We are pleased to share excerpts from EPIP-Chicago‘s recent interview with Sharmila Rao Thakkar, executive director of The Siragusa Foundation and an Exponent Philanthropy member. See part 1 and part 2 of the full interview on EPIP’s blog.
What comes to mind when you think about leadership in philanthropy?
Learning. I find that, to be a leader in this sector, one must be ready and willing to keep on learning, to realize that we are not the experts. We wouldn’t be effective in our roles if we thought we had all the answers. This work is about partnership and collaboration, not only in our offices, but with our colleagues, with researchers and teachers, and, perhaps most important, with those on the ground doing the work, our grantees, our communities’ leaders. I also think it’s important to realize that we can’t always get it right—that mistakes, failures as they like to say, happen. But I see it all as learning, part of the learning process to ultimately get to “better.” With this comes the absolute necessity in understanding the past, the history; it’s really quite difficult to move forward without knowing from where we’ve come and been.
Trust and patience. “Change moves at the speed of trust.” You must understand before you can be understood; you must know before you seek to transform. Relationship building is key. I’m reminded of the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Generosity and flexibility. Whereas planning and preparation are critical, things don’t always go as planned. We’ve got to be flexible. We’re in the business of caring, and that generosity must extend over to how we treat others personally and professionally. How we act, what we say, what we don’t do or say, carry a message. Whether we like it or plan on it, philanthropy carries such a responsibility and privilege.
Empathy. We cannot underestimate the power and importance of empathy in this work—the emotion and meaning, the heart, the values. We often bring our whole selves to our work in philanthropy, and it’s important to gut check that against what we’re doing. At the end of the day, philanthropy is about this love of humanity and human connection, and we must maintain and keep strong that bond to one another and continually ensure we are aligning with our core values.