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Minority Advocate Becomes A Patron

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Hall

The venerable Walter Kaitz Foundation embarks on its third decade with new leadership and a new mission. Once independent, the Kaitz Foundation now operates under the aegis of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, with which it shares a board of directors.

“It makes sense to be closely tied to NCTA, which is the leader in the cable industry,” said Debbie Smith, who was appointed executive director of the Kaitz Foundation in April. “Put that together with the leading organization focusing on diversity, that’s a marriage made in heaven.”

Kaitz has raised more than $20 million for diversity initiatives and has helped to place about 500 people of color into management-level jobs in the cable industry, said Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable and chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees.

“The foundation has been the primary beacon of light that for more than 20 years kept this industry focused on the importance of diversity,” Mr. Britt said.

But the foundation’s 20 years of good work may not be enough. A 2002 study by the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications found that minorities constituted only 7 percent of senior-level cable executives.

Recently, Kaitz began to rethink its mission. With the retirement of Spencer Kaitz, who created the foundation in his father’s honor in 1983, a strategic review committee last year determined to transform the organization from advocate to benefactor. With that decision, the foundation’s primary mission is to be a financial organ, raising and distributing money to other institutions. Its major beneficiaries include NAMIC, Women in Cable & Telecommunications and the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media.

“The Kaitz Foundation made a conscious effort to focus its resources where they might have the most impact,” Mr. Britt said. “Channeling funds to the three existing organizations, which already have a proven track record of success, is and continues to be the most effective way of achieving our mission.”

Kaitz support helps the Bowen Foundation place high school and college students into multiyear paid internships in cable or broadcasting. Its grants to NAMIC bolster an executive leadership development program at the University of California Los Angeles. WICT has used Kaitz funding to help minority members attend the organization’s national leadership programs.

The decision to narrow Kaitz grants to three organizations squeezed out others, such as the T. Howard Foundation, a nonprofit group that seeks to place minority students into paid internships within the media industry. Curtis Symonds, the foundation’s president and a former top-level executive at Black Entertainment Television, now runs a consulting firm tied to the direct broadcast satellite industry.

“Everybody says `Oh, but you’re a satellite guy.’ We say it’s all about opportunity. Eighty percent of my internships come from programmers who are both cable and satellite,” Mr. Symonds said. Ms. Smith said the Kaitz Foundation would not rule out expanding its grant program in the future. “The decision does not mean that we would never fund anyone else,” she said.

Kaitz’s change in operating procedure raises another issue. If the foundation becomes chiefly a pass-through mechanism, raising money from contributors and funneling it to other organizations, what’s to keep donors from bypassing Kaitz altogether and writing a check directly to NAMIC, WICT or Bowen? Ms. Smith said that possibility does not worry her.

“While our primary function is to provide funding to those organizations, we are doing a lot of other things around the topic of diversity,” she said. She cited the foundation’s efforts to strengthen the cable industry’s minority supplier development programs and to redesign the Kaitz Web site to become what she described as the “go-to site for diversity.”

One aspect of the Kaitz Foundation’s operation that will not immediately change is its promotion of the annual diversity week, a time each fall when cable leaders assemble in New York to strategize about ways to improve the industry’s recruitment, training and promotion of minorities.

While the industry may not yet be where it wants to be in terms of attracting minorities into management positions, Mr. Britt said cable has made substantial strides in other areas. He praised the industry’s contribution to expanding the diversity of what viewers see on the TV screen, citing channels such as BET, TV One, Oxygen and S%ED;TV, whose programming is targeted toward women and minority audiences.

Mr. Britt credited the industry’s top management and the Kaitz Foundation with what he called a “strong daily commitment” to diversity.

“The momentum behind that commitment was definitely fueled by the Kaitz Foundation, which has trained a spotlight on diversity throughout its existence,” he said.