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Boston Foundation Head Pushes Advocacy Role

This article is more than 11 years old.

In the last decade, the mission of the nonprofit The Boston Foundation has grown from predominately raising money and giving grants to include a new focus on advocacy.

The group has successfully lobbied for a second round of education reform and for changes in how cities and towns pay for their workers' health care — changes that are included in the budget that's on Gov. Deval Patrick's desk right now.

The Boston Foundation's Paul Grogan (Knight Foundation/Flickr)
The Boston Foundation's Paul Grogan (Knight Foundation/Flickr)

The Boston Foundation’s leadership on core community issues, however, has put the foundation in an unusual spot for a nonprofit — drawing sharp rebukes from unions and other critics, according to Paul Grogan, the group’s president and CEO.

“One of the great things, I think, about the board of The Boston Foundation is that they have understood that if we’re going to take on some of the tough issues — even if we try to build, strong productive relationships with everyone — people are going to be mad at us from time to time,” Grogan said.

Many of the city’s major public employee unions have criticized the foundation recently, Grogan said, after his group advocated for municipal health care changes. But Grogan isn’t fazed.

“Needed change in society is virtually always accompanied by some conflict, because there are established interests who are benefiting from the status quo who don’t want to change it,” Grogan said.

The Boston Foundation sees itself as a leader in advancement and wants to tackle many of the city’s large, systemic problems.

“I think it’s really the human capital issue that confronts Boston,” Grogan said. “Are we going to have the will and the resolve to make this a place of opportunity, of upward mobility?”

The population of the region is aging rapidly, due to a low birthrate and the high price of living, which is forcing many of Boston’s talented young people to settle elsewhere. Recently, there’s been a large influx of immigrants. Grogan says that many of them are unskilled and “really need help getting on the economic ladder of opportunity.”

Grogan also said the foundation wants to focus on improving the city’s education system.

“There’s this issue of a very large number of inner-city kids are either dropping out of high school or graduating without the skills either to get a good job or to go on to college,” Grogan said. “Their plight is really desperate.”

Violence has plagued many areas of the city and a recent spate of murders, which police say are gang-related, has focused much of the region’s attention on Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury.

“We have highly-trained street workers out there every night, but if you can’t give these kids some alternative, that’s not going to be enough,” Grogan said.

The foundation’s anti-violence strategy pairs the street worker approach with alternative education programs, employment aid and making sure the city's youth have appropriate health and legal care.

“We are a very, very fortunate city,” Grogan said. “We have converted to the knowledge economy, we’re blessed at our extraordinary constellation of colleges and universities, our health care institutions [and] our technology companies. But there are clouds on the horizon.”

This program aired on July 8, 2011.


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