Distinguished Scholar in Residence
for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion reflects our core conviction that philanthropy is, and ought to be, inclusive and equitable in all of its practices. The principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the bedrock of thriving communities and must be integral to the everyday practice of philanthropy. Together with businesses, governments, and communities, we are building a more just and hopeful future.


Dr. Juan Olivarez, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar in Residence
for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Monumental demographic shifts taking place in the U.S. necessitate the development of new tools and strategies that will allow the field to effectively address equity issues and impact change. As of 2018, the majority of children in this country are children of color. This shift has profound ramifications for our local communities and the national landscape if equity in access to healthcare, education, and the work force is not achieved. The position of Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion embodies the vision of several Grand Rapids-area foundations who mutually recognized a need for philanthropy to meet this challenge.

“What role does philanthropy have in these issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion? Is that role simply to distribute charitable gifts, or is it to be more transformational? Is philanthropy a leader, or is it a follower of government, non-profits, and industry initiatives? Is it proactive or reactive?”
–Olivarez, Philanthropy’s Quest for Equity

Dr. Juan OlivarezJuan Olivarez, Ph.D joined the Johnson Center as the Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in July 2018. Throughout his career, Olivarez has been a passionate champion for equity and inclusion. He was the first Hispanic president of any college or university in the state of Michigan, serving as the eighth president of Grand Rapids Community College from 1999 to 2008. During his time there, he launched the Community Learning Enterprise and helped to lead the Delta Strategy, a grassroots collaborative of Grand Rapids organizations that sought to build a coherent and inclusive narrative for social good in West Michigan. He later became president of Aquinas College, his alma mater, from 2011 to 2017.  Between these two presidencies, he served as president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (2008–2011), where the educational needs of the community were a top priority.

Olivarez’s work as the Distinguished Scholar in Residence focuses on advancing philanthropy’s ability to integrate the core principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work in communities, and at the national and international scale. The program’s goal is to help philanthropy better collaborate with diverse rural and urban communities to meet their needs as they define them, and to strengthen the field’s understanding of how to assist populations and operate in culturally competent ways. Olivarez’s research, convening, and program piloting is constructed in this spirit, and will ultimately serve to enhance our field’s social and civic impact.


11 Trends for 2018 Report


Philanthropy’s Quest for Equity

In the Johnson Center’s January 2018 publication, 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2018, we shared some of our insights into how the charitable sector is thinking about the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and working to embed them in our strategies and practice. “Philanthropy’s Quest for Equity,” authored by Juan Olivarez, sets a solid context for our philanthropy’s aspirations. This exploration has helped us to find our voice and refine our thinking on ways we can further our efforts in this work.


With Gratitude to Our Supporters

The Johnson Center is deeply grateful to the Frey Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Kate and Richard Wolters Foundation, Dorothy A. Johnson, and Grand Valley State University for their generous support of the Distinguished Scholar in Residence program.