By FELICITY DARVILLE
DR Kim Williams-Pulfer not only believes in community spirit, she lives and breathes it. She believes in its ability to unite people and help them progress far beyond the limits of what people can do as individuals.
She believes togetherness, along with respect and hard work, can help communities thrive. She has dedicated her life to studying and supporting communities so that non-profits and others who give back to society could have the fuel they need to continue their work.
A Bahamian by birth, Kim now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband and three children. Yet, she remains closely tied to her beloved country, especially Eleuthera, the island of her family’s roots. She’s giving back to Eleuthera in her service as a Board Director for the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF), which has set the bar high for sustainable, viable community building efforts across the island.
Kim is respected as a scholar and practitioner of community development. She has spent a lot of time immersed in communities learning from local leaders and being involved in community projects, dating back to her early experiences as a youth leader with her local church and school, and as a part of the local YWCA.
“I was drawn to the study of philanthropy, civil society and the third sector because I sense its force in my own life and in my understanding of my identity, especially growing up in The Bahamas and as a black woman,” said Kim.
“Growing up, I observed many community members that saw social challenges and used their passion and skill to provide valuable solutions. I realized that everyone can contribute and everyone can be a philanthropist. While we often associate a term like philanthropy with people that have extraordinary wealth, I wanted to understand how philanthropy is universal and how ‘everyday people’ practice it.”
But to understand what really makes communities tick and how to create frameworks to help them succeed, Kim decided to take it to the next level. She began by achieving a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. While a senior in college at Taylor University, she returned home for the summer for her senior practicum and worked with the Crisis Centre, Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, and the Girls Industrial School (now the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls).
This was transformative for her: “It gave me a first-hand look at some of the social challenges faced by Bahamians across age, gender, and social status. It taught me that there was a lot of expertise in relation to community development and community psychology. There were many diligent and competent professionals providing critical services for people with specific social needs. That training helped me understand the importance of social service delivery and local-grown efforts.”
After her undergraduate studies, Kim went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English at Butler University, and taught high school English and history for a time. She dove deeply into studying Caribbean and postcolonial literature, film, and history during her studies at Butler. All the while, she remained focused on understanding Caribbean community challenges and how art and culture can offer fresh perspectives on community vitality and activism. Kim decided to pursue her PhD in Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to combine all those interests. This led to her dissertation research on how philanthropy and civil society unfold in the Caribbean, using The Bahamas as a prime example.
Her dissertation, “Get Involved: Stories of the Black Postcolonial Middle Class and the Development of Civil Society,” now under contract as a book, reflects her research interests and extensive community work.
After her doctoral studies, Kim also worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy researching diversity in philanthropy at the school’s newly formed institute: The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy. In that role, she also worked closely with the Indiana University’s Office of the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs. She also provided training for a host of organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of America, The African American Development Officers Network, and UNICEF USA. Kim has taught and developed philanthropic studies and community development undergraduate and graduate curriculums while presenting her research at various international conferences and has published on the subject of inclusive philanthropy in several academic journals.
Kim is a Leading Edge Fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). As a fellow, she is appointed to the Hurston/Wright Foundation, as a Research and Evaluation Manager. The foundation is a thirty-year old nonprofit focused on supporting Black writers based out of Washington, DC. Additionally, she has served on the board of Charitable Allies, a nonprofit law firm.
But through it all, Kim’s work in Eleuthera remains close to her heart and heritage. Her mother, Clara Belle Williams (nee Gibson) was born and raised in Savannah Sound, Eleuthera.
“Savannah Sound looms large in my imagination,” she said.
“I grew up hearing my mother tell so many wonderful stories about her childhood, and the people who built their community and strived for a better life for their families. My family continues to think of Eleuthera as a sacred place where we have deep roots – a legacy that I share with my children.”
“My mother inspired me to pursue higher education. She is one of those exemplary teachers and community leaders who I learned and drew great inspiration from. My mother shared numerous stories with me about her early teaching training while she served as a monitor at Savannah Sound All-Age School before coming to the ‘big city’ of Nassau.”
Kim’s work with the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) goes far back as a part of her early research: “Once I started to work on my dissertation, I learned about the One Eleuthera Foundation. The organization was very open to working with me. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect these earlier stories of community work to the ongoing efforts of OEF continuing in that tradition of teaching, training and building strong communities.”
“I continue to think and write about the rich insights about the nonprofit sector and community development that I have learned through OEF. In addition to my board service I work on strategic planning, board training, and special projects. The board and staff are intellectually curious. They call on me at various times to link broader global and regional trends related to philanthropy, nonprofits, and civil society.”
One Eleuthera Foundation aims to transform local island communities into thriving self-sufficient ecosystems. It is a community-based, people-centric, non-profit organization born out of a need to protect Eleuthera and invest in the island’s sustainable development.
Today, OEF is entering a new and accelerated phase of strategic growth with a vista of progressive, community development projects underway, including the launch of a 1.1-acre grow house designed to increase Eleuthera’s food production and local farmer training efforts. As the facilitator of OEF’s education and vocational training programmes, The Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) continues to expand its programmes and student impact across the island and at the Rock Sound training campus. Here, students gain from hands-on, experiential learning at the country’s only training hotel and restaurant; and at CTI’s expansive training farm where high and low tech farming techniques and agricultural best practices are taught. Through OEF’s Social Enterprise Accelerator programme, local businesses and budding entrepreneurs receive mentorship and assistance with developing their businesses and building capacity.
“I deeply appreciate the comprehensive approach to solving critical challenges at OEF,” Kim explains.
“If we did not know it before, the COVID- 19 pandemic and the recent Hurricane Dorian has taught us all how so many issues are interconnected. Health connects to the economy and the economy connects to education and other areas. We are all seeing this play out in real time during the global pandemic and with the increasing concerns around climate change. The wisdom of OEF is that it has known this since inception.
“For over a decade, its focus on health, education, economy, environment, and cultural heritage has produced short-term and long-term gains, bridging economic and social divides, and taking into consideration the interconnected needs of individuals and the broader community.”
“OEF’s mission abides by a powerful rule: ‘We are as strong as our most vulnerable link’. Does this holistic focus get messy? Absolutely. When has this not been the case? However, this commitment to an ambitious, empathetic, and social justice-oriented mission is what excites me the most about OEF. I am a teacher by training, and grew up around a strong cadre of Bahamian teachers who taught me that hope is always necessary and where you start does not have to be where you finish, especially if you commit yourself to learning and growth. I am also inspired by the real passion and love for the organization and the community exhibited by so many staff and board members. There are some amazing people in this organization who commit so much of their time, talent, and treasure to improving the internal functions and the external impact.”
As Kim continues to increase her expertise in non-profits and community building, as a scholar and researcher, she sees The Bahamas as a vital component of her work.
“We are living in times where the challenges are great,” she said.
“We will need every sector of society - including the family, government, the for-profit and non-profit sector to solve these challenges by working together and providing critical support for these times. The strength of the nonprofit sector is unique in its ability to centre on a social mission and vision for an enhanced future beyond election cycles or a profit margin.”
“It is the place where everyday people can think and work together, creatively bringing their individual skills and drawing on community strengths to make our communities stronger, inclusive, and more equitable.
“For the third sector to advance, it needs more community actors to dream bigger and learn from each other.
“The third sector also has to commit itself to learning both the technical and aspirational skills needed to advance its work while addressing the root causes of inequality, as well as attracting new resources and measuring social impact.”