A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Outsized Impact Award Nominee: Jennifer Astone

Jennifer Astone is leading her small-staffed foundation to move its assets in strategic ways and documenting the journey for peers.

From 2013–2018, under Jen’s leadership as executive director, Swift Foundation moved from investing 13.5% to 36% of its portfolio in climate solutions including clean energy access, sustainable food and agriculture, sustainable forestry, and more.

One-third of Swift’s investments are run by Indigenous-led organizations or have Indigenous communities as their primary beneficiaries, a key focus of Swift’s mission and grantmaking work.

With an endowment of $60 million, which includes $10 million in an impact-first portfolio, Jen helped to place $8.7 million in 24 investments with high mission alignment. These include investments in funds, direct equity, and small seed investments in nonprofit partners. Twelve of these investments involve integrated capital in the form of grants plus technical and networking assistance.

She has taken the time to get to know Swift’s investees, grantee partners, and foundation peers and is willing to support them, challenge them, and engage in questions about mission, purpose, and impact.

Jen believes in relationships and is a connector. She writes about her experiences, conducts webinars, and is organizing the field to become more effective.

Jen has documented her learning and shares it with colleagues regularly through writing, webinars, and one-on-one calls and meetings. As a result, she has moved at least three foundations to invest in funds and loan guarantees at MCE Social Capital, a nonprofit investing firm that uses a pioneering loan guarantee model to generate economic opportunities in 30 countries.

With Tim Crosby of the Thread Fund (another small foundation), Jen convened a meeting of 20 foundations and resource people in Minneapolis in December 2018 to discuss moving capital into equitable and healthy food systems. The meeting launched a community of practice—part of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and the AgroEcology Fund—that is planning a landscape scan of principles aligned funds in food system transformation. She also edited the report from the meeting.

Jen believes all foundations have a unique role to play in changing the economics of life on this planet and that foundations with small teams can focus on the relationships that make that happen.

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Comments

  1. Teresa Odendahl

    Strategic. Forward looking. Even handed. Always accessible

  2. Susan Wyche

    Jen Astone has been committed to making the world a better place through support of women in countries around the world, especially in Africa, since she started her career. Knowing her from our days of working together at CSUMB, I’m not surprised that she is not only improving the lives of others, but helping others in philanthropy hone the way their organizations support climate and social change.

  3. Theresa Beauchamp

    Dr Jen’s excellent communication skills, immense heart, tireless energy and deep understanding of the social, economic and environmental dynamics of all communities she works makes her the perfect recipient of this award.

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