Inclusive Impact, Partner Spotlights

Meeting the Moment with Dwight Poler

By Dwight Poler, Chief Executive Officer at ACCELR8

December 21, 2020

In 2020, the intertwining and inequitable systems, from health and education to legal and democracy and beyond, in this country were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed and growing call for Black liberation and justice. As part of this year’s Annual Report, we asked nine leaders from the New Profit community what 2020 and these national reckonings looked like for them, their organizations, and the social sector writ large.

Continue reading to hear from Dwight Poler, a lead investor in New Profit’s Inclusive Impact strategy and Proximate Capital Fund. From 1994 to 2017, he was part of the leadership of Bain Capital, where he founded and managed the European Private Equity Business from 2000-2017 and remains a senior advisor. Dwight now manages AccelR8, a fund investing in climate change mitigation. Dwight is a member of the Boston Foundation Board of Directors and chairs its Finance Committee, as well as an Amherst College Trustee.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.

What is the biggest challenge that philanthropy/the social impact sector is/has faced as a result of the events of 2020?

The confluence of many critical and long-smoldering systemic issues – racial injustice, economic inequality, political polarization – coming to the surface at the same time and being amplified dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our whole nation and the world have been affected by these intertwining crises, but it has become more obvious than ever that people of color and people from less protected, disconnected communities are bearing the brunt of death, despair, and trauma. The gaps are only getting wider, and those who are blessed with resources need to engage differently and focus on empowering those most proximate to these inequities to define and deliver change. Despite the immensity of the challenges we collectively face, I see this as a moment of opportunity to change the way philanthropy works and lift up these proximate leaders and their innovative solutions. We have the resources and we need to follow-up with the will to act.

What innovations/solutions did you create in response to the events of this year?

I have become much more of a “systems thinker” and I’m spending more time looking at the broader context of our challenges. More often now, I’m trying to see them through the lenses of all relevant stakeholders and the complexities and dynamics of their relationship with each other and the systems we are trying to make more equitable. I’m starting to feel more attuned to the practical realities of change-making in communities to which I don’t have proximity. As such, I am less likely to support initiatives that sound logical and conventional to me, but have very little relevance or legitimacy on the ground. I realize I need to identify and support those with more proximity and experience and trust them to take on the challenges, which is why I’m supporting Inclusive Impact, The Boston Foundation, and other initiatives that have been built or re-architected with proximity at the core of strategy.

What do we need to do collectively to “Meet the Moment?”

Over decades, enormous amounts of philanthropic capital and resources have been invested from the top down, and we have to be honest that the results have been unclear at best. Thankfully, this model and other ineffective pieces of conventional wisdom are being scrutinized and uprooted. At the same time, we see tremendous advances being made by organizations and initiatives that take the unconventional path by embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion, among other things. It used to be that we saw risk in the unconventional, but I have come to believe that we face bigger risks if we simply continue to do the same things. This is particularly true when it comes to empowering those who have proximity to, and expertise in, the systems we aim to re-architect with equity at the center. We have shut out people of color and people from less protected and disconnected communities from power in philanthropy, as our Inclusive Impact research shows in stark detail, and we can right this wrong in the near-term to meet the moment.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.