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Diana Campoamor: Using Philanthropy as Catalyst for Social Change

Diana Campoamor's family came to the United States from Cuba in the late 1950s, fleeing the repression of the Batista dictatorship. She was 11 years old and recalls how delighted she was to see the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates on television and hear her classmates talk politics.

"I had a sense of freedom, and I had a sense of being safe as a child here," she says.

Trained as a journalist, Campoamor primarily wrote features and editorials on issues relating to Hispanic communities in the United States. She became increasingly aware that projects serving the needs of Latino immigrants were receiving very little financial support. So in the early 1980s, she joined forces with 13 other Latinos who were familiar with charitable foundations and getting grant money from them.

In 1983, they launched Hispanics in Philanthropy. Campoamor became its president in 1990.

Directing dollars toward Latino communities

"Our mission is to make bigger and better investments in Latino communities," Campoamor says, explaining HIP does that by reaching out to foundations, letting them know about needs in Latino communities, and telling them how their grants can help.

To raise the most investment dollars possible, HIP pairs large donors with small ones. Campoamor points to the group's flagship program, The Funders' Collaborative for Strong Latino Communities, in which donations from national foundations are matched by money from local organizations.

"Donors come together for two reasons," she points out. "Number one, so that they can minimize the amount of work to themselves and [two,] to maximize the impact of their dollars, hopefully, maximize the amount of good that they do."

To date, The Funders' Collaborative has raised more than $37 million and made grants to almost 500 non-profit Latino groups. Among HIP's success stories are new affordable housing, mobile health clinics, small-stage theater troupes and after-school programs in Latino communities.

Changing the image of Latino immigrants

Diana Campoamor says those results are improving the lives - and the image - of Latino immigrants.

"The media portrays us as people who come across the border and take other people's jobs, and our point is that Latinos are givers. We are givers of economic prosperity. We are givers of culture and intellectual capital in this country. We are givers of spiritual and family values. We're givers. We're not takers," she stresses, adding, "and we are part of the fabric of America as well as our countries of origin."

Campoamor's group is now focusing its attention on those countries of origin. To tackle the root causes of illegal immigration, HIP has started to fund economic projects in Mexico and other Latin American countries. She says she doesn't believe immigrants, legal or illegal, would come to America if they didn't have to.

Investments make staying more attractive than leaving

"Very few people really want to leave their home, their family, that which is familiar to them. They do because they have to. Many of them are refugees, whether they're economic or political refugees. And so, we believe that by supporting projects that allow people to find jobs, to develop small businesses, to farm their land in a more productive way gives them a choice."

Among those projects are a goat-cheese cooperative in Guanajuato, Mexico, and an olive oil cooperative in Mendoza, Argentina. In the Dominican Republic, a HIP grant has helped banana farmers form a cooperative to fight soil erosion and export organic fruit to the U.S.

Campoamor says the best part of her work is visiting with the women at HIP projects in Latin America. She learns a lot from what she calls these "entrepreneur role models." And she says she's pleased that HIP has made it possible for them to show their children, especially their daughters, that they can make a living - and a difference - in their own communities.