R.T. Rybak brings Minneapolis Foundation perspective, expertise to Islands’ renewal

Community Leaders gathered at the Sanibel Community House to hear from Minneapolis Foundation president and CEO R.T. Rybak.
Back Row (L to R): Doug Congress (CFI), Dolly Farrell (CFI), John Morse (CFI), Bill Harkey (“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society), R.T. Rybak (Minneapolis Foundation), and Dana Souza (City of Sanibel). Front Row (L to R): Maria Espinoza (F.I.S.H. of SanCap), Ann-Marie Wildman (“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society), Nicole Decker-McHale (Community Housing and Resources), Sam Boren King (CFI), Lisa Riordan (CFI), John Lai (Sanibel-Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce), and James Evans (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation).

The desire to restore Sanibel and Captiva islands to their former splendor remains strong some 18 months into recovery from devastating Hurricane Ian.

Realizing that a fresh perspective can inject energy and possibilities into the process, the Charitable Foundation of the Islands (CFI), led by CFI’s Economic Revitalization Committee, recently welcomed R.T. Rybak and his wife, Meagan, for two in-depth conversations with island leaders  about what comes next. The visit is the culmination of several meetings that began last year arranged by Minneapolis and Sanibel resident and CFI Board member Susan “Sam” Boren King.

Rybak is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation, a community foundation and public grantmaking charity similar to CFI that collaborates with other nonprofits to drive civic, social, and economic action to improve communities.

During those gatherings on Sanibel, Rybak pledged the Minneapolis Foundation’s expertise to serve in an advisory capacity to CFI. CFI’s Economic Revitalization Chair Eric Pfeifer shared, “Returning Sanibel and Captiva to pre-Ian days requires grappling with complex issues, and we welcome advice and expertise from those that have lived through similar situations. We heard R.T. quote the Hopi proverb several times, ‘You are the people you have been waiting for.’ I think we can all agree that each of us has to take an active role if we wish to rebuild this community.”

The day’s conversations focused on workforce development, affordable housing, aging in place, and impact investing. The first session at the Sanibel Community House involved city, nonprofit, and Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce leaders. The second, which took place at the home of Steve and Susan “Sam” Boren King, brought philanthropists together.

In both cases, Rybak walked the groups through several ideas by which they might rebuild stronger and better than before. The gatherings also discussed CFI’s current initiatives underway to help spur economic revitalization including grants to the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce as well as a business climate survey for the Islands.

Rybak has a unique perspective that makes him ideal for this role. In addition to leading the Minneapolis Foundation since 2016, he has worked as a journalist and activist and served as Minneapolis’ mayor from 2002 to 2013. Later, he led the Minneapolis Foundation when it launched several economic revitalization programs following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. He spoke about that and lessons that can be applied to the islands’ recovery. Rybak shared “I fell in love with Sanibel/Captiva when on my first visit in the ‘70s and continue to be charmed by it today. The island community’s post-hurricane resilience has been extraordinary and the commitment I witnessed shows me the best is yet to come. “

“It was inspiring to learn about the cause-and-effect Minneapolis experienced from the George Floyd incident and how, together with the CFI team, they drew the important parallels to Sanibel and Captiva’s recovery from Hurricane Ian,” said Carolyn Rogers, senior vice president for Wealth Services at The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company. “The takeaway remains that with a collective will, a community spirit and some planning and funding, so much is possible to not only restore, but further enhance, our islands’ treasures and thriving ecosystem.”

CFI Board member Sam Boren King shared, “The Minneapolis Foundation is one of the oldest and most respected community foundations in the United States and is very experienced in developing public/private partnerships to help address complex community problems, such as hurricane recovery. We can’t thank R.T. enough for joining us and offering to help our community reimagine our future.”