When you meet Ana Morales you are immediately struck by her charm. She is warm, funny, approachable, accessible.
But if you stop there, you’d be missing out on the full picture. Morales is also a philanthropist who is constantly working to understand the world and give back. And given how fearlessly she approaches this mission, she is a great study in how women are changing the face of global philanthropy.
Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Morales credits her interest in community and social change to her grandfather, Roberto, a man who epitomized giving back.
“My grandfather was an entrepreneur. Starting at the age of five he shined shoes and sold vegetables,” said Morales, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. “He believed in business as a force for change and he believed in community.”
This work ethic and belief in community would propel Roberto forward in the world of business. Financial success would come in the form of tortillas, a commodity in demand throughout the globe that he transformed into a thriving business. His enterprising spirit would bring financial prosperity to the Gonzalez family who would spend two decades contributing growing their business and giving back to the community in which they lived.
“My grandfather launched an organization. It was small, run by a few people. It was in the community. We all knew each other.”
The organization focused on three core areas: community health, education and sports, and with they work, they sparked a culture of change in the community, particularly in the schools. “Excelling became part of the culture and was led by both teachers and students,” said Morales. She told the story of a young boy who participated in the program and got an award in kindergarten from the organization. “You saw him become more and more confident. He continued to grow. In high school, he was accepted into Harvard University. He couldn’t afford it. My grandfather gave him a scholarship. He attended and graduated from Harvard.”
The time Ana spent with her grandfather’s organization would leave a strong impression on her, evidenced by who she funds today and what she looks for in her giving. In this, she strives for a balance that can often take years for philanthropists to achieve: measuring impact while trusting her intuition.
“We’re a little too obsessed with measurements,” said Morales. “We want to see our efforts are working. Sometimes it’s about faith. Faith in the leaders. Faith in the mission. Everything can’t be measured, it has to be experienced and felt.”
In this era of philanthropy when business terms can take precedence over human terms, Morales connects to the the power of relationships and community. “The organizations I support are about people. The people who lead and the people we serve. They’re not numbers, they’re not statistics.” Morales is a big proponent of hands-on philanthropy and staying connected, not only the people being served but also the professionals doing the work, seeing it as central to maximizing philanthropy dollar impacts.
At the age of thirty-eight, Morales has spent the last few years leaving her comfort zone, refining her approach and mapping what kind of change she wants to help unleash. This philanthropic focus and confidence didn’t come overnight. It involved risk-taking and networking in unfamiliar territory. “I sat myself at dinners that scared the shit out of me and I started asking questions,” said Morales. At times, she admits she felt out of her league, but she kept asking, kept learning.
“I am a completely different person than two years ago,” said Morales of her philanthropy journey. “I am more confident. I will call people and get the education I need. I try every day to learn and grow.”
And like her grandfather, Morales wants to bring others along with her, to share in making change, not just in their own backyard but in transformational work around the globe. “There’s lots of opportunity for Mexican philanthropy. It’s an undiscovered philanthropic country. I’m working on building up my giving portfolio and my impact to share with Mexican philanthropists,” she said.
“There’s a culture of giving in Mexico,” said Morales, citing the widespread giving to the church, as well as local giving for community enrichment. “I want to cultivate that and make it stronger and better. I want Mexican philanthropy to make its mark not just in Mexico but to bring our good will and resources to the world.”
Morales has made significant gifts to a program in Latin America that supports women and girls and that includes men and boys, but her belief in involving the whole community and not just funding women and girls is powerful. Ask her about it and you will see her passion for inclusion. She is committed to bringing voice to men and boys as community change agents. “My calling is involving the community and involving men and boys. They are a core part of the solution. They must be included,” said Morales.” For more on how Morales sees the need for culture change for both men and women, see Turns Out, Girls and Women Aren’t the Answer.
Morales also admits she likes to buck the trends, and takes pride in a stubbornness that feeds her ability to reach beyond the current trends. “What drives me is going against the currents. I’m going to do what isn’t happening in the mainstream.”
Morales funds this critical work and at the same time she is a social change matchmaker. “I love that I’m meeting interesting people and then I get to introduce these people to one another so that they can do something incredible together. I don’t need to be involved with what happen next. I just get to watch something big come out of it.”
Morales has a Masters degree in art therapy and once taught art to vulnerable youth, giving her a disciplined approach to listening that helps her connect to the right people at the right time. She knows the power of values-based relationships and emphasizes trusting your philanthropic intuition. As she navigates the rapidly evolving global world of philanthropy, she frequently circles back to the story of her grandfather as a role model who has served her well. “When he passed away, we had a ceremony for him in my hometown. Lines of people came to honor him. That’s the day I realized how generous he was to the community: Listening to how people talked about him.”
She is her grandfather’s granddaughter. And she’s only just begun.