As a Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Gail C. Christopher led many initiatives that were not without controversy and difficult conversations. She launched the Foundation’s breastfeeding program as a health equity strategy for women and children and she was responsible for the formation and framework of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) work. We began our interview talking about what reflective practices helped her meet challenges as a philanthropic practitioner. –Jan Jaffe
Gail: Let’s remember philanthropy’s etymology—love of humanity. I believe the field should be grounded in the heart and love. I am always all about the business! But I put a great deal of emphasis on doing no harm myself and helping others to be on a path of love and understanding. As a practice, that means always asking myself where my attention and focus should be. I think about my day and visualize my intention for each experience. It is a centering practice to have clear intention.If I have a meeting ahead of me, I imagine the meeting itself in my mind’s eye, including the conversations and the outcome. A few minutes of quiet centering, deep breathing and consciously following each breath is my precursor practice to focusing on intention and desired outcomes. This type of mindfulness break can be taken almost anytime and anywhere.
Jan: Do you have an example of a challenge that took you by surprise? Those are the ones that trip me up!
Gail: I came to the Foundation filled with purpose and a drive to move forward on issues of equity. Early in my time, I led a program to increase access to mother’s milk as important for the mother and the baby as a nutritional practice with a bonding benefit. A twofer, as it were! At the time, the social authority of the foundation was more male and while the CEO got what I was advocating for, the executive council of senior leaders across the foundation was less comfortable with it. At an important budget meeting, one of my colleagues greeted my appearance with “Here comes, Gail, the breastfeeding Nazi.”
Jan: That would be hard to anticipate or digest! How did you react in the moment?
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