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Vision and commitment
By Neil Steinberg / May 22, 2019 /   Loading Disqus...

It is that moment in time to change our tune: from ‘we should do this’ to ‘we will do this’, from ‘we will do this’ to ‘we are doing this’!

Hundreds of the Foundation’s partners including community and business leaders, donors, and grant recipients gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center on May 16 for our 2019 Annual Meeting. This year’s award recipients, Tim and Kim Hebert, Carter Inspiring Partner Award; the College Crusade of Rhode Island, Community Leadership Award; and Robert D. Sherwin, Harold B. Soloveitzik Professional Leadership Award , were honored for their contributions to community and philanthropy. And, the Foundation’s President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg shared the following remarks:

2018 was a truly historic year at the Rhode Island Foundation and for Rhode Island. We granted a record $52 million in grants to more than 1,900 organizations. We raised a record $114 million from generous donors with gifts of $1 to several million, including a major new relationship with the Jewish Federation Foundation.

As our total assets stand at $1 billion, and our long-term endowment investment returns exceed 7.50% over 20 years, your community foundation is built to last well into the future, to honor legacy, and meet the ever-increasing needs in the community.

We are grateful beyond words for the honor, the privilege, the opportunity, and the responsibility as the state’s leading philanthropic institution. We strive to work collaboratively with many to balance short- and long-term needs, geographic requirements, and sector challenges. We are focused on long-term systemic change while not ignoring the immediate needs right outside our door.

In the past, we told you about programs we were starting, and now they are growing. Our impact investing -- direct loans and investments for social and financial returns – is providing support for Horizon Healthcare Partners, The Public’s Radio, ONE Neighborhood Builders, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, Urban Greens Food Co-op, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Community Care Alliance

Our Responsive Grants support organizations working to address urgent needs, testing new ideas, and growing proven programs. It includes the arts, protecting the environment, providing affordable housing, and serving children and families.

We awarded grants to organizations such as Operation Stand Down, Preserve RI, Boys & Girls Clubs of Rhode Island, Save the Bay, Adoption RI, Foster Forward, Crossroads, Trinity Rep, EduLeaders of Color, Dorcas International, Audubon Society, Tomaquag Museum, Building Futures, Progreso Latino, Economic Progress Institute, Oasis International, City Year, Rhode Island KIDS Count, WaterFire and many more.

Our Community Grants produce places to gather, create friendships, and inspire new collaborations that build community connections all over the state.

Our Strategic Initiatives support economic security throughout the state, including job training and small business expansion, as well as Healthy Lives and Educational Success.

And we provide capacity building in partnership with a variety of non-profit organizations throughout the state.

Medical research and scholarships continue to be increased areas of funding that add to the community. We are joined this evening by the recipients of our largest individual scholarship program, the Carter Roger Williams Scholarship -- Alfusatny Saine, Angella Nakasagga, Jacqueline Contreras, Marissa Henley, Ezra Monteiro, and Abel Ndungutsye. After you complete college, we hope you will all return to Rhode Island.

Civic leaders are those who step up, not those who are anointed, and bring many with them- in front, behind, and side by side.

Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.

An example of our civic leadership is another important initiative where we collaboratively are providing prominent leadership and funding for the 2020 Complete Count Census Initiative. The Census is a required, once-in-a-decade count of every person living in the United States. Government relies on Census data to guide funding for public education, public assistance, housing, health care, business development, and infrastructure. Rhode Island receives over $3 billion in federal funding every year based on Census estimates, equal to 1/3 of the state’s annual budget. Past Censuses have undercounted communities of color, people living in poverty, young children, and people living in rural communities, decreasing access to federal funding and accurate Congressional representation. Please help support and promote this!

We are again sponsoring the RWP Pops Concert in Roger Williams Park on August 7 at the Temple to Music with the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Attended by over 8,000 people last year, it is free and open to the public. We hope you will join us. 

We are committed to working with generous Rhode Islanders to establish funds of all sizes that make their dreams come true and meet the needs of the community. We are their trusted advisor and philanthropic partners. True philanthropy is when the brain meets the heart. 

If we raise more money, together with our donors and boots on the ground non-profit partners, we can do more good.

Something different at this year's event: Guests at the Annual Meeting worked together to recreate a painting depicting iconic Rhode Island landmarks, as a symbol of community-building. Watch the time-lapse video:

The Rhode Island Foundation is here to support you because someone gave, someone donated, someone created and left a legacy. We can help you give forever and give well.

Generations of generous “someones” have helped shape Rhode Island into this amazing place we all call home and made our state better. We focus on results, not credit. We know that we cannot do everything, but working together we can do anything. 

We recognize that, even in these supposedly boom times, for too many the needs are growing – food insecurity, affordable housing shortage, and opioid epidemic.

We need to build a ship for all weather -- for times when the wind is at our sails or squalls are ahead. We could experience an economic slowdown, stock market correction, government funding cuts that can impact financial needs and financial support in Rhode Island. 

We need to communicate more than ever. Our Together RI initiative affirmed how important civic and civil dialogue are. It is up to each and every one of us to be informed and engaged.

We must never ignore those in need, young and old, our most vulnerable -- we are better than that.

Can we do this together? Yes, it is up to us to and make no mistake, the them is us. Social and economic will have to be greater than the political will.

We recognize that disparities exist in many areas of our collective work and there are structural inequities underneath them. We are committed to work in and with the community to strive for equitable opportunities and outcomes.

Maya Angelou said, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

We have a long way to go together.

We are proud of our Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund, the Juanita Sanchez Fund, and our Equity Action Fund; all giving in diverse communities.

We embrace the need to significantly prioritize inclusiveness. Let’s not settle and limit the future of Rhode Island to the status quo of today.

If we can think it, we can do it.
If we can do it, we can do it well.
If we can do it well, we can do it for everyone.
If we can do it for and with everyone, we can succeed.

We, together, right here, can make a difference. We, together, right here, can just do it, now and for the long-term. We must embrace our differences and wonderful cultural diversity.

We strive to balance long-term change with the needs right outside our door. We strive to balance the breadth of the need for our support with the depth of key areas of economic security, healthy lives, and educational success. We take this seriously and work with you to be a bold and impactful leader.

We celebrate our 2018 results with all of you, and together we push forward through 2019. We embrace the challenges and the opportunities as your Community Foundation—Of, For, and By Rhode Island.

While we rely on the contributions of many, we single out three of our partners for special recognition: Tim and Kim Hebert with our Carter Inspiring Partner Award, the College Crusade of Rhode Island with our Community Leadership Award, and Robert D. Sherwin with our Harold B. Soloveitzik Professional Leadership Award.

They join a long list of organizations, individuals, and families that inspired us and have helped the Rhode Island Foundation make a positive difference in Rhode Island over many decades.

Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

As noted, healthy lives and educational success are two of our top priorities and huge challenges in Rhode Island. A year and a half ago, we recognized that there are no long-term plans for healthcare/health or Pre-K-12 education in Rhode Island – so we have seized this opportunity to launch long-term planning in both sectors. We informed the Governor, Speaker, and Senate President that we were undertaking these efforts and would be back with results!

So, we put a stake in the ground and initiated an effort with key stakeholders to build a 10-year vision and plan for both of these critical areas. We know that healthier children get a better education, and that educated individuals are more likely to be healthy. Also, if Rhode Island becomes a leader in both areas, this will be a very desirable place to live and work. Here are some highlights.

So, let’s look at healthcare.

Life expectancy in this country went down last year. Life expectancy went down in the United States of America due primarily to opioid deaths and suicides tied to behavioral health issues. Disparities still exist based on zip codes. And we have seen that insurance doesn’t equal access, doesn’t equal outcomes. We have lots to do.

In order to establish a long-term health plan, we, with experienced healthcare leader Jane Hayward co-chairing, convened a group that includes all of the hospital CEOs, the CEOs of the insurance companies, representatives of nurses and doctors, the Deans of the Brown Medical School and School of Public Health, the Health Insurance Commissioner, the Director of the Department of Health, and representatives from the long-term care and business community, all facilitated by healthcare leader Judith Bentkover. We have been meeting monthly since September. Ground rules centered on a long-term focus (10 years) and leaving stripes at the door. Notably, we quickly pivoted from the healthcare system (responsible for only 20% of our health outcomes) to health and the social determinants of health.

Mark Twain said that “the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” Wise man.

Here is the vision for 10 years into the future that has been signed off on by all Committee members.


Rhode Island is the healthiest state in the nation. All Rhode Islanders will:

  • Have the opportunity to be in optimal health.
  • Live, work, learn, and play in healthy communities.
  • Have access to high quality and affordable healthcare.


  • Eliminate disparities in health and socio-economic factors
  • Provide access to high quality healthcare for all
  • Focus resources to maximize health and reduce waste

Combined with the groundbreaking work done by the Cost Trends Steering Committee -- led by state Health Insurance Commissioner Marie Ganim -- to set a state healthcare spending target at 3.2%, our crafting of a vision, goals, and ultimately strategies and tactics are a moment in time to move the state forward.

Regarding pre-K-12 education, there is nothing more important for our state’s future. A year and a half ago, we looked to Massachusetts and the top results they were achieving. We met Dr. David Driscoll, former Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts, who also wrote a book about the Mass reforms, entitledCommitment and Common Sense. In 1993, 25 years ago, Massachusetts started on a path to reform with a focus on high standards and staying the course.

Our Latino achievement gap has been the highest in the United States for several years. Our employers large and small need a skilled workforce. To attract workers to Rhode Island, we need excellent schools. The RICAS scores confirmed a lot; if Rhode Island was a district in Massachusetts, it would be in the bottom 10% of all districts. Massachusetts is not perfect – they have disparities and funding formula challenges – but they are a model. Just this week, US News and World Report ranked Massachusetts the top in the country for pre-K-12 education.

So, as with health, we seized the opportunity and responsibility to convene a stakeholder group that includes the Chair of the State Board of Education, the

Commissioner, the principals, superintendents, school committees, the Deans of the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, Brown schools of education, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, EduLeaders of Color, the heads of the two teacher unions, and RIPEC and other representatives of the business community, to work with facilitator Mary Beth Fafard.

We have been meeting since last November with great success. The ground rules are the same: think long-term and leave your stripes at the door. We are also doing outreach around the state to educators, parents, students, and administrators. So, pretend you went to sleep for ten years and here is the vision for education signed onto by all Committee members:


Rhode Island’s world-class public education system prepares all students to succeed in life and contribute productively to the community. To equitably and urgently deliver on this vision, we:

  • Put students at the center, ensuring that school is rewarding, engaging, and responsive to interests and needs
  • Respect, enable, empower, and value teaching
  • Serve students who are being left behind and close achievement and opportunity gaps
  • Deliver relevant learning so students are prepared for the current and future economy
  • Engage families in actively shaping students’ experiences
  • Leverage the expertise of community partners and the support of all Rhode Islanders
  • Distribute leadership, so decisions are made at the appropriate level for the greatest benefit of students
  • Hold adults accountable for student learning
  • Provide sufficient resources and distribute them equitably
  • Align policies, structures, and supports to work best for students and teachers
  • Set ambitious statewide standards and high expectations – and stay the course 

 We are continuing to work diligently on the specific strategies and tactics. And I want to emphasize: This is the moment in time : our long-term planning for higher standards and staying the course, legislation pending on curriculum and governance reforms, the Governor’s focus on improving the Providence school system, and a wonderful new Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Angelica Infante-Green. She has hit the ground running and is touring schools throughout Rhode Island, and we very much look forward to supporting and working with her going forward.

Both of these initiatives in health and education are making progress and both are very challenging. Our goal is to get 80% of where we need to be in the future. Again, this is our moment in time to tackle these. Samuel Johnson said, “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objection must be first overcome.”

We will report the full results of strategies and tactics with more details in the near future.

Be assured that we are your Community Foundation: the state’s preeminent funder for now and in the future. And here, together with you, we can lead and make a difference. Our shared success can lift all boats as we take on tough challenges that really can change our course. We embrace our differences and cultural diversity. We respect the past, we are committed to the present, and we have hope for the future. We, here, together with you, are motivated to continue to do good, better, and then even better. Let’s work hard, stay humble and dream big. It is that moment in time to change our tune: from ‘we should do this’ to ‘we will do this’, from ‘we will do this’ to ‘we are doing this’!

And I repeat what I say every year -- we urge all of you to join us now and in the future to work with and for the community, this great state of Rhode Island.

To Be Positive.
To Look Forward.
To Take Rhetoric to Action.


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