Seattle billionaire MacKenzie Scott shocked the world when she announced last week that she has donated $1.7 billion dollars to 116 various organizations, foundations, and universities. $35 million amount of this went specifically to tribal organizations making this one of the largest single donations to tribal organizations by an individual donor.
In addition to the sheer size of the investment, Scott has gained a lot of attention in the philanthropic sector for the nature of her gifts. They all went to progressive causes, with nearly a third of the funds focused on racial equity, and all the gifts were unrestricted. “All of these leaders and organizations have a track record of effective management and significant impact in their fields,” said Scott. “I gave each a contribution and encouraged them to spend it on whatever they believe best serves their efforts.”
One of those organizations is the American Indian Graduate Center, the largest scholarship provider to Native students in the United States. The AIGC received $20 million dollars, the largest single donation ever made in the organization’s 50 year history.
Executive Director of the American Indian Graduate Center, Angelique Albert, says she was left speechless when she received the news. “My words could not find their way out for what felt like ten minutes. I had to hold back tears because I knew what this would mean for our organization and, more importantly, our students.”
The AIGC has an annual operating budget of $20 million so the amount of the Scott gift cannot be overlooked, but Albert emphasized the unrestricted nature of the donation. “The fact that this amount of funding is unrestricted demonstrates that Ms. Scott is invested in empowering organizations who are working closely with marginalized populations,” said Albert. “She is trusting our organization to direct resources to where they are most needed.”
Over its 50-year history, the AIGC has supported over 16,000 students from over 500 tribes in all 50 states by providing scholarship dollars and support services for undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. In 2019, the AIGC funded approximately 1,340 scholars.
With this new influx of funds, Albert says, “A gift of this size will allow American Indian Graduate Center to not only grow the number of scholars we are supporting and increase the support services, but simultaneously envision new programs and services that would not have previously been possible… We learned early on that scholarships alone are not enough and we have implemented a structured support program which produces proven results.”
In the wake of COVID-19, almost every aspect of modern life has been disrupted, education included. The AIGC “did a significant amount of pivoting when the pandemic hit” in order to aid Native students who were dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. “We reached out to every one of our scholars to see how they were impacted and how we could support them to stay in school. We established a student emergency fund and helped them with housing, food, transportation, technology access, and more… We intend to support our students and their tribal communities through any circumstance,” said Albert.
When asked what other potential funders can take away from Scott’s major donation Albert said, “[I] encourage other investors to partner with our Native-led organization[s] in a way that empowers those closest to the issues to do amazing work and make the greatest impact.”
Albert characterized the historical relationship between Native people and the American education system as “broken”, citing the violence and assimilation inflicted on Native people through the boarding school system that forced Native children out of their tribal communities and operated under the directive of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”. However, Albert believes that philanthropic efforts can help mend that broken relationship.
“Philanthropy can be used to heal some of that brokenness by providing Native students with an opportunity to seek an education for themselves, rather than for assimilation, that they then often use to further empower their tribal communities.
“We at American Indian Graduate Center know that philanthropy can be restorative, empowering and transformative when funders approach their work through the lens of justice and equity.”
For more information about the MacKenzie Scott donation to the American Indian Graduate Center, you can go to their website here for more information.