Empowering community members

Estevan Munoz-Howard '04


Estevan Munoz-Howard '04

Development Director, Social Justice Fund Northwest
Seattle, Washington

I am the development director for Social Justice Fund Northwest, a foundation that funds progressive community-organizing projects in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. We combine and multiply donations from our members to make grants that have a greater impact than any individual contribution can have on its own. What I love about this work is that our grant-making model is unique--we give community members the opportunity to hold power and lead our fundraising and grant-making programs, rather than retaining that power ourselves. Traditionally, foundation staff and/or board members decide where grants will be allocated. At SJF we build the capacity of the community to lead that process, and thereby ensure that our funding priorities are responsive to community needs.

Previously I was executive director of Youth Media Institute, a nonprofit organization that engages high school students in their community via media literacy and media justice education. As executive director and grant writer I was constantly frustrated by the power that mainstream foundations hold over the priorities of grantee organizations. Whoever decides how funding is allocated decides what work actually gets done, and oftentimes there is a disconnect between foundations' funding priorities and community needs.

After receiving a grant from SJF, I learned more about its grant-making model and decided that’s was where I wanted to spend my time, helping change philanthropy from the inside and putting more power in the hands of community members to make change for themselves.

My time at Puget Sound definitely helped shape my life and career trajectories. I started as a freshman thinking that I'd study psychology but soon found myself in a political theory class taught by Paul Glenn, a visiting professor, and quickly changed my major to political science. I really enjoyed all of my professors in that department, from Patrick O'Neil, to Carlo Bonura, to Karl Fields, to Don Share. I studied the concept of social capital in my PG250 class with Patrick, and I constantly refer back to what I learned there in my current profession. At Youth Media Institute I found myself drawing upon my theory courses to justify the work I was doing in the community (answering questions like, "What does a healthy society look like?" and, "What is the role of government in providing support for marginalized communities?"). Even today I do what I do in order to help foster social capital in my community, and my perspective on the importance of this work was absolutely influenced by my time at UPS.

Additional info about my career: After graduating from college, not knowing what my path would be, I taught English in Japan for a year and then moved to Ecuador to manage an eco-lodge in the Andes. Eventually I decided to return to Seattle to study political journalism. I found a job as a youth counselor at YouthCare to pay the bills until I figured out my next move. I also started volunteering for the political organization Washington Public Campaigns, where I met the founder of Youth Media Institute and was offered the job of executive director. I jumped at that opportunity and haven't looked back. Needless to say, I'm no longer thinking about studying political journalism.

In my free time I am a commissioner for the Seattle Arts Commission; on the board of the Washington Bus, an organization that supports young candidates for political office; and on the advisory board of an organization called Bailadores de Bronce, a Mexican folkloric dance group. I also enjoy backpacking, going to Sounders games, and working in my yard at home, where I live with my beautiful wife, Elisha, and our son, Aurelio.