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New position at GVSU to study diversity, equity issues in nonprofit sector

  • A portrait of Juan Olivarez.

Posted on July 02, 2018

Leaders in the field of philanthropy from across the country have noticed a shortcoming in how the nonprofit sector applies principles of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout its critically important and economically substantial work.

The nonprofit sector is a $1.6 trillion industry in the United States, and 1 in 10 American workers are employed in the field. However, people of color and other minority populations tend to be underrepresented in leadership positions in the industry. 

Monumental demographic shifts taking place in the U.S. necessitate that the nonprofit sector adapt to changing needs in communities to ensure equitable access to healthcare, education and the workforce.

With this need in mind, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University is adding former Aquinas College president Juan Olivarez to its ranks to help study, understand and share knowledge about how to improve inclusive practices in the nonprofit sector.

Olivarez will serve as the Johnson Center's Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for a three-year term, and will advance the center's work on building capacity in the nonprofit sector while incorporating principles of equity.

The Distinguished Scholar in Residence position is funded in part by recent grants from the Frey Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Kate and Richard Wolters Foundation as well as support from the center’s founder, Dorothy A. Johnson. The gifts are part of Grand Valley's Laker Effect campaign. 

Part of the work Olivarez will take on is developing a prototype talent pipeline initiative in the West Michigan area that seeks to better understand the role of employment in inclusive community development. A portion of the initiative will include research and conversations with thought leaders on diversity, equity and inclusive practices, as well as focus on how to make those principles integral to nonprofit work. This research will be shared on a national and global scale to widely advance equitable practices across the sector.

"Philanthropy has the potential to touch all Americans, yet we still have the sense that we're not truly reaching and assisting all communities enough," Olivarez said. "So the need is to study, to look at best practices and determine how we can influence the advancement of diversity, inclusion and equity efforts."

Olivarez brings nonprofit leadership and higher education experience to the position, having served as president of Aquinas College for six years and Grand Rapids Community College for almost 10 years. He also served several years as the president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation where he championed innovative community initiatives that focused on improving education opportunities for all people. 

“Juan Olivarez is highly respected and experienced in the fields of higher education and philanthropy and will be able to spark the kinds of meaningful, probing conversations this work needs,” said Mark Van Putten, president and CEO of the Wege Foundation. “With the research and convening power of the Johnson Center behind him, we expect to see great outcomes.”

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy is a well-regarded center of excellence at Grand Valley State University and a vital resource for the charitable sector both locally and globally, with engagements in Michigan, across the United States, and internationally in Canada, Australia, Europe, and Saudi Arabia.

For more information, visit johnsoncenter.org/residence