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The Learning Conference 2015

June 10–11, 2015

Boston, Mass.

Closing Plenary Luncheon: Learning Together to Build Community Knowledge and a Public Voice

Thursday, June 11, 2015 at 12:30 PM–2:00 PM EDT
Grand Ballroom (Fourth Floor Level)
Session Description

Grantmakers can miss a lot and limit our own learning when we do not engage with stakeholders outside of our organizations. Too often, we are using sources like government records, consumer data or Facebook as a substitute for real-life dialogue about what people want and need. But there is a danger, cautions Ceasar McDowell, president of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and a professor at MIT, in being too data driven when working with people. McDowell urges social change seekers, grantmakers included, to focus more on building relationships so we can co-develop solutions that address the daily experiences and aspirations of community members. Drawing on efforts happening in Boston and elsewhere, McDowell will explore approaches to civic engagement where broad groups of people share ideas and visions for the future. He’ll offer shifts — both large and small — grantmakers can make to generate community knowledge and shared understanding. Participants will leave the conference reminded that the ultimate purpose of learning together is ensuring that everyone in a community, especially those traditionally excluded, can voice and act on the issues that impact their lives.

Primary Points Of Contact

Session Designers


Ceasar McDowell, Interaction Institute for Social Change
Speaker Biography

Ceasar McDowell has a deep and abiding passion for figuring out how people who are
systematically marginalized by society have the opportunity to voice their lived
experiences to the world.. Over the past few decades, Ceasar has been involved in many
activities to bring this belief to life... from his work at MIT’s Co-Lab, where he uses the
critical moments reflection method to help communities build knowledge from their
practice, to his work with the global civic engagement organization, Engage The Power.
At MIT, Ceasar teaches on civic and community engagement and the use of social media
to enhance both, and is working to create a model of equitable partnership between
universities and communities and to support communities to build their own knowledge

Ceasar is now delighted to be lending his wisdom and expertise to his role as president of
the Interaction Institute for Social Change where the work is about designing and
facilitating for positive social change. IISC is unique among collaborative capacity
builders for viewing collaboration through three essential lenses: power, equity and
inclusion; networks as the unit of action for social change; and love as a force for social
transformation. IISC is now seeking to apply its expertise to addressing the challenges
presented by the increasing demographic complexity of cities across the world.

Heather Peeler, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
Speaker Biography

Heather Peeler is vice president of member and partner engagement at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. She leads GEO’s efforts to engage and mobilize members in adopting grantmaking practices that make the biggest impact on nonprofit performance.  Heather serves GEO’s “networker in chief,” deepening the organization’s relationships with members, forming new partnerships, and helping members forge connections between peers. In this role, Heather regularly speaks for GEO at events  and in the press about what steps grantmakers are taking to improve their effectiveness.

Heather is committed to supporting nonprofit effectiveness. Over the past 12 years, she has helped foundations, nonprofits and government agencies develop and implement strategies that have led to greater impact, performance and sustainability.

Most recently, Heather served as the Chief Strategy Officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service where she led the development of the agency’s five-year strategic plan and oversaw grantee capacity building efforts and research and evaluation initiatives. Prior to that, she served as Managing Director of Community Wealth Ventures, helping non-profit and foundation clients develop sustainable strategies for social change. Additionally, Heather held leadership positions with nonprofits and for-profit companies. She served as the Executive Director of Small Press Distribution, a nonprofit located in Berkeley, California; Managing Editor for Foundation News & Commentary at the Council on Foundations; and co-founder of GenArt/SF, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to increasing young people's participation in the visual arts.

Heather holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and art history from Wellesley College and a master’s of business administration from UCLA Anderson School of Management. She serves on the board of Public Allies, DC, an organization that advances new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation, and Fair Chance, an organization that builds the capacity of nonprofit organizations that improve the lives of children and youth living in Washington, D.C.'s most underserved communities.

Danielle Breslin, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation
Speaker Biography

As Vice President, Danielle leads the Foundation team in advancing the health and well-being of North Carolinians through outcomes-focused grants and signature programs. She works closely with the team and the Foundation board to develop strategies to improve health outcomes for vulnerable populations, to increase physical activity and access to healthy food, and to strengthen the organizational capacity of nonprofit organizations in North Carolina. She also oversees all operational aspects of the Foundation. Since joining the BCBSNC Foundation in 2003, Danielle has overseen the growth of its grant portfolio and the development of a strategic vision.

Danielle is a 2011 graduate of Leadership North Carolina, a Fellow of the Southeastern Council of Foundation’s Hull Leadership Program. She has served on the boards of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, Famer Foodshare, Southern Wake Montessori School, and the SECF corporate committee. Danielle earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and completed her certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.

Danielle stays equally busy outside the office, keeping up with two children and serving as the leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She also enjoys running with the Raleigh Galloway group and has completed four half marathons.