About us


We acknowledge that there are many layers beneath the simple recap we offer here. Our ancestors who traveled by wooden boats to the eastern shores of Native homelands and the colonization of those homelands westward leaves a painful memory of loss and cataclysmic change that created conditions for the newcomers settlers gain, our economic gain.    

Swift Foundation incorporated shortly after United Parcel Service, a private company for 92 years, went public with shares of stock offered to the public in 1999. John Swift chose to diversify stock while following the family charitable tradition of his grandfather and mother by creating a foundation. John, a committed supporter of organizations with a global focus on protecting and conserving nature, investing in community wellbeing and promoting sustainable organic agriculture; continued funding these initiatives around the world for the next ten years.

In 2009, Swift Foundation tripled in size with the proceeds from the Marilyn Smith Swift Tennity foundation, John’s mother’s foundation. At this time, John invited his daughters Sonja and Karen to join the board, launching a new innovative chapter for the foundation with an expansion of the mission toward respecting Indigenous Peoples as crucial leaders in protecting biocultural diversity. Jeannette Armstrong, Okanagan author and scholar, joined the board as the first non-family board member. The Foundation also made a radical revision of how the endowment was managed; leading to Swift Foundation’s first mission-related investment policy and subsequent work toward greater coherency and accountability in how investments align with the mission.

By 2019, the board had expanded to be governed by a multicultural majority of non-family board members and in May of this year, the board committed to double the annual payout. This marked a turning point for the organization, not just through a financial commitment but also through a deeper commitment toward strengthening the foundation’s leadership, approach and responsibility to our partners on the ground. A year later, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the increased funding was applied in emergency grants to partners and allied organizations. The staff also entered into a process of re-envisioning the Foundation’s work and way of working in authentic solidarity, revising our programs strategy, mission, vision, values and principles. We continue this work today, now led by majority Indigenous staff and leadership.


We work to nurture possibility and diversity through creative solutions, which the practices of solidarity and reciprocity cultivate, to meet the greater complexity, accelerated change and permanent crisis that challenges our future and life in the present. Recognizing that our partners, communities, and allies negotiate work in an incredibly complex world daily, they are best positioned to lead the strategies grounded in autonomy, self-reliance and community-based solutions. To advance our mission and meet society’s urgent challenges, we employ an integrated holistic model that responds to the realities of our partners in creating social change, in a complex and dynamic world and which harmonizes with our guiding vision. Drawing on our ability to be responsive, flexible, and imaginative, we hope to meet this challenge by working together with our partners and allies.


Jeannette Armstrong, Board Member

My earliest memory is of my mother tying a Saskatoon berry branch to me. Sitting next to the bush, I busied myself eating berries while she picked our sweet Chief Berry. My first poem was a song about that comforting moment. Wild harvesting is a constant force guiding me toward opportunities.

This motivation has led me to share with community my desire to restore that relationship with those who have lost the right to it, through the establishment of our own cultural educational centre, En’owkin Centre.

On the board of the 7th Generation Fund, I learned from Indigenous leaders and many good people focused on supporting Indigenous self-sufficiency. I also served on the boards of Cultural Survival Canada and Pacific Cultural Conservancy focused on restoring cultural connections. Today, I balance my community focus with the work of those who continue to hold onto knowledge of the importance of that relationship and act it.

John F. Swift – President & Founder

Over dirt paths, in the mountainous Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, that passed by ancient Mayan ruins, my work in 1973 with Amigos de Las Americas was to give children vaccinations of DPT and oral polio. The “shiver” I felt striking the bone on a skinny arm remains with me, as well as the beautiful smiles and expressive eyes of the children. Being a Rotarian for 30 years, I am proud of the collaborative effort to eradicate polio.

Working in Papua New Guinea, based at the WAU Ecology Institute on an agro-forestry project, I joined Ph.D. students studying tropical forest biology. I will never forget my ascent into and through the forest canopy on a rope system-the astounding beauty of the cloud forest, endlessly undulating toward the horizon with the incredible diversity including epiphytes, insects, birds of paradise and complex life within this magical ecosystem.

These experiences reinforced my understanding of the role Indigenous people and nature play in biodiversity. My Conservation of Natural Resources professors at UC Berkeley lectured us on the troubling effects of the greenhouse effect. In hindsight, the issue of climate change has been going on for a long time.

Coupling these understandings with my conviction that a woman’s ability to access family planning as a basic human right challenged me to focus my philanthropy on a holistic view of conserving cultural diversity and indigenous ecosystems with regenerative agriculture and community wellbeing.

Raising my family on a ranch as an organic farmer, I am a long-time supporter and current board member of Conservation International and past director of World Neighbors and Pathfinder International. I am current president of the Rotary Club of Los Osos and founding director of Slow Money SLO.

Elaine Rasmussen, Board Member

I’ve had the good fortune to have a life journey that has taken me around the world.  From my hometown of Los Angeles to the seas of the Bosporus in Turkey to the Native American tribes across Turtle Island, I’ve seen the strength of people, place, and culture. The people I’ve had the honored to break bread with throughout my travels, revealed to me the seen and unseen interconnected thread that weaves all of us together.

When the sun rises, I ask myself ‘how can I be a good relative today’. When I lay my head down on my pillow at night, I ask myself, ‘did my actions today make me a good ancestor?’

The circle of reflection pushes me to learn and grow in new ways to be the best steward of brief time I am being given by the Creator.

Humberto Rios Labrada, Board Member

During the 1980s, I studied plant breeding and high-input agriculture regimes practiced in Cuba and supported by many socialist countries interested in maximizing yields. Following the collapse of the eastern block in 1989, I had to reinvent how plant breeding could generate benefits for small farmers who became the new champions of agriculture in Cuba.

Instead of releasing a few high yielding seeds according to the criteria of my research team, we decided to release hundreds of varieties of seeds to small farmers. We then organized diversity learning spaces all over the island where farmers taught us how to maximize yield and production with a biodiversity of plants.

Small farmers working collaboratively with other local actors selected and multiplied a range of diverse locally adapted seeds. The farmers’ work on seed selection supplied locally adapted seed to more than 50,000 farms in a few years.

This experience inspired me to develop an action learning approach at ICRA to generate financial and social benefits for smallholder farmers by promoting agro-biodiversity. While I started in Cuba, I am now also working in Mexico, Bolivia, Spain and Myanmar.


Suzanne Benally, Executive Director

Suzanne Benally

Suzanne Benally is Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa. She grew up in the community of Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation. Her maternal clan is Kinlichii̒nii (Red House People) and she was born for Naashaashi (Bear People Clan). She describes her maternal family home and her sense of belonging as:

Red sandstone mesas rise and curve
Around the horizon
Extending like protective arms
To form a cove called Red Valley.
This is my home.

Suzanne has worked in higher education and the non-profit sector for 35 years. Most recently, Suzanne served as the Executive Director of Cultural Survival, an international Indigenous rights advocacy organization that advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, self-determination, land, language, culture, and political resilience.  Formerly, she served as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Naropa University, and was a core faculty member and previous chair of the environmental studies department. Her extensive experience spans positions devoted to social justice, diversity, and equity. Suzanne is currently co-chair of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples and a Trustee of the Naropa University Board of Trustees. She is a cohort member of the Rothko Chapel’s Spirituality and Social Justice initiative to further contemporary understandings about spirituality and social justice.

Deeply committed to social, environmental and climate justice, her work, passion, and interests center on relationships and interconnectedness between land, spirituality, culture, and people as reflected in narratives and stories past and present. She looks forward to drawing on her professional experience and cultural background at Swift Foundation and advocating for transformative practices in philanthropy that address issues of racism, equity, justice, and Indigenous rights. Mostly importantly engaging work that draws hope now and for new generations to come. Suzanne lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Alejandro Argumedo, Andes Amazon Lead

Alejandro was born in central Peru to an indigenous Quechua farming family where he grew nurtured by the herb-perfumed aroma of his grandmother’s cookery and the teachings of maize and potato fields, who schooled under the watchful eyes of snow-capped sacred mountains. These early years taught him that this living world is more than a beautiful creation; it is a kinship web interweaving all of Mother Earth’s yarns: potatoes, maize, the mountains, rivers, sky, stars, condors, llamas, and people — all things, beings and energies — into a tapestry of all relations, a universal family.

As a Director of Programs and Andes Amazon lead, Alejandro brings over 25 years of international experience working with indigenous peoples, small scale farmers, NGOs, research organizations, government institutions and UN bodies and other intergovernmental organizations in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Alejandro’s complex thinking has focused on a range of topics and issues including human rights, corporate structures, governance, indigenous philanthropy, campaigns, public policy, dialogue, communications, and domestic and international conservation and development activities. A recognized indigenous leader, Alejandro helped found global indigenous networks such as the Indigenous Peoples’ Biodiversity Network (IPBN), The Call of the Earth Group, The Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Climate Change Assessments and The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples. He studied Agronomy at the University of McGill in Montreal, Canada.

Alejandro’s energy and passion are focused on nurturing the evolution and diffusion of food-focused indigenous epistemologies and conceptual frameworks for the planning and management of indigenous territorialities and crafting contextualized solutions. The “Food Neighborhood” approach advanced by Alejandro is a power-shifting strategy that uses food as a key driver of solutions to the compounding climate, environmental, economic and human rights crises we face.

Ashley M. Sarracino, Grants Manager and Program Associate

Coming soon!

Rosemary Hitchens, Executive Coordinator & Operations Manager

Rosemary Hitchens was raised along the rocky shores of Lake Huron in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This special place, protected by 36 offshore islands and tucked away amongst the cedars, inspired her to love and appreciate the natural world.

Rosemary spent her graduate years receiving a master’s degree in International Relations from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, followed by a remote master’s degree in Conservation Biology from Miami University, Ohio, which granted her the privilege of learning from indigenous stewards and conservationists at international field sites in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, Borneo’s rainforests, and the Maasai lands of Kenya. Throughout Rosemary’s educational endeavors, her perception of how to make meaningful change always drifted back to understanding people, communities and their traditional practices as a key tenant to protecting and conserving our natural and cultural worlds. 

Rosemary works as a self-employed social science consultant and freelancer, providing project management and administrative support to mission-driven organizations and groups that contribute to the world in an impactful way. Rosemary has supported Swift Foundation since the fall of 2017, learning from the passionate staff, board members and partners involved in its ongoing work.

Swift Foundation works with Manchester Capital Management to manage its endowment. Manchester is a registered investment advisory and family office dedicated to helping families sustain their wealth, values, and legacy from generation to generation.