The Albuquerque Community Foundation: Support for Local Groups—and the Space Industry

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This spring, the Albuquerque Community Foundation hosted a fundraising event called the Great Grant Giveaway that highlights its ongoing commitment to the Greater Albuquerque metropolitan area. This was the sixth such evening the foundation has sponsored, and five nonprofits received a combined record-setting $134,475 as a result of the charitable dinner.

Groups benefiting from the evening include those working in teen education, community arts, workforce development for Latina immigrants in human services, neighborhood revitalization, and, notably, the commercial space industry. While somewhat related to its past backing of STEM education and economic development, the space industry is a novel area of investment for the Albuquerque Community Foundation that we explore in greater detail below.

This year’s giveaway theme was “common ground.”

“Whatever our differences—be they race, religion, education, ambition, or path—we all want the same thing. To thrive. To live lives of dignity and empowerment. To help others reach their goals,” foundation board chair Julie Weaks Gutierrez said.
 
The 730 Great Grant Giveaway attendees heard presentations on each organization and used this information to choose a recipient for their tables’ largesse. The donation totals were:

  • $34,050 to Junior Achievement, which partners with schools to prepare young people for the “real world” by teaching them financial management and how to “apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace.” In 2018, Native American high school students will be a focal group for these activities.
  • $27,445 to Encuentro’s Home Health Aide program, which aims to align a workforce of primarily Latina immigrants with the field of senior home health services, the fastest growing industry in New Mexico. This initiative was developed in partnership with Central New Mexico Community College.
  • $28,945 to Working Classroom, which is a multiethnic, intergenerational community of students and professional creatives, including artists, actors, directors and writers who support new and diverse voices in local arts. Students receive payment for their creative works and internships within this program.
  • $20,570 to Barelas Community Coalition, which focuses on enhancing the quality of life in the Barelas neighborhood, especially in regard to housing, education, economic development and job opportunities. The grant will also be used to fund the reopening of the B. Ruppe Drugstore as the B. Ruppe Center for Traditional Healing.
  • $23,465 for New Space New Mexico, which is “a group of public and private collaborators” who want Albuquerque and New Mexico to become primary innovation hubs for the emerging entrepreneurial and commercial space industry in the U.S. The funds are intended to empower the group to craft “a comprehensive, near-term strategy,” including an industry report. It had raised about $70,000 toward the report by August 2018.

“These nonprofit organizations have varying missions or serve different populations, but at the heart of what they do lies the dedication to support the people of Albuquerque and the passion to make our community thrive for generations to come,” said Albuquerque Community Foundation CEO Randall Royster.

Let’s take a closer look at the celestially minded grantee, New Space New Mexico, which held its first meeting in July. It has three primary goals: to grow the space industry, expand the related workforce, and attract space firms to Albuquerque. Kevin Kelley, New Mexico economic development department communications director, thinks it can succeed. His department also backed the group, and he said, "With sufficient study and data, the aerospace industry in [New Mexico] can easily adapt to the development of tools and services to the expanding space industry.”

“Scientists and research organizations come from all over the world to New Mexico, and specifically to Albuquerque,” states Albuquerque’s tourism site, citing institutions such as Sandia National Laboratories, an Intel manufacturing site, and Kirtland Air Force Base. Another nearby organization relevant to this conversation is Spaceport America, an FAA-licensed space launch complex next to the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, which lists Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and UP Aerospace among its tenants. But critics have questioned when and whether this $220 million port, which was built largely through state funding, will pay off as a space tourism hub.

The commercial space industry is estimated to be worth $2.7 trillion in the next 30 years, so it will be interesting to see how it and other space-related fields continue to manifest as causes in the philanthropy realm. As we’ve reported, well-known, glitzy competitions like the XPRIZE, which offers multi-million-dollar payouts to winning teams in areas including space travel, lunar exploration and safe CO2 sequestration, can have both advantages and downsides. While they have the potential to boost scientific energy and innovation, they can also disappoint those who don’t win. They can also downplay the patient, long-term explorations and collaborations that keeps science advancing on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis. We’ve covered other space-centric investments, as well, including funders who make big bets on interstellar space exploration and on studying how microorganisms behave on the International Space Station.

New Space New Mexico stands out from the other more earthly concerns the Albuquerque Community Foundation backs, but the foundation points out on its site that, historically, space flight owes a lot to foundation philanthropy. Starting in the 1920s, foundation funding from the likes of the Hodgkins Fund of the Smithsonian Institution and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation backed early rocket science endeavors that were “a necessary precursor to space exploration and technologies such as satellite communication.”

While adding the local commercial space flight industry as a new funding interest, the Albuquerque Community Foundation continues to address a broad range of needs within a limited geographic radius. Since 1981, it has granted over $58 million to nonprofits in the greater Albuquerque area.