Q & A with Camille Cyprian

By Soon-Young Oh

Camille Cyprian is the new Director of Program Strategy and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. Camille start­ed in January of 2018, and this is an opportunity to learn more about her.

SYO: What drew you to working at MCF?

CC: I was drawn to MCF for two reasons. The first is the leadership of Trista Harris. Being an African American woman and early in my philanthropic career, it has been an inspiration and a motivating factor to see the work and impact Trista, another African American woman, has led in the field. The other reason I was drawn to working at MCF is the alignment of or­ganizational values and strategic priorities with my own, and MCF’s ability to have statewide impact and national influence. I felt I would have greater opportunity to leverage my professional impact, specific to diversity,equity and inclusion, within the philanthropic space.

SYO: In 2018, what do you see as your biggest priorities regarding your work at MCF?

CC: My biggest priority for the year is inno­vation, more specifically, launching the 2.0 version of the Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship program. Taking the success of the past five years the fellowship program has been in existence, enhancing the things that work well, addressing challeng­es, and creating better support are all con­tributing to the innovation of this program. I’m excited to work on that this year, and prepare to launch a new fellowship cohort in 2019.

SYO: Tell us about your professional background and how you believe it will help propel you forward in the work you’re doing at MCF.

CC: I began my professional career in grassroots community organizing, training, and facilitation. For nearly five years I trav­eled the nation, working with young orga­nizers and activists on how to run and win on issue and electoral campaigns. It was during this time that I began to explore the topics of self-care and healing, which I did not know would align with the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) but has really served as the foundation from which I do DEI work.

Grassroots organizing techniques and tactics work really well for a membership association, because it’s all built on a foundation of good, effective relation­ships and relationship building. Having a relationship is instrumental in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion because ef­fective relationships are built on trust and so is the work of DEI, both individually and institutionally. My background in self-care coaching and traditional cultural healing work is also key to the work of DEI, as self-care helps individuals return to this work (which is really hard when done intention­ally), as well as establish a foundation of healing between diverse parties – which is essential when building trust and accountability in institutional DEI work.

SYO: Tell us about your personal background.

CC: I’m a Minnesota native, born and raised in St. Paul. My immediate family is also here in Minnesota. I attended St. Paul Central, where I was a theater nerd or maybe just nerd all around. I was classically trained in ballet, and studied many other forms of dance for the first 20 years of my life. I earned my Bachelors of Science in a self-created major, Social Justice & Community Organizing, from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. I have traveled across the nation, but keep coming home. I’m a foodie with a major sweet tooth; I have an eclectic ear for music, and am a Jedi Master (Star Wars fan) and have dual citizenship in Wakanda (Marvel Universe fan).

SYO: What excites you about the DEI work in MN philanthropic sector? What are the biggest areas for growth and change?

CC: The thing that excites me most about DEI work in philanthropy, particularly in Minnesota is the significance of its poten­tial impact. I’m a proud Minnesotan, and there are two things about being from here that make me proud. First, we have one of the most thriving and effective not-for-profit sectors in the nation – no other state’s nonprofit system operates like ours. The other is that we rank in the Top 10 in so many areas that indicate high quality of life – even though I know accessing that quality varies drastically across our com­munity. Nevertheless, if we as a sector lead Minnesota in DEI results, it will catalyze the state. Philanthropy cannot deny the power it holds in influencing direction for the rest of the not-for-profit sector. This influence also has wider implications, as philanthro­py is also embedded in government and business. When Minnesota achieves equity the results will look like high quality of life for all of its diverse community members, and it will have national implications. That keeps me coming back to this work.

SYO: What is your advice for a foundation that wants to address DEI and is new to it?

CC: There’s no secret formula for achieving DEI results. Don’t stop! Keep doing the work of equity. There will be times when progress looks and feels too incremental, and there will be discomfort and fear of embarrassment as you grow. Just like any other muscle, equity muscles must be built. And in order to build the muscles, you must exercise them.

SYO: Why is philanthropy the way you want to work toward the change you want to see in the world?

CC: I wouldn’t actually say that philan­thropy is the way that I want to work, I’d say that philanthropy provides me the platform and opportunity to work in the way I feel will best serve my community and co-create the change I wish to see in the world. In my experience, philanthropy has been the space in which I can bring my strengths, skills and passions together in the most optimal and fulfilling way.

SYO: In what ways has philanthropic work impacted your life as a young person and how has that informed your work now?

CC: The thing that stands out most to me regarding philanthropy as a young person was through the faith community of my formative years. That was my first expo­sure to anything around giving for a pur­pose. I think its informed my work now by just instilling and reinforcing the impor­tance of giving something back, not even always monetarily, but along the lines of Albert Einstein – that to a minimum, one should replace what one has taken or benefitted from.

Soon-Young is a communication and media spe­cialist for MCF. She’s been either working in the Twin Cities nonprofit sector or teaching English in Asia since 2002. She is active with the Korean adoptee community world wide.


Giving Forum Spring 2018