5 Questions for...Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation

January 04, 2018

At 40, Lateefah Simon has spent more than half her life as a civil rights advocate and racial justice leader. She was a 17-year-old mother when she went to work for the Center for Young Women's Development and was just 19 when she became the organization's executive director. In the years that followed, she helped position the center as a national leader in the movement to empower young women of color — an achievement for which she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. She later led the creation of San Francisco's first reentry services division, headed the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and served as a program director at the Rosenberg Foundation, where she helped launch the Leading Edge Fund in support of the next generation of progressive movement leaders in California.

In 2016, Simon became the second president of Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is "to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States." PND spoke with her about the work required to build a movement focused on racial equity — and philanthropy's role in that effort.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Akonadi Foundation, which is headquartered in Oakland, is focused on "building a localized racial justice movement." Why is it important for the racial justice movement to act locally?

Headshot_lateefash_simon_2017Lateefah Simon: What those of us in philanthropy and those working on the ground doing movement-building work know is that many of the racialized policies that have divided communities, from juvenile justice to local policing to school policies, have taken place on the municipal level. We also know that our efforts have to be extremely strategic to undo these policies — for example, the disproportionate overuse of school suspensions and expulsions against black and brown students that has been standard policy for many, many years.

To create racial justice in our communities, we have to go deep — to the source, where the policies come from, and also to the culture. Our work is not just about going after and disrupting racist policy but also about ensuring that all communities of color are working together, understanding that one group's organizing, movement-building, and advocacy work will benefit other groups. If we're fighting for anti-gentrification policies in Chinatown, African-American and Latino communities are going to be able to use those efforts to inform their own organizing, and so on.

PND: The foundation takes an "ecosystem" approach to its grantmaking. What do you mean by ecosystem grantmaking, and why do you believe it's the right approach for your movement at this time?

LS: Five years ago, the Akonadi Foundation set out to envision what Oakland could look like in ten years. Oakland has been a cradle of social movements — and is best known, of course, as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. There's a historical narrative here around race and the interconnectedness of people of color coming together to defeat horrific racist policies; it's our legacy. In our ambition to create a ten-year period of change, our thought was, even as a small foundation, we need to make grants that address the ecosystem in which "justice" is created and delivered. We know that here in Oakland, for example, we have a responsibility to fund base-building groups that are enlisting people willing to fight back, to fund groups that are going to craft policy prescriptions, and groups that will — when those campaigns have succeeded — ensure implementation of those prescriptions as well as follow-up advocacy and legal oversight of the policies.

And just as importantly, we know that if we are pushing communities to organize and fight campaigns, culture has to be at the center of this work; much of our cultural work as people of color is about staking claim to a city we helped build. So thinking about how change happens, about how the people of Oakland move toward justice — it's broad, and must be led by an "ecosystem" of grant partners who are in movement together.

In 2018, we're going to be engaging our grantees and having them give us a better idea of where we are. The world has completely changed in the last year. And because the world has changed, and the conditions of our city have changed, it's important for us to go back and look at our theory of change and redefine and reexamine how ecosystem grantmaking needs to work.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts 2017

January 02, 2018

It's no surprise, perhaps, that the most popular item on the blog in 2017 was a post, by Michael Edwards, from 2012. Back then, the country was clawing its way back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the future, if not exactly bright, was looking better. Two thousand-seventeen, in contrast, was...well, let's just say it was a year many would like to forget. Edwards, a former program officer at the Ford Foundation and the editor of the Transformation blog on the openDemocracy site, had agreed to write a four-part series (check out parts one, two, and four) on the Bellagio Initiative, an effort funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce a new framework for philanthropic and international development, and his third post had much to say about how and when, in development work, we measure, how we use and interpret the results, and who decides these things — concerns as relevant today as they were in the final year of Barack Obama's first term in office.

Of course, smart thinking and useful advice never go out of fashion — as the posts gathered below amply demonstrate. Indeed, with an administration and majorities in both chambers of Congress seemingly determined to roll back many of the progressive gains achieved over the last half-century, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs working to protect the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, undo the vast harm caused by a systemically biased criminal justice system, combat the corrosive effects of money on our politics, and address the existential threat posed by climate change will need all the smart thinking and useful advice they can lay their hands on. So, sit back, buckle your seat belt, and get ready for 2018. It's going to be an...interesting year.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Interested in writing for PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Send a few lines about your idea/article/post to mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 30-31, 2017)

December 31, 2017

2017-2018Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


In his final post of the year, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger (and transparency advocate) Marc Gunther shares what (and why) he and his wife gave to charity in 2017.  


"The world's 500 richest people have increased their wealth by $1tn (£745bn)...this year due to a huge increase in the value of global stock markets," the Guardian reports. In fact, as 2017 comes to a close, the "world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes...." 

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos ($99bn) tops the list, followed by Bill Gates ($91.8bn) and Warren Buffett ($85.3bn). For those interested in tracking such things, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index provides statistical profiles, updated on a daily basis, of the hundred richest people in the world.

The Republican tax bill signed into law by President Trump just before Christmas is likely to worsen inequality in the United States. Referring to the bill as "a lump of coal" for average Americans, the California Wellness Foundation suggests in a statement on its website that the new law will further cement America's status as "a nation of profound inequality" and regrets the fact that it "was enacted despite the fact that so many were not in favor of it." The foundation closes with a call to "other funders committed to the public good to join with us as we move forward with even greater resolve to build the power of the many, not the few." 


"The nonprofit sector is woefully lacking creative destruction. Mediocre and weak organizations are still attracting funding and the best organizations are not accessing the funding they need to achieve real impact." Catarina Schwab and Lindsay Beck hope to change that with something called an impact security. Devin Thorpe reports for Forbes

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Thoughts on ‘As the South Grows’

December 27, 2017

As-the-South-Grows-cover-232x300As someone who has shed plenty of blood and tears after almost twenty years living and breathing Southern philanthropy, I am thrilled with the deep and committed work of Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) on the As the South Grows series of publications. The writers — Ryan Schlegel and Stephanie Peng — spent a great deal of time outside the walls of their offices to capture the authentic voice of residents of six Southern sub-regions that have had small to middling philanthropic investment over the years.

My experience as a locally embedded Southern funder — first with the Rapides Foundation and then the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust — over the past couple decades prompted a reaction to both what is presented and what I hope will be addressed in future reports. The following observations come from a same church/different pew perspective of someone who has spent the bulk of his professional career trying to get philanthropic activity connected to local champions in a way that makes sense to funders and communities alike.

1. Large regional or national funders increasingly want long-haul relationships. For decades, I have observed the lack of large funder investment in the South. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some particularly underresourced and isolated places in the region have never had any formal funder investment — ever.

Southern communities can certainly use financial resources focused on locally produced efforts to drive community development and improvement. But it is just as, if not more, important that large funder involvement focus on: 1) the inclusion of these places as part of national learning platforms; and 2) enabling these communities to tap into the wealth of intellectual and social capital that national funders can access on their behalf.

For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health prize recognized the small town of Williamson, West Virginia (population 3,100), in 2014 with a $25,000 award. The award paved the way for government funders to support new work around built environment, healthy foods, economic development, and other initiatives designed to benefit this coal-country town.

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This Holiday Season, Don't Forget Families Mourning a Loss

December 21, 2017

Nylife_foundation_bereavementDecember is the "season of giving" — a time when we're all made aware of the many ways we can give back to those less fortunate. On streets and in stores, on TV, and through our social networks, causes and organizations doing good work compete for our attention and year-end donations. But one group in need of support at this time of year often remains invisible: those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It's time that philanthropy paid more attention.

The holidays are a difficult time of year for grieving children and families. For most, it is a season characterized by family traditions and poignant memories — memories that can trigger powerful emotions when someone significant is missing from the festivities, even when his or her loss is no longer fresh. In fact, a new nationwide survey conducted by the New York Life Foundation demonstrates the profound, enduring nature of loss. According to the survey, for those who lost a parent as a child, the pain was still raw years — and sometimes even decades — later, with 77 percent of respondents saying they would always feel like a part of them was missing and 78 percent saying they still thought about the departed parent every day. 

The survey also revealed a troubling "grief gap" — a disconnect between the length of time that grievers took to move forward after a loss and the time during which they received support. On average, those who lost a parent growing up said it took them six or more years to move forward, with a full 30 percent admitting that they'd never come to terms with their loss. Yet most reported that support from family and friends tapered off within the first three months after a loss, 21 percent reporting that support tapered off within a month of a loss, and 20 percent saying support from others tapered off after just a week.

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A Perfect Storm for Nonprofits: Risk Engagement Is Critical

December 20, 2017

Danger_riskThe nonprofit sector has been described as "resilient," and for good reason, given the number of constraints — funding, regulatory, operational — it must contend with.

However, as we reflect on a year marked by a series of shocks — including a series of natural disasters, determined efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and policy changes likely to affect future federal funding for the sector — a perfect storm is gathering that will be challenging to navigate even for organizations accustomed to risk. As we head into 2018, reducing your organization's vulnerability to external shocks will be key to its sustainability. The good news? There are things you can do.

As I write this, state governments are bracing for the possible loss of Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding, and major tax legislation is headed for passage — legislation that could lead to a dramatic reduction in charitable giving, result in the loss of health insurance for an estimated thirteen million Americans, and raise taxes over time for middle- and low-income earners. And all this is happening against the backdrop of a possible government shutdown. Even one of these outcomes could easily upend the delicate balancing act that nonprofits operating on razor-thin margins must maintain.

Events playing out in Washington also underscore how important it is for nonprofit executives and boards to have tools in place that they can use to identify, assess, prioritize, manage, and ultimately mitigate vulnerabilities related to unforeseen developments.

Over nearly forty years as a nonprofit consulting firm working to help organizations meet their goals and fulfill their missions, Community Resource Exchange has seen the vast majority of our nonprofit clients evolve from being risk-averse to being increasingly ready, or at least willing, to engage with risk. This has been especially apparent in their focus on internal — and somewhat predictable — risks related to operational matters, including meeting legal and regulatory requirements and financial obligations.

We recently confirmed this shift during a year-long initiative to study how nonprofits perceive and respond to risk. Today's organizations are experiencing less vulnerability in areas of governance, financial oversight, legal compliance, employment practices, workplace issues, and volunteer management. (The exception is risk vulnerability in succession planning, which hasn't kept up with generational leadership changes in the sector.) While such risks need to be assessed on a regular basis, many organizations that we worked with report having developed sound policies and systems for managing them.

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The False Slogan of 'Right to Work': An Attack on Worker Freedom

December 18, 2017

NoRTW_buttonToday's economy is rigged against working families and in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. That's not by accident. CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding have written the rules that way, advancing their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Now, they're trying to get the rigged system affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. In a few months, the justices will hear a case called Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would make so-called "right-to-work" the law of the land in the public sector, threatening the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions.

The powerful backers in this case have made no secret about their true agenda. They have publicly said that they want to "defund and defang" unions like the one I lead. They know that unions level the economic playing field. They know that unions give working people the power in numbers to improve their lives and communities and negotiate a fair return on their work while keeping the greed of corporate special interests in check.

Union membership is especially important for people of color, historically providing them with a ladder to the middle class and helping them earn their fair share of the wealth and the value they generate. More than half of African-Americans make less than $15 per hour. But belonging to a union is likely to lead to a substantial pay raise and superior benefits. African-American union members earn 14.7 percent more than their non-union peers. The union advantage for Latinos is even greater: 21.8 percent.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 16-17, 2017)

December 17, 2017

Last-minute-gift-ideasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civil Society

Philanthropy 2173  blogger Lucy Bernholz has released the latest edition of her Blueprint year-in-review survey and is inviting readers (and everyone else) to share their civil society predictions for 2018, which she will review in a live discussion on January 11 with David Callahan (@InsidePhilanthr), Trista Harris (@TristaHarris), Julie Broome (@AriadneNetwork), and moderator Crystal Hayling (@CHayling).

Democrat Doug Jones's victory over Republican Roy Moore in the special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Session's vacated seat in deep red Alabama was "a victory for the black women-led voter registration and mobilization movement...that has been working against stiff headwinds for months — decades, really — to ensure democracy prevails in a state with some of the most onerous barriers to voting in the country," writes Ryan Schlegel on the NCRP blog. 

And here on PhilanTopic, Mark Rosenman argues that the threat to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid represented by the Republican tax plan making its way through Congress means that, now more than ever, foundations need to step up for democracy.


Can a little behavioral economics help nonprofits raise more money? Bloomberg View columnist and legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein thinks so.


There’s no one right way to give. But there are lots of things you can do to make yourself a better giver. The folks at Bloomberg Business have put together a great guide to help you get started.

In his latest, Denver Post On Philanthropy columnist Bruce DeBoskey reviews Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving, by Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody. And be sure to check out our review, by the Foundation Center's Erin Nylen-Wysocki, here.

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'Tis the Season to Give — Now More Than Ever Under Tax Reform

December 16, 2017

Holiday-charity-smart-givingGiving Tuesday broke all records this year. On November 28, a total of $274 million was donated to charity through the online campaign, as millions of individuals contributed an average of about $110 to great organizations around the globe. According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, however, if certain provisions in the House and Senate versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act become law, nonprofits could lose between $12 billion and $20 billion in annual charitable revenues. And that means donors will need to give a whole lot more on future #GivingTuesdays — and every other day of the year — if those nonprofits hope to maintain the same level of service they currently provide.

With Republicans racing to pass a final bill before Christmas, the outlook for nonprofits is bleak. Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, the plan making its way through Congress could steal billions in would-be donations from worthy causes. One provision in the bill is particularly damaging: the increase in the standard deduction.

By doubling the standard deduction and repealing or scaling back many itemized deductions, the plan would substantially reduce the number of taxpayers who elect to itemize their returns. The Tax Policy Center estimates that fewer than thirteen million taxpayers would itemize deductions in 2018 under the House version of the plan, down from more than 46 million under current law. The net effect: significantly reduced incentives for people to give. Urban-Brookings analysts note that most economists generally agree that tax deductions boost charitable giving — although to what degree is open to debate. Whatever the level, the likely trajectory for giving under the Republican plan is downward — an unfortunate circumstance for nonprofits, since the vast majority — 72 percent — of the more than $390 billion given to nonprofits last year came from individual donors (GivingUSA). These are the everyday givers who contribute $25, $50, or $100 to their favorite causes and many itemize those contributions.

Given these and other changes to the tax code that could undermine charitable giving, here is some advice for nonprofits seeking to sustain their good work and the donors who support them — individual givers as well as philanthropic foundations and corporations.

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The Role of Philanthropy in Conflict Prevention: 15 Takeaways

December 15, 2017

Number15In early November, Foundation Center hosted an event with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) that drew more than forty-five people from ten countries to discuss the role of philanthropy in conflict prevention and resolution. The energy around the topic was palpable and there was no shortage of knowledge shared. Here are my top 15 takeaways from the meeting:

1. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic funding is going to peace and security. It's true; take a look at the data. Given the currency and the social and economic costs associated with conflicts worldwide, this is a worrying figure. According to former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, "The economic and financial cost of conflict and violence in 2014 has been estimated to be US$14.3 trillion, or 13.4 percent of the global economy." So why is this area of work underfunded? Is it because foundations are more risk averse than they like to believe?

2. Philanthropy has the ability to be adaptable, flexible, and take risks. It can play a research and development role in the field of peace and security, but it must respect that this work is high stakes and requires a great deal of flexibility; it is not philanthropy as usual and there are rules to be followed when operating in a sensitive environment. Funders must carefully consider relevant contextual and cultural information when funding and working in conflict-affected environments.

3. Without peaceful and secure communities, the climate, humanitarian, and development agendas will not be realized. Conflict, humanitarian disasters, and climate change are interlinked and their effects are unevenly distributed and primarily impact economically disadvantaged communities. These different agendas can’t be realized in isolation, and we won’t make progress without expanding our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict.

4. There are roles for both large and small funders. Some smaller funders feel that the situation is just too complex for them to get involved. However, increasing the availability of small, unrestricted grants can make a critical difference in conflict-affected environments, where the context is constantly shifting and flexible funding is key. Larger grants and long-term funding are also crucial to ensure the continuity and long-term relationships necessary for effective peacebuilding programs. Regardless of size, funders large or small, can support indigenous locally led efforts, provide core support, and commit to the long term.

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Now More Than Ever, Foundations Need to Step Up for Democracy

December 14, 2017

Vote_counts_830_0Even before agreeing on the final details of their tax bill, Republican leaders in Congress have made it clear they hope to address the national debt — the one their bill adds a trillion dollars to over the next ten years — by cutting vital safety net programs. Indeed, the dishonest Republican plan rewards the richest one percent of American taxpayers with over 60 percent of the proposed benefits of tax "reform" while people living in poverty or who depend on Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs will lose ground. Even the elderly and the sick, as well as those whose future well-being is tied to Social Security, are likely to be sacrificed on the altar of "deficit reduction."

What can charities and philanthropy do about it? Apparently nothing, judging from the feckless efforts to protect charitable giving and the integrity of the sector during the recent tax cut battle. It's reported that nonprofit "infrastructure groups" spent over $670,000 on lobbying activities in 2017 (through September) — with little in the way of results to show for it. Additional efforts — and expenditures — by individual charities and nonprofit coalitions likewise failed to derail the regressive policy changes championed by Republicans in Congress.

It doesn't have to be that way. Charities have created little opportunity for themselves to be heard on the tax bill, and it's unlikely their collective voice could affect anything but the proposed repeal of the Johnson Amendment — an action that, if not dropped from the final bill, would turn tax-exempt organizations into partisan political action groups. One hopes, however, that charities — and foundations — will learn from this depressing experience and act to better represent the public interest in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections — and beyond.

For charities and foundations to succeed in this endeavor, three things need to change: (1) public policy issues must be seen for what they really are; (2) charities and foundations must work to invigorate enlightened grassroots participation in the democratic process; and (3) we, especially funders, need to overcome our arrogance and self-serving timidity and recognize that, regardless of organizational mission, we will not succeed as a sector if we don't also support efforts designed to strengthen civic engagement and democracy.

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Driving Innovation in Global Development: Why We Need Next-Generation Leaders

December 13, 2017

P1_Edible-InsectThe face of global development is changing. Shifting priorities, new organizations, new technologies — the landscape of the field is in flux. And in this era of sustainable development, a new generation of global leaders is poised to play a leading role in catalyzing change.

The Challenges Ahead

Despite decades of progress, the global community continues to grapple with urgent challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, and environmental degradation. Global trends such as urbanization, income inequality, climate change, and technological disruption increasingly are driving the scale and intensity of these challenges, forcing us to think differently and more collaboratively. The United Nations2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is emblematic of this changing landscape. The message is clear: business as usual is no longer an option.

In the area of global nutrition, these trends are already having a profound impact. Malnutrition remains one of the most pervasive challenges and is the leading underlying cause of child mortality worldwide. As the planet becomes more populated and prosperous, food production and consumption patterns are changing and stressing our fragile natural resources. With the global population on track to hit 9.8 billion people by 2050, the field of nutrition is ripe for innovation. The task at hand is significant, if not daunting: How do we sustainably meet the nutritional needs of a growing global population?

To address hard problems like these, we need to consider new approaches and sustainable solutions. The health and livelihoods of many vulnerable communities — and the planet we all share — depend on it.

Engaging Emerging Leaders

Harnessing the insights and talents of the next generation of global leaders will be critical to unlocking innovation for sustainable development. With an eye to the future, early-career professionals can help us examine problems in new ways, elevate diverse perspectives, and surface creative new ideas. We should not underestimate the value of the entrepreneurial energy that early-career professionals bring to the table. By questioning age-old assumptions and confronting problems with analytic, data-driven vigor, they can help us chip away at some of the barriers that have slowed our progress.

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Philanthropy in India Report Sparks Questions…and Opportunity

December 11, 2017

Sdgs-circleRecently, Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, in association with Alliance magazine, Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), and the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University, released a highly anticipated thought piece on the emerging philanthropic sector in India, one of the largest and most rapidly changing countries in the world.

The report, a working paper by Caroline Hartnell titled Philanthropy in India, draws on interviews with key local actors to inform us about the varying types of philanthropy, illustrate some of the current challenges and opportunities, and throw light on the history of and approaches to philanthropy in India. The report does not purport to answer all questions or predict trends, nor does it present hard numbers on giving or impact, but it does start to give an intelligible and exciting glimpse into the complexities and highly varied contexts in which philanthropy operates in a country as multifaceted as India. But because the report, understandably, offers only a partial view into Indian philanthropy, it raises as many questions as it answers.

Giving by the middle class in India is rising rapidly — this is one important insight offered by Hartnell's paper, as it may be the most significant trend in Indian philanthropy. Other findings — such as the lack of donor education about local contexts and the constantly competing interests of local and international NGOs — are more troubling but equally important, in that we see these issues over and over worldwide without doing anything to change our collective approach. And still other findings, such as that almost 33 percent of the Indian population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day while around 69 percent live on less than $2 a day, provide a strong call to action for philanthropy to respond to.

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5 Questions for…Vanessa Daniel, Founder and Executive Director, Groundswell Fund

December 07, 2017

Groundswell Fund
 is the largest funder of the reproductive justice movement in the United States. In addition to its CatalystRapid Response, and Birth Justice funds, the organization created the Liberation Fund in the wake of the 2016 elections to support effective grassroots organizing efforts led by women and transgender people of color across the social justice sector. A joint project of the Groundswell Fund and the newly created 501(c)(4) Groundswell Action Fund, the Liberation Fund will announce inaugural grants next week to grassroots organizations selected with the help of women leaders of color, including Alicia Garza, Ai-Jen Poo, Mary Hooks, and Linda Sarsour. 

PND spoke with Vanessa Daniel, founder and executive director of the fund, about intersectionality in the context of reproductive justice and racial equity and her hopes for the Liberation Fund. Before founding the fund in 2010, Daniel worked in grassroots organizing, advocacy, and grantmaking at the Tides FoundationSEIU, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and what is now Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

Philanthropy News Digest: You founded Groundswell Fund after working to advance LGBTQ rights as well as economic and environmental justice at various organizations. Why did you decide to focus on reproductive justice for women of color, low-income women, and transgender people?

Heashot_vanessa_danielVanessa Daniel: When I first learned about the reproductive justice (RJ) movement in 2005, I had been working in various social justice movements for ten years. The RJ movement had been founded a decade earlier by a group of black women and was on its way to becoming the largest force in the country in terms of engaging a multiracial base of women of color, low-income women, and LGBT people on reproductive issues and as grassroots organizers and activists. I was a young, twenty-something, queer, biracial woman of color from a working-class immigrant family on one side and raised by a second-wave white feminist single mother on the other.

I had, like many women of color, experienced what I lovingly refer to as a lot of bad "movement dates." Have you ever been on a date with someone who orders for you without asking what you want? Or people who talk about themselves the whole time without asking how your day was? Well, you can have the equivalent of that date with a social justice movement. It's not true for every organization, but for example, you have a lot of labor unions that invite women to the table but don't want to talk about reproductive issues, even though these issues are important to women. You have many immigrant rights groups that don't want to talk about LGBT rights, even though there are lots of LGBT people in the immigrant communities they are organizing. You have way too many white feminist organizations inviting women of color to the table and then not talking about race, even though racism is literally killing us. The reproductive justice movement was, quite simply, the best movement date I ever had, because it was the first time I had encountered a movement that didn't require me to leave any piece of myself or anyone I loved at the door in order to enter. I could be whole.

And here's why. There are three hallmarks of RJ: First, it's multi-issue. That means it says to people, yes, we are standing with you on the right to access abortion and contraception, but we are also standing with you to stop environmental pollution that is harming reproductive health; to stop mass incarceration and immigration detention and deportation that continues an ugly legacy of breaking up families of color that dates back to slavery and mission schools and immigration exclusion acts; to expand comprehensive sex ed in the public schools along with non-stigmatizing supports for young parents that don't shame and shut them out of their education; to expand access to birthing options like midwifery that are finally shifting racial disparities that have left black women four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women in this country; to fight for LGBT rights. It's a holistic movement.

Second, it centers grassroots organizing as a strategy. It doesn't believe major social change trickles down from large organizations sitting "inside the beltway"; it believes it surges up from cities and states, from ordinary people holding their elected officials accountable in their home districts.

Third, it is a multiracial movement with significant leadership from women of color working alongside white women who are able to consider things through a racial justice lens. It is tactically impossible to move the needle on most social justice issues today without the leadership and engagement of communities of color, which, polls show us, vote in a more progressive direction down ballot on nearly every issue progressives care about.

The RJ movement exemplifies what it means to build a movement with the backbone to leave no one behind. And that, I believe, is the kind of movement that all social justice activists should be looking to build. RJ is shining a light on the path the larger progressive movement needs to walk in order to be successful.

PND: It's estimated that African-American women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications than their white counterparts, while the infant mortality rate for babies of African-American mothers is more than twice that of babies of white mothers. What's behind these racial disparities?

VD: The data has perplexed many scientists, in part because when they control for education levels, economic status, diet and behavior, and other factors, the disparities still show up in the data. This means that middle-class, college-educated black women who take excellent care of their health are still dying at higher rates than low-income white women without a high school diploma. How does one explain that? There is a growing number of scientists, including epidemiologists who believe that racism itself is a major factor in these disparities. First, the racism and implicit bias of many medical practitioners often leads them to provide substandard care to women of color. Many studies back this up; one recent study, for example, shows that people of color, including children of color, are given significantly less pain medication than are white people.

Second, and very importantly, scientists are pointing to the impact that racism, experienced on a daily basis by people of color, has on the body. The midwifery and doula models of care we support are often run by women of color or by a multiracial staff that provides high-quality, culturally competent care. Our grantee Sacred Heart Birthplace in Espanola, New Mexico, has a 2 percent cesarean section rate, compared with a state average of 24 percent, and a 92 percent breastfeeding rate at six months post-delivery, compared with a state average of 26 percent. In Florida, our grantee Common Sense Childbirth has achieved a 0 percent preterm birth rate among black women, compared with the state average of 14.2 percent.

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There’s More Than One Needle in This Haystack: The 100&Change Solutions Bank

December 05, 2017

100Change-logo_padded15Earlier today, Foundation Center launched something new and still unusual in the field of philanthropy: a site that provides access to nearly nineteen hundred proposals submitted to a foundation by organizations with ideas for solving some of society's most pressing challenges. The site, the 100&Change Solutions Bank, features submissions to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change competition, which the foundation launched in June 2016 and which will soon announce a winner. Recognizing that it had received many more viable ideas worth funding, the foundation decided to partner with Foundation Center to bring greater visibility to those ideas, with three goals in mind: to drive investment in proposals that merit it; to facilitate collaboration and learning between organizations working on similar problems; and to inspire funders and organizations working for change to do things differently.


The 100&Change competition will end with a single winner being awarded a $100 million grant. But the competition itself generated a great many solutions worth investing in — and the number of inquiries fielded by MacArthur staff suggests that other funders know this. Rather than force 100&Change applicants to spend more time tailoring their proposals to meet the requirements of their own application processes, funders should take advantage of the work MacArthur has done to surface good ideas in a variety of fields. With the launch of the 100&Change Solutions Bank, funders now have a lot to gain by spending just a few minutes exploring the proposals they’ll find there.


Whether it's a big, global challenge like climate change or a local (yet widespread) problem like homelessness, there is more than one organization working on a solution. This diversity of actors represents a golden opportunity to learn from others' approaches — even when they are implemented in a different context — and, potentially, to collaborate. Yes, this type of learning does happen through existing networks, listservs, and working groups. But what the Solutions Bank offers is the chance to learn from organizations you may not have a connection to.

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Quote of the Week

  • "Women acting on their own can do what all the philanthropic organizations in the world can never accomplish: change the unwritten rule that women are lesser than men. Our role, as we see it, is to make targeted investments that give women the opportunity to write new rules...."

    — Melinda Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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