In his opening keynote for SSIR's 2018 Nonprofit Management Institute, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, shared a simple message that captured much of the spirit of the conference: “When oppressed people win, they win for everybody.”

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change; Anna Marie Argilagos, president and CEO of Hispanics in Philanthropy; and Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink's founder in residence. (Photos by Charles Russo)

That point — along with others from Robinson about the nature of power and the importance of continually assessing the nonprofit sector's efforts to bring about change — led to a standing ovation for his speech. It was one of several rumbling rounds of applause that marked this year's conference, “Toward Real Change: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

The gathering brought together several hundred scholars, philanthropic leaders, and social justice advocates to explore, understand, and celebrate the making of a more equitable world. Over two days, speakers discussed the importance of viewing the disadvantaged as collaborating colleagues rather than passive recipients of aid, the relationship between justice and people's intersecting identities, techniques for effecting change, the opportunities for progress nested amid the thorns of today's public discourse, and much more. Below are some highlights from the 12 conference sessions that SSIR editors and others gathered on Twitter using the #SSIRInstitute hashtag, along with links to related materials.

Skip to a Session Recap

  1. Kicking Off NMI With Rashad Robinson
  2. Getting Local: Collaborating With Communities of Color
  3. Trust Black Women: Lessons From Navigating Double Jeopardy
  4. Building a Communication Strategy for Diversity and Inclusion
  5. Dismantling Invisible Barriers to Capital
  6. Keynote From Ana Marie Argilagos
  7. Equity Through the Arts
  8. The Power of Feedback
  9. Who Decides? The Internal Politics of Human Rights and Social Justice Movements
  10. Leveraging Design Thinking to Foster Greater DEI
  11. Creating Inclusive Workplaces
  12. Keynote From Angela Glover Blackwell: Civil Society in a Diverse Nation

Session 1: Kicking Off NMI With Rashad Robinson

Robinson, the president of Color of Change, started NMI with a speech about his organization's approach to social change, rewriting cultural narratives, and the importance of responding, building, pivoting, and scaling.

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Session 2: Getting Local: Collaborating With Communities of Color

How can nonprofits treat the people they're trying to help like partners and not patients? Darnell Moore, head of U.S. strategy and programs for Breakthrough TV, led a panel discussion with Coya White Hat Artichoker, founder of the First Nations Two Spirits Collective; Mauricio Lim Miller, founder of Family Independence Initiative and 2012 MacArthur “genius” grant winner; and Fresco Steez, the minister of training and culture at Black Youth Project 100.

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Session 3: Trust Black Women: Lessons From Navigating Double Jeopardy

Black women face racial and gender stereotypes that often keep success in the hands of the few. How can they overcome these barriers? Makiyah Moody, senior consultant at La Piana Consulting, led a discussion with Tyra Mariani, executive vice president at New America; Crystal German, principal of Prosperity Labs; and Ifeyinwa Walker, founder and chief talent matchmaker of Offor Walker Group.

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  • Read Makiyah Moody's SSIR piece on black women's use of the power of kinship to overcome barriers to career advancement in the social sector: “Black & Bold.”

Session 4: Building a Communication Strategy for Diversity and Inclusion

Using insight from system thinking and social, behavioral, and cognitive science, Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand described how to craft stories and media experiences that drive change. Christiano holds the Frank Karel Chair in Public Interest Communications at University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and is director of the school's Center for Public Interest Communication, where Neimand is research director. They are also run frank, a community of communications professionals working for social change.

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Session 5: Dismantling Invisible Barriers to Capital

Without what is deemed the “right” qualifications, many people working for change may fail to get the attention and investment they need to succeed. How can nonprofit leaders ensure they overcome these barriers? Kathleen Kelly Janus, social entrepreneur, author, and lecturer at Stanford University, led a panel discussion with Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green; Pia Infante, co-executive director of The Whitman Institute; and Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment.

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Session 6: Keynote From Ana Marie Argilagos

Witnessing the 1980 Miami riots, particularly in the Liberty City neighborhood, inspired Ana Marie Argilagos, president and CEO of Hispanics in Philanthropy, to join the fight against social injustices. “No other city should ever burn again,” she said, recalling her reaction to the events.

In her presentation wrapping up the first day of the conference, Argilagos examined the philanthropic sector's response to other crises and the importance of moral leadership during fraught times. “The power of hope, the fundamental belief in humanity and dignity and justice — every day, especially for the past year and a half, I've seen that hope, that collective power, that resilience of strength ... amid all the scapegoating, the racism, the xenophobia,” she said. “It's so important to hold onto that hope.”

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Session 7: Equity Through the Arts

Leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area art world discussed how they run their organizations and shape their performances to be more inclusive. “That's the next big shift if we are to survive — to go into the community, knock down those norms, and be something that is accessible,” said panelist Tim Seelig, artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.

Nayantara Sen, manager of cultural strategies with Race Forward, led the discussion with Judith Smith, founder and director of Axis Dance Company; Sherri Young, executive director and founder of the African-American Shakespeare Company; and Selig.

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Session 8: The Power of Feedback

How can listening transform an organization and the people it's trying to help? Fay Twersky, director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Effective Philanthropy Group, moderated a discussion about the techniques and strategies behind effective feedback with Kelley Gulley, senior program officer at the James Irvine Foundation, who spoke about the community listening sessions the foundation has organized across California, as well as the funding feedback mechanisms at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO); Christine Kidd, director of innovation at CEO, who discussed the impact of participant feedback on her organization; and Shannon Revels, a former participant in CEO's programs, who shared stories about how feedback helped him in his new job at Community Housing Partnership.

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Session 9: Who Decides? The Internal Politics of Human Rights and Social Justice Movements

The African-American freedom struggles of the 1950s and 1960s offer many insights about why poor and powerless people often  stay that way. Clayborne Carson, author, historian, and founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, spoke about critical social change issues and contemporary social justice movements, and the historical and structural reasons behind them.

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Session 10: Leveraging Design Thinking to Foster Greater DEI

In the last six months, how would you describe experiences when you felt included or excluded? Recounting those moments was one step of several that attendees took in a workshop on creating organizational inclusivity run by Nadia Roumani, senior designer at the Designing for Social Systems Program at Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (, and Chris Rudd, founder of ChiByDesign and former fellow. The human-centered design approach that they explained provided ways to bring more equity to nonprofits' programs, increase diversity in grantmaking, and build more inclusive leadership teams.

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Session 11: Creating Inclusive Workplaces

Organizations engage in conversations about talent and performance at many stages of employees' careers, from hiring to promotions. While the goal is a fair and equal assessment of each individual, bias can still creep into the process, explained Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, executive director of Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab. Nishiura Mackenzie shared research-based tools that hiring managers can use to diversify, identify, retain, and promote top talent.

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Session 12: Keynote From Angela Glover Blackwell: Civil Society in a Diverse Nation

It's going to take “radical imagination” to reestablish the ideals of an equitable democracy. That was the inspiring call to action PolicyLink Founder in Residence Angela Glover Blackwell shared in her closing remarks. She encouraged civil society leaders and activists to use bold ideas and actions to defend civil rights, democratic values, and norms of decency that redefine the public good.

“Those who are fighting and working for a different world need to step into their power. ... When we solve problems with those who are most vulnerable, we solve them for everyone,” she said, echoing a key point of Rashad Robinson's opening speech.

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If there are other highlights of the conference you'd like to share, please leave a comment. Conference attendees who would like to review videos of the sessions can go here.