Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Sept 27 , 2006:

Emmett D. Carson *85

Head of the Minneapolis Foundation, Emmett D. Carson *85 has focused on immigration, education, and racial disparity. (photo courtesy Emmett D. Carson *85)

Tackling social problems

In fourth grade, when Emmett D. Carson *85 and his family moved out of Chicago’s gritty South Side to a safer middle-class neighborhood, he became aware of some of society’s trickiest problems.

In his new neighborhood, he says, “I could ride my bike without worrying or getting it stolen. My parents breathed easier. The schools were better. The air was better. And it struck me how those good friends I had in my old neighborhood didn’t have access to any of that.” That sense of inequity grew as Carson grew up. “I wanted to be a change agent, to alleviate poverty,” he says. “The question was, how?”

Carson found the answer in working as president and chief executive officer of community foundations. Since 1994 he has led the 90-year-old Minneapolis Foundation, where he has tackled issues pertaining to immigration, education, and racial disparity. In August, he was named president and CEO of the new Silicon Valley Community Foundation and will begin Nov. 1.

The Minneapolis Foundation pools donations into large investments, grants, and programs to improve the city’s social conditions. “The most important thing we’ve done is to be able to have a community believe we can make positive social change,” says Carson, who earned a master’s degree and doctorate in public and international affairs from Princeton.

Since he came on board 12 years ago, the Minneapolis Foundation has increased its assets from $186 million to $601 million. Under his direction, the foundation has launched projects such as Destination 2010, which sets aside college tuition for disadvantaged third-graders, and Partnership for Peds, which aimed to improve the health care of children of color, from infant to age 3, by helping doctors provide care responsive to the unique health needs of various racial and ethnic groups.

Carson will take his reputation for establishing such innovative programs to the San Francisco Bay Area and its new foundation, created by the recent merger of two of the Bay Area’s largest foundations. “This is an opportunity,” he says, “to do something that has never been tried before, which is to merge two very successful community foundations into one ... that will serve local and regional interests.”

Carson hasn’t, of course, found all the answers. But he has answered an important one: He can’t imagine a more fulfilling career.

By Sheila Mulrooney Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.