By: Stuti Shah

In a year defined by chaos enveloping our lives, GreenLight Fund Charlotte has continued to listen to and strengthen the community. The pandemic has brought to light the deeply ingrained inequalities in our communities. As a Charlotte native, I have witnessed and experienced these disparities first-hand. Passionate about making a positive change in the city, I joined GreenLight, where I was able to broaden my horizons and make a direct impact in my community.

Through my semester-long experience, I was immersed into the workings of the organization and learned how change occurs on the ground. I delved into pertinent policy areas like community safety and mental health on the local level, applying the skills I learned in my public policy coursework. More importantly, I understood how these policies and decisions affect the people themselves. GreenLight consistently centers people and their unique needs in each of its investments, a necessity in facilitating progress. Effectively understanding the community’s perspective is the only way to make an impact that serves them.

My most significant contribution was my project related to lifting and identifying systems change within the GreenLight national network. As someone with interest in the non-profit sector and social impact, this project gave me the opportunity to truly explore the field. The goal is, and always has been, to create change, but how can long-term, sustainable change be generated? How can we eradicate social problems from the root? These are questions I was able to answer through my research on systems change.

The social problems we seek to address, whether it be racial inequities or access to education, are not isolated. Rather, they are embedded in networks of cause and effect. These issues are a function of the system as a whole: a system’s institutions, policy decisions, markets, and even of public attitudes and cultural norms. Therefore, no problem can be solved with a single panacea. Only when we address the root causes of these problems can we shift the conditions which are holding the problems in place.

Throughout this project, I learned the importance of embracing context and systems thinking. A person for the details, I have always gravitated towards the technical and nitty-gritty aspects of problem-solving. However, systemic change requires the untangling of various underlying and intersectional issues which cannot be summarized in a few sentences nor accomplished in a few years. Rather than simply considering the explicit and tangible impacts of a non-profit, organizations must dig deeper into the power dynamics and mental models of a society that perpetuates these issues. GreenLight’s focus on this deeper, sustainable solution is key to transforming entire systems.

Creating a more equitable society is a consistent, community-wide effort. Partnerships between the public and private sectors are integral to the function and success of GreenLight’s investments. Witnessing these collaborations at work allowed me to appreciate the extensive networks of progress. Change is never spearheaded by one entity but requires collaboration between several actors and institutions.

Working with GreenLight Charlotte in these challenging times has allowed for tremendous personal and professional growth. Understanding the venture philanthropy space has been a valuable experience in combining both my business and public policy skills as my passion for working towards the public good has only deepened. I am now a more informed and knowledgeable Charlottean, with a greater appreciation for all the changemakers in our city. Every day, I was inspired by the drive and determination that Paola, Kenichi, Carrie, and the entire staff of the GreenLight Fund brought to their work. I hope to carry the same passion in my future endeavors.