Kitchen Table Philanthropy: How My Immigrant Journey Informs My Philanthropy
My family, like many others is an immigrant family and we are celebrating 50 years since we immigrated to the United States. In my case, my sister and I came with “Mommy” and “Daddy” from Hyderabad, India. And recently, I’ve had time to reflect on my five-decade immigration and assimilation journey and how that journey impacts my family’s philanthropy.
Throughout history, the U.S. has benefitted from the arrival of new people who bring with them fresh energy, ideas, and ambition. My immigration story has always brought mixed feelings—from appreciation for opportunities for growth, to anxiety over thorny conversations at our kitchen table around issues of “belongingness.” My birth family of four had to deal with financial insecurities, safety concerns, and loss of family as we transitioned into our new surroundings in 1972 Chicago. My husband’s immigration story is similar, but personal to him. The significant commonalities are the strength of shared family values, our faith, and devotion to raising our sons, living out our values, and faith in our daily actions.
In our early lives as a married couple, even before we were blessed with children, we practiced annual giving. As the years passed, we continued this informal practice, largely around the kitchen table, learning from the giving modeled by our parents. It is only since my father-in-law passed a few years ago that our family has become more intentional and strategic in articulating our values of transparency, collaboration, economic advancement, and trust as the guiding principles of our granting and regranting decisions.
Developing Funding Values and Principles: Effect of Experiences in the Educational System
How did we arrive at these principles? This country gave my family many opportunities to thrive that I could not have had in India. For my sister and me, education was one area in which the US opened many doors. School provided a formal and informal education, which were formative experiences that guided the development of the principles of the Waraich Family Fund (WFF). Attending school gave my sister and me our first experience of living in two worlds: the public secular world and the private Muslim world. During our schooling, we had to navigate cultural insensitivity in the educational system. To survive, we mastered the art of code switching. With gratitude to the efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion work of so many people, most people know what code switching means for Black people living in a predominantly white America. Many people may not have given thought to what it is like for children of different faith communities living in a predominantly Christian communities that perhaps give a nod to the Jewish holidays and customs. In grade school my sister and I would fabricate stories of sugar cookies and Christmas morning rather than share the true joy of our winter holidays spent with Mommy and Daddy, taking a walk in the snow enjoying the neighborhood Christmas lights, having Sunday brunch with keema, khitri, papar, and chai—not treats my American friends would have known how to appreciate at that time. Nor did I want to do the heavy lift of educating my classmates.
Developing Funding Values and Principles: Understanding the Power of Community
Our immigrant story and history also allow us to authentically engage with the organizations to which we are providing financial support. When my family arrived in America, we lived in the area where when someone broke into your apartment and stole your sewing machine, you watched them walk away with it, and lived to buy a new one. It was also an area where your community, hearing of your misfortune, would help you get the funds for a new (used) sewing machine, knowing you would pay them back or pay it forward. This showed me the power of community collaboration, something that is integral to the way the WFF funds today.
Our community was also often under-estimated by outsiders. Burglaries were not uncommon. A TV or sewing machine would be taken and sold at the local pawn shop, but 24-carat bracelets would be left behind as worthless costume jewelry. Coming from humble origins allows us to not underestimate the capabilities of the communities we are serving and provide meaningful economic advancement rather than a one-time grant or gift.
Principles in Action Today
Today, some 41 million immigrants and 37.1 million US-born children of immigrants live in the United States. Taken together, the first and second generations are one-quarter of the US population. America’s economic future vibrates with promise as immigrants’ energy, creativity, ambition, and countless contributions weave their way into the fabric of America. Oftentimes, though, that promise needs a catalyst to ignite the potential. We are fortunate to be that catalyst for some through the WFF, work guided by our values and principles. The WFF’s goals are to uplift the work of Muslim-led nonprofits that are helping communities thrive. We meet with most of our grantees annually and ask additional probing questions to advance their programs, unlock additional capacity, and upend the system that isn’t working for so many.
The WFF partners with and supports nonprofits working with Black communities, recent convert communities, refugee communities, first generation scholarships, and families that need additional mental health support as they navigate next steps. Notably, the WFF was instrumental in funding and driving a three-year action-based research initiative called the Community Collaboration Initiative (CCI). CCI’s focus has been on building trust among a group of Muslim American nonprofits which will complete a project collaboratively and work towards financial sustainability in the philanthropic spaces. While the outcome of CCI remains to be seen, the hope is that, through collaboration, participating organizations can achieve more program outputs such as leadership skills, grant writing skills, and capacity building, as well as less administrative burden. CCI is also working toward understanding the difference between collaboration and cooperation. The logical outcome of such an investment would be greater funding from donors who are eager to fund projects with demonstrated models of greater impact. If this can be achieved through shared learning, trust-based collaboration, and a collaboration prize model, then this model could be a very impactful and replicable project transferable to any community. The greatest impact would be to have Muslim Collaborative Prizes throughout the country to promote increased religious pluralism and stronger communities.
Although our journey has had struggles and difficulties, it has also had many blessings and good fortune, which have led us to where we are now. We have a strong sense of who we are and are well grounded in our identity, our faith, our work, and our friendships. In 2022, as my husband and I raise our sons who are now 24 and 21 years old, I smile at how my kitchen table conversations have evolved over the last 50 years. I feel a sense of belonging in my work, school, and home lives. I have been able to take my experiences—both positive and negative—and use them to develop a funding approach that centers trust, collaboration, and transparency to advance the work of nonprofits that I believe can build more equitable systems.
As children and grandchildren of immigrants, we are leveraging our lived experiences to provide support through WFF. It is our belief that as people grow in their personal faith and understanding of all religions, we will have a more peaceful and just America for all.
If you are interested in learning more about the Community Collaboration Initiative please contact Dilnaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dilnaz Waraich is president of the Waraich Family Fund.
The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.