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Disability Inclusive Grantmaking is the mission of DFN: inclusion of disability in grantmaking programs and inclusion of people with disabilities in grantmaking organizations.

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Nelson I. Colón, President Puerto Rico Community Foundation

William Diaz Award Acceptance Speech

April 27, 2003

Good evening. It is truly an honor to be here tonight because I want to take this opportunity to celebrate with you the life of a man whose work transcended his death. It was circa 1984 when Bill Diaz crafted a grant to establish the Puerto Rico Community Foundation. It was certainly craftwork: more art than science. As the first Puerto Rican program officer of the Ford Foundation, he was keenly aware of the daunting reality of philanthropy among Latino groups. To illustrate the point, let me say that back then, less than 1 percent of all foundation grants were awarded to Latino organizations.

Much less went to Puerto Rican organizations. To give you some additional context, let me say that Puerto Ricans were the only Hispanic nation holding American citizenship by birth, and only a fraction of that one percent went to support Puerto Rican organizations.

To complicate the picture even more, nonprofits in Puerto Rico relied heavily on government assistance (they still do, but less). Philanthropy was at a very infancy stage; it was more a family charitable affair and less a professional grant-making activity. Puerto Rico was, in short, a philanthropic desert.

This was Puerto Rico’s context when Bill decided to move forward the community foundation idea. Bill knew there were deeply-rooted problems with no quick-fix solution. He also knew that any long-term sustained solution required the commitment and leadership of the Puerto Rican community. He sought to address these problems not by pumping money into the island, but by setting up an enduring institution that would face these challenges in strategic, innovative and sustainable ways.

In 1985, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation (PRCF) was born. Just to give you a glimpse of the evolution of the original grant, let me say that in 18 years — plowing in the philanthropic desert — PRCF raised $43.5 million. The foundation awarded $27 million in grants and programs and grew an endowment of $16.5 million. The desert was not dry anymore, and the seed blossomed. Just a nutshell on impact: Between 1994 and 2002 PRCF established 24 community-based housing corporations, which have already produced 2005 housing units. The added real estate value is estimated to be $140 million; and the ratio per grant dollar is 1 to 140. I only mention this because this is the fulfillment of Bill’s vision for the foundation.

As we continue tracing paths of impact in Puerto Rico, we venture through new ways of serving underserved groups in our community. In the past two years we made two significant grants that are charting new territory for the Puerto Rico Community Foundation. These grants combine two of Bill’s philanthropic passions: disability funding and entrepreneurship.

One of these grants was awarded to the Movement for Independent Life, a nonprofit community organization that works to offer alternative employment services to people with disabilities living in Puerto Rico. The grant supported the setup of a computer center that facilitates digital access to people with disabilities. Participants have the opportunity to fulfill their professional goals, live productive lives and achieve their full potential becoming part of the workforce in our island.

The second grant was awarded to the Center for Employment and Training for People with Disabilities. Their mission is to promote a holistic approach to human and professional development through education, training and work experiences. Through this program participants become financially independent, have a better quality of life and a productive integration to their communities.

In one of Bill’s writings he cites an interviewee saying: “. . . people are supportive of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I do not think it is on their radar screen.” Bill brought to the radar screen of PRCF the entrepreneurial capacities of people with disabilities. The foundation’s board of directors responded by establishing the Bill Diaz Memorial Fund to support the development of entrepreneurship among people with disabilities.

Bill was:

  • a groundbreaker
  • a community advocator
  • a challenger of the status quo
  • a voice of the invisible
  • a catalyst to great initiatives
  • AND a mentor.

I accept this award humbly, thanking God and the good forces of the universe for sharing Bill’s life with us. We celebrate his many accomplishments; and we thank the Disability Funders Network for this recognition. Thank you all.