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
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
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
Carson hasn’t, of course, found all the answers. But he
has answered an important one: He can’t imagine a more fulfilling
By Sheila Mulrooney Eldred
Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.