Closing Gaps: How This Boston-Based Fund Supports a Growing Latino Population

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Latinos are among the fastest-growing population groups in Boston. According to data from the Boston Foundation’s research center, Boston Indicators, Latinos make up 20% of the city’s population. Since 1980, Latino population growth has made up an astounding 92% of Boston’s population growth.

But despite this, Latinos in Boston — and Massachusetts as a whole — still face a number of equity barriers. A report published last year by Boston Indicators, along with the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy and the Latino Equity Fund at the Boston Foundation, found that although Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, Latinos there face greater economic difficulties than Latinos do nationwide. 

Almost 1 out of every 4 Latinos in Massachusetts lives below the poverty line, and Latino poverty in the state is almost five percentage points greater than it is for Latinos across the U.S. Per the report, among the biggest issues facing Latinos in Massachusetts are employment loss during the early days of the pandemic, low economic mobility rates, food insecurity, education attainment and high housing costs. 

Since 2013, one Boston-based fund has been working to support Latinos across the city and state, focusing in particular on increasing their access to economic prosperity and wellbeing. The Latino Equity Fund (LEF) began as a partnership between the Boston Foundation and Hispanics in Philanthropy, becoming the first Latino-serving fund in Boston. 

“It was really created because there was a gap from traditional philanthropy in servicing the Latino population, not just in Massachusetts, but across the country,” said Aixa Beauchamp, LEF’s co-founder.

LEF partners with nonprofits, other funders, government leaders and the private sector to leverage resources, educate stakeholders about issues Latinos in the state face, and advance solutions. In addition to the Boston Foundation and Hispanics in Philanthropy, major funders include State Street Foundation, Eastern Bank Foundation, Barr Foundation, Point32Health Foundation, Beth Israel Lahey Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Since its launch, LEF has raised more than $4.1 million and has awarded more than $925,000 in grants to community-based organizations. LEF is hoping to raise an additional $10 million over the next three years.

“We have to be adaptable”

According to Beauchamp, when it first launched, the fund focused primarily on child care and education, but its priorities have since shifted to economic prosperity and health, particularly since the onset of COVID-19. 

“We see now that according to surveys, housing is the top priority [in Boston]… So we have to be adaptable. We want to be a fund that is responsive to these urgent needs from our community,” Beauchamp said. 

As has been the case nationwide, the pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos in Massachusetts, and they’ve been among the slowest population groups to recover. One major reason for that is the structural challenges Latinos faced before COVID hit, which haven’t gone away since the height of the pandemic.

“We continue to be most affected by the lack of public access to resources across all sectors — education and healthcare, housing and workforce development,” Beauchamp said. “And that’s despite the fact that we are one of the fastest-growing and youngest communities of color shaping Massachusetts’ labor force and the state’s growth.”

In response, LEF backs a wide variety of Latino-serving organizations in Boston and Massachusetts. Among its previous grantees are La Alianza Hispana, Nurtury, Horizons for Homeless Children, Student Immigrant Services, and Latino STEM Alliance.

“As we open up our grant cycle, probably in the next two months, we will continue to focus on achieving economic prosperity,” said Javier A. Juarez, who was recently named the fund’s new director. “So that is funding programs that promote sustainable economic growth through workforce development, skills sharing, and other training and education, which, we know there’s a large disparity there for working-age Latinos to get into those labor force markets.”

Juarez began his career in philanthropy by fundraising for students at the Community College of Rhode Island, the largest community college in New England. Before joining LEF, Juarez served as senior director of advancement for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). There, he helped MIRA craft its advocacy strategies on the successful campaign to pass a law to protect the rights of immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Juarez also brings his experiences as a first-generation immigrant from Peru to his work as a fundraiser. “I grew up as an undocumented immigrant having to rely on many public resources, from public education to healthcare and things like that… So I think bringing that perspective into this work is really important,” Juarez said. 

In addition to grantmaking, LEF commissions research and publishes reports around issues that affect Latino communities in Boston. It also engages in policy advocacy and helped provide rapid-response funding during the early days of the pandemic. As it works in tandem with the Boston Foundation, LEF’s deep understanding of the city and state’s Latino communities helps it apply a culturally informed perspective and lens to the work.

“The Latino Equity Fund, like many of these Latino funds, we don’t just do grantmaking,” Beauchamp said. “We are so connected to our community that we kind of help them, not only fund them, but help them find other resources and networks… It’s a whole slew of things that we do in addition to just doing funding.”

Uneven funding

Inside Philanthropy has written extensively about organizations led by and serving people of color receiving far less funding than white-led organizations. Between 2009 and 2019, only about 1.3% of all philanthropic funding went to organizations that serve Latinos, according to a report by Hispanics in Philanthropy.

Beauchamp pointed to racial bias, as well as the lack of diversity among leadership within philanthropy, as some of the main reasons Latinos receive less funding than white-led organizations.

“When we think about diversity, both staff and board and governance diversity, Latinos occupy very little of those tables. And when you think about who’s making the decisions, who sits at those tables is really important,” she said. 

Beauchamp believes that LEF’s partnership with the Boston Foundation can serve as a model for other Latino funds across the nation. While LEF is a small fund, it’s been able to rely on the Boston Foundation’s infrastructure, resources and experience to move forward. The Boston Foundation has also provided staffing, marketing and financial assistance to LEF. It calls to mind another collaborative effort housed at the Boston Foundation, the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, which was founded in 2020 to address racial inequality in Boston and Massachusetts, and to rally the region’s business and philanthropic community to support underfunded BIPOC-led organizations. 

Juarez noted that while LEF is indeed a Latino-serving fund, it is also a Latino-led fund. “You rarely see organizations with [the] specific mission of being fully operational and directed and advocated by the people that it’s serving,” Juarez said. 

This, he said, speaks volumes about the progress that has been made not just by the fund, but by the community it serves.

“We’re building, hopefully, the next generation of leaders to continue caring about a community that still has a very long way to achieve that economic prosperity that we’re working for,” Juarez said. “So I’m excited to get to work and continue doing it.”