Luz Vega Marquis leaves the Marguerite Casey Foundation and more than 40 years working on assisting low-income communities.
After founding and directing the Marguerite Casey Foundation for more than 19 years, Luz Vega Marquis says goodbye to the altruistic sector that she stumbled upon by “pure accident,” she says.
Through the foundation, Marquis managed to create a nationwide movement that raised the voices of low-income families, minorities, and women.
“Most of us found jobs by chance. It was not necessarily an intentional process,” says Marquis, who was born in Nicaragua. She arrived in San Francisco, California, when she was 14 years old and later graduated from the University of San Francisco and obtained a master’s degree in Latin American studies from Stanford University. She never thought that she would dedicate her life to philanthropic work.
It all started when she entered the James Irvine Foundation Finance Department, where she stayed for 17 years. There, she was director of the scholarship program and was in charge of the Northern California office.
“I have had all positions and created foundations such as the Community Technology Foundation of California (CTFC). I started them out of nowhere. There was only money,” she says.
As executive director of the CTFC, she was instrumental in developing the structure for the scholarship program and bringing technology to the poorest communities.
But what leads you to retire?
“I want to be a 100% grandmother and take my grandchildren to school. I have a four-year-old grandson,” she explains.
But she also wants to spend more time with her brothers and sisters.
However, Marquis will not leave for good. She says she wants to continue participating in the community.
“I am a member of the board of directors of the Group Health Foundation that we are creating, and I want to help as a volunteer,” she says.
If you feel proud and excited about something, it is your legacy. “I feel very good about the work that our colleagues have done in the community,” she said.
In 2001, Marquis says they started at the Marguerite Casey Foundation with $600 million. In the recession of 2008, they lost almost half of the capital. But they managed to reverse, and in 18 years they have delivered $500 million.
She has also created a foundation managed and directed by a majority of people of color. 82% of the members of the board of directors of the Casey Foundation are minorities.
“That is very important in the field of philanthropy because when you see the statistics, only 10% of the people on the boards are people of color,” she says.
The other thing that the Casey Foundation did differently is to dedicate 75% of the money to organizations run by Latinos, blacks, Asians, and women.
The other part of her legacy has been to deliver the funds differently.
“We decided to give the scholarship money to the organizations that work, have relationships and have created trust in the community,” she says. 40% of the scholarships have been for Latino organizations, she adds.
The intention was to create a social movement guided by poor families focused on five opportunities.
“The first thing was to meet organizations that know each other, work together, and can help the community express their voice; the second was to look for those organizations that train youth and adults in leadership, and the third opportunity is to support public policies such as the reform of the criminal justice system,” she said.
We also focused on the creation of 17 networks run by scholars, and which focus on issues such as housing, health, and immigration.
“These networks are a way of working together to create a common agenda for all communities,” she says.
What advice do you give Latinos so they can be board members?
“They have to create a relationship with the foundations and work in a community organization. Once they succeed, they should not forget where they come from. I have met many people who are on those boards and never do anything to help Latinos,” she says.
Now there is a lot of information, way to connect and become more visible, she adds.
She admits that “nothing would make me so happy than Latinos begin to hold those jobs.”
However, if there is something you have learned during your years in the philanthropic sector, it is that to make changes, not just one person and organization is enough. “Let’s do it together,” she emphasizes.
Another leading Latina
Marquis reveals that her successor is another Latina, Carmen Rojas, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan, who has already served on the board of directors of the Casey Foundation since June 1.
“My dream would be for her to hold the best we have done and will continue in practice, using the best lessons and inheritances we have been able to amass in these 20 years as the legacy of working with poor communities,” she says.
What recommendation do you give to organizations that support immigrant communities and seek support from foundations?
“It is very important that when a budget is sent, they explain what they want to achieve as an organization, and have the conviction to continue fighting. If today they reject them; maybe not tomorrow. They must keep insisting,” she says.
Marquis underlined that the resources of the foundations is money that belongs to all.
“When an individual with a lot of money forms a foundation, they are given a 40% exemption. So, we have to look for resources to be used with love for humanity. Whenever we are going to allocate resources, we must ask ourselves where the common good is here.”
This story was created by and published in the Los Angeles-based newspaper La Opinión.