Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features President and Chief Executive Officer of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Dr. Carmen Rojas.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I spent a lot of time in this sector trying to make sense of power relationships — specifically, those with undue influence, limited imaginations and proximity to the people who have long been excluded from our democracy and economy. I wish I had known that this is a feature in the design of philanthropy, and that it doesn’t need to be this way. I spent so much time trying to convince people in positions of power and people closest to the most resources that the communities I care about lack power in our democracy or representation in our economy, not as a result of individual choices but as a result of systemic design.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
The context I work in is definitely challenging. Everyday in this country, political and economic leaders make choices that make the lives of people of color impossible. These choices range from whose stories are valued to who gets the resources they need to shift power to those communities who have long been excluded from it. Convincing people that this is a design of white supremacy and racialized capitalism, and inviting them into a conversation about what can be next is definitely tough in a social context where we are still debating the facts of our founding and the impacts of implemented policies.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
Our grant recipients, hands down, the leaders across the country who wake everyday believing that another world is possible and work tirelessly to make it real. From the leaders of Dream Defenders in Florida who work to advance a vision of safety and security away from prisons, deportation and war, and towards healthcare, housing, jobs and movement for all, to Poder in Action in Arizona that works to build power to disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression and determine a liberated future as people of color in Arizona. Our grant recipients are just amazing. Their commitment to understanding power and moving it to those people who have long been excluded from it is why we all do the work of making sure they have the resources they need to lead.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
Being a feminist is core to my identity. This is really the intersection of my gender and political identity. I am really fortunate to have teachers and mentors that center the struggles and aspirations of abolitionist feminists as the architects of the world I want to live in.
5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?
By funding feminists of color, who have long been at the forefront of everything from fighting climate change to abolition. Since the racial uprisings of 2020, I have watched funders talk about racial justice without recognizing and resourcing feminist abolitionists, and it has been my greatest frustration. These leaders have offered us a whole framework that not only seeks to reimagine how we resource a society that doesn’t rely on policing or the prison industrial complex, but that invites us to align in our commitment, policies and relationships around the fact that life is precious.
6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
I am of the belief that struggles which seek to dislocate power, redistribute resources and reimagine social organization are constant. There is no 10-year destination when there are those who currently profit, control and benefit from patriarchy and white supremacy. I do hope that the current opening around abolitionist feminism continues to hold the national spotlight. I hope that we will give up on small ball reforms in service of the major changes necessary to truly address harm and the incentive structures that allow them to be so pervasive.
More on Carmen Rojas:
Dr. Carmen Rojas (she/her) is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a national organization whose mission is to create a more just and equitable society by investing in grassroots activism that builds the power and voice of families living in poverty. Rojas is the youngest and only Latina President of a nationally endowed foundation in the U.S., and is a nationally recognized leader in economic and worker justice. Prior to joining The Marguerite Casey Foundation, she served as the Founder and President of The Workers Lab, the nation’s leading funder and supporter of new ideas about increasing worker power in the U.S. For more than 20 years, Rojas has worked with foundations, financial institutions and nonprofits to improve the lives of working people across the United States.
She has served on several governing boards, including Marguerite Casey Foundation, General Service Foundation, Neighborhood Funders Group, Workers Benefit Fund, and is on the Advisory Board of JOLT Texas. She holds a Doctorate in City and Regional Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. Rojas is a Fulbright Scholar and was awarded a Human Rights and Department of Housing and Urban Development Fellowship during her graduate work.
This interview has been minimally edited.
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