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Disability as a Philanthropic Niche

A Conversation with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s Kevin Webb

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Kevin Webb with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 21 – Armed with a long history in nonprofit work, Kevin Webb gave a group of RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows key information about the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Not only is he donating his time to speak to and empower a group of young disability advocates, but he also is representing one of the few foundations that focuses its grantmaking toward youth with disabilities. The match is unparalleled.

He describes a picture on his powerpoint to make it more accessible for visually impaired attendees: “Here we have [an example of the employee volunteer program in which] people with disabilities work alongside employee volunteers installing solar panels for low income housing.”

Judith Lao standing in front of the RespectAbility wall with Kevin Webb

Kevin Webb with RespectAbility Fellow Judith Lao

While Webb’s work seems to be two fold – grantmaking and corporate employee volunteer programming – it actually is multidimensional. Webb advocates for the social responsibility of corporations to give back to the communities where they are located, and wields this as fact.

Mitsubishi Electric’s employee volunteers fundraise to support underserved populations in their communities, and MEAF matches the dollars employees donate. More importantly, these volunteers donate their time to mentor and equip youth with disabilities with the tools they need to secure employment.

Since its inception in 1991, MEAF has invested 15 million dollars in local and national grants. MEAF’s vision for 2020 is called the M>PWR Initiative, which aims to empower one thousand youth with disabilities to lead productive lives through increased employment.

Someone poses the question, “How do we get people interested in what MEAF has been doing since the beginning?” They are referencing the facts that Webb has presented, that while so many people live with disabilities, only 21 percent of them are in the workforce. They are referencing the fact that people with disabilities look for jobs and are rejected due to their disability. They are referencing the fact that workplaces are not accessible, that someone with a wheelchair literally can’t get through the door. They are referencing a stigma that has people with disabilities actively and passively overlooked.

the fellows sitting at the conference table discussing disability issues with the fellows

Kevin Webb speaking to the Fellows

“Trying to harness the energy of a somewhat reluctant group of people is part of my passion,” Webb says.

He talks about the importance of helping people – especially other funders – understand that people with disabilities are not a subject area to fund, but a population group that is striving for full inclusion in society.

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This summer 15 Fellows have the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Meet the Author

Judith Lao
Judith Lao

Judith Lao is a Program Development and Fundraising Fellow. She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at Brown University. As an individual with a mental illness, she believes her personal experiences with stigma and marginalization have translated into an active passion for advocacy.

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