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5 Questions for...Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network

August 14, 2020

Launched in 2013, Solidaire Network is a collective of donors and foundations committed to ending the legacy of racism and anti-Blackness. Through programs such as Movement R&D, Rapid Response, and the newly launched Black Liberation Pooled Fund, network members have moved nearly $18 million since 2013 in support of the Movement for Black Lives and the Black-led organizing ecosystem.

Rajasvini Bhansali, the network's leader since 2018, previously served as executive director of Thousand Currents, where she helped launch a climate justice fund and an impact investment fund and led that collaborative's efforts to expand partnerships with grassroots groups and movements led by women, youth, and Indigenous peoples in the Global South. At Solidaire, she has overseen an evaluation process that resulted in the development of a three-pronged strategy — donor activism, resource mobilization, and driving a paradigm shift — aimed at moving $1 billion over ten years to social change movements.

PND spoke with Bhansali about Solidaire's activist-centered model, the meaning and implications of the reenergized movement for racial justice, and the organization's latest fund.

Headshot_Rajasvini Bhansali_solidaire_networkPhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of donors and foundations decide to become members of Solidaire? And has your membership grown in the wake of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd?

Rajasvini Bhansali: We have over a hundred and eighty members in the Solidaire community, ranging from individuals and families with generational or new wealth to those who have established their own family or private foundation. And what's unique about our donors is that they act as "donor organizers" — working quickly to mobilize others to move critical resources to people and organizations on the front lines — and, in the process, transforming their relationship to power and wealth. Our network isn't about charity or paternalism. The only people we wish to "save" are ourselves, by doing our part to make amends for the generations of oppression and theft upon which current systems have been built.

Supporting Black-led movements and Black liberation has always been at the core of our values and grantmaking strategy. And from the start of the recent protests, our goal wasn't to grow our membership; it was to double down on those efforts. Since June, Solidaire members have committed more than $10 million to the Black-led organizing ecosystem, including the Movement for Black Lives, the Southern Power Fund, and Reparations Summer.

PND: Your Aligned Giving Strategy, which was launched in response to calls for philanthropy to fund the Movement for Black Lives, requires no reports or applications and is based instead on trust and relationships between your members and the frontline groups organizing Black communities. What does that trust-building process look like?

RB: Our goal always is to trust in the wisdom and leadership of grassroots organizers. These leaders know what their communities need and have been telling funders what they need for years, but we haven't been listening. At Solidaire, we don't want movement leaders to have to prove something to us; instead, our job is to get them the resources they need to win now and over the long term. Traditional philanthropy often takes a top-down approach that can replicate unjust power structures. We don't want our process to be another barrier. Our approach is to listen directly to the people most impacted by injustice, understand their lived experience and how current systems have failed them, and share our power and resources to help change those systems.

Our staff are critical to the process. They have a deep understanding of this space, have movement backgrounds, and bring with them relationships and a sense of curiosity about how we can do better to support movements and communities. Our donor members also have a deep interest in organizing their own families and networks to respond to movement funding needs and bring time-sensitive funding opportunities to their peers within the network.

PND: AGS gives donors a choice of four focus areas to invest in: providing direct general support to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups; investing in activist-led efforts to build shared movement infrastructure; helping organizations diversify their revenue streams and achieve financial sustainability; and supporting the efforts of movement groups to translate their cultural influence into policy change and actual legislation. Are you seeing donors gravitate to one area more than others, and if so, why might that be?

RB: We try to show our donors that these issue areas are all interrelated and therefore equally deserving of their attention. What we have seen with COVID-19 is that it has laid bare longstanding inequities caused by systems and policies robbing our communities of the resources they needed to be healthy and resilient — even during less challenging times than these. While some philanthropists and foundations have increased their giving to meet the needs of the moment, many of those initiatives do not address the root causes of how we got here in the first place.

We are heartened to see how deeply our members are committed to working together to eliminate racist attitudes, practices, and policies that harm working people and communities of color. We are also moved to see our donor members working internally and externally — and with humility and courage — with communities on the front lines of social change to provide the long-term, sustained support those communities need to liberate themselves — and all of us.

PND: Launched with the goal of raising $5 million by the end of August to strengthen the Black Lives Matter ecosystem, the Black Liberation Pooled Fund just received a $20 million commitment from the Packard Foundation. How does that commitment affect your plans for the fund, if at all, and what has been the response to date from other funders?

RB: Solidaire has been committed since its inception to supporting Black liberation work by cultivating authentic, just, and right relationships with Black-led organizations and community leaders. Packard's $20 million commitment to the Black Liberation Pooled Fund over the next five years is part of the foundation's five-year, $100 million commitment to improve its grantmaking in support of justice and equity. Solidaire will pool that money with other resources to support the ecosystem of Black-led social change organizations nationally, including groups working to strengthen multiracial alliances, innovate grassroots climate justice solutions, advance the decarceration and decriminalization of Black bodies, build regenerative economic models and community wealth strategies, nurture the leadership and capacity needs of movement organizations, and imagine and create a more democratic, pluralistic, feminist future.

The response to the fund clearly has exceeded our initial goal, but movement leaders are not slowing down, and neither are we. Much more remains to be done, and seven years in, our work is only just beginning. We will continue to push forward while remaining grounded in both the immediate and longer-term infrastructure-building needs of the movement.

PND: Solidaire believes that Black-led social change is not just about justice for Black communities but about broad and deep societal transformation for all. Can you elaborate on that idea?

RB: We have to remember that the exploitation of Black and Indigenous labor, lives, and wealth has gone on in this country for five hundred years. We are way overdue for an end to the fundamental inequities on which all institutions and systems in the United States are based. We also must remember that today's movement activists and leaders are just the newest link in a long chain of freedom lovers, liberation fighters, movement builders, and believers in humanity and a shared future. We are incredibly proud to be building on the work of all those who came before us. Supporting Black- and Indigenous-led social change advances racial and social justice for all people. The Black freedom struggle in the twentieth century resulted in advances for women, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants, and workers of all colors. Today, the work of visionary Black organizers and advocates is making broad systemic change — from defunding the police, to police-free schools, to the call for reparations and reinvestment in community well-being — not only possible but also imminent.

Fourteen years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a management advisor for a network of polytechnics, acting as a capacity builder with a network of youth-training institutions in rural Kenya. I witnessed first-hand the institutional barriers faced by farmers, teachers, and youth workers, all of whom exhibited tremendous moral leadership, as well as the condescension and harmful top-down interventions of well-intentioned philanthropists who inserted unequal power dynamics into local community processes. I saw how the wisdom, brilliance, stick-with-it-ness, and sustainable strategies of ordinary people working to transform local conditions were rarely acknowledged, let alone honored. And as a result of that experience, I resolved to use my position of privilege to exert greater influence on philanthropic behaviors and attitudes and to truly work in service of the communities that are organizing to change their circumstances. All of that continues to inform my work today with Solidaire.

— Kyoko Uchida

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