'Eye-opening' workshops generate a personal and professional impact for foundation leader

Thousands of people have participated in Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s racial equity workshops, called Groundwater and Phase 1, which have been presented since 2018. As part of a special report on the program, we are presenting stories of people who experienced the trainings and how it affected their lives. This is the first in that series.

As a history buff, Eric DeWald always felt he had a pretty good grasp on the racial legacy of the United States. As he prepared to participate in Greater Cincinnati Foundation's Racial Equity Matters training process, he didn’t think there was much he had to learn about the country’s historical background of racism.

“I went into it thinking, ‘I know this stuff; nothing’s going to surprise me,’” he said. “That was not what happened. I learned a lot about the history of racism and how it is structured across the U.S.”

DeWald is president of HealthPath Foundation of Ohio, a grantmaking organization that works to improve health care throughout a 36-county area of the state.

He’s participated in the Groundwater training, a daylong program that takes a deep dive into data and information to challenge assumptions about race, history, and society, and presents difficult truths about the institutions that form the core of our communities. He’s also participated in the follow-up to that, a two-day workshop called Phase 1, which involves fewer people and more interaction and discussion among the group.

READ MORE: 'The change starts with me': After racial justice justice training, some keep the conversation going

The immersion into these programs has had a personal and professional impact. Personally, he’s now more open to talking about issues he may have wanted to avoid in the past. “I’ve had many more conversations about race and racism than I did previously,” he said. “I feel much more comfortable about engaging in those conversations.”

Professionally, he and his board took a hard look at the Foundation’s endowment, about $40 million, to see how it could be invested in socially responsible businesses. As a result, 100% of the Foundation investments were redirected to companies that exhibit environmental and social responsibility in their actions and governance, including electing people of color to their boards and leadership positions.

The Foundation has also embraced trust-based philanthropy, a concept that calls on foundations to build relationships with their grantees that are more like partnerships.  “It helps us keep equity at the front and center of our grantmaking,” DeWald said.

The Foundation has also offered to underwrite the Racial Equity Institute’s training for its grantee organizations if they wish to participate in it.

Although the Foundation’s staff is small, DeWald has become more deliberate about advertising any openings to a broader array of candidates. The Foundation is also increasing the number of organizations it funds that are led by people of color.

The things he’s learned through the programs have created a ripple throughout his organization and its stakeholders. “It creates a desire to learn more,” he says. “It’s very eye-opening.”

To learn more about Racial Equity Matters, please visit www.gcfdn.org/rem
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.