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'Toward sharing, ceding, and building political, economic, social, and cultural power': A Q&A with Cheryl Dorsey

August 18, 2021

Headshot_Echoing-Green-Cheryl-L-DorseyCheryl Dorsey has served as president of Echoing Green since 2002, after having received an Echoing Green Fellowship a decade earlier to help launch the Family Van, a community-based mobile health unit in Boston. In the interim, she served as a White House fellow and special assistant to the U.S. secretary of labor (1997-98) and as special assistant to the director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Labor Department (1998-99). More recently, she served as vice chair for the President's Commission on White House Fellowships (2009-17).

PND asked Dorsey about efforts to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, changes in philanthropic practice to advance racial equity, and Echoing Green's ongoing work to create a support network for social entrepreneurs of color working to create a more just, sustainable, and equitable future for all. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: Since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted myriad structural inequities — for example, the impact on essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color and who also have limited access to health care — and the police killing of George Floyd ignited demonstrations calling for racial justice nationwide, the philanthropic sector has had to reckon with the role that many foundations have played in helping to perpetuate an inequitable system. As a woman of color leading a grantmaking public charity, how do you assess philanthropy's efforts at self-examination?

Cheryl Dorsey: [...] The ongoing global pandemic and moment of racial reckoning have certainly challenged philanthropy to reform old ways of working. There have been important and positive signs of momentum. Last year, more than eight hundred organizations signed a Council on Foundations pledge to eliminate burdens in grantmaking by implementing flexible and unrestricted models of giving. And more than four hundred funders have signed the Groundswell Fund open letter, authored by people of color-led public foundations, calling on funders to direct resources to grassroots racial justice movements and organizations. However, changes in funding behavior and capital flows are happening much too slowly. Though philanthropy deployed a record-breaking amount in funds after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these funds failed to reach the communities of color most affected by the pandemic at a critical time. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid found that only 23 percent of dollars distributed in 2020 were explicitly designated for persons and communities of color globally. This number drops down to 13 percent when looking specifically at institutional philanthropy.

To ensure that this momentum of change is sustained, there must be a fundamental transformation of philanthropic norms and practices toward sharing, ceding, and building political, economic, social, and cultural power for racial equity leaders and communities of color. As we think about meeting this moment, we are witnessing retrenchment and backlash from inequitable systems including declining support for the Black Lives Matter movement and mounting restrictions on Black voting rights. The enduring assaults on our collective liberation require urgent action and staying on course, but they also require accountability and forward-thinking. What are the structures and systems we can put in place now to ensure that we remain resilient when met with the inevitable backlash?...

Read the full Q&A with Cheryl Dorsey.

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