About us

HISTORY

Swift Foundation was incorporated shortly after United Parcel Service went public in 1999. For the first time in 92 years shares of stock were offered to the public and the founder, John Swift, chose to diversify family-held ownership by creating a foundation. John has long been a committed supporter of organizations with a global focus on protecting the environment, investing in community wellbeing, and promoting sustainable agriculture. For the next ten years, Swift Foundation focused on environmental conservation around the world.

In 2009, Swift Foundation tripled in size with the proceeds from another family foundation. At this time, John invited his daughters Sonja and Karen to join the board, launching a new chapter for the foundation with an expansion of the mission toward a bio-cultural framework that respects Indigenous peoples as crucial leaders in protecting biodiversity, or in other words, people’s beloved home territories.

This also led to a radical revision of how the foundation managed the endowment, leading to Swift Foundation’s first mission-related investment policy and subsequent work toward greater coherency and accountability in how the investments align with the mission.

In 2011, Jen Astone was hired as managing director, now executive director, and began a process of expanding the scope of grantee-partners and integrating the vision of grants and investments as equally important tools in achieving our mission.

In 2016, Galina Angarova was hired as our first Program Officer. With a background as an activist fighting for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the environment in Russia and the United Nations system, Galina brings the perspective of a grant seeker and policy maker into our daily work deepening our solidarity with our partners and widening our perspective as a foundation.

The Swift family asked Jeannette Armstrong, an Indigenous activist, teacher and writer from the Okanagan Nation, to join the board in 2013 as our first external board member. Jonathan Lewis, a pioneer social entrepreneur from California, was invited to join as the second board member in 2016.

The board is committed to widening the circle further and is grateful for the guidance and wisdom that a broader range of perspectives offers. To this end, we maintain a practice of inviting visiting advisors, often grantee-partners, to each board meeting to enrich and strengthen the programming work and for greater transparency.

BOARD

Jeannette Armstrong, Board Member

My earliest memory is of my mother tying a Saskatoon berry branch to me. Sitting next to the bush, I busied myself eating berries while she picked our sweet Chief Berry. My first poem was a song about that comforting moment. Wild harvesting is a constant force guiding me toward opportunities.

This motivation has led me to share with community my desire to restore that relationship with those who have lost the right to it, through the establishment of our own cultural educational centre, En’owkin Centre.

On the board of the 7th Generation Fund, I learned from Indigenous leaders and many good people focused on supporting Indigenous self-sufficiency. I also served on the boards of Cultural Survival Canada and Pacific Cultural Conservancy focused on restoring cultural connections. Today, I balance my community focus with the work of those who continue to hold onto knowledge of the importance of that relationship and act it.

Jonathan Lewis, Board Member

On a typical day between 1964 and 1967, you would have found me slouched low at my high school desk, staring at the wall clock as it ticked indifferently towards my freedom. With my body language set to “invisibility” my purpose in life was to avoid the dreaded “Mister Lewis, would you like to answer the question?” My study habits sucked. My net grade point average hovered in the “not-living-up-to-his-potential” category. According to the social metrics of youth, I didn’t measure up: I was unathletic, ungraceful, ungainly, unhandsome.

Still, I’m grateful my teenage years in San Francisco occurred during a time of protests and poets. It was a time for finding my moral compass. Of standing against appalling racial injustice. Of opposing an immoral war in Vietnam. In smoky coffee houses, I listened to Beat Generation folk singers strum secondhand guitars and sing about peace. Freedom marches, a presidential war on poverty, Martin Luther King’s murder, Robert Kennedy’s assassination – all of it ignited my conscience. (Excerpted from my book The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur)

Other experience: Founder, MCE Social Capital; Founder, Opportunity Collaboration. Author, The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur June 2017

John F. Swift – President & Founder

Over dirt paths, in the mountainous Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, that passed by ancient Mayan ruins, my work in 1973 with Amigos de Las Americas was to give children vaccinations of DPT and oral polio. The “shiver” I felt striking the bone on a skinny arm remains with me, as well as the beautiful smiles and expressive eyes of the children. Being a Rotarian for 30 years, I am proud of the collaborative effort to eradicate polio.

Working in Papua New Guinea, based at the WAU Ecology Institute on an agro-forestry project, I joined Ph.D. students studying tropical forest biology. I will never forget my ascent into and through the forest canopy on a rope system-the astounding beauty of the cloud forest, endlessly undulating toward the horizon with the incredible diversity including epiphytes, insects, birds of paradise and complex life within this magical ecosystem.

These experiences reinforced my understanding of the role Indigenous people and nature play in biodiversity. My Conservation of Natural Resources professors at UC Berkeley lectured us on the troubling effects of the greenhouse effect. In hindsight, the issue of climate change has been going on for a long time.

Coupling these understandings with my conviction that a woman’s ability to access family planning as a basic human right challenged me to focus my philanthropy on a holistic view of conserving cultural diversity and indigenous ecosystems with regenerative agriculture and community wellbeing.

Raising my family on a ranch as an organic farmer, I am a long-time supporter and current board member of Conservation International and past director of World Neighbors and Pathfinder International. I am current president of the Rotary Club of Los Osos and founding director of Slow Money SLO.

Karen Swift, Board Member

Great horned owls help me remember life’s mysteries, uncover internal shadows, illuminate darkness and reveal what it takes to listen and observe. To understand the balance between our own autonomy and the chaos the universe throws our way. Guardians of dreams, walker between worlds, perched above the chaos, of this world but not caught up in it. They know when to act, responding quickly with intention after silent observance. Great horned owls have guided me on this life journey, teaching me about facing fears, walking in humility, remembering to honor the beauty of the rising and setting sun, and being present while alive now.

How do owl lessons apply to my role within Swift and philanthropy? Good question: Observe, be patient and mobilize when timing is aligned. Listen to and learn from those grounded in ethics of reciprocity and respect; observe and listen to what community members are saying and try to get the foundation to act accordingly. Don’t get caught up in the way traditional philanthropy operates; observe different systems of decision making and accountability outside the western paradigm and work to apply accordingly. Walk between the worlds of philanthropy and movements, be a messenger in between, work to strengthen alliances and spaces for dialogue.

Other experience: Attorney, food sovereignty activist, co-founder Milpa Alliance, currently based in Ecuador working with communities in efforts to restore, maintain, and revitalize maize cultivation systems, place based knowledge, seed autonomy and cultural/spiritual practices around seeds.

Sonja Swift, Board Member

As a child my grandmother asked me to pick an animal for her to sponsor, a first brush with her type of philanthropy. I said wolf. She was furious that I’d pick a predator but sent me a card anyways with a photo of the Mexican wolf. I was so proud of that card, not because she had donated money in my name but because I had allied myself with wolf. Years later while visiting friends on the White Earth reservation I would learn that the Ojibwe word for wolf is ma’iingan: guide, one who shows the way.

The origin of the funds that seeded this foundation is a courier service that transports packages around the world. The surname itself, Swift, with roots in Old English, a swifte, was a name given to a messenger or courier, one with speed. I have often thought about this symbolism as it is the work I do, traversing between halls of economic influence and the courageous work of partners on the ground facing off blunt attacks on life way and territory.

Working programmatically with the foundation I am deeply committed to a vision of coherency, accountability and integrity, which has often required that I ask hard questions about philanthropy and also of myself. As a writer, I do not shy away from complexity. Born and raised in a valley of oaks, my own cultural framework is land-based. Today I call home San Francisco, California and the Black Hills, South Dakota.

STAFF

Galina Angarova, Program Officer

Born and raised in a remote community in Siberia, I grew up surrounded by nature: trees, wild flowers, animals, and mountains. My village was about an hour away from the largest and most beautiful fresh water lake – Lake Baikal. The lake has always been my first and true love which inspired me and defined my path for the future. Since a kid, I have learned facts and species such as the one that the lake contains 20% of the world’s fresh water and it has over 300 big and small rivers feeding it. Every summer I looked forward to spending time on the lake; it gave me strength and nourishment that would last for the rest of the year.

There are many stories and legends about the lake. One of them is about the Angara, the only river that flows out of the lake and is believed to be the only daughter of magnificent Baikal. Later I learned that the word “Angar” comes from the name of a bird species that lives on the river. My last name comes from my ancestors who chose to associate themselves with the bird, the river, and the lake and I hope to be the one to carry their legacy.

I joined Swift in July of 2016 as a Program Officer to manage the grants portfolio and work with the team to advance our mission of supporting land stewards to influence philanthropy in a deep and meaningful way. I am very fortunate to be doing this work as it fulfills my mission and personal aspirations.

Jennifer Astone, Executive Director

Sea kelp has fascinated me since I was a child growing up in Southern California. After big storms, slippery brown bundles would appear on the shore and my mother and I would head down to hunt for stranded critters on their holds such as brittle starfish and gooseneck barnacles. Later, I learned that kelp forests shelter and feed an ecosystem of rockfish, shrimp, marine snails, and other invertebrates.

As executive director at the Swift Foundation, I find inspiration in the biodiversity and beauty of nature as well as the interdependence of animals. Swift’s core principles include a holistic approach to understanding the relationship between culture and nature. As an anthropologist, I work hard to listen, stay curious and pay attention to history.

My challenge is to help our team mobilize all our assets – grants, endowment investments, leadership, networks, and position – to put nature and culture at the heart of our work.

Teresa Dunbar, Impact Investing Analyst

Diversity in all forms has inspired me since I was a child. Diversity in food, religions, languages, plants, animals, etc., is not only what makes this world beautiful, but a sign of health and resilience. This can be seen in nature, our communities and even in modern financial portfolio management. It’s almost as if investors took notes from Mother Nature.

As a cultural anthropologist with an MBA focused on finance and investments, I weave my passion, curiosity and fifteen years of experience to bring a holistic, long-term approach to investing and portfolio management. I thrive on enabling people to make investments that reflect their values and vision for the future.

As the impact investment analyst for the Swift Foundation, my daily inspiration comes from understanding that each investment is an opportunity to support healthy and resilient systems. My challenge and goal is to recommend investments that support value creation for all stakeholders and generate a financial return, enabling the foundation to fulfill its mission for years to come.

Karen Mehringer, Executive Assistant & Grants Manager

I’ve always been inspired by dolphins – their beauty, grace, intelligence and playfulness. Recently, I had the honor of swimming with a pod of 25 wild dolphins off of the coast of Kona, Hawaii. While under the water with these magnificent creatures, I was aware of how synchronized this pod was, swimming together in community, in the flow with one another. I felt a deep sense of peace amidst their presence.

Working with the Swift Foundation team, I am part of something larger than myself, part of a community working towards positive change and greater peace in the world. Together, each one of us plays a part and together we have a greater impact.

My part as the Executive Assistant and Grants Administrator is to provide support for the team and to keep track of the details, so that the organization can flow and function optimally. I am grateful to be part of this group of conscious, loving people… this human pod.