In addition to leading the public policy and government relations work for Southern California Grantmakers, Seyron Foo is also a member of Independent Sector’s 2018 American Express NGen Fellows cohort that will be joining us this week in LA. Or, more accurately, we’ll be joining Seyron this week on his home turf, since he grew up just east of LA. Seyron shared a little about his work as well as inspiration he’s drawn from his home community and, most recently, from youth organizers. Plan on meeting Seyron for real this week, and join him for a Wednesday afternoon workshop at Upswell.
Q: Who are you, what drives you, what are you working on, and why are you inspired to make the world a better place?
SF: What drives my work is community. I grew up in Rialto, CA – about halfway between Downtown Los Angeles and Palm Springs – and it’s not a well-resourced place when we think of the nonprofit landscape. But as an immigrant to this country from Southeast Asia, I witnessed how a scrappy group of changemakers made efforts – large and small – to create better outcomes. I’m the product of changemakers who made interventions, from a teacher who said that “Hey, maybe this kid who’s been put in detention daily needs a different learning model that’s more hands on” or nearby college students at UC Riverside advocating for change in local school districts that affected me personally and professionally. And it was the investment in pipeline programs – in fact that’s where as a college junior I even heard the word “foundation” from a career talk – that brought me to this sector and to my work in public policy. I’m inspired by my community – and our communities demand it, rightfully so – to make the world a better place.
Q: Who are your favorite changemakers in history and why?
SF: It’s so easy to focus on individuals when we talk about changemakers. It’s part of our natural desire to want to attach ourselves with the heroics of an individual. And one of the key lessons I’ve drawn from the NGen experience is that we work together as changemakers in an ecosystem. I was particularly struck by our gathering in Chicago where we had the opportunity to meet with Michael Strautmanis of the Obama Foundation. He touched on the notion of the idea of “proximate leaders bringing disconnected people together” and that has resonated with me. I’m leaning in to this meaning of a leader as a connector, bonding us together from different walks of life to be a force of good. So those are my favorite changemakers – some of them well-known and others not so (yet).
Q: Who or what are you inspired by right now – and why?
SF: I’m inspired by my cohort as a part of Independent Sector’s American Express NGen Fellows Program. We’ve gone through such an incredible journey together over the last year, leaning into difficult conversations about the challenges we face as we make change for the better. This experience with my cohort has provided me the space for reflection and for continuing professional development. Working in public policy and government relations – and particularly since 2016 – we’re in constant motion and there’s always something to respond to, whether its legislation to advance (or stop), or doing the groundwork of building relationships with policymakers. It’s completely easy to forget to ground ourselves in the personal work that really sustains the professional piece, and I’m inspired by my cohort to create this space of reflection to do this work for the long haul.
Q: If you could invite any group or individual to Upswell, who would it be – and why?
SF: Youth organizers! From Los Angeles to Parkland, our youth organizers are harnessing this incredible energy to make sustained change in our communities. I continue to be inspired by our youth organizers making change and headway on all fronts, from immigration to environmental justice, trans right to criminal justice reform here. And there’s so much to learn from each other, particularly when we think through how civic engagement may look different and how that civic engagement will affect our civic institutions.