Out of Many, One
By Tammy McLeod
President & CEO
Almost as long as I have lived in Arizona—now nearly half my life—I have admired the Flinn Foundation’s mission and leadership in our state. When I began to consider moving my career from a corporate to philanthropic environment a few years ago, I quickly recognized that there might be no better setting than Flinn in which I could serve.
The mission of the Flinn Foundation is deceptively simple. A dozen words, on the surface merely satisfying requirements in the federal tax code: to improve the quality of life in Arizona, to benefit future generations. What has animated that mission and made it powerfully effective for more than 50 years is the example our benefactors left of what quality of life meant to them, and how they pursued it—their personal record of advancing Arizona.
While they lived, Robert and Irene Flinn's discrete interests drove the Foundation's activities, and in the years since they passed, our Board of Directors has found guidance in the philanthropic choices they made. Our commitments today, for instance, to the cornerstones of Arizona's bioscience enterprise are inspired by Dr. Flinn's work to introduce new technology at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. The dozens of top undergraduates who today matriculate as Flinn Scholars at Arizona's public universities reflect Mrs. Flinn's quiet tuition assistance to young nurses in training.
Perhaps the more important guidance, though, comes from what we can discern in Dr. and Mrs. Flinn's commitment to Arizona in the aggregate. There is a thread that connects his tenure as president of the state medical association to her patronage of the arts. Both Flinns appear to have understood that their wealth and influence placed a call on them to respond to a variety of needs in their community. The range of their service suggests understanding that "quality of life" is a complex measure, and that improving quality of life—the aim of the institution they launched—therefore requires thoughtful attention to multiple, interrelated domains.
An Ecosystem Approach
This holistic conception of quality of life strikes a familiar note to me. Before joining the Flinn Foundation, I spent more than two decades at Arizona Public Service, the state's largest public utility, in several executive roles—from oversight of facility construction, to management of the APS Foundation, to service as the company's first chief customer officer.
In each of my positions, I devoted considerable time to thinking about how to strengthen communities.
Years earlier, in business school, my focus was entrepreneurial ecosystems—in essence, what ingredients and character traits enable a city or region to nurture risk-taking talent on a perpetual basis. At APS, I naturally concentrated on economic development, but I thought about it broadly, to include the full scope of assets people identify and draw from to live well today and plan for better days ahead. Over the years, I have carried that orientation into my board service for cultural, educational, and economic-development organizations, and have tried to share what I’ve learned with younger leaders I have mentored. They, in turn, have given me valuable insights about how our state and local communities are evolving.
When we intertwine our activities, constituencies, and partners, our programs can have far greater impact on Arizona's most significant long-term challenges.
Part of the Flinn Foundation's attraction to me was its disciplinary breadth, and the individual strengths of its program areas. When the Board narrowed its health-care grantmaking in 2001 to emphasize the biosciences, the Foundation seized the capacity to move the needle in the sector, and its sponsorship of Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap galvanized leaders and organizations statewide. In arts and culture, a small grantee cohort and a tightly constrained focus has driven vital learning among arts organizations about achieving creative health through sound capitalization strategies. The Flinn Scholarship remains the premier award of its kind in Arizona, its value magnified by the excellence of the universities' honors colleges and an increasingly active alumni base. And although 25 years junior to the Scholars Program, the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and its Flinn-Brown Network have already emerged as Arizona's most prestigious leadership program operating at the state level.
Great as they are, though, these programs do not constitute some kind of de facto philanthropic ecosystem, just because they bear the Flinn name. But with conscious attention on shared goals and work to intertwine activities, constituencies, and partners, together these programs can indeed have greater impact than they ever could individually on Arizona's most significant long-term challenges.
This year, as our Board and staff engage in a strategic-planning process, we will be considering ways to enhance our programs: by assessing the outcomes of our interventions, and recalibrating to improve those outcomes; by strengthening our relationships with grantees, and supporting them in forming more productive relationships with each other; by offering more benefit to people in whom we invest, and in some cases asking more of them. I love to learn from experts in the field, and some of my most crucial work in these first months has been visiting with leaders across the state, asking questions and listening to their articulation of priorities. This kind of engagement will continue.
We will also be considering ways to bring our programs into closer alignment, to more cohesively and thereby more effectively pursue improvement in quality of life—in this generation and those to come—for every Arizonan.
And I do mean every Arizonan. A statewide mandate, of course, is written into our mission. And to some extent, we already pursue that mandate. Today, we recruit Flinn Scholars and Flinn-Brown Fellows not only from Flagstaff and Tucson, but from Benson and Ganado, too. I know that we will find ways for all four of our program areas to serve rural parts of the state. And while we take on that objective, I believe we can also find ways to intersect with, invest in, and find partners among other facets of our state's extraordinary diversity, whether in terms of people, landscape, or industry. These are some of our aspirations at the Flinn Foundation, drawn from our mission and from our benefactors' example.
And yet, while these aspirations are personally important to us at the Flinn Foundation, we recognize—and this is good news—that we are just one of many groups and institutions in Arizona that see and have explicitly embraced the necessity of finding common purpose.
I have always appreciated the citation in Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap of the "collaborative gene" in Arizona as one of our most important drivers of progress in the bio sector. Advancing Arizona as a whole requires that special strand of DNA to be replicated—from the startup laboratory, to the recital hall, to the classroom, to the committee hearing room. Broad improvement in quality of life depends on committing to collaboration within our institutions, across institutions, within sectors and across them, in every corner of our state. For the benefit of future generations, this is something we must do. As they say, Out of many, one.