BY Maranda Witherspoon Richardson, TFN PLACES Alum


This March I had the opportunity to take part in TFN’s amazing annual conference, which took place in New Orleans. This was the first time since the pandemic began that I’ve been able to reunite with some of my most favorite people on the planet: Longtime friends and peers across the philanthropic sector who are committed to creating thriving and just communities. As an alum of TFN’s 2015 PLACES Cohort who is also working closely with TFN’s Inclusive Economies working group, I was thrilled to see conversations around racial equity and justice take center stage, especially within the context of addressing systemic economic inequities and breaking barriers to prosperity.

The learning agenda for TFN’s 2023 Annual Conference: Ignite Action was packed with so many inspiring and enlightening moments that I’m still unpacking weeks later.

 Here are some of my takeaways from our time together in New Orleans.

PLACES alums kicked off #TFN2023 at the New Orleans Healing Center

1. There is a need for more safe spaces to “be,” receive support, and develop personally and professionally!

PLACES alumni came together for a half day on the Sunday before the start of the conference for food, fellowship and the opportunity to learn from place. This year, alumni had the opportunity to experience facilitated discussion that centered community, connections, and (improved) mental health toward restorative justice and liberation. This space and time are powerful given the work, our commitment to advancing equity, and the need to center ourselves in order to show up for the communities we serve. As I reflect on our time together, I am reminded: Our wellbeing is just as important as the work!


Funders on the “Institutional Partnerships to Ignite Action” Mobile Workshop visited Dillard University, a New Orleans HBCU.

2. Institutional partnerships can play a vital role in what it looks like to shape and support community.

I had the privilege of attending the “Institutional Partnerships to Ignite Action” Mobile Workshop. The workshop created an opportunity for attendees to hear from leaders and residents committed to the development in New Orleans’ Gentilly and New Orleans East neighborhoods. The workshop elevated the importance of centering the voices of residents and stakeholders, collaboration and partnerships among public/private and universities and the need to prioritize economic inclusion as cities are planning for urban renewal and growth.  If you are interested in exploring what this work looks like in the South, or what it can look like in your community, consider joining us on June 28-29 in Atlanta for TFN’s Inclusive Economies 2023 Meeting: Pathways to Power & Prosperity, which will take place at Morehouse College.


Ad Hoc Breakfasts at #TFN2023 gave funders connected by shared geographies or topics of interest a chance to strategize and socialize.

3. Creating spaces and time to share and learn from others during conferences is a great way to learn and understand what is happening across various communities.

This year I facilitated the Inclusive Economies ad hoc breakfast meeting. As a newcomer to the inclusive economies work, it was great to meet attendees and hear from them about the awesome work they are leading and supporting. I realize  this was likely the first in-person conference for many since the pandemic. The opportunity to connect and network face to face was invaluable. What I quickly observed as attendees shared brief summaries about their work, is that we do not need to do the work the same in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Rather than focus on process, the better questions areabout how we can best prioritize place, economic justice, job creation, access to capital, entrepreneurship, etc. for Black and brown communities in order to achieve economic inclusion. I look forward to the continued discussion as we prepare for the Inclusive Economies meeting in June in Atlanta.


A record number of newcomers joined us in New Orleans for #TFN2023.

4. OMG, the increased number of newcomers at this year’s conference!

This year was my first year attending the conference as a TFN contractor and oh boy was it a different experience!(In a good way, of course!) I normally attend as a PLACES alum eager to learn, reconnect with other PLACES alumni and network with attendees. Although I attended in a different capacity this year, I was still able to go about my normal routine. However, this year I was very intentional about engaging with newcomers. As an introvert, I was reminded of the first time I attended a TFN conference and how welcoming people were to me, and I wanted to offer that to others.  What I found was a thread among the newcomers I met, they felt welcomed and aligned, the speakers and sessions were what they needed, and they plan to return. Some even inquired about PLACES and membership!


Funders at #TFN2023 got to visit the YEP (Youth Empowerment Project) to learn how the non-profit is supporting and training young people in the historically Black neighborhood of Central City.


5. People of color were centered and present!

TFN staff and the planning committee did a phenomenal job planning sessions, speakers, venues, workshops, etc. But for me, it was the thoughtfulness around centering people of color throughout the conference. From session facilitators to vendors, venues, entertainment, plenary speakers, etc. attendees were able to experience place and culture. I found myself scanning rooms and noticing the increase in attendees of color and smiling on the inside because in that moment, I felt seen and heard! I challenge us all to think about intentional and thoughtful ways to center PoC throughout our work and lives.



Maranda Witherspoon Richardson is a 2015 PLACES Fellowship alum. Formerly of the Missouri Health Foundation, she is now the founder and principal of MWR Coaching and Consulting. She helped facilitate TFN’s 2022 team strategy retreat and is working with the network’s Inclusive Economies working group to plan its 2023 Meeting in Atlanta in June.