Q&A with Geeta Pradhan, President
Can you tell us a little about your background and what brought you to CCF?
GP: My career in Boston spanned 30 years, with work ranging from community development to affordable housing to sustainability to philanthropy. When I got this phenomenal opportunity to go to the Cambridge Community Foundation, I was very intrigued. But honestly, my first reaction was, ‘Why would I go to Cambridge?’ The city has a reputation of wealth and prosperity, and I’d spent my whole life working on issues around equity and poverty in Boston. But then I started looking at the data. I was stunned that 18 percent of Cambridge children live in poverty. This is a small enough city, with world-class intellectual capital…why can’t we wrap our arms around it and solve the problems of the community? If we really put our minds to it, we can find solutions.
What do you think makes Cambridge special?
GP: What makes Cambridge special is that you can really sense the values of the city. Walking in Central Square, you see cultures from all around the world represented in the people, the restaurants and stores, and the languages spoken. That is just one neighborhood. Cambridge is pulsing with new ideas and inclusivity.
Also, it’s a place of great possibilities. We have a strong city government with massive reserves and a powerful economy with local and global impact. There is intellectual capital here that can be deployed to benefit local residents.
What is Cambridge’s biggest challenge?
GP: Equity. The Cambridge Community Foundation’s role is to focus on the most vulnerable members of the community – the people being left behind as the city changes. If we build the city’s civic connections and social capital, more people will have a deeper understanding of the issues we’re facing and can share the prosperity. The Falcon Pride Scholarship is a great example. Cambridge parents who understand the value of education and have means came together to contribute (each giving anywhere from $500 to $50,000) to helping CRLS graduates afford college. Another example is the United Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants – people see the humanitarian crisis and give what they can. We have hundreds of donors, with donations of $5 to $50,000. These are indicators of the great compassion this city holds. So, the question is, are we building an equitable city?
What collectively should we do to ensure Cambridge remains an inclusive, vibrant city?
GP: I think we need to pay particular attention to racial disparities in education and opportunity. We’re becoming a divided city: we have increasingly stark economic and racial disparity and a disappearing middle class. Our city is becoming unaffordable for people in the middle income, which automatically creates a city of high- and low-income households. So, even as we develop pathways of economic mobility, we need to ensure that we are creating the possibility for families to prosper, thrive, and stay in the community they call home. Cambridge needs to grapple with the issue of housing — both locally and regionally.
What do you envision for Cambridge 10 years from now?
GP: Well, the wisdom of our choices today will determine our future. So, if we decide today to do nothing, I predict that we are going to have a one-dimensional city in a decade or so. Cambridge will lose its charm, its values system, and its soul.
On the other hand, if we choose to say now that we care about the city – if we work to enrich and deepen our values and protect our middle class – we will build a far lovelier community than even exists today.
Cambridge is at an important moment with a lot of positive change underway. We can harness this change for the wellbeing of the entire city. But if we lose this moment, then turning change around later will be much more difficult.