Phil Henderson, Surdna Foundation's President, reflects on the mission, goals, and programs of the social justice family foundation.

From the President

  • Reflections on the Election

    In just a few weeks, the Surdna Foundation will begin its centennial year.  Over the past century, communities across the United States have faced and overcome critical challenges, seen extraordinary advancements, and suffered devastating setbacks.  We, like you, continue to try to make sense of the election last week, an election that in many states and localities saw the advancement of key elements of our agenda, but also resulted in a president-elect who ran on policies and rhetoric that are at odds with the values of inclusion, social justice, and sustainability that are at the core of the work Surdna does.  We observe these results humbled by the scope of the changes over the past century and humbled by the recognition that we don’t know what the coming decades will bring.

    What we do know, however, is that in the next few years we and our partners, across the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, have critical work to do.  We must defend and advance the issues we care about in the face of emboldened opposition to those ideas.  Surdna and our many partners stand for social justice, and, through our programs, we place equity first.  The Trump campaign used and encouraged dangerous rhetoric that opposes the core ideals of social justice and equity. This was deeply troubling to us.  We are concerned that as a nation we will be unable to heal the wounds suffered in the past year of divisive electioneering, and instead will continue to hear inflammatory rhetoric and see policies pursued by the new administration and their allies that further damage the rights, economic opportunities, and social cohesion among families and communities that Surdna and our partners work so hard to support.  This will require us to defend hard-won gains where necessary, to build new partnerships, to find new solutions to current challenges, and to stand up for what we believe.

    We remain committed to the pursuit of healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures because they are key to truly equitable and sustainable communities.  And we remain committed to these programs and our values at this moment precisely because we believe they are important for all of us, regardless of political affiliation.  We care about increasing the number of people who hold high quality jobs.  We care about creating the next generation of infrastructure in our cities and towns, infrastructure that serves everyone and makes our communities more prosperous and livable.  We want our communities to be suffused with art, and to have artists expressing the deep bonds that are at the heart of the places we live and thrive.  These goals are not partisan, they are the promise of the United States that can and must be realized.

    We value our many partnerships with remarkable nonprofits and social change groups.  We also recognize that to continue advancing our efforts to build just and sustainable communities, there are critical questions facing us, and that deep and continuing dialogue and collaboration with our partners will help guide the way forward.  The tenor of the presidential election reflects real pain, anger and division in the United States, and we must address that reality as we move forward.  To do that, in the next few years, we will need to build new partnerships across sectors and geographies.  We will need to listen, learn, and engage differently, leading with the humility of an institution that has been around for a century and still realizes how much there is that we don’t know. 


  • Thinking Differently about Entrepreneurs and Poverty

    One of the great clichés of American life is that entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. There are indeed millions of entrepreneurs that shape nearly every facet of our lives. And yet, for people of color who live in our poorest urban communities, entrepreneurship usually seems to be something that happens elsewhere and for someone else. But, in fact, entrepreneurs are hard at work even in the poorest communities, usually operating tiny “mom-and-pop” groceries or working freelance at a mixture of jobs and occupations. And, while these entrepreneurs are critical to the functioning of neighborhoods, unless we find ways to unlock the potential of higher performing—and job creating—entrepreneurs, especially business leaders who are women and people of color, we risk continuing the legacy of the last generation of economic development efforts that have done little to change the trajectory of America’s poorest urban communities.

    This blog post is part of the Living Cities series “Closing the Racial Gaps: Together We Can,” which highlights efforts across the United States that show promise for closing racial opportunity gaps and creating a more equitable future.  Click here for the full post.


  • Board Learning is Mission-Critical

    Surdna in New OrleansBoard learning is mission-critical. It’s one of the most important components to a high functioning organization that is often overlooked and underappreciated.






Phillip Henderson, President, Surdna Foundation

Phillip W. HendersonA national leader among family foundation executives, Phil Henderson has focused Surdna on collaboration both internally across programs, and externally among funders within the foundation's issue areas. He has committed the foundation to using social justice as a compass to guide the systemic change Surdna aims for in its mission.

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