In the second in our series of interviews on philanthropy, Diane Manuel talks with Alicia Lara, MPH. Alicia Lara currently serves as Senior Vice President of Impact for United Way Worldwide. She is responsible for the development and design of strategies and programs for the United Way networks in the United States and internationally. Alicia is also a member of the Institutes of Medicine and serves on the Boards of Directors for The Ms. Foundation for Women and The National Health Foundation.
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People are Action.
Take action. Do something. That has been the foundation of Alicia Lara’s work since early in college.
For a year, Alicia — a self-described Angela Davis groupie — took every class taught by the political activist and academic scholar, who was then teaching at Cal State University - San Francisco. Alicia's activist ideals and her training as a community organizer supported her work, which was initially focused on issues related to Central American solidarity, women, and then health. Alicia was at the heart of advocacy movement in San Francisco when HIV/AIDS began its devastating pillage of the communities of gay men and women of color. It was through this work that Alicia came to understand that the health and well-being of underserved communities requires a coordinated effort of many forces to create improvements.
Alicia landed next at The California Endowment, a new multi-billion dollar foundation that wanted to do things differently. The goal of creating a healthy California required the engagement of populations that were rarely consulted about their own well-being. However, it also meant attracting the involvement of traditional power players in the health community: hospitals, public health departments, insurance companies, and the like. Creating synergy between large, corporate business interests and small community-driven organizations became Alicia's work.
“I would meet with the CEO of a hospital in the morning and a community organization at night. My job was to block and tackle for communities of color.”
Comfortable with big goals and changing laws, regulations, and systems, Alicia jumped to United Way of Los Angeles, to work on poverty and education issues. Now her current position is with United Way Worldwide. Still action-oriented and focused on creating space for underserved communities in larger corporate and economic environments, Alicia is working with United Way and a Fortune 100 firm to expand access to early education in Mexico. For her, the context of the work matters, and her community organizing skills are in constant play. As the global interaction of the world narrows due to media and technology, there remains a need to understand the “culture, economy, and political nature” of philanthropic work. There is not one way or one answer.
In addition to expanding her community organizing and negotiation skills at United Way, Alicia has learned about “ongoing interaction, engagement, and accountability to donors.” As a result, she says, “I never forget people gave us money when they didn’t have to.”
However, her bigger take-away is “the importance of seeing donors in a more comprehensive way.” Younger donors, especially, Alicia notes, “want to see themselves as part of the solution, having an impact on a community.” Their question, according to Alicia, is: “What is different in this child’s life? Today.”
As we move swiftly through the 21st century, “Everyone can be a philanthropist,” according to Alicia. They can get information on context, culture, along with political and economic situations and determine if they want to have an impact—anywhere in the world. She mentions that with the growing number of giving circles and technology-driven applications, everyone can be part of a philanthropic community.
We control and guide our philanthropy. This is nothing new. However, our options are vast and much more expansive than they have been in the past. Creating a legacy is perhaps easier than ever. For example, in addition to her work at United Way, Alicia has also developed a coaching practice, supporting women in their leadership development process. Calling herself a “good, idealistic radical,” Alicia reminds us that, “People are action.”