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Three Questions for Jocelyn Sargent

How the executive director of the Hyams Foundation is battling the Trump administration, one grant at a time. —By Scott Van Voorhis

Portrait by Jason Grow

The philanthropic scene looks a lot different than it did before last year’s election. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

The federal landscape has shifted, which has made low-income people and immigrants more vulnerable. When you lose things like support for legal defense and gender equity, or making sure discrimination isn’t happening in the workplace, the challenge is how we use our relatively limited resources. I know that sounds crazy—the philanthropic sector has billions of dollars—but we cannot make up what the federal government has decided not to do. All of Bill Gates’s money doesn’t compare to the national budget. We are balancing taking care of immediate needs and building toward long-term goals like creating an inclusive democracy.

Does Massachusetts have a special responsibility to lead, given its progressive reputation?

There is a real opportunity for local communities and states like ours to play a leadership role in how you build a just and prosperous society. That is where the action is now. Thirty years ago, you were looking inside the Beltway. Boston is really in a position to have a wide-ranging influence across the country.

How is the Hyams Foundation working toward that goal?

In 2016, we launched a new strategic framework that focuses on a “systems change” approach, as opposed to a “services” approach. For many, many years the Hyams Foundation has provided really important services to young people, especially those that are the most vulnerable: kids of color, immigrant children and families. We could not have imagined the challenges we are now confronted with in the federal context—conversations around Confederate statues and Nazi flags; temporary protected status at risk—and I think the broader systems approach sets us up for the changes we are now facing. It has made us understand how very important our mission is at this particular moment.