. One of the many areas where I’ve gained deeper understanding is the importance of creating intentional, collective, and non-judgmental space to openly explore EDI issues; this has been invaluable in helping identify my blind spots. The many resulting candid and challenging conversations at our firm—brilliantly facilitated by our EDI Committee—have created more transparency and accountability that has strengthened our relationships, enriched our philanthropic practices, and improved our policies. I am immensely proud of our team for investing in this work with courage, humility, and vulnerability; I encourage you to read the EDI statement about our beliefs and ongoing efforts.
Philanthropy is overdue to embrace EDI as central to our purpose. We must leverage our economic—often white—privilege to promote racial equity. We must acknowledge that unjust systems and policies hurt some communities more rapidly and acutely than others. Our work must address the urgent and traumatic symptoms of systemic inequities without losing sight of or focus on long-term, transformational change. To do this, we must seek out, listen to, and trust community leaders and those with lived experiences on the issues we hope to remedy. The challenges facing our communities are daunting. Sharing and ceding power to those tirelessly doing the work is not only the right thing to do, it is the most effective way forward.
I invite you to join me and embark on a lifelong EDI learning journey, for the benefit of us as individuals, philanthropy, and the communities we care about. To not stay in our comfort zone. To learn from our mistakes. To move past fear and uncertainty. To use what privilege we have to help solve the significant challenges facing our country and democracy. To take a leap of faith that we can create a more just world—for all people—even though we don’t yet have a perfect template for what that looks like.
With optimism for a more equitable future,
Susan Hirsch, Founder & CEO