Children Learning Photo by Matt Design

Reflections on 23 years at the Haas, Jr. Fund

From Values to Actions

Sylvia Yee offers thanks as she steps down from her role as Vice President of Programs

From the
Perspective Series

“What is the change you want to make in the world?”

It is a question a colleague posed to me early on as I began my journey in philanthropy. As I reflect back on my 23 years at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, I have come to see the Fund as a place where I had the privilege to keep returning to this question. It is a place where I was able to support others to articulate and realize their bold visions of the future. And it is a place where I was able to dream big alongside grantees, funders and other partners about the difference we wanted to see in the world.

Compelled by these dreams, the Fund and our partners built a network of Beacon Centers that have turned eight San Francisco schools into neighborhood hubs of afterschool and weekend activity aimed at helping thousands of students and families succeed. … We changed hearts and minds on the issue of marriage equality, laying the ground work for a historic win at the Supreme Court. … We supported young undocumented Dreamers to find their voice and to become a spark for a nationwide movement for change.

These are just a few of the many things we have done together. And each of these achievements started with the same question, “What is the change you want to make in the world?” We weren’t looking for quick fixes or easy wins. We were looking for opportunities to make communities and society better for us all, and to make real our shared values of fairness, inclusion and social justice.

The ability to practice philanthropy in this way—with a long-term ambitious vision and with our values front and center—is a gift.

As I move on to the next chapter in my life, I want to thank the Directors of the Haas, Jr. Fund for allowing us the time and the freedom to work in this way. Your passion to make a significant difference, your deep engagement in the issues, and your belief in the positive power of philanthropy continue to inspire us.

And to the stellar leaders I have worked side by side with over all these years, thank you for your tireless commitment to the day-to-day struggles of social change—lifting up voices for change, working together to transform lives, bringing hope and opportunity to neighborhoods and communities that are too often ignored. I am fortunate to count many of you as friends.

My heartfelt gratitude also to the mission-driven, hard-working, fun-loving staff at the Haas, Jr. Fund. You are the best!  You have been my second family from which I have drawn daily sustenance in my work and in my personal life. 

Last but not least, I have to note that I am leaving the Fund in the same year as our longtime President and Trustee, Ira Hirschfield. Ira hired me as the Fund’s first senior program officer in 1993. Since that time we forged an incredible partnership that I will always hold dear. I am grateful for his leadership and clarity of values. His generosity of spirit motivated each of us at the Fund to strive to be our best.

It has been such a rewarding, exhilarating and sometimes nerve-wracking ride over these past two decades. As I step down and embrace the next phase of my life, I send my very best wishes to each of you. Be bold in the change you want to make. Hold fast to your dreams of a better world.