When the basketball court Javier Soto played on as a child was razed to make way for the Miami Metrorail, little did he know that one day he’d be championing parks and public spaces like The Underline, the linear trail beneath the very same mass-transit system, as President and CEO of The Miami Foundation.
The Foundation, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a philanthropic command center that manages charitable donations from more than 800 corporations and individuals. It also influences policies that touch every facet of Miamians’ lives, from education to hurricane relief.
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Don’t feel bad if you know little about it, because neither did Soto, despite a decade in the public sector as a litigator in the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office and as chief of staff to former Mayor Alex Penelas.
“I hadn’t worked in philanthropy before, but I have a deep, deep passion for Miami, and The Miami Foundation’s focus is to build Miami into one of the best cities in the world,” said Soto, a Cuban by heritage (he was born in Madrid) who grew up in the Shenandoah neighborhood.
The Miami Foundation is set on hitting ambitious goals
For this milestone year, the Foundation has set the bar high with the goal of raising $100 million. The Miami Forever Fund, a permanent endowment shooting for $5 million, launched this year. There’s also the $10 million it hopes to receive on Give Miami Day — yes, as in 24 hours on November 16.
Give Miami Day’s target doesn’t sound unreachable as nearly 20,000 people donated a record-breaking $9.1 million to some 660 local nonprofits last year. The fundraiser’s Match Minutes pool, where sponsors match donations dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount for specific nonprofits, creates the frisson of a fast-paced auction.
“It’s a pretty lofty goal, but I’m confident because Miami has demonstrated it’s a generous community,” Soto said, adding anyone is eligible to give, including a teacher who bequeathed her home to support programs at Miami Senior High School. “Our doors are open to everybody, and there’s no minimum to set up a fund.”
Yet another $1 million in signature grants is being doled out around four themes: legacy organizations like Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, which have benefited from the beginning; opportunity-related nonprofits whose work bridges inequality; creativity extending beyond culture to social entrepreneurship; and resiliency, such as Miami Waterkeeper’s mission to protect the watershed.
Javier Soto looks to the future of South Florida
Last year, Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach became part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative to address 21st-century challenges. A comprehensive strategy due in early 2018 demonstrates how The Miami Foundation’s services exceed financial support and instigate real policy change.
“Sea-level rise brought us into the conversation, but resilience goes above that to issues like transit and affordable housing that require changes in zoning and other ordinances,” said Soto, who is currently chairing the Council on Foundations, a national philanthropic association, and has been able to lean on its fellow members for sound advice.
“The Baton Rouge leader called the day after Hurricane Irma to give us tips on what they did after Katrina,” he said. “These shared experiences are huge.”
Javier Soto is in good company among INDULGE’s Movers. See stories of other prominent Miami leaders.