Read the full Q&A with Padilla below.
Right out of college, Frances G. Padilla almost skipped the chance to get into philanthropy. Now the president of the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut
and co-founder of the Progreso Latino Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven
, Padilla recalled choosing between being a program officer or a loan officer.
In the midst of the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Padilla, 54, paused to look back on her beginnings in the field from her vantage point as head of the foundation that has struggled for more than a decade to prepare Connecticut for universal health care.
“I was barely 20, and I had not really had any contact with the philanthropic community,” Padilla said of the foundation offer.
“I was really intrigued, really liked the people, thought I might like working there, but thought it was too small,” she said. “I had an offer from a bank to be a community loan officer. I thought that would offer me a better opportunity for advancement.”
So she accepted the bank job. But the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving wasn’t about to give up so easily on the recent graduate of Wesleyan University, who had the support of the late Wesleyan Dean Edgar F. Beckham, the first African-American to head that institution. A luncheon was arranged, and a foundation director persuaded her to re-consider.
“If you don’t like this after a year, we’ll give you a reference back to the bank,” she recalled the director telling her.
As a college senior, she had worked for independent study credit with Dean Beckham on a project to create an oral history about the growth of Hispanics at Wesleyan. Among the Latinos that were interviewed was a Hartford banker who had been the first Latino to graduate from the Middletown, Conn., campus: Alberto Ibargüen, now the president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She said that their paths have crossed occasionally since then.
“No one is really born saying, ‘I want to be a philanthropist when I grow up,’ ” said Padilla. She started life in the Bronx, the only daughter among the four children of a Korean War-era Army veteran, who was a welder and assembler of stainless steel doors and frames, and his homemaker wife. Her parents, who live in Connecticut, were born in Puerto Rico and met in a New York rooming house where they were boarders sharing a common kitchen.
Her upbringing in Roman Catholic parochial schools and the Bronx High School of Science was colored by the death of an older brother in drug-related violence when she was 13 and her participation with an older female cousin in a series of events sponsored by ASPIRA, a youth education and leadership nonprofit that was one of the country’s trailblazing national Hispanic organizations.
“[ASPIRA] helped me to understand who I am, who I was as a Latina; the history of politics and economics, and the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico,” she said. “It emphasized the value of education and leadership, and those were the formative values with which I grew, and I carry them with me all the time.”
She eventually returned to school and obtained a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. After the Hartford foundation, she went on to work for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, where she rose to associate director for special projects and planning before leaving to create New Paradigm Consulting, where she and her husband have both worked. She then joined the Universal Healthcare Foundation in 2004 as director of programs. She had worked her way up to executive vice president in 2010 when the foundation’s first president, Juan A. Figueroa, took a leave of absence in an unsuccessful bid for Connecticut governor. She served as acting president during his leave and then last year succeeded Figueroa, a former assistant attorney general for Connecticut and ex-president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
She met her husband, John Padilla, a Brooklyn native, while they were both studying at Wesleyan. A former aerospace and telecommunications worker, John Padilla eventually switched to the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. Frances Padilla said that he has worked on national workforce development for the past five years for The Annie E. Casey Foundation, most recently as a New Paradigm consultant. They have been married for 33 years and have two grown children, who she refers to as “noble souls in their own right,” and two grandchildren.
The Padillas co-founded the Progreso Latino Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven to encourage Latino giving and promote the well-being of Latinos in the Greater New Haven area. John Padilla chaired the endowment fund’s board until 2011.
As the key driving force to follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps and promote universal health care for Connecticut in the past decade, the foundation that Padilla heads is currently focused on implementation of the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as “Obamacare.”
The Interview Q&A
How has the foundation viewed the roll out of the Affordable Care Act?
We were very excited when in 2009 it became clear that there would be a national health care law that would augment what we were doing. We have been at the center of its implementation in Connecticut. We were involved in developing the legislation that established the health care exchange.
We are both a grantmaking foundation and also a public policy activist philanthropy. We’re involved in getting policy past but also with the bulk of funding. We have roughly 350,000 uninsured, 10 percent of the state’s population. We [Latinos] are disproportionately represented among the uninsured, due to low wages and benefits, and part-time employment, and young Latinos who cannot get coverage.
We are not an operating foundation, but in the past we have carried out a campaign to … create an environment for the ACA and other reforms, and we continue to implement the ACA. Today, there are 100,000 more people covered through the safety net than there were in 2010 in Connecticut. The health insurance marketplace implementation will cover more people. More elements of the ACA will be added through the federal health centers, improving access to quality care for low-income people. All of these efforts are very important to Latinos and African-Americans and others in this state.
Beyond the Affordable Care Act, what would you like to see in the health care field?
ACA implementation is really a long-term proposal. One thing that I think is so important to do in philanthropy is to stay with issues. Quite often in philanthropy, there’s a period of time where a foundation is focused and then moves on. … If we want to sustain expanded coverage over time and truly provide access, we have to shift the way that delivery of care is offered and how to pay for it. We’re going to stay focused on the second-generation implementation.
There still has to be that — being at the table, being constructive and getting things to work, but also calling out those things that are not right for the consumers and sometimes taking heat for it.
In the past, we campaigned and mobilized people. The future is really making sure that we can achieve sustainable reform over time that improves the quality of care that helps us as a state … for our families’ pocketbooks, and that helps us take care of ourselves. So I think we’re going to stay the course. We work with a lot of different organizations.
One example is our Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care. In 2006, we started by convening a group of Latino ministers in the state… . The stories that they told about the people in their churches and their own stories, about being employed as ministers and not having health insurance, moved us to action and to see who else we needed to have at the table. We convened a larger table to include other groups, African-American clergy, rabbis, imams and others. It is a group that today is considered to have moral authority on this issue. We’re very proud of that work and proud of our association with them.
How do you see greater collaborations in the healthcare funding area?
Health reform is fraught with interests, money and politics, so it’s a difficult area to get deep and sustainable change. We have been convening people for action, and we continue to do that. We’re seen as a good-faith broker, though we have a point of view as an organization, and we want to transform the system and be patient- and people-centric. Collaborations are a good thing, and we do all we can to foster them.
What about addressing healthcare disparities?
The inequities that exist in the health care system pervade it throughout, so what I said earlier about many Latinos having their access to coverage hampered, the ACA will help in that regard… However, the access to coverage alone does not minimize disparities. I’m not really sure that ACA addresses them head on, though it funds collaboratives in states [to look at these issues], and we’re part of one in New England that addresses disparities.
Getting more people into the health care workforce is very important, also deploying approaches that focus on prevention and primary health care. Being able to have regular care and being in the center of the health care team is essential. There are programs where people are able to access primary care on a regular basis and having insurance that might not require co-pays. … It has to do with shifting the culture, to a team with doctor, nurses and community workers, and where patients have an active part, to set up a whole new set of opportunities so Latinos, African-Americans and others can benefit.
Under the ACA, there is the elimination of [insurers being allowed to decline coverage for] pre-existing conditions, subsidies that will make insurance more affordable, many people who are under-insured will have access to better coverage and quality coverage. I’m hoping that more Latinos will be participating in the system, [even for those paying complete premiums] to have a better chance to comparison shop and … to question whether they’re getting the best value for their health care dollar.
How responsive is U.S. philanthropy toward Hispanics?
As the Foundation Center pointed out in the report
commissioned by HIP, there’s still not sufficient funding of Latino organizations. I think that one of several contributions, also spearheaded by HIP, is the capacity-building program and the opportunity to match funds to work on organizational capacity. I worry a lot about Latino-led, Latino-governed organizations going by the wayside in this economy because they may not be able to weather downturns, while getting even more demands for their services.
I think the philanthropic sector often doesn’t want to focus on one group over another; I think it’s our responsibility as a sector to go deeper in figuring how to address those needs in those communities. I think there needs to be many more Latinos in governance, the staffing of the foundations needs attention, and we Latinos ought to become more active in philanthropy ourselves, through giving circles. And we should actually create our foundations, and I think that’s the next generation.
Do you mean that in a fashion similar to you and your husband’s involvement in co-founding the Progreso Latino Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven?
I worked at the foundation in the mid-‘80s to 1990s. Then, after I left, my husband was appointed to the [foundation] board. He chaired the board for a year or two. After he came off the board, the foundation wanted us to really talk about Latino giving at the foundation. We started it as a Latinos giving circle. … We were successful; we have good friends who were thinking that we have been blessed in our careers. With these friends and John and I, we were able to establish it. We are very proud with all the people who have come into the fund since then. There are lots of people involved with the committee and also contributing to it.
We believe that you have to create a pipeline of new leaders. We were co-chairs for the first eight years or so. We wanted the Advisory Committee to not be all about us. It had already attracted more than a 100 donors. So we worked with the community foundation and other people on the steering committee of the fund to come in, not only transitioning the leadership but also to see what direction the Progreso Latino Fund would take in the future. It now has new leadership and a whole action plan for building the fund over the next five years or so.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
The philanthropic sector is such an important asset that we have here in this country, it is that place that can experiment, that can really lift up what’s best about the community and the state, that can tackle the hardest issues.
We need philanthropy in this country to be bigger, better and stronger, I feel that Latinos should have a central role in that field. We are children of immigrants — coming from different parts of the Americas and born right here in the United States. We are the builders of bridges … and boundary managers, and I think that’s what philanthropy needs more of. I hope the field will continue to work actively. And I will do the best from where I sit.