Learning and Engaging Across Affinity Groups

Learning and Engaging Across Affinity Groups

By Elisabeth Hyleck, Maryland Philanthropy Network Special Initiatives Director

Back in February, I wrote about Maryland Philanthropy Network's Affinity Groups, which we see as a key mechanism in helping our members to address critical issues and improve community conditions through on-going connections and in-depth exploration of issues.

With seven active Affinity Groups, the learning and action among our funder members is rich and varied, but also has the potential to be compartmentalized and silo-ed. This year, based on guidance from members and staff, we have been intentional about learning and engaging across our Affinity Groups.

For example, while Maryland Philanthropy Network Green Funders spent a year exploring food systems in Baltimore in the recent past, we have many members participating in the Basic Human Needs and Health Affinity Groups and the Workforce Funders Collaborative who are also actively exploring a wide variety of food-related issues. This realization lead to the recent program hosted by the Green Funders and Basic Human Needs Affinity Groups during which they explored the provocative question: Food Quantity vs. Quality - Do We Have to Choose?

This cross-group collaboration is not entirely new.

It has been an Maryland Philanthropy Network practice that affinity groups partner together to learn about a subject. For instance, the Affinity Group on Aging and the Financial Literacy and Asset Building Affinity Group convened to learn about creating a comprehensive economic security service coordination system for low-income seniors. The Financial Literacy and Asset Building funders also partnered with the Basic Human Needs Affinity Group on programs related to the Suburbanization of Poverty and our Social Service System and the "Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” Series.

Another example from the recent past is that members of both the Education Funders and Financial Literacy and Asset Building Affinity Groups partnered with the Maryland State Department of Education to champion incorporating financial education standards into the public school curriculum requirements. These requirements were accepted by the State Board of Education in January, 2010 and are being implemented in schools – great for Maryland's students.

So far in 2012, we've held ten educational programs for members that were co-hosted by affinity groups and other partners, with more in the works for the remainder of the year.

"We gain so much by combining the perspectives and expertise of Maryland Philanthropy Network colleagues in other funding areas when we do joint programming" said Meg Woodside, Trustee of the Woodside Foundation and Chair of the Financial Literacy and Asset Building Affinity Group.

"An upcoming example will be programming we are developing with the Education funders on the timely topics of student loans, predatory financial aid practices, college savings options, and their impacts on college access and success".


So, I ask the question: "What will happen if we continue this intentional focus on Affinity Group collaboration?"


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