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ForumNation Podcast Episode 1 Transcript

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

In the first episode of our ForumNation podcast, David Biemesderfer interviews Daranee Petsod. Daranee explains how her experience as a young immigrant from Thailand has shaped her career work as a bridge-builder, what its been like for GCIR to be thrust into the frontlines of our country's immigration debate, and how surfing has helped her manage the stresses of her work.

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Part 1

Dave Biemesderfer (00:05):

Forum Nation is a podcast of United Philanthropy Forum where we interview amazing philanthropy leaders that we want more people to know about. You'll hear about their personal stories of transformation, their life inflection points, and their surprising leadership moments. You'll hear insights about what's behind the title, those less than perfect moments, those overcoming the odds moments, and those moments where you reach down and find something within you that you didn't know was there. I'm your host, Dave Biemesderfer.

Dave Biemesderfer (00:38):

For more than three decades, Daranee Petsod has devoted her career to fighting to advance justice and equity for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers working primarily in the philanthropic sector. She started her career working for such a philanthropic organizations as The Sophia Fund, the United Way of Metro Chicago and the Field Foundation of Illinois. Since 1998, she has served as president of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, also known as GCIR, an influential national network of funders dedicated to uplifting the contributions and addressing the needs of our country's immigrant and refugee populations. GCIR was named the funder affinity group of the year in 2017 by Inside Philanthropy. Daranee has authored and co-authored numerous research reports on immigration. She currently serves on the board of Northern California Grantmakers and as board chair of United Philanthropy Forum, which is the organization I run. Daranee, welcome to Form Nation.

Daranee Petsod (01:48):

Thank you so much Dave. Thank you for inviting me to be here.

Dave Biemesderfer (01:50):

You spent pretty much your entire career fighting for the rights of immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers in our country. So why do you have such a dedication and passion for this issue? What really drives you to be focused for so many years on the same issue?

Daranee Petsod (02:16):

Yes. So I came to the US at the age of 10 after a six year separation from my parents who immigrated earlier.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:28):

Tell me more about that. How did that come about? From Thailand?

Daranee Petsod (02:31):

From Thailand, yes. And it came about in part because of the immigration system that we have. In order to sponsor a family member you have to establish yourself here first. And so family members have to wait until it is possible to migrate. And we did not come from a wealthy background and so my parents had to save and they had to prove to immigration that they had the resources to support me.

Dave Biemesderfer (03:07):


Daranee Petsod (03:08):


Dave Biemesderfer (03:08):

So you came first?

Daranee Petsod (03:10):


Dave Biemesderfer (03:10):

You waited. You waited in Thailand.

Daranee Petsod (03:13):

I waited in Thailand.

Dave Biemesderfer (03:13):

So they came first.

Daranee Petsod (03:14):


Dave Biemesderfer (03:14):

Who did you live with in Thailand for those six years?

Daranee Petsod (03:18):

I lived with my extended family. So I'm very close to my aunts and uncles as a result.

Dave Biemesderfer (03:24):

Yeah. And are they still in Thailand?

Daranee Petsod (03:26):

They are.

Dave Biemesderfer (03:27):

So tell me, you're age 10, you've lived the first 10 years of your life in Thailand, you come to the US, and when you moved to the US, where were you living?

Daranee Petsod (03:37):

My parents settled in Chicago and it's where a number of Thai people have resettled. And I grew up in a low income neighborhood in Chicago, largely with immigrants and African Americans in the community. And I think what has given me passion about this work is that in that experience of migrating and being separated from my parents before migrating here, and in living in a community where I lived, the economic disparities, I lived the racial disparities and I saw injustices for myself and my friends. It really awakened my consciousness about what's not right in the society and gave me a drive to really right the wrongs. And I started that very early on by volunteering. So when I was a teenager in high school, I volunteered with Laotian and Cambodian refugee children serving as a mentor to them.

Daranee Petsod (04:56):

And I did that through college. And although my experience was hard, I really feel like my parents, despite humble beginnings and modest means, did have some resources to come here and they were not displaced and forced to migrate due to war and oppression, persecution and so forth. So I had a lot of empathy for essentially folks who are my neighbors in Asia and I also know a little bit of Laotian. We did live there actually during the Vietnam war. So Thai and Lao are pretty close in language and so I have some of that. And I think it's interesting you asked this question because throughout my experience at GCIR, I rarely share my own story. And my work has been to uplift the experiences of others who are experiencing migration in different ways.

Daranee Petsod (06:10):

And working in this space is really, really hard. And when I get a little bit overwhelmed or disillusioned or down, I really think about the young Cambodian girl that I mentored when I was, I think this was in college. So she was about 12 years old at the time, and I can't remember why, but she received a scholarship to a really prestigious private school. And while I was able to help her keep up with her schoolwork, I really wasn't able to mitigate the social aspects of her life. And I think seeing how she struggled to fit in into an elite school, feeling ashamed of her secondhand clothing, feeling ashamed of her poverty, of her skin color, of the genocide of her people and really not fitting in, in that place. And so I think of her, that keeps me going.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:14):

Yeah. Wow, that's so powerful. And thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate it. Why don't you often, you said you don't often share your own story in your work. Is it because it just brings up a lot of memories or why is that?

Daranee Petsod (07:31):

Because I think it's about me. It's about the larger issue. And I know that at times it is powerful to share your story. But I'm not one of those people, because I am also so emotionally connected to this work and I am a crier. I don't want to lose my zen and cool composure.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:54):

Nothing wrong with crying.

Daranee Petsod (07:54):

And my tough exterior.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:56):

Yes. You think you have a tough exterior?

Daranee Petsod (07:58):

I do.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:58):

Okay. All right.

Daranee Petsod (07:58):

Is there a poll that's going to be take?

Dave Biemesderfer (08:02):

We won't argue that. So, by 10 years old, you're remembering things. So just for you, what was that transition like? You're 10 years old, you spent your entire life in Thailand and Laos as well. And now you're in Chicago and do you remember your initial, what was going through your head as that young 10 year old? And what's the adjustment like for you?

Daranee Petsod (08:31):

The adjustment was difficult. I knew hello and goodbye. Those were the words I knew in English when I arrived here. So I had to learn how to speak English. And it's interesting, so in the community we lived in, I went into a majority/minority school with very few resources. But because there's a lot of immigrants in that school, they did have an ESL program. The teachers took me under their wings and I was able to learn English. But even as a 10 year old, I saw differential treatment of myself as an Asian immigrant and friends who came from Africa, friends who came from Latin America. And in some ways, I didn't know it then, I benefited from the model minority myth and so I am very mindful of that and I see that as, there's a lot of mixed feelings about that for sure. And just the feeling of never fitting in.

Daranee Petsod (09:55):

It was such a diverse school and the majority were Latinos. And so as I was learning English, I was also learning Spanish because that actually was the dominant language in our school. And really confused about how to fit in with very different cultures and not understanding the norms.

Dave Biemesderfer (10:21):

So, that connects to your work today. I know GCIR, you do work with them [inaudible 00:10:27] Association For Black Foundation executives working around issues with African immigrants. And I know you've been doing work with Hispanics and philanthropy around Latin X immigrants. You must carry with you some of that life experience.

Daranee Petsod (10:42):

Absolutely. I think this is why I'm a bridge builder. Initially as a 10 year old it was survival. I had to connect with kids from other backgrounds because there were no other kids from Thailand. I think there was another, there was a kid from Korea, also differently. No really spoke English that well at school, so the bridging part and I actually have a very special, feel like I have a special connection to the African American experience because it's actually an African American family that took us under their wings and that's with whom we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and all the traditional American holidays.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:33):

They were neighbors of yours?

Daranee Petsod (11:40):

No, I mean it's actually a really funny story. My mom and I are shopping for a couch or a rug or something. And this young African American salesman is helping us and he just took a liking to us and it was like a holiday job during college or something. So I was about 13 at the time and I think he's like 18/19 and he's like, "Do you want me to try to use my store discount so you guys can buy this a little cheaper?" And we're like, "Okay." And somehow we just connected and he's like a big brother to me. And then after that we went for all the holidays and with that family.

Dave Biemesderfer (12:29):

So this African American family helped you learn about American traditions and culture, it sounds like.

Daranee Petsod (12:37):

It is very true. And imagine my surprise when I went to a more traditional mainstream Caucasian Thanksgiving where there were no greens, no Mac and Cheese, no sweet potato pie, no chitlins. I was like, what is this? So that was my perception of what Thanksgiving and all the holidays were.

Dave Biemesderfer (13:06):

Right, right. Wow. That's a really great story. Thank you for sharing that. You did end up moving on to college and went to university. I know you got your Master's at University Chicago, so clearly, attained higher education goals, I assume, that you had for yourself and even from then you were involved in social policy. That was your Master's. So you sound like you knew then, this is what I want to be doing.

Daranee Petsod (13:38):

Actually it's interesting because when you come from a family where you're the first to go to college and you're in an inner city school where you, at the time, girl of color are seen as somebody not with so much potential. And so you don't really have many role models. And so how I ended up in grad school, actually relates a lot to philanthropy. So after college-

Dave Biemesderfer (14:12):

Where did you go to college?

Daranee Petsod (14:14):

I went to DePaul University.

Dave Biemesderfer (14:15):


Daranee Petsod (14:16):

And so after college, my first job was at a rape crisis center. I was hired to start a program to serve Southeast Asian women who are survivors of sexual assault. They were either assaulted during the war and while fleeing or in the camps. I had some language capabilities, cultural competence, et cetera. So I was hired for that job at the age of 20, so I do not recommend that job. Not unless you have a certain kind of character.

Daranee Petsod (14:54):

So that was-

Dave Biemesderfer (14:56):

Not easy work I would imagine.

Daranee Petsod (14:59):

No. It was a job where I went home crying every night. I take in other people's pains and experiences and just really felt like, oh my gosh, all these horrific things happen to them and I don't really know how to help. I'm 20 years old.

Dave Biemesderfer (15:15):

Right. Yeah, that's a big load for a 20 year old to carry.

Daranee Petsod (15:18):

Yeah. And of course, there was training and all that stuff, but when you're 20 it's like, dealing with the atrocities of war and put in a position of trying to make things better for somebody who's just disclosed very painful information. It was really tough. But anyway, through working in this job, I was able to meet the funders who seeded the program. And that's the Sofia Fund.

Dave Biemesderfer (15:52):


Daranee Petsod (15:52):

Yeah. So that's the connections. And I was immediately impressed by Sonny Fischer, who ran the Sophia Fund at the time. She was really a trailblazer in the women's fund movement.

Dave Biemesderfer (16:08):

It was one of the first women's funds in the country, I believe, right?

Daranee Petsod (16:12):

Absolutely, yes. And Sonny cared about the work that we were doing. She was funding our organization to change police practices towards sexual assault victims, to advocate for them in the courts, to provide counseling, and was really very attuned to the experiences of women of color even though she herself is not one. So she had gone to the University of Chicago for social policy and actually my supervisor at the program also went there. And they became my role model. So I was like, oh, well I think I'm not good at providing counseling to sexual assault survivors because I don't have the training. So I'm going to go to grad school and they also have a clinical program.

Daranee Petsod (17:06):

And so I first went into the clinical program and did an internship working with abuse and neglected children. And that's when I realized, you know what? It's not the lack of training. It's not my constitution to do this work. So I sought Sonny out for an internship. They've never had an intern before. And I said, "Sonny, you remember me from this program. I am really interested in learning about the woman's funding movement about philanthropy. May I do my internship here?" And so she created an internship for me and it was such a remarkable experience. And so the Sofia Fund had a single donor, Lucia Woods Lindley, who is also an extraordinary woman.

Dave Biemesderfer (17:55):

And was she still living when you were working [crosstalk 00:00:18:00]?

Daranee Petsod (17:59):

Yes. She constituted the board. She went with us on site visits. But what I really appreciated about her was that she wanted her dollars to affect change and she wanted the resources to be put in the hands of the people who are affected most by economic injustice, by gender and justice and so forth. And entrusted me to be part of that decision making. And so it was such a unique experience, very close mentorship by the two women.

Dave Biemesderfer (18:39):

Well and we're talking the late eighties here. I mean, that seems pretty forward thinking because we're still talking today in 2020 in philanthropy about the need for more funders to be doing that kind of grant making, aren't we?

Daranee Petsod (18:52):

Absolutely. Yeah. They were really pioneers in saying, you tell us what you need and we'll provide the resources for that. And very understanding about when things don't go as planned, which is often the case for small grassroots organizations. And they actually allowed me to focus on building the capacity of organizations that are led by women of color and that serve women of color. So it's pretty remarkable.

Dave Biemesderfer (19:23):

Yeah, absolutely. So, that was your introduction to philanthropy.

Daranee Petsod (19:27):

Yes, it was.

Dave Biemesderfer (19:31):

Coming up in part two of my interview with Daranee Petsod, she shares what it's been like for her organization to be thrust into the front lines of our country's immigration debate, starting with the 2016 presidential elections.

Daranee Petsod (19:45):

Since the campaign leading up to the 2016 election, and since the election, staff wellness has been really top of the mind because we are assaulted every day and three quarters of our staff have a direct connection to the immigrant experience. And so we feel that extremely directly.

Dave Biemesderfer (20:13):

Continue listening to part two of my interview with Daranee Petsod on ForumNation.

Part 2

Dave Biemesderfer (00:06):

This is part two of my interview with Daranee Petsod on ForumNation.

Dave Biemesderfer (00:14):

So now thinking back 30 years later, it sounds like you've already shared some of your initial impressions of what philanthropy is all about and how has that changed over the last 30 years for you from your initial thoughts about the field and about philanthropy? Or have they not, have they stayed pretty similar?

Daranee Petsod (00:38):

Having my first experience with the Sophia Fund, gave me a very idealistic view of philanthropy, because they were definitely trailblazers. After that I went to United Way, which is much more corporate and traditional. I was in the government affairs office working on public policy issues and actually that's when I also realized public policy is too remote, frontline direct services is too close. And the Sophia Fund working in philanthropy felt just right because I felt like I brought on the ground experience. I brought lived experience, and I can help bridge philanthropy to understand what that's like and inform better grant making.

Daranee Petsod (01:29):

After that though, I went to a very mainstream blue blood foundation, the Field Foundation of Illinois, who at the time was led by an African American man who is really trying to shift this philanthropy. This is a foundation that is generations old at the time that I was there, and I believe he's still on the board is Marshall Field V?

Dave Biemesderfer (01:56):

Oh, okay, this is the Marshall Field ... Okay.

Daranee Petsod (01:58):

Yes. The department [crosstalk 00:01:59]. Exactly.

Dave Biemesderfer (01:59):


Daranee Petsod (02:02):

And everyone who was the fifth, the fourth, the third, second junior, senior, et cetera, and I was still super young.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:15):

Right. Totally different world from how you grew up with.

Daranee Petsod (02:18):


Dave Biemesderfer (02:19):

The second, third, fourth generation doing this or that.

Daranee Petsod (02:22):


Dave Biemesderfer (02:22):


Daranee Petsod (02:24):

And felt such a weight of responsibility because here I am, even though I'm very grounded in the community, I didn't have a lot of experience and for Andy to also trust me and invest in my leadership and have me at the board meetings-

Dave Biemesderfer (02:44):

Andy Lindsey [crosstalk 00:02:45].

Daranee Petsod (02:49):

Yes. Yeah. That's also another mentor.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:50):

He's a great philanthropy leader, absolutely.

Daranee Petsod (02:52):

Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:53):

So then you wind up eventually at GCIR in '89 I think. I read you had written ... I can't remember where I saw that when you started at GCIR, you were, I think the words were highly skeptical of the value of a philanthropy serving an organization, a philanthropy association network to really have an impact, although you took it up anyway and that ... Speaking of evolutions, you're now a firm believer over your time there of the power and impact of PSO. So talk to me about that evolution for you, coming in highly skeptical and now sort of the opposite firm believer.

Daranee Petsod (03:42):

Yes. And I think the evolution of my thinking reflects the evolution of the sector because when I was at the Sophia Fund and at the Field Foundation, so when I engaged with affinity groups and regional associations back in the day, they were more about networking professional development, member services. Those were really early days in the development of PSOs and most didn't see themselves as change agents or leadership organizations. My thinking about them has evolved over the years because PSOs now are squarely in the leadership space with very deep expertise, with strong points of view and deeply rooted as well in values that are about equity and justice. I think we have more power and influence than we did back then, when we were more service oriented.

Dave Biemesderfer (04:44):

I think so too.

Daranee Petsod (04:45):

Yeah. But I do have an issue with the term PSO, philanthropy serving organizations. I would vote to rename them PPOs, philanthropy partnership organizations. Not to be confused with PPO-

Dave Biemesderfer (05:01):

[crosstalk 00:05:01] organizations.

Daranee Petsod (05:04):


Dave Biemesderfer (05:05):

Yeah. Yeah. That would be the issue maybe with PPO.

Daranee Petsod (05:09):

Right. Right.

Dave Biemesderfer (05:10):

People think we're in the healthcare and-

Daranee Petsod (05:11):


Dave Biemesderfer (05:14):

But yeah. So definitely PSO has definitely [inaudible 00:05:16], absolutely.

Daranee Petsod (05:17):


Dave Biemesderfer (05:18):

Yeah. Yeah.

Daranee Petsod (05:19):

Yeah. Yeah. And in terms of the evolution to 20 years ago, diversity was barely a thing that people discuss, and when they did, it was largely a black and white issue. And fast forward to today, racial equity is top of the mind for many of us in the sector. I mean, I think in the PSO sector it is absolutely top of the mind. And we're trying to make that top of the mind for philanthropy writ large. And the discussions around race and racism and white supremacy, et cetera, is really front and center now and it is inclusive of Brown people, it's no longer a black and white conversation. So that some of the evolution that I've seen.

Daranee Petsod (06:15):

And I've also seen evolution of issues that before that were really not even on the radar, so 20 years ago issues like mass incarceration, criminal justice, immigration, people were not talking about that. And today PSOs are leading the charge on these very issues that are the most insidious in society and really the most defining issues of our time and a reflection of who we currently are as a nation and to push it to be who we should aspire to be.

Daranee Petsod (06:56):

Yeah, and I think also 20 years ago with PSOs, how PSOs worked pretty much mirrored the way philanthropy worked was in silos. And today we are working much more inter sectionally as PSOs and challenging funders to do the same and really modeling what that looks like. So I think that's the kind of change that I've seen. And I want to give a plug to the forum because earlier this week, actually yesterday-

Dave Biemesderfer (07:31):


Daranee Petsod (07:32):

We were together with various CEOs from PSOs across the country. I think-

Dave Biemesderfer (07:39):

They're 40, I think. Yeah.

Daranee Petsod (07:42):

Yeah, and the love of the conversation was just incredible. We were talking about participatory grant making, we were talking about helping philanthropy take a more ecosystems approach and really truly understand how the work of the various PSOs connect in a deep way and that we're no longer working in parallel tracks but really in a cross cutting and collaborative way with a deep generosity of spirit and uplifting each other.

Dave Biemesderfer (08:25):

Yes, absolutely. And we were talking about funding of it and trying to raise that as an issue right. And I've seen this too and since I got into the field in the mid 90s, a lot of the PSOs, particularly regional PSOs were probably others were more, they viewed themselves as neutral containers to provide service to members. Had no perspective, no point of view, and I that's totally gone 180 for I think most and not all of the PSO. So I totally agree with that, perception of yours.

Daranee Petsod (09:03):

Yeah. Wholeheartedly agree. Regional PSOs have been some of our most biggest cheerleaders and have created space for us to talk to their members about these issues and to integrate immigration into the conversations around racial equity or around health equity or whatever issues that their membership is interested in. And that's really elevated our work and our mission. So, and on immigration, I also want to give a shout out, I don't want to name all the regional PSOs because I think literally we have worked with so many, but also yesterday CEO summit, I was so thrilled to hear the national committee on responsive philanthropy say they are tracking immigration funding and doing a statewide report card for each and every state.

Daranee Petsod (10:09):

And over the years I've seen our national colleagues, funders for LGBTQ issues, Hispanics and philanthropy, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in philanthropy, neighborhood funders group, change philanthropy, and now I'm in trouble because I know I've forgotten someone.

Dave Biemesderfer (10:29):

You have, I am sure.

Daranee Petsod (10:30):

Yes. And that they are taking immigration on as an issue on their own and they don't need to partner with us and they're amplifying the critical importance of this issue and connecting it to other issues that are core to their missions. And we collaborate with these organizations, but we also support their ability to work on their own and push on immigration issues. Yeah, and that's been really heartening to see. When I started working at GCIR Dave, we could not say the I word and we really had to have a bit of a stealth strategy.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:15):


Daranee Petsod (11:16):

Yeah, much less the U word, which is undocumented. And so it has really-

Dave Biemesderfer (11:23):

So I you mean immigrant?

Daranee Petsod (11:25):

I as an immigrant.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:26):

So you would just talk about refugees?

Daranee Petsod (11:28):


Dave Biemesderfer (11:29):

[inaudible 00:11:29] as I word, what were you talking about?

Daranee Petsod (11:32):

Housing, homelessness, poverty or whatever it is. We connected ourselves to two other issues and couldn't really lead with immigration. And yeah, and it really wasn't until 2000 when the demographics shifted. It was significantly that we were able to use the census data to say, "Hey, you really need to pay attention to this community, they're growing and they're growing not only in the States and cities that you normally would think, New York, Chicago, LA, and so forth, but they're growing in places like the South an the Midwest and so on."

Dave Biemesderfer (12:23):

You're mentioning racial equity and definitely how the philanthropic sector is talking about it much more in recent years than they have before, ever before. And can you talk a bit more about how that intersects with your work with immigrants and refugees and how GCIR has been thinking in new or expanded ways about that and with your members and with others in the field? How has that increased emphasis on racial equity change how you're approaching or talking about or advocating for your work?

Daranee Petsod (12:54):

And racial equity is so central to our work and in the current environment, the toxic narrative that dehumanizes criminalizes and demonizes immigrants are result of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and all the other phobias that you can list. And so we really have a long way to go on the racial equity piece of the immigrant rights work. And at this time, I don't think immigrants and refugees are fully a part of philanthropy's analysis around racial equity, but like I said before, we have PSO allies who are really pushing on this. You mentioned our work with AFI earlier and that's actually who I did not mention, but we have worked together at the intersection of immigration and racial equity specifically around the experience of black immigrants.

Daranee Petsod (14:04):

And so while I say that philanthropy has a long way to go to be inclusive of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in its racial equity funding analysis and leadership, the immigrant rights movement also has a long way to go and has a lot of reckoning to do with it's own racism, particularly anti-black racism. And so the partnership with Susan and AFI has been really critical in increasing our respective networks, understanding of these dynamics. So I think for AFI they now have an immigrant lens and a couple of years ago AFI specifically included black immigrants as part of their national convening. And we have our members talking about anti-black racism and how that is not only harming immigrants and the immigrant rights movement, it's harming our overall effort to advance racial equity.

Dave Biemesderfer (15:10):

You mentioned, referred to the increasing sort of, I would guess toxicity of the national conversation recent years around immigrants and refugees, and tell me how that's really impacted your work and also you personally since 2016 election really even while even during the campaign, I think it was already new evident that something's going on here and I'm not in a good way, so I know you and I ave talked before about how this is challenging for you personally for others working in this space, but share with us a bit about that.

Daranee Petsod (16:01):

Yes. So as I mentioned earlier, I felt like philanthropy was a good place for me because it is removed from the front lines and the current toxic environment has placed what is an intermediary organization squarely on the front lines.

Dave Biemesderfer (16:20):


Daranee Petsod (16:22):

About three quarters of our staff has a direct lived immigrant experience and so that's been really, really hard since the campaign leading up to the 2016 election and since the election staff wellness has been really top of the mind because we are assaulted every day and three quarters of our staff have a direct connection to the immigrant experience and so we feel that extremely directly. So we have really had to focus on what we call co-care as an organization, caring for each other, being mindful of when somebody needs to step away and being there to continue the work for that person.

Daranee Petsod (17:19):

But I think because we are so close to the experience, we understand what's going on in the field and really have been mindful of not overtaxing the field, especially when there's crisis after crisis. I will say that one of our funders during this time, I think it was in 2017 made a self care grant to us, it was not a significant amount, I think each ended up getting about $250 to do whatever we needed to do to regain equilibrium and to persevere and to have resilience in doing this work. And that small amount of money meant so much to our team because it was recognition.

Dave Biemesderfer (18:21):

Yeah, that's awesome.

Daranee Petsod (18:22):

Yeah, that this work was also hard for us. And yeah, so we've had to focus a lot on resilience over the past three years in particular.

Dave Biemesderfer (18:36):

Now anyway, it seems almost relentless, like you said every day there's something being said or something happening.

Daranee Petsod (18:44):

Absolutely. And we've been so heartened by philanthropy stepping up over the past few years and making a lot of rapid response grants and that too has been hardening that has lifted the spirits of our team as well. But three years into this, we also want funders to really think about investing in longterm strategies to turn the tide. And in some ways when we react to every manufactured crisis we play into the hands of the opposition, they have us right where we want to be pulled in a million directions and not able to think strategically about how to shift the narrative, shift culture, shift policy, shift public opinion, and really do what needs to be done to humanize immigrants again and to see them as part of our communities.

Dave Biemesderfer (19:54):

Yeah, they have you right where they want you, right?

Daranee Petsod (19:56):


Dave Biemesderfer (19:56):

Right. The distractions prevent all that from happening.

Daranee Petsod (19:58):


Dave Biemesderfer (20:01):

Right. Coming up in part three of my interview at Daranee Petsod, she explains the connection between philanthropy and surfing.

Daranee Petsod (20:13):

The reason I love surfing so much and wind surfing as well is because you must completely focus when you're out there or you're going to get injured. You know, like if you're thinking about work, you're thinking about the future of our country, the attacks on our democracy and a wave comes and you're not ready for it, you're going to get slam.

Dave Biemesderfer (20:42):

Continue listening to part three of my interview with Daranee Petsod on ForumNation.

Part 3

Dave Biemesderfer (00:06):

This is part three of my interview with Daranee Petsod on ForumNation.

Daranee Petsod (00:14):

You know what we're experiencing, the trauma that we're experiencing at GCIR is 500 folds for the field. Many of the activists are actually being targeted by the administration and by the anti-immigrant forces that are very powerful and very strong because their funders have over the years invested big, invested long, invested flexibly in their development and so that is why they have been able to implement so many policy changes so quickly because for decades they have been building a playbook and when the opportunity came they were ready with that. This is our vision for America and we also need to be doing that so that when our opportunity comes, we are ready. In the meantime we have to fight at the rapid response level, think midterm and really invest in the longterm and the field doesn't have the capacity for that right now.

Dave Biemesderfer (01:27):

Right, and it needs to because it's not going to just, even if there's an election that will change something, it's not like overnight everything will go back to the way it was right?

Daranee Petsod (01:38):


Dave Biemesderfer (01:38):

Because it's long-term work to move back forward again right? Right.

Daranee Petsod (01:45):

Yes. And actually a lot of what's happening now, immigration is not a partisan issue. It really transcends partisanship. So some of the policies actually built on the 1996 laws that were put in place under a Democratic administration and expanded upon.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:06):

So you announced recently that you're stepping down at the end of the year from GCIR after 22 years there right?

Daranee Petsod (02:15):

I just celebrated my 21.

Dave Biemesderfer (02:18):

21 years.

Daranee Petsod (02:19):

Yes. It's adulting time

Dave Biemesderfer (02:22):

You become an adult in GCIR.

Daranee Petsod (02:22):


Dave Biemesderfer (02:25):

So talk, can you share with me a bit, I know we've talked before a little about this, why you think this is the right time to step down?

Daranee Petsod (02:36):

Yeah. You know, when you hit double digits in your tenure in any job, right, you start thinking about how do I create room for new leadership, etc. But the attacks on immigrants actually preceded this administration. We've been volatility for a very long time. The field honestly has been in rapid response probably since the 1986 immigration law. You know, sometimes the rapid response is for the good, for positive, so say for the DACA program more recently. And so for me the time has never been... For me, I've sought alignment between what my personal professional goals are and where GCIR is at in its stage of development. And those two have never aligned until, I think now because we have, despite the challenges over the past three years, we now have an amazing board, not that we didn't before, but we have an amazing board, an amazing staff, very strong programs and solid finances all at the same time, which is really hard for an organization to achieve.

Dave Biemesderfer (04:00):

Kudos to you for that.

Daranee Petsod (04:02):

Thank you. Definitely a team effort. And I also actually think the 2020 election is a good time to welcome new leadership. And I'm not saying I want to leave because it's going to be hard. Another hard four years regardless of the election outcomes. I actually feel like I have several years left in me for this work, but I don't want to leave depleted and I don't want to be a disservice to GCIR, to the Immigrant Rights Movement, to PSL sector, etc. So I want to be able to leave when I can help facilitate the new leader's ability to take this to the next chapter. And things are so up in the air right now that we're a little bit in holding pattern's not the right word, but there's so much uncertainty that we really do have to wait until after the elections to kind of see what opportunities there are.

Daranee Petsod (05:19):

That doesn't mean we don't have a long-term affirmative vision of this country, for this country, but it does mean that the new leader has the opportunity to come in when there's more knowledge about what the situation will be and be able to make those decisions about how GCIR's going to lead going forward. How are we going to support the field, how are we going to engage with our partners and so forth. And so that's why I feel like the timing's perfect for new vision, new energy, new leadership to come in and you're going to need a lot of all of that in the coming years. To your point about regardless of the election outcomes, it's going to be a long, long road ahead.

Dave Biemesderfer (06:11):

That's really thoughtful that you clearly put a lot of thought into this so kudos to you for that. And I know that next year you plan it out at least for a year, live in Thailand, which sounds exciting. And I know you're also an avid surfer and that you plan to enjoy a lot of that in Thailand. And I've known you for a number of years. I didn't know about this, you were a surfer until more recently. So I just would love to know what it is, how long you've been surfing and what is it about surfing that really appeals to you? I've never been on a surfboard in my life so I'm really interested.

Daranee Petsod (06:56):

Well you have to try. It's actually a really interesting story. So, I actually was legally blind and-

Dave Biemesderfer (07:08):

You were?

Daranee Petsod (07:08):

... Yes, until about five years ago. And I'm of course functional with contacts and glasses and so forth. But I can only see really about an inch in front of me.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:22):

I did not know that about you, Daranee.

Daranee Petsod (07:24):

Yeah. And so watersports was really off limits because if I lost my contacts, I would panic and I would drown and perish.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:35):

We don't want that.

Daranee Petsod (07:36):

No, no, no. That is not a good way to go. But, so when they removed the cataracts, they put in new lenses resulting in 20/40 vision for me.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:48):


Daranee Petsod (07:49):

And when I had this new vision, it was just a whole new world.

Dave Biemesderfer (07:53):

I can only imagine. Wow.

Daranee Petsod (07:57):

And you know, before when I... I love the water, so I would go snorkeling and I would get the strongest prescription goggles possible. And I could only see a vague shape or the colors. But that was good enough for me. You know, like I still enjoyed it. I could tell it's a fish.

Dave Biemesderfer (08:17):

A fish.

Daranee Petsod (08:18):

Yeah. But I couldn't really see much more than... It's like a watercolor painting or something, an impressionist painting. That's how the ocean looked to me before. And so, when I had my new eyes, I went snorkeling and I also kayak before. So I did that and then I was like, wow, this is really boring. I have new eyes now I can try something different and new. So I was like, I want to try surfing. And I just fell in love with it. And I actually had the worst possible instructor. There was no land lesson. We just went out and I was like, "How do I do this?" And he's like, "When a wave come just get on." And I was like, "I don't know how." And he was like, "I just want to see how you do it and then later on I'll teach you." And so he's like, "Go."

Daranee Petsod (09:23):

And I somehow got on the board and I rode the wave and I was approaching the beach and I'm like, "Holy moly, he didn't tell me how to get off." You know, so I just jumped off and quickly cut my foot on coral because I didn't know. But that aside, I caught the bug.

Dave Biemesderfer (09:50):

Well yeah, and for your first time even doing it that you even got that far. I mean, that even though you don't know how to get off it just getting up on it.

Daranee Petsod (09:57):

Right. Exactly.

Dave Biemesderfer (09:57):

It's like maybe you're a natural for it or something.

Daranee Petsod (10:01):

Yeah, I think well many of you listening will know that I'm only five feet tall. So the center of gravity is pretty low. So, I think there's finally an advantage in my stature. But the reason I love surfing so much and windsurfing as well is because you must completely focus when you're out there or you're going to get injured. Like if you're thinking about work, you're thinking about the future of our country, the attacks on our democracy and a wave comes and you're not ready for it, you're going to get slam and even when you're ready you might get slammed. So they are both sports that require a significant amount of focus.

Daranee Petsod (10:50):

And windsurfing, you have the water element, you have the wind, you have to manage your sail, you've got to figure out how to turn and if there's a gust. So it is a complete focus. And it really has been my savior these past three years because when I'm out there on the water, I forget about all things immigration. I forget about the existential questions about the future for our democracy, I forget about grant report and so on and so that's why I love it so much.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:27):

Yeah, that makes... Just completely focused on the task at hand.

Daranee Petsod (11:34):

It is like as a form of meditation.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:38):

Right. Right. Wow. That's cool.

Daranee Petsod (11:39):

So you're going to try it, Dave. I'm getting you on record.

Dave Biemesderfer (11:43):

Yeah. If we ever are near the waves together I will. I will take you up on you giving me a lesson. But we'll see. So what other than surfing in Thailand do you plan to do when you leave GCIR? Other plans?

Daranee Petsod (12:02):

I really plan to lead a more sustainable pace of life, significantly reduce stress and of course not having become independently wealthy as a PSO leader.

Dave Biemesderfer (12:22):

No, you haven't.

Daranee Petsod (12:22):

I haven't. It's shocking. I do want to...

Dave Biemesderfer (12:29):

Pick a lottery. You really should.

Daranee Petsod (12:30):

Exactly. I'm going to play the lottery. I do want to take on some projects on a part-time basis, but really continue to work on issues that align with my values that I'm most passionate about. You know, immigration's one of them. But I am also, want to get back to my roots of working on gender justice issues. Racial justice will always be there. And certainly migration, climate justice is another one. And I feel like all of those things together would be amazing because they are so interconnected, especially when you look at our global society. So, I'm really hoping to be able to do some projects that allow me to be in that intersectional space of bringing together migration, climate, gender, and race into one.

Daranee Petsod (13:30):

But you know what the funny thing is, my daughter gave me my horoscope prediction for 2020 and let me read it. It's, if you don't believe in horoscopes, you will after this. So my horoscope prediction for 2020 says, this will be the year that brings peace, calm and serenity to your batshit crazy life. And I'm sorry, you probably have to beep some of that.

Dave Biemesderfer (13:58):

We might have to... Yeah. Okay. All right. Excellent. Excellent.

Daranee Petsod (14:02):

So that's what I'm seeing for my future.

Dave Biemesderfer (14:06):

Wow. Wow. Yeah. So climate justice, it doesn't seem to me the philanthropy is anywhere near addressing it enough, do you? Or am I missing something?

Daranee Petsod (14:18):

No, I don't think so. And certainly not connecting it to migration. You know, the influx of central American refugees is for a multitude of reasons including climate change. People who are farmers are not able to live off their land anymore. And you know, in some places where the ocean levels are rising, people are losing their habitat. So these issues will be intertwined. I think that's an area where we are continuing to see silos. But I'm heartened that our members are actually talking about this.

Dave Biemesderfer (15:00):

Oh, good, good.

Daranee Petsod (15:00):

So we're working now on developing a new framework to guide immigrant related grant making. And in talking to our members, they are thinking about global forces including climate change that will increase migration. And I talked yesterday with Rachel from Environmental Grantmakers Association. Their members are looking at migration as an outcome of climate change. And then there's a range of environmental justice issues that disproportionately affect communities of color, including immigrants in the US particularly, undocumented immigrants who are fearful of reporting things like hazardous waste in their community and pesticides and so on.

Dave Biemesderfer (15:58):

Well Daranee, thank you so much for being here today. It was just wonderful having you ForumNation. It's been wonder... I've really, we'll just say here, even though I know you're still going to be in your job for the rest of this year, just been so wonderful getting to know you since I've over the last four, maybe four or five years, we've known each other or six years. You've been just a great leader, great friend, colleague. It's been wonderful having you as my board chair and so thank you for that. And for your really positive outlook. And a lot of people may not... They got some sense of it today maybe. Your sense of humor is like very, very appreciate it a lot. And I don't know where you get that from, but that's really a great attribute of yours as well. So.

Daranee Petsod (16:58):

I think is part of the immigrant resilience experience,

Dave Biemesderfer (17:00):

I was wondering if was. It's like you guys either laugh or cry. Is that part of it?

Daranee Petsod (17:05):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Biemesderfer (17:06):

Yeah, yeah. But anyway, thank you for that. And thank you for being you. We will miss you in your role at GCIR, but I know you'll be back doing something amazing. So thank you.

Daranee Petsod (17:20):

Thank you so much for having me on ForumNation.

Dave Biemesderfer (17:29):

ForumNation is a podcast of United Philanthropy Forum. ForumNation is produced by Buoyant Partners and producer Eric Rigaud. Many thanks to the entire United Philanthropy Forum team, especially Courtney Moore, Brandon Iracks-Edelin and Ivana Bikombe. Subscribe to ForumNation on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

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