ETB Blogs

ETB Co-Directors Navigate the Road to Equity: Insights from GEO and GIH Conferences

Expanding the Bench® (ETB) co-directors went on the road in 2024. Angel Villalobos and I appreciated the opportunity to attend Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) in Los Angeles in May and Grantmakers in Health (GIH) in Portland in June. Our goal in attending these conferences was to connect with philanthropic funders investing in community well-being and raise awareness of the opportunities at ETB for funders to partner with Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluators who practice culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE) as they build CREE into their investment practice and strategy.

Both gatherings at GEO and GIH included a strong social justice emphasis. GEO aligned its conference offerings with its new strategic direction that broadly states that philanthropy must be equitable to be effective. From their presentation array to their keynotes, it was evident that equitable practice in philanthropy involves co-creation.

This means engaging the community authentically and meaningfully in all phases of the design and implementation of an initiative. Of course, I may be biased, but I thought that Angel, Gina Martinez from the California Health Care Foundation, and Felisa Gonzales from the Colorado Health Foundation led the best session I attended. It was interactive, thought-provoking, and highlighted the importance of collaboration in addressing tough, real-world challenges in funder practice.

Kantahyanee Murray, Angel Villalobos, Elizabeth Waetzig, Gina Martinez, and Rachel Powell at GEO National Conference 2024

GIH similarly oriented attendees toward social justice and equity. The sessions focused on data and community-informed efforts to increase health and well-being, with an emphasis on eliminating disparities. I was struck by the attention paid to mental health, which I took as a sign of increased acceptance of mental health as an essential component of overall health and a decrease in stigma. My learning experience at GIH began with an in-depth exploration of the Native American Rehabilitation Association’s holistic approach to behavioral health treatment. We delved into their healing-centered, relationship-based practice, which stands out as one of the few comprehensive behavioral health residential treatment facilities in the country. The effectiveness of their methods offers valuable insights and practices we can learn from. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from their community, and it has been an inspiring and humbling experience.

Our experience at these two conferences reinforced the importance of our work at ETB. CREE practice is increasingly highlighted as best practice in knowledge building and evaluation. However, we still have work to do to build our community and partnerships between philanthropic funders, community-based organizations, and ACE Evaluators. It is in that community that relationships are forged, knowledge is built, and practice is truly aligned with community-defined needs, strengths, and solutions.

~ Elizabeth Waetzig, JD, ETB Co-Director