64 posts categorized "author-Kyoko Uchida"

'Building political power at a grassroots level': A Q&A with Romilda Avila, CEO, Tides Advocacy

September 22, 2021

Headshot_Romilda_Avila_Tides_croppedRomilda Avila is CEO of Tides Advocacy (formerly the Advocacy Fund), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization working with a network of fiscally sponsored 501(c)(4) projects and funds to strengthen political infrastructure and support power building and policy reform led by those most impacted by injustice. To that end, the organization provides capacity-building support, grantmaking support, and advising services to incubate advocacy initiatives. Avila served as Tides Advocacy's deputy director from 2017 to 2019 and as interim CEO before being appointed CEO in April 2020; she previously worked as a social impact consultant advising national foundations on grantmaking strategies for advancing social justice and equity.

PND asked Avila about Tides Advocacy's commitment to and process of becoming a pro-Black organization, the Political Movement Infrastructure Project, and the role of grassroots organizations in power building. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: You were officially appointed CEO not long after the COVID-19 crisis began in the United States. How did your priorities for the organization shift as a result of the pandemic and its economic fallout?

Romilda Avila: Last year, when the pandemic hit, movement folks had to restructure in the moment; in the middle of organizing in the field, they had to transition to lockdown and figure out technology and community engagement. We rallied and were able to give $150,000 through our internal Resilience Fund to highly impacted partners to make sure that they were able to sustain themselves and their salaries and support healing justice and programming while facing an uncertain future. It was the first time that Tides Advocacy has done this type of grantmaking.

We're also supporting more organizations in terms of (c)(4) funding and inspiring folks to do more political work in the off-season. Through our Healthy Democracy Action Fund, during an important election year, we had an opportunity to work with a great donor who allowed us to support almost fifty organizations through nearly $6 million in grants. Almost $2.1 million went to Black-led organizations organizing in the South and the Midwest, and the rest went to Native, Latinx, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities. We're also looking to go deeper with leaders and organizations working on LGBTQ rights — particularly trans issues — and immigrant rights, disability rights, and more, so we can support all people directly impacted by injustice in organizing and building political power at a grassroots level....

Read the full Q&A with Romilda Avila.

'We understood what it meant to be silenced, afraid, and vulnerable': A Q&A with Mónica Ramírez

July 26, 2021

Headshot_Monica Ramirez_Justice_for_Migrant_WomenMónica Ramírez is an organizer, attorney, social entrepreneur, and founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, whose work includes policy advocacy, civic and political engagement, public awareness and education campaigns, narrative shift initiatives, and multi-sector and multi-ethnic power-building collaborations. For two decades she has worked to protect the civil and human rights of women, children, workers, Latinos/as, and immigrants and to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity, launching Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Legal Initiative at the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2003. Ramírez also is co-founder of the Latinx House and Alianza Nacional de Campesinos, where she served as board president until 2018.

In our latest '5 Questions for...' feature, PND spoke with Ramírez about the intersectionality of women's, farmworkers', and immigrants' rights; the impact of COVID-19 on farmworkers; and the Healing Voices program. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: You're credited with helping to galvanize the TIME'S UP movement against sexual harassment by publishing the "Dear Sisters" letter on behalf of farmworker women, addressed to women in the entertainment industry. What factors put migrant farmworkers at particularly high risk of sexual harassment, in both similar and disparate ways from women in Hollywood?

Mónica Ramírez: Women of color have historically been left out of the narratives featured in TV shows or movies, much less given the opportunities to feel safe and comfortable enough to bring to light their traumas and seek justice — and the same can be said for farmworker and migrant women. Most people don't realize that migrant women suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace at the hands of supervisors, recruiters, co-workers, and others. They are more vulnerable, as they're employed in small workplaces like private homes and small farms, sometimes with fewer than fifteen workers. And as these women are not covered by existing federal anti-sexual harassment law, they're particularly vulnerable to harm without any recourse to seek justice. To make matters worse, many are afraid to speak out about any incidents of sexual harassment that take place due to fear of deportation, being fired, or having their hard-earned wages taken away....We understood what it meant to be silenced, afraid, and vulnerable....

Read the full Q&A with Mónica Ramírez.

5 Questions for...Marisa Franco, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Mijente

May 31, 2021

Marisa Franco is co-founder and executive director of Mijente and the Mijente Support Committee, a Latinx and Chicanx advocacy organization and digital and grassroots organizing hub. Founded in 2015, Mijente's campaigns have resulted in a number of electoral victories, including the defeat of Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016 and the mobilization of record numbers of Latinx voters in Georgia and other battleground states in the 2020 presidential election.

Prior to founding Mijente, Franco served as national campaign organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and as lead organizer for the Right to the City Alliance. Earlier this month, Franco was elected to the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

PND spoke with Franco about the politics of immigration enforcement, police violence against people of color, and philanthropy's role in supporting social movements.

Headshot_marisa_franco_mijentePhilanthropy News Digest: Given the growth of the Latinx population in the United States over the last few decades, it's no surprise that Latinx voters are going to the polls in record numbers. From your perspective, what are the factors driving greater voter participation in the Latinx community? And what are some of the obstacles to even higher levels of participation?

Marisa Franco: So much attention was given to the 2020 elections, and Latinx people, across the political spectrum, were definitely impacted. Like many communities, Latinx folks were witness to both the actions of those in elected office during the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, and many turned out to vote as a result. It was also the year Latinx people became the largest "majority-minority" group in the United States and came into its own politically. That said, last year was a sort of snapshot of the good, bad, and ugly of where our community stands with respect to realizing its own political power, and there is still much work to be done to nurture and grow our voter engagement. The challenge, in my opinion, is that if Latinos and Latinas don't see real change in their own lives, they will not feel the need to vote.

PND: Earlier this year, Mijente and the We Are Home campaign launched Eyes on ICE: Truth & Accountability Forums, an initiative to collect testimonies that shed light on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's current practices and policies, spotlight the stories of those who have organized to protest those practices and policies, and share solutions designed to address the worst abuses. How do you hope those testimonies will shape the Biden administration's immigration policies going forward?

MF: There is no question that immigrants were a primary target of the Trump administration. Biden campaigned to restore the soul of America — and immigrants undeniably should be included in that effort. With the Eyes on ICE campaign, we wanted to provide an outlet for people directly affected to register their experience with immigration officials. This information will be critical as the current administration reviews the scope and conduct of officials in the Department of Homeland Security. And, going forward, the participation and engagement of immigrant communities will be critical to undoing the harms of the past several years.

PND: The Mijente Support Committee's #NoTechForICE campaign calls "on every tech company that works with ICE to immediately halt its support for the agency." Are you seeing results from the campaign?

MF: Yes, we are seeing greater organizing efforts among tech workers, students, and shareholders. And it wouldn't have been possible if not for the research, advocacy, and campaigning we and our allies have done to bring public awareness to issues of surveillance. There is growing pressure across the globe to hold technology companies accountable for their actions, including companies that are positioning themselves inside the immigrant and criminal justice system; that is a key addition to the conversation around transparency and accountability.

PND: You've said the Marguerite Casey Foundation can help "seed the next iteration of social movement and organizing ecosystems" and lead the way forward for the philanthropic sector with respect to both supporting and operating with the same nimbleness as social movements. What would that look like? And what steps should foundations be taking to better align their strategies with the social movements they support?

MF: To me it looks like having a practice of being in dialogue and relationship with local leaders and organizations and developing a sense of emerging strategies and an organic network to local leaders. It is finding people doing good work and supporting them to do it better or at a larger scale.

PND: In your view, what should philanthropy be focused on with respect to Latinx communities? And what issues in the broader Latinx community are underfunded?

MF: Philanthropy has a lot of options it can choose from. One of our challenges at Mijente has been that at times it has felt like there are too many opportunities on the table. Youth are key, especially given that the average age of a Latinx person in the U.S. is approximately twenty-seven, making us one of the youngest demographic cohorts in the country. Because of what happened in the last election cycle, I also believe it's important to look at how we can counter mis- and disinformation directed at Latinx Spanish-speaking communities.

—Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Frances Sykes, President and CEO, Pascale Sykes Foundation

April 27, 2021

For much of its existence, the New Jersey-based Pascale Sykes Foundation has worked to strengthen low-income working families in the New Jersey/New York region through what it calls the Whole Family Approach, a preventive (as opposed to crisis-driven) strategy that helps family members, both adults and children, support one another in achieving their long-term goals. With the understanding that financial stability, healthy relationships, and physical well-being are linked, families are matched with a coach who works alongside family members to identify and set their goals; ensure they have the resources and tools needed to achieve those goals; and connect them to a network of agencies able to deliver holistic, coordinated support. The approach has been applied in various settings and with immigrant families, foster youth, and families dealing with members who are re-entering society from the criminal justice system.

The foundation's work extends into other areas as well. After rural families in southern New Jersey identified transportation as a major challenge, the foundation supported an initiative known as Transportation Plus, which provides residents of the region with connections to NJ Transit. And through its Economic Initiative, a partnership with a community development financial institution, the foundation invests in a series of low-interest loan funds for small businesses and nonprofits in the region.

Frances P. Sykes has led the foundation since its founding in 1992. In 1995, Pascale Sykes trustees voted to sunset the foundation by 2022. PND spoke with Sykes about the foundation's Whole Family Approach, where things stand with the spend-down process, and her hopes for the field.

Headshot_frances_sykesPhilanthropy News Digest: You've said you created the Pascale Sykes Foundation with two intentions: to serve working low-income families that aren't eligible for many safety-net services, and to help reshape the way social services in the United States are delivered. How did you come to settle on those two objectives?

Frances Sykes: When I was teaching, I witnessed a working family struggle to get help for their eleven-year-old, who was in danger of going down the wrong path. The family made too much to qualify for free supportive services, and under a sliding scale they would have been asked to pay more than they could afford. They were stuck, whereas a middle-class family in the same situation more than likely would've been able to afford to pay out of pocket for counseling and other services for their child. It wasn't fair that the issue the child was experiencing wasn't severe enough, or that the family wasn't poor enough, to allow them to access the resources they needed. Far too many families are in that same position — living one step above the poverty line and lacking access to the kinds of support they need. I wanted my work to be a part of the solution to that challenge — to help build a bridge between what families need and the agencies that have the resources to empower them.

The Whole Family Approach evolved over ten years. By working alongside grantees, Pascale Sykes trustees, staff, and grantees could see what made a lasting difference in families' long-term well-being. And we also came to realize that families know what they want and are capable of achieving it if they are taught how to navigate the system. It's not complicated. Adults in charge. Financial stability, relationships, and physical/social/emotional health reinforcing each other. What happens to one person affects the entire family, and what happens to the family affects each individual within it. Root causes must be addressed or problems recur.

The approach turns traditional social work on its head. In our approach, social workers are no longer expected to fix problems or work with individuals in isolation or address isolated issues. Instead, coaches work to build trust and walk alongside every member of the family as they work to achieve their self-defined goals.

PND: A critical component of the Whole Family Approach is the requirement that two "dependable adult caregivers are actively engaged with the children in the family." Why is it important that two adults be involved?

FS: All families look different. But every adult needs someone to call or turn to in an emergency, or just to share good news with. The second adult not only supports the primary caregiver but is an additional support system for children in the family as well. And that's a win-win for everyone. The stronger the support system, the healthier the family and the more likely its members will reach their shared goals.

PND: A July 2020 report that examined the results achieved by eight collaboratives using the Whole Family Approach found that participating families were in a better position to handle the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis because of the stronger familial ties they had forged and the access they had to support networks, even though they still experienced anxiety and mental health issues in addition to the stressors they were facing pre-pandemic. Are you seeing any evidence that the field in general is shifting toward this type of strategy? And looking down the road five to ten years, where do you see challenges to more widespread adoption of the approach?

FS: The field has been shifting for a few years. You see variations of the Whole Family Approach promoted by larger funders like Kellogg, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and other high-profile organizations under names like "2Gen" or "Intergenerational Approach."

I really see no challenges to its adoption by others in the field — even if others give it another name and make it their own. It's a proven approach that we know works better for families. Our research has shown that adults have less financial stress, that ties between adults in a family are strengthened, that children's health and educational achievement improve, and that the academic aspirations of both adults and children are raised. In the time remaining before we officially sunset later this year, the foundation is on a mission to raise awareness of the approach and to get others to embrace it. We believe it can advance the field and put more of our working families on a path to stability.

PND: The foundation's approach emphasizes collaboration — among family members, nonprofits, and human services agencies, and between the foundation and its partners. In a 2019 post for our blog, you urged funders to shift their grantmaking so as to foster more collaboration and less competition among grantees. What are your thoughts about the state of collaboration in the social sector today?

FS: The competition for limited resources has resulted in a fragmented approach to service provision that undermines the value of those services for families in need. Too often, families are forced to start from scratch in their efforts to access services, filling out the same form multiple times for multiple agencies, then receiving a separate set of recommendations from each of those agencies. What's more, different agencies often will offer differing and/or conflicting advice. Families become overwhelmed. Parents become frustrated, unable to prioritize and plan their next steps. Children feel the lack of stability and bear the brunt of its effects. It's also difficult for busy family members to build solid, trusting relationships with representatives from multiple agencies.

We believe collaboration is key. That's what the Whole Family Approach is all about. To maximize their effectiveness, funders, nonprofits, and agencies that have bought into the approach capture and share information about their clients' goals, progress, and life changes in a centralized database, enabling partner agencies to see families as holistic entities with their own unique challenges, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Instead of operating individually, agencies begin to see other nonprofits in the collaboration not as competitors but as teammates they can lean on to organize priorities, share resources, and advance their mutual goals and objectives.

The more foundations see the benefits of the Whole Family Approach, the greater the chances we'll be able to change the system so that it is more efficient and effective in helping families thrive.

PND: In 1996, your board voted to sunset the foundation within thirty years, and in 2009 a non-trustee workgroup researched and set up plans for the spend-down process. How much of an impact has your status as a limited-life foundation had on your grantmaking strategies? And would you recommend the approach to others who may be thinking about establishing a private foundation?

FS: Being a limited-life foundation is necessary for any small foundation that wants to create real change. Change requires the flexibility to respond to unexpected situations. This can only happen if a funder is focused on making change, not preserving the corpus.

The decision to sunset was based on two key factors. First, the decision to make a large impact was critical, and distributing 5 percent to 6 percent of our investment income each year simply would not accomplish that goal. And second, when we started, the Whole Family Approach was not well known. Thirty years later, we're proud of the fact that more foundations and organizations are implementing a version of the approach, and that it is leading to greater impact. I have no doubt the approach will be accepted more broadly. And when it is, instead of shifting into a new focus area or something less relevant to us, we'll be able to say we accomplished our mission.

We look forward to more funders picking up the mantle and moving this work forward in their own way. And I highly recommend our grantmaking strategy and the Whole Family Approach as a way forward for others who want to make a big impact in a particular way.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Carly Bad Heart Bull, Executive Director, Native Ways Federation

April 13, 2021

Carly Bad Heart Bull joined the Native Ways Federation (NWF) in April 2020 as its executive director. Launched in 2006 in Longmont, Colorado, by the American Indian College Fund, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Association on American Indian Affairs, First Nations Development Institute, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, and Running Strong for American Indian Youth, NWF is focused on activating and expanding informed giving to Native-led organizations through donor education and advocacy. To that end, NWF is working to bring together Native organizations and raise awareness and support for the communities they serve, strengthen Native nonprofits, and ensure the highest levels of ethical standards and fiscal responsibility across the sector.

Prior to joining NFW, Bad Heart Bull, who is Bdewakantunwan Dakota/Muskogee Creek and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, managed the Bush Foundation's work with twenty-three Native nations across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and served on an advisory committee for the Investing in Native Communities portal, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. She holds a juris doctorate and previously served as an assistant county attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in Minneapolis; led a successful campaign to restore the Dakota name of the city's largest lake, Bde Maka Ska; and in 2019 was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a Community Leadership Network Fellow.

PND asked her about the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, Native efforts to address climate change, and the role of language in racial equity efforts.

Headshot_Carly_Bad_Heart_Bull_Native_Ways_Federation_KelloggPhilanthropy News Digest: Native American communities have experienced disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates than the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. To what do you attribute those disparities?

Carly Bad Heart Bull: COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, and Native people are at an especially heightened risk because of numerous factors, including limited access to quality health services, inadequate housing, lack of access to clean and safe water, and other infrastructure issues. Native people are also more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other underlying conditions that put them at significant risk.

All these community issues connect back to the U.S. government's failure to comply with historical treaty obligations to fund basic services in exchange for tribal land. The impacts of colonization continue to have detrimental effects on our nations and our people. Our tribes and Native-led organizations are working hard to address these issues, and many of them are doing amazing innovative work. However, they need increased funding and supports in order to most effectively serve their communities. This need existed before the pandemic and it's even greater now. For example, many of our Native language speakers, the majority being elders, have died in the past year from COVID-19. Our Indigenous languages are central to who we are as Native people; they embody the essence of our cultures and teach us Indigenous worldviews and ways of being that connect us to one another and to the land. Assimilation efforts by the U.S. government, including education policies such as the development and implementation of boarding schools and relocation policies, were aimed at disconnecting our people from these important cultural resources. Language teachers and advocates in our communities have been working hard to revitalize our languages for years. It's imperative that this work continues and grows — now more than ever — as we have even fewer fluent speakers to learn from due to the pandemic.

I would also note that we don't yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, in part because of the issue of inaccurate and misclassified data as it relates to our communities. It's an important story that needs to be better understood and addressed.

PND: How has philanthropy, both Native-based and more broadly, responded to the needs of Indigenous communities during the pandemic? Have you seen an increase in philanthropic investments in Native communities?

CBHB: Philanthropy responded quickly in many respects. Many foundations increased their giving amounts, and we saw a large number of foundations reduce restrictions on existing and new grants, providing opportunities for organizations to adapt appropriately and use their grant funds in ways that best served the people and communities they were intended to serve during these unprecedented times. At the same time, I've talked to Native nonprofit leaders who lost revenue they depended on because they weren't able to host fundraising events, and in many cases increased philanthropic support hasn't made up for those losses.

That said, I do think the data will show an uptick in funding — a response, in my view, not only to the impacts of the virus but to the greater call to action on behalf of Native communities and communities of color sparked by the murder of George Floyd. We are still not where we need to be, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

One thing I am concerned about is whether any increase in funding for Native communities will be sustained, or just be a one-time philanthropic reaction. I hope the answer is the former. I hope that foundations continue to pay attention to the underlying infrastructure issues that resulted in Native people and communities being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and that support for tribes and Native-led organizations continues to increase and not decline as the COVID-19 numbers start to fall. Philanthropy needs to support systemic change efforts that are led and guided by Native people so that our people not only survive, but can thrive in a post-COVID world.

PND: According to data compiled by Investing in Native Communities, large U.S. foundations have allocated just 0.4 percent of their total annual grantmaking to Native American communities and causes since 2006. What, in your opinion, are the factors behind the lack of funding for Native communities, and what is the Native Ways Federation doing to address it?

CBHB: That's correct, and that's also despite the fact that Native peoples comprise 2 percent of the U.S. population and, even more importantly, are the original people of this land. That same analysis found that only 20 percent of large foundations give to Native communities or causes at all. There are multiple factors at play here, and one of the biggest issues is that of invisibility. This country has done a terrible job of educating the broader population about Native history and people. A 2019 NCAI report found that 87 percent of state history standards include no mention of Native American history post-1900, and twenty-seven states don't even mention Native peoples in their K-12 curriculum. According to the dominant narrative, we are a people of the past. But the fact is, we are still here and we matter. There is really important work happening, much of it led by Native nonprofits, to lift up Native visibility and perspectives with a focus on truth-telling and healing.

I've done quite a bit of speaking on the importance of increased philanthropic support for Native organizations and tribes, and one of the responses I've heard too many times to count is, "We'd love to help, but we don't have a program for that." While intentional programs for funding Native communities are great, they aren't always necessary. It's more than likely that any area a foundation is investing in — whether that be education, health, the environment, economic development — is an area where Native organizations and tribes are doing important, necessary work, and that work should be supported.

NWF is working to address these issues in multiple ways. Our seven founding member organizations started coming together a number of years ago in part to address the lack of philanthropic funding for Native-led organizations and the fact that we were seeing a large percentage of funding intended for Native communities actually going to non-Native organizations. It's still a problem. A large part of NWF's work is focused on donor education and advocacy in support of Native-led nonprofits, because we know that we are best situated to effectively serve our communities. And we are further developing our collective voice in philanthropic spaces to hold foundations accountable and to strengthen the Native nonprofit sector on our own terms.

I came to NWF with experience as a Native program officer, and I hope to build on some of that previous work. For example, at the Bush Foundation we did a major analysis of our grantmaking in Native communities and found that our coding practices were inconsistent and that our grantmaking data were not always accurate. This is a bigger philanthropic-sector issue that needs to be discussed more broadly. I actually believe that the 0.4 percent number is inflated — in large part as a result of foundation grant data inaccurately reported as "serving" Native communities. This may not even be intentional, but it needs to be addressed, and it's an area where we at NWF hope to do more work in influencing change within the sector.

PND: You've said that your earlier career as an assistant county attorney taught you "to speak a new language — the language of law and how to navigate systems of power," and that institutional philanthropy needs to develop a common language as it evolves "from a transactional to a relational practice." What kinds of things would such a common language address?

CBHB: For one, the grant coding issue I just discussed; there needs to be a more consistent sector-wide effort toward making sure that grant data is being accurately reported. Current grant reporting by foundations falsely benefit the foundations themselves rather than the communities they are trying to serve, as they may believe they are serving certain demographics at a rate that they are not. Data tell an important story — and there needs to be more conversation and movement toward making sure the story is being consistently and accurately shared.

Also, there needs to be an emphasis on relationship and trust building. That means taking care of one another and recognizing the roles that we each play in the broader effort toward realizing a healthier society. For too long, grantee organizations have been expected to learn the language of institutional philanthropy in order to receive funding, rather than foundations better understanding, and reflecting, the communities they serve. This type of transactional relationship is imbalanced, and it doesn't serve anyone well in the long run.

Native organizations work closely with the communities they serve, and they need to be appropriately resourced to do their work as effectively as possible. That means not only increasing funds but also increasing flexibility in terms of how foundations fund. It means increasing general operating support and trusting that we know best what to do with the funds. And it means reducing extensive reporting requirements — let us focus on the work rather than on writing detailed overburdensome reports. One thing it doesn't mean is that we don't have to communicate — we should be checking in, building relationships, and learning from one another.

PND: You've noted that Indigenous wisdom and ways of being are integral to the vitality of communities and the planet. How do you envision philanthropy's role at the intersection of racial and environmental justice? And what can it do, or do more of, to support Native advocacy for climate action?

CBHB: Philanthropy needs to increase support of Native-led environmental justice efforts — we will all be better for it. Native people are the original stewards of this planet, and the solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues we are facing — such as climate change — can be found within the ideologies and practical applications of Indigenous wisdom.

Yet very little of the philanthropic dollars that go to environmental justice efforts go to Native-led organizations or tribes. That needs to change. A great majority of the wealth in the philanthropic sector was accumulated at the expense of communities of color, Native nations and people, and the environment. The extraction of natural resources, the removal of Native people from their homelands, the use of forced labor — these violent extractive and transactional actions have had a detrimental effect on our communities and on the environment. Philanthropy needs to hold itself accountable for the destruction that has taken place in our homelands and they need to support Native-led environmental justice efforts working to protect, restore, and heal this planet while we still can.

I'm optimistic of the future because I need to be for my son. Our work to restore the Dakota name of the biggest lake in Minneapolis, Bde Maka Ska, was and is important because we are the original people of Mnistoa Makoce (aka Minnesota, or Where the Water Reflects the Sky); I want him to grow up knowing where he comes from and to be proud of who he is and of his people. Creating a better world for him, and for future generations yet to be born, is what keeps me going. My ancestors went through a lot so that I could be here, and now I have the responsibility to carry that legacy forward. It's also past time for non-Native people in this country, including in the philanthropic sector, to listen to and act in support of our Native nations and our Native-led organizations and efforts. We will all be better for it.

— Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Lisa Mensah, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

January 15, 2021

After serving for two years as under secretary of agriculture for rural development in the Obama administration, Lisa Mensah joined Opportunity Finance Networka leading network of community development financial institutions, as president and CEO in March 2017. In November, with a $100 million investment from Twitter, OFN announced the launch of the Finance Justice Fund, a socially responsible investment fund aimed at raising $1 billion in grant capital to address racial injustice and persistent poverty in the United States. 

PND asked Mensah about the initial response to the fund, the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of community development financial institutions, and the persistent lack of investment in rural communities.

Lisa_Mensah_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of response to the Finance Justice Fund have you gotten from corporate and philanthropic investors since the fund's launch in November? And are you on track to meet your fundraising goal?

Lisa Mensah: It's been wonderful to see the strong interest from both corporations and philanthropies in the work we're doing to finance justice. OFN is in discussion with potential new Finance Justice Fund investors; some of them are new to the CDFI industry and some are longtime partners. All understand that now is the moment to invest in Black and minority communities — the nationwide call for economic justice is louder and stronger than ever. We have a path to meeting our $1 billion goal and expect to announce new investment partners in the first quarter of 2021.  

PND: What was the genesis of the fund? Was it in the works before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and nationwide racial justice protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd last spring, or was it created in response to those twin crises? 

LM: Justice takes money, and CDFIs exist to finance justice. Our field started as a small grassroots movement to counter discrimination in banking and investing — the earliest CDFIs were created to provide financial services and support to people that banks wouldn't or couldn't serve. We've grown into a $222 billion industry that works to address longstanding disinvestment, the racial wealth gap, and persistent poverty by investing in people and communities left behind by mainstream finance. So the roots of the fund are really in our industry's history and unique role as community lenders. 

For years, OFN has been advocating for more public- and private-sector investment in communities underserved by mainstream finance. Since I joined OFN in 2017, we've been listening to our CDFIs and exploring new programs that would help the industry go bigger and bring new partners to our work. Then 2020 happened. 

The overlap of a pandemic-related economic crisis that disproportionally hurt low-income and minority communities and widespread calls for social justice put CDFIs front and center as a way to address both. The forces of 2020 — and interest from new corporate partners like Twitter — accelerated our plans. 

The Finance Justice Fund is just one result. In March 2020, OFN also welcomed Google as a partner: With OFN as the intermediary, the company is investing $170 million from its corporate treasury and $10 million from its philanthropic arm into CDFIs to help minority and women-owned small businesses. This mix of debt and grant capital is the type of investment we need to scale. 

PND: How has COVID-19 impacted OFN's and member CDFIs' programs and priorities? Are there lessons learned that might be applicable to the broader nonprofit sector?   

LM: The communities CDFIs serve are the communities that have been hurt most by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and so they have been very busy. 

From the very beginning of the crisis, OFN — the organization of thirty-five staff members and the network of more than three hundred CDFIs — understood the threat facing our communities and borrowers. In response, our member CDFIs have established new ways of providing services and support to borrowers. They have been proactive about easing the economic disruption for America's smallest, most vulnerable businesses, nonprofits, and homeowners, making loan accommodations, and standing up new loan programs. Many CDFIs have also helped small businesses adjust their business models to meet the new realities of stay-at-home mandates and changes in customer behavior. Our response from the beginning was focused on survival and recovery for our communities. 

One lesson for our industry and the broader nonprofit sector is that recovery from a major crisis demands partnerships, and that when those partnerships are strong we can move America forward. The last ten months have seen new partnerships with philanthropy, impact investors, corporations, and government. Never again should the CDFI field think of itself as insignificant. We must see ourselves as essential partners to the big work of having an economy that works for all. 

PND: The phrases "racial injustice" and "communities with high rates of poverty and disinvestment" are more often associated with urban, rather than rural, areas. What's behind that disconnect, and what are the implications — for rural communities in general, and for BIPOC residents of those communities in particular? 

LM: The truth is that racial injustice and high rates of poverty and disinvestment exist in both urban and rural areas. Persistent poverty in America — extreme poverty rates of more than 20 percent for more than thirty years — exists in more than ten thousand census tracts, roughly 14 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods. It has a strong hold in many rural communities: 19 percent of areas characterized by persistent poverty are rural, and millions of rural people live in persistent poverty. We also don't hear much about the racial diversity that exists in rural America. We don't think of Native communities or Black communities or Latino communities when we think about rural America, but these are vibrant and important populations in rural America.

I've focused on rural development for much of my professional life. One of the key questions is how to alleviate and begin to reverse the economic distress that has been driven by the systemic loss or contraction of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. The community developer's challenge is to find ways to create wealth and livelihoods by reinvigorating local economies and connecting to larger urban/regional markets. CDFIs do this but also retain a racial equity lens and are willing to make loans to the communities and people who have too often been ignored. This is true in both rural and urban areas. 

And, of course, rural and minority communities live under the double-edged sword of poverty and racism — they've suffered the most historically and suffer the most from crises like COVID-19, climate change, and economic upheaval. 

PND: Your career has spanned the private, public, and social sectors, and you've led collaborative efforts across all three sectors. What has been your North Star in your work over the years? And what are your hopes for the incoming Biden administration with respect to policies that support racial and economic justice?   

LM: Economic justice has been my North Star — for me, that means fighting for financial capital to reach all people and communities. Financial capital is the fuel that drives economic opportunity, and I'm on a lifelong journey to help make sure that the allocation of capital is inclusive. 

I have many hopes for the Biden administration. It is exciting to see the administration embrace a goal of advancing racial equity and then to define this goal as spurring investment in small business opportunities, investing in homeownership and access to affordable housing for Black, Brown, and Native families, and ensuring that racial equity is considered in federal procurement and federal investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture. These are all policies to which CDFIs have much to contribute.  

CDFIs understand that government policies helped create the racial wealth gap and government policies must help end it. In the last week of 2020, Congress passed a historic government investment in CDFIs as part of the most recent COVID relief bill: $12 billion for CDFIs and minority depository institutions (MDIs). This is a giant step forward for our industry and the communities we serve. But injustice is persistent and tenacious, and we won't undo it with one bold step.

So, I'm considering that federal investment as a down payment, and I hope we can build on it in the months and years to come.  

— Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Amoretta Morris, Director, National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

December 10, 2020

Amoretta Morris joined The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013 as a senior associate responsible for overseeing the Family-Centered Community Change initiative. In 2016, she was named director of the foundation's national community strategies, in which role she leads its efforts to help local partners and community stakeholders strengthen their neighborhoods.

Morris's portfolio includes Evidence2Success, which supports partnerships aimed at engaging elected officials, public agencies, and community members in efforts to improve child well-being; community safety and trauma-response initiatives in several cities, including Atlanta; and nationwide efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

Before joining the foundation, she served as director of student attendance for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw activities ranging from chronic absence interventions and dropout prevention initiatives to services for homeless students. Before that, she was a youth and education policy advisor in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the founding director and lead organizer for the Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, an advocacy group that works to mobilize youth and adults in support of juvenile justice reform.

PND spoke with Morris about how philanthropy can help advance community health and safety during a pandemic.

Headshot_amoretta_morris_aecfPhilanthropy News Digest: How does family-centered community change differ from other types of change strategies, especially with respect to community health and safety?

Amoretta Morris: Unlike other efforts that focus on one specific element, such as education or health, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative took a multipronged approach to improving family well-being in three key areas: family economic stability; parent engagement and leadership; and early child care and education. The initiative was built around the belief that both parents and children will have significantly better outcomes if communities are able to strengthen and combine these services instead of relying on a single intervention.

PND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the foundation's efforts to promote access to education, affordable housing, and employment opportunities? What have you and your colleagues done to adapt existing projects and/or strategies to address the immediate and/or longer-term impacts of the pandemic?

AM: The pandemic has created — and in many cases, exacerbated — educational, employment, and social pressures for young people and families. Knowing this, the foundation reallocated some of our funding, repurposed existing resources, amended grant agreements, and increased general operating support to our grantees so that they had flexibility to address the challenges their communities are facing.

In response, our partners adapted their strategies in creative ways to support kids and families. These efforts have included things like connecting people to health care; helping families access food and other critical resources; providing financial assistance to help keep families in their homes, as well as housing individuals experiencing homelessness and advocating to halt evictions and protect renters; working to prevent violence and support those affected by it; supporting immigrant families, including those who do not qualify for state or federal benefits; and helping students secure computers and the reliable Internet access they need for distance learning.

We know that communities are battling multiple pandemics simultaneously — COVID-19, economic distress, racial injustice, and gun violence — and that most of them, including COVID-19, will not immediately disappear, even with a vaccine. So, we remain focused on our commitment to young people and their families and the structural change needed to help all kids thrive.

PND: In 2012, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative implemented a new approach to community partnerships called strategic co-investing. The approach calls for the awarding of flexible grant funding, "nesting" an issue within an existing community change effort, and a rethinking of the funder-grantee relationship in which the funder serves as more of a strategic thought partner to its grantees rather than as the "buyer" of certain outcomes and deliverables. What are some of the lessons you've learned from the initiative — both for funders and for community partners?

AM: The strategic co-investor role with Family-Centered Community Change was a new way of working for the foundation — one that enabled us to examine the ways we engage with grantees, residents, and other local funders. Among many lessons, FCCC emphasized the importance of both systemic solutions that address structural barriers and targeted interventions with families and their children. Local leaders cannot "service" their way out of poverty — we need comprehensive policy solutions that create more equitable pathways to opportunity, coupled with services and resources that help children and their families achieve stability and thrive.

The strategic co-investor role also confirmed for us the catalytic effect national funding can have. Investment from a national foundation is often seen as a vote of confidence and can help partners secure additional funding from federal and state government, local funders, or other national philanthropies. And I believe that for our community partners, the work highlighted the critical importance of listening to the families they serve, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and leveraging them as partners.

PND: Your program at the foundation is focused on driving community change by providing a holistic suite of services to families. What are some of the things philanthropy can do to better support community members in designing and implementing their own strategies for improving community health and safety? What about gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for young Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 and has been on the rise since the early days of the pandemic in many parts of the country?

AM: At the Casey Foundation, we want all young people to have the power and resources needed to thrive in communities that are strong and safe. The foundation advances strategies to ensure that youth and families of color have what they need to flourish — safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and access to resources that promote children's well-being and positive development. To realize that vision, we, as funders, must be willing to build and share power with communities. Providing tools, resources, and trainings is part of the solution. We must also commit to more authentically engaging with and building the capacity of youth and their families to meaningfully contribute their experience and knowledge in the problem-solving process.

With regard to gun violence, we focus on community safety and violence prevention as part of our national community strategies. That work is rooted in the understanding that violence is a health crisis that must be solved through comprehensive, community-led interventions. For example, in Atlanta, one of our "hometowns," we're partnering with grassroots organizations to equip city residents with the tools and skills they need to be peacemakers and provide pathways out of violence. Our nonprofit partner CHRIS 180 is leading the charge by implementing Cure Violence, a public-health approach to address shootings; it treats shootings like an epidemic that must be stopped before spreading. Under that model, credible messengers — people with strong community ties — act to intervene when violence or retaliation is likely to occur, while community-based organizations that run the programs partner with various local actors like hospital staff, nonprofits, and other organizations to prevent additional violence.

We also invest in national networks focused on promoting solutions in which violence is treated as an urgent public health matter. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, for example, supports hospital-based intervention programs where healthcare staff and community organizations provide bedside counseling to patients who have experienced violent injuries with the aim of steering them away from retaliation. And national advocacy partners like the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute have launched campaigns that promote community intervention strategies and demand accountability from elected officials for ending gun violence in their communities.

But we're not alone in this work. We also invest in these efforts alongside our peers as members of the Fund for a Safer Future, a funder collaborative that supports policy, research, and community-based interventions aimed at preventing gun violence.

PND: You've led a nonprofit coalition that advocates for juvenile justice reform, a municipal government's efforts to support underserved and homeless students, and now a national foundation's strategy to center community change in families. Based on your experience in different sectors, what is the one thing we can do to improve child well-being and flourishing, for all children?

AM: The throughline is equity. No matter where the starting place is, your approach should center the voices and experience of those most directly affected by the issue you are trying to solve. In juvenile justice reform, it was organizing alongside formerly incarcerated youth and their families. In DC Public Schools, it meant listening to homeless students, parents, and the school counselors who were making herculean efforts to support those students and parents. And in philanthropy, it is all about deeply listening to grantees, walking neighborhoods, and having community residents take the lead. When you start with the people closest to the pain of the problem, they will lead you to the solution.

Kyoko Uchida

A conversation with Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

November 04, 2020

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination — and likely confirmation — of Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the court have intensified the debate over women's reproductive rights, while the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and nationwide protests against systemic racism have highlighted the challenges faced by girls and women of color.

Teresa C. Younger has served as president and CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women since 2014 and before that was executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut — the first African American and the first woman to hold that position.

PND spoke recently with Younger about the underfunding of organizations focused on women and girls of color, the impact of COVID-19 and the reenergized racial justice movement on funding for women and girls, and the outlook for women's reproductive rights and equality.

Teresa C. YoungerPhilanthropy News Digest: Before she was named to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the founding director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and an inspiration to gender equality advocates everywhere. What did Justice Ginsburg mean to you, a woman and fellow ACLU alumna, and to an organization like the Ms. Foundation? And what do you think her legacy will be?

Teresa C. Younger: Justice Ginsburg's legacy was being a progressive woman who dedicated her life to making sure the voices of the unheard were heard. She fought every day for equality for all. This fight continues beyond her lifetime.

Justice Ginsburg's work spanned decades. When I started at the ACLU thirty years after her time with the Women's Rights Project, it wasn't surprising that her impact was still felt in that space. And it was an honor to work in a place that had spawned strategic activism for so many. For me, the ACLU fostered a deep understanding of the importance of grassroots organizing, litigation strategy, public education, and legislation on a state and national level.

Her legacy also lies in her dying wish for the American people to have a say in who fills her seat on the court. At a time when millions of people have already cast their ballots, the GOP is rushing a candidate through an illegitimate hearing process in a desperate attempt to hold on to their power. They are doing all they can to erase the powerful legacy of a powerful woman. A legacy that we will carry forward in the fight for racial and gender equity for all.

PND: In August, the Ms. Foundation received a $3 million grant from Twitter and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey's #startsmall LLC in support of women and girls of color-led organizations impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on those in the South. Why are organizations in the South especially vulnerable, and how will those funds be allocated?

TCY: Even before the communities we serve were affected by COVID-19, the Ms. Foundation worked to fund and support capacity building for women-of-color leaders and their organizations. We've developed and implemented strategies that will help mitigate the mounting impacts of the global pandemic on the most underresourced regions of the country, specifically the South.

In our recent report, Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less, we found the total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is just $5.48 a year for each woman or girl of color in the United States. And this meager funding is not distributed evenly, with the South receiving only $2.36 in philanthropic funding per woman or girl of color, the least of any region in the U.S. Given such inadequate investment and the obstacles women and girls have faced in 2020, we see it as our job to safeguard the survival of organizations that build the power of women and girls, specifically women and girls of color, and to make sure women and girls of color receive the resources they need to lead and uplift their communities.

PND: What kind of impact do you think COVID-19 is going to have on the foundation's work over the next year or three? Do you think those changes are temporary or more likely to be permanent?

TCY: To be clear, COVID-19 is not solely responsible for the crises we face today. Instead, it has exposed and heightened systemic inequalities across the United States. Preexisting health, economic, and social disparities have been laid bare as people of color are infected and die at higher rates than other groups, suffer from higher unemployment rates and a corresponding lack of health care, and struggle to secure access to safe and socially distanced housing.

Grassroots leaders and our grantee-partners were already working to address these issues pre-pandemic. COVID-19 hasn't changed the work, but it has increased the urgency behind it. And the longer our political leaders fail to take action to protect the health and safety of struggling Americans, the more this is likely to become the new normal. Given that uncertainty, the leadership of grassroots women of color-led organizations is needed more than ever. The lived experiences and expertise of those most impacted by health and economic disparities is absolutely critical in developing and implementing solutions that best serve our communities.

PND: According to Pocket Change, just 0.5 percent of total foundation grantmaking in 2017 was designated to benefit women and girls of color. In the wake of George Floyd's death and the renewed attention on the long history of racial injustice in the U.S., do you expect we’ll see a meaningful increase in funding for women and girls of color?

TCY: Even as many people are experiencing a social justice awakening, it is imperative that actions go beyond lip service and social media posts. This is a movement and not a moment, and it is critical that we see an increase in funding, especially for women and girls of color. Pocket Change was a call to action; by highlighting the major discrepancies in philanthropic giving, we are calling on everyone, not just philanthropy, to invest in women and girls of color.

Women and girls of color have been on the frontlines of every major social movement in our history, and they are still leading today. This is why I joined the powerful leaders of Black Girl Freedom Fund and was a co-founder of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. When we show up for women and girls of color, we are making the country better and stronger for everyone.

PND: "Intersectionality" has become something of a buzzword in the social sector. Do you think we'll see a shift toward more funding in support of such strategies over the next couple of years?

TCY: In the words of Audre Lorde, there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. As we explained in the Pocket Change report, women of color-led organizations work on multiple issues within multiple movements. As philanthropists, it's on us to understand that organizations employ various strategies to address various systems of oppression. We must trust and understand that the women on the ground doing this work every day know the best way to fight for their communities.

Real progress is realized when it uplifts all communities that exist on the margins. The Ms. Foundation's efforts are actively and intentionally interconnected as it strives to create a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age.

PND: You're a member of the Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, which helped select the ten African American-led racial justice organizations that received multiyear commitments from the collaborative. Can you tell us a little about the criteria and the selection process involved?

TCY: It was an honor to be part of Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, especially in this moment. Together, members of the group are working to push philanthropy to make multiyear commitments and help stabilize grassroots organizations led by people of color at a time when the stability of such groups is in jeopardy.

With the aim of disrupting traditional philanthropy, we identified and vetted ten exemplary Black-led organizations to receive funding. The cohort includes groups committed to building sustainable local power, reimagining safety, amplifying the voices of disenfranchised voters, and prioritizing Black, LGBTQI+, youth, disabled, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated leadership. The DFF slate illustrates that change happens at the speed of trust, and no organization can effectively tackle our society’s problems without including those disproportionately affected by those problems.

PND: In 2018, the Ms. Foundation announced a five-year strategic plan focused on supporting women and girls of color as a means to promote gender equity and advance democracy. The plan called for the creation of a 501(c)(4) fund in support of local grassroots efforts to elect women and advance legislation and policies. Where does that effort stand?

TCY: We created the Ms. Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) that funds grassroots activism in marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities. At a time when our rights and lives are on the line, we are excited about the potential of supporting women candidates across the country who can have an impact at the local, state, and national levels. We'll be kicking off and intensifying our state-level actions in 2021.

PND: The 2020 Social Progress Index from the Social Progress Imperative has the U.S. as one of just three countries whose overall social progress score has worsened since 2011, with relatively low rankings in the areas of women's property rights (fifty-seventh among a hundred and sixty-three countries), early marriage (fiftieth), and equality of political power by socioeconomic position (eighty-fourth), social group (forty-ninth), and gender (forty-fifth). A century after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, what would you tell people who fear that progress toward achieving equal rights and opportunity for women has stalled?

TCY: Let that fear drive you rather than derail you. Let your frustration be your fuel in the fight for equity for all.

When you see injustice, take that moment to consider who you are fighting for and question whether your feminism goes beyond your lived experience. True equality is about making sure everyone has a seat at the table and is listened to when they speak. It's about making sure we all have the same rights, not just on paper, but in practice. It is about making sure we have autonomy over our bodies, the lives we lead, and the opportunities we are afforded. It is about making sure we all have the right to live with dignity. True equality requires vigilance, resilience, empathy and support. It depends on our collective power, because when we take action together, we achieve more than any one person could ever achieve alone.

Kyoko Uchida

A conversation with Mari Kuraishi, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund

October 06, 2020

Mari Kuraishi came to prominence as president of GlobalGiving, which she co-founded with her husband, Dennis Whittle, in 2002. During her time there, the crowdfunding platform facilitated over $514 million in giving by more than a million donors to twenty-seven thousand projects around the world. In 2011, Kuraishi, who previously had worked at the World Bank, where she spearheaded the launch of the Development Marketplace, was named one of Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers for "crowdsourcing worldsaving." Since January 2019, she has served as president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Jacksonville, Florida.

PND recently spoke with Kuraishi — who chaired the board of GuideStar before it combined with Foundation Center in 2019 to form Candid and then served as co-chair of the Candid board during its first year — about the impact of crowdfunding on the global development landscape, her work at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and what she has learned about the social sector's response to urgent problems.

Mari_kuraishi_jessie_ball_dupontPhilanthropy News Digest: After seeing firsthand through your work at the World Bank the difficulty local officials and social entrepreneurs often had in securing funding for their development projects, you and your husband co-founded the world's first crowdfunding platform. Back then, what made you think individuals in developed countries would be willing to participate directly in the funding of such projects?

Mari Kuraishi: That is a very good question, because back in 2000 when we left the World Bank there actually was very little evidence that people were ready to give online, let alone to projects based thousands of miles away. To be sure, many generous donors existed, giving to brand-name NGOs like CARE, Oxfam, or the International Red Cross, but even those organizations were not yet online. Still, we were convinced that individual donors would give if they had a platform through which to do it. We were also sure that changes in technology would transform people's sense of proximity, and we knew that proximity was a key driver of generosity. What we weren't so sure about was how quickly it would happen.

PND: How has the popularity of crowdfunding and crowdfunding sites changed the international development landscape in the last dozen years or so?

MK: That's a little harder to calculate. Crowdfunding has definitely transformed giving in the U.S. since we founded GlobalGiving; online giving now represents almost a tenth of giving overall, starting from almost zero in 2000. That means more than $4 billion flowed through online giving platforms in 2019. What part of that $4 billion goes to international development projects, I can't tell you. But I do know this: in 2002, when we put up the first version of our website, we processed $25,000 in donations. This year it looks like GlobalGiving will process close to $100 million in donations to thousands of project leaders all over the world.

PND: While you were at GlobalGiving, the organization developed a framework of core values that included things like "always open" and "listen, act, learn, repeat." The emphasis on listening, on solutions developed by those on the front lines, and on continuous improvement through evidence-based learning has been adopted by many other nonprofits and foundations in recent years. Do you think what appears to be a gradual shift away from top-down funding models to more bottom-up crowdsourced models is here to stay?

MK: You're speaking right to my confirmation bias. I'm the woman who thought online giving was around the corner at the end of the year 2000. Yes, I think respecting the problem-solving capacities of communities and local leaders is here to stay. Not only are we seeing hashtags like #shiftthepower, we're seeing movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women's March come to the fore, so I cannot help but think that citizen leadership is on the rise. And perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but it's not necessarily a shift away from top-down to bottom-up, so much as there is a scope for both types of leadership and action — just in different contexts.

PND: You are a firm believer in using data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. Is the sector making progress in that area, and what are some of the challenges that may be slowing that progress?

MK: Yes, I think we are making progress in the use of data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. First, data is easier and cheaper to collect and analyze; we have technology to thank for that. Second, we have emerging standards for what data matters — ranging from the philosophical, conceptual, and qualitative frameworks provided by movements like Leap Ambassadors, centered around the Leap of Reason initiative launched by Mario Morino, to the specific and granular, like the GuideStar/Candid Exchange profile. All of this creates a way for organizations to benchmark their own status and progress. I see three challenges in this regard: first, data scientists are still scarce and expensive in the social sector; second, not as many funders understand how to interpret the data, which means that sometimes we don't make the jump into trust-based philanthropy as readily as we might; and, finally, not everyone agrees that the corollary to greater transparency from nonprofits is more unrestricted funding.

PND: What is your take on how COVID-19 is impacting charitable giving in general and crowdfunding for development projects in particular?

MK: You should probably ask Alix Guerrier, my successor, as he's the man at the helm of crowdfunding in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. I can tell you, though, that what I've heard from grantees at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund — who do not engage in international development — is that their traditional models of fundraising, which rely in great part on in-person events, have taken a hit, and that has spurred them to think a lot more about the potential for crowdfunding to fill the gaps.

PND: The Jessie Ball duPont Fund's grantmaking activities are guided by two strategic themes: equity and placemaking. What are the foundation's top priorities at the moment? And have the COVID-19 crisis and this summer's protests against systemic racism changed how you approach those priorities?

MK: Our priorities are in striking the right balance between seeking specific opportunities for change while also meeting the needs of our grantees and enhancing their resilience and effectiveness. To that end, we've built out an ambitious technical assistance program for grantees focused on fundraising, listening to constituent feedback, building capacity around data and equity, and achieving organizational transparency. The COVID-19 crisis really pushed us to undertake this as a hedge against the speed and magnitude of change that the crisis wrought. The protests against systemic racism redoubled our commitment to equity, which we had identified as a core direction through a strategy review we conducted last year. It has also increased the urgency I personally feel around making sure that we are not perpetuating systemic injustices through the patterns and processes of our grantmaking.

PND: As of the beginning of the year, about a third of the fund's endowment was invested in a socially responsible manner or to achieve a positive social or environmental impact. Can you tell us about the kinds of impact investments the fund is looking to make?

MK: The majority of our socially responsible investments, roughly $108 million, are in portfolios of companies that have been screened for best business practices, such as anti-discrimination, gender and racial equity, workforce development, wealth creation, and anti-pollution, among others.

About 6 percent, $18 million, is invested in high-impact funds and companies focused on affordable housing, support for small businesses, medical/social service tech, and clean energy. Illumen Capital, for instance, has a double bottom line of anticipated market-rate return and social impact. By directing capital to women- and people of color-owned businesses, Illumen finds traditionally overlooked value and doubles down by also working with financial managers to reduce their implicit biases in investing.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is largely place-based and about $12 million of our high-impact investments are in the communities Mrs. duPont cared about. These investments have mostly been in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that provide access to affordable capital to developers, as well as individuals who might not qualify for traditional commercial bank loans but need money for a car, mortgage, or to capitalize a small business.

PND: Asian Americans have not always been front and center in movements for racial and social justice. Why is that, and do you think it is changing?

MK: Yes, you're right that Asian Americans are underrepresented in movements for racial and social justice. But we did have people like Fred Korematsu, who explicitly challenged the internment order for Japanese Americans all the way up to the Supreme Court — and lost — and Yuri Kochiyama, who was at Malcolm X's side when he was assassinated. Both were radicalized by their experience of internment, and perhaps that points to an answer to your question about Asian Americans and racial or social justice. Perhaps, as a community, we have tended to not tell those stories of injustice — except for extremely visible and acute events like the internment — and thereby have not mobilized our own communities. I do think that Asian-American Gen Z-ers and millennials seem to be as fired up as their peers — my personal favorite is K-pop fans mobilizing for Black Lives Matter — but I'll admit my conclusion is based entirely on an anecdote here.

PND: Your professional career has included stints at a huge, well-resourced multilateral organization, at a social enterprise startup, and now at an established private foundation. What have those experiences taught you about the ways in which the social sector responds to urgent problems and about what it might do differently to create more impact and really move the needle on those problems? Are you hopeful it will be able to do so?

MK: That's difficult to distill into a short answer, but here's a take. Large, well-resourced multilateral organizations organize their inputs and subject their business processes to scrutiny, much like large, for-profit multilateral institutions do, with one exception: their results aren't subject to competition. Social enterprise startups usually have to compete to get attention and capital to survive, but many don't have the resources to invest in other resources, such as human capital. The foundation world isn't really impacted by competition, either. I'd say that I was forced into greater accountability and transparency and soul-searching at the startup than at either of the two other places. So, the one thing I might say is that competition, channeled well, matters.

It would be good, I think, for us in the foundation and multilateral-aid worlds, to hold ourselves accountable to a greater degree of transparency, such as benchmarking ourselves to common standards. Of course, I can foresee the potential for dispute around those standards, so perhaps we just start with greater transparency and see where it leads us. But the urgency of the need to become more effective than we are today, I think, is undeniable. It's the only feasible response to what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the "Full Catastrophe," because in the short run at least, we can't magically come up with more resources to dedicate to the growing list of challenges we face.

— Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Monique W. Morris, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Girls of Color

August 24, 2020

Launched in 2015, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) has since grown from an online platform into a grantmaking organization focused on addressing the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color and centering their voices in philanthropy and movement building.

Based on focus groups and surveys of girls and young women of color, the organization's 2019 report Start from the Ground Up: Increasing Support for Girls of Color identified nine types of structural barriers to the success of young women and girls of color, including disproportionately applied school discipline, insufficient financial aid, poverty and the struggle to meet basic needs, gender discrimination and patriarchal power dynamics, mental and behavioral health challenges, and exposure to community, domestic, and interpersonal violence. The study also found that funders and girls of color often frame the same issues differently.

Before becoming the inaugural executive director of G4GC, Monique W. Morris co-founded the National Black Women's Justice Institute, which works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum. She is the author of Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls and Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, which was released as a documentary in 2019.

PND spoke with Morris about her vision for G4GC, the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community, and what the reenergized movement for racial justice means for philanthropy. 

MoniqueMorris_G4GCPhilanthropy News Digest: What is your vision for Grantmakers for Girls of Color as it makes the transition from a funder network into a grantmaking organization?

Monique W. Morris: Girls and gender-expansive youth of color live at the intersections of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. My charge is to do all I can to help realize Grantmakers for Girls of Color's vision of mobilizing philanthropic resources so that Black girls and other girls and gender-expansive youth of color achieve equity and justice in this critical moment in our history.

I became the executive director of G4GC at the beginning of April, just as the country had shut down because of the pandemic, and then in May we saw the beginnings of a global movement for racial justice and against anti-Blackness. As an independent entity under the fiscal sponsorship of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, we are now able to shape our own future and determine how to best move forward. The needs mapping we're doing right now will help us inform that process. And while we will continue to serve as a resource for donors and funders seeking to support girls, fem(mes), and gender-expansive youth of color, we will also be increasing our capacity in the areas of research and grantmaking. 

Soon after I joined G4GC, we launched the Love is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, our first grantmaking initiative as an independent organization, and to date we've awarded more than  $1.5 million to over eighty organizations across the country. I'm excited about what lies ahead, and we hope other funders will join us in this critical work. We have lots of other exciting partnerships and opportunities on the horizon.

PND: We hear you're planning to introduce a participatory grantmaking program. How would that work?

MWM: Yes, we believe participatory grantmaking is a critical driver of broader systems change. We see our partner organizations serving as agents of change rather than constituents. At this moment, all across the country, we're seeing girls, particularly girls of color, leading change in their communities, organizing protests, and advocating for justice. We see girls of color playing an important role in facilitating the paradigm shift this country needs and deserves.

That's why I am so excited about the Youth Advisory Committee we're forming to explore participatory grantmaking. We want to connect funders to the issues faced by girls and young women of color and help them better respond to those needs. The committee will help us figure out how to strengthen the capacity of girls of color to be active decision makers in the grantmaking process.

PND: According to Pocket change — how women and girls of color do more with less, a report published by the Ms. Foundation for Women, less than 1 percent of total foundation funding is awarded in support of women and girls of color. How do you explain that, and how can it be addressed?

MWM: In philanthropy, in academia, in the media, and in movement and policy circles, we generally adopt a male-centered approach to the fight for racial justice. If we think about Black girls and other girls of color at all, we tend to think of them as trickle-down beneficiaries of our work and investments in these issues. That has to change if we want girls — and our communities — to thrive. 

That study showed that of the $66.9 billion given by philanthropists in 2017, just 0.5 percent was awarded to organizations representing women and girls of color. That's about $5.48 per woman/girl. What it shows is that funders continue to operate with the assumption that the money they donate will "trickle down" to groups that are doing the work of empowering women and girls of color. And that is not happening. We have to be more intentional with our investments.

PND: In response to the pandemic, G4GC launched the Love Is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, which, as you mentioned, has awarded more than $1.5 million to date. Given how the virus has disproportionately impacted African-American communities and highlighted existing health, economic, and other structural disparities, do you expect grantmaking to nonprofits serving girls of color to increase more broadly in the sector over the coming months and years?

MWM: I certainly hope so, and we are pushing with our partners to make that a reality. The COVID-19 crisis has shown how important it is that we dismantle the structural barriers that keep BIPOC girls from thriving. I wrote an op-ed in May about how, while the media and thought leaders had begun to acknowledge the harsh light that COVID-19 was shining on the racial inequities, less attention was being paid to how the crisis had exposed another ugly truth: the long-term marginalization of girls and gender-expansive youth of color. 

Unless we act now to close the disparities these kids face in every aspect of their lives, we will deprive them of their rightful opportunity to thrive and have a long, healthy life. This is a time for the philanthropic community to step up for young girls and women of color.

According to the CDC, there is growing body of evidence that suggests the virus is having the greatest impact on BIPOC communities. The majority of frontline workers — restaurant staff, cleaning crews, daycare workers — are people of color. Health care is too expensive for many of them. Organizations that had already been working to address these longstanding issues through an intersectional lens and need support are why we created this fund. The grant partners we have been able to identify and support through the Love is Healing COVID Response fund had been fighting to end the marginalization of girls of color well before the pandemic. These organizations have responded to COVID with creativity, courage, and compassion — and philanthropy, too, must meet the moment in similar fashion.

PND: Has the reenergized Black Lives Matter movement and the push to end police violence against people of color caused you to change your plans for G4GC? And are you hopeful, here in the summer of 2020, that the arc of the moral universe, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., bends toward justice and that the United States will finally live up to the promise of its creedal documents?

MWM: It has reinforced and lent even greater urgency to our mission. We cannot continue to allow the issues and experiences impacting the quality of life for girls of color — Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim, and Asian-American and Pacific Islander girls — to be relegated to the category "niche," which can lead to underinvestment and erasure that prevents the realization of their potential. It is my hope that in our efforts to provide more resources to movement work, we are able to embed a robust investment strategy that supports and ultimately provides opportunities for our girls.

This is a potentially historic moment of reckoning and reconciliation for our country around race, and I am heartened to see the beginnings of the radical transformation that those of us who do this work day in and day out have long hoped to see. But we won't get there unless we are intentional about centering the needs and lives of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. The philanthropic sector and society more broadly are not paying enough attention to the unique issues these girls face. In this moment, when more funders are asking how they can support the struggle for racial justice and anti-Blackness, we need to put Black girls and girls of color at the center of those efforts. We need to be there for the young people who desperately need our trust, allyship, and support.

— Kyoko Uchida

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

5 Questions for...EunSook Lee, Director, AAPI Civic Engagement Fund

June 25, 2020

Launched in 2014 with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New YorkEvelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Ford Foundationand Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund works to foster a culture of civic participation among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Since its inception, the fund has provided funding to strengthen the capacity of twenty-five AAPI organizations in seventeen states working to inform, organize, and engage AAPI communities and advance policy and systems change. 

EunSook Lee, who has served as director of the fund since its inception, coordinated the 2012 National AAPI Civic Engagement Project for the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and, prior to that, served as senior deputy for Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), as executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and as executive director of Korean American Women In Need.

PND spoke with Lee earlier this month about xenophobia and racism in the time of COVID-19, the importance of civic engagement in an election year, and her vision for fostering a greater sense of belonging among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

EunSook Lee_AAPI CEFPND: The AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was created by a group of funders who saw a need to expand and deepen community and civic engagement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who historically have been both a community of color and a predominantly immigrant and refugee population. After more than a hundred and sixty years of immigration from Asia, why, in 2013, midway through Barack Obama's second term, did the AAPI community become a focus for funders?

EunSook Lee: While we launched the fund in 2013, it was conceived as an idea after the 2012 elections, a season that was emblematic of how funding had flowed in the past to AAPI communities: episodically and chaotically. Just months before the presidential election, a burst of investment came in from civic participation funders and political campaigns in support of efforts to get out the vote in AAPI communities. As part of that influx, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation pledged $1 million for a national project focused on civic engagement and identified National CAPACD as the organization to host the effort.

In a very short period of time, we made grants to dozens of groups, connected them to State Voices and other civic engagement entities for the first time, and provided support where we could to help them execute their plans for the election. With a few exceptions, most AAPI groups had not been sufficiently resourced or supported to develop their infrastructure. We couldn't sit back and hope they would succeed, so we did a bit of everything to help them build the capacity they needed to get the word out in their communities.

We also decided it was important to show how AAPI communities had voted, so we partnered with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education FundLatino Decision, and others to hold a first-of-its-kind multiracial election eve poll that polled Asian Americans in their own languages. The resulting data enabled us to shift the narrative on Asian-American civic engagement, demonstrating that the Asian-American community had turned out in record numbers and that its views on most issues were in alignment with the views of other voters of color.

Following the 2012 elections, a number of funders became interested in pursuing a longer-term effort to build year-round capacity for AAPI groups and put an end to the cycle of episodic funding tied to election cycles. And that's how the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was born.

PND: The coronavirus pandemic and some of the political rhetoric it has engendered have heightened the visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ways that have not always been positive or welcome. What are you hearing from grantees about the kinds of challenges they are facing as a result of the public health crisis, and how is the fund responding?

EL:  The challenges resulting from coronavirus are layered. At the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, we acknowledge how difficult the work is for AAPI groups that may not have the resources or capacity to meet current needs but know they cannot turn their backs on the communities they serve.

Language barriers are a primary obstacle for our partners right now. Local and federal agencies are setting up new programs, processes, and rules as they go, and that basic information is not reaching non-English speakers. Whether it is about applying for unemployment or getting information about small business loans or helping your child with online learning, monolingual AAPIs are navigating a maze with little to no language support. At the same time, physical offices are closed, so those who are not familiar with Zoom or struggle with Internet connectivity are unable to get the information through other means.

After the three Vietnamese papers serving the tri-county Philadelphia area had to shut down due to the coronavirus, Philadelphia-based VietLead and other grassroots groups started making wellness calls to community members. Others are translating support materials and posting them online, holding in-language webinars on Zoom, and posting information on YouTube and Facebook, which are easier for many people to access. Some have also distributed information directly to homes along with drop-offs of basic food supplies. And because those who are undocumented have been unable to access the majority of relief programs, a number of AAPI groups have set up their own cash-relief programs for those who have been left out.

The anti-China rhetoric that began with the Trump administration has exacerbated and exposed longstanding bigotry against Asian Americans in this country. A number of our grantee partners are working with their communities to track incidents of racism, and all have heard from community members who have been subjected to verbal abuse and bullying, denial of service, vandalism, graffiti, and even physical assaults. Some of the cases of discrimination are occurring in the workplace and may be considered civil rights violations. Others rise to the level of a hate crime.

NativeHawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) have been especially impacted on account of existing inequities. One-fifth of NHPIs are uninsured, and in general they suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Partly because of those factors, the latest figures for California show that NHPIs are nine times more likely to contract COVID-19 and are dying at a disproportionately higher rate than any other group in the state.

We are working to support and amplify the various ways AAPI groups that are responding to this health crisis. We established the Anti-Racism Response Network Fund, which to date has made emergency grants totaling over $1.5 million to an estimated forty groups in twenty states. We are also working with sister funds to direct some of their COVID relief funds to AAPI groups. We also plan to support the online convenings of these groups as they do what they can to support each other, learn about each other's programs, and find ways to collaborate and amplify the voices of progressive AAPIs.

PND: Voter registration and turnout rates among AAPIs, despite being historically lower than those of other populations, have risen in recent years. As highlighted in a 2019 report from the fund and the Groundswell Fund, 76 percent of AAPI women said that they had encouraged friends and family to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. How do you see that trend playing out among the AAPI population in the 2020 elections? And what kind of role do you think AAPI women might play?

EL: The Wisconsin primary was disastrous in terms of protecting the health of voters and running the election efficiently. AAPI groups focused on civic engagement and the empowerment of their communities are vital to advocating for safe, efficient alternatives such as vote by mail, ensuring language access, and getting the vote out. We have heard about a range of systems failures that COVID-19 has exacerbated, especially cases of incompetent leadership at various levels of government. Because our groups are connected to their members, they are best positioned to galvanize them to vote.

More specifically, AAPI women are being recognized as critical organizers and community leaders. Our 2018 Asian American Election Eve Poll talked about how they not only were more active in protests and at the polls but also effectively mobilized others. In fact, twenty of our twenty-two core civic engagement grantees are led or co-led by women. There is no question that AAPI women will continue to power this movement through the 2020 elections and beyond, driving voter turnout and raising awareness about the issues most important to their communities.

PND: AAPIs Connect: Harnessing Strategic Communications to Advance Civic Engagement, a report recently published by the fund, notes that "[t]echnology offers the potential for AAPIs to be more connected with one another and to [the] larger society, but...it also has the potential to exacerbate divisions and create a more disconnected America." How is technology exacerbating division and disconnection within the AAPI community? And what are the biggest challenges AAPI groups face in building capacit — not just in the area of communications, but overall?

EL: At one time, there were a few mainstream media outlets that most Americans relied on for their news. For those who were bilingual or monolingual, in-language media supplemented that access to information. While there is now an explosion of platforms where information and news is being disseminated, some of the critical in-language news outlets are financially unstable or shutting down. Our national conversation has suffered as a result. At the same time, AAPI communities are being left out of many conversations. Not only is there a greater likelihood of our being isolated from the mainstream or from other communities in terms of the information we consume, there's also a greater possibility that we may end up being uninformed or misinformed.

AAPI groups have an opportunity to play a greater role in addressing this disconnect by looking at ways to build their communications infrastructure. But they need support and funding to deepen that work and make an impact on the local, bi-multi-lingual/biliterate, harder-to-reach populations.

As in other areas, AAPI communities and community-based organizations are often playing catch-up. According to our grantee partners, the biggest barrier they face in building communications capacity is a lack of resources. That includes funding to support dedicated staffing, skills building, and tools that equip them to communicate the critical work they are doing in their communities.

That has become a focus for our fund, to support the training and building up of the strategic communications capacity of AAPI groups. Funders can help by dedicating more resources in terms of grants and other learning opportunities so that AAPI groups can establish their media and communications muscle and infrastructure. They can also look at ways to strengthen movement-wide tools and overall creating funding strategies with a racial equity and intersectional justice lens.

PND: Over the course of your career, you've led grassroots nonprofits, served as a congressional staffer, and worked as a consultant to funders. Having observed the process of social change from all those perspectives, what is your number-one recommendation, in this moment of uncertainty, for groups that are looking to bring about social change?

EL: It is essential in this moment that AAPI organizations be seen — and see themselves — as part of this larger movement-moment in an authentic, non-performative way. We cannot be used as a wedge to divide or undermine the focus on systemic racism. We must commit to genuine and radical solidarity over the long term based on an understanding of how freedom for our respective communities is intertwined. We must push forward pro-Blackness in our communities and share analysis on the root causes of anti-Blackness, which is keeping us from true systemic change.

Many AAPI organizing groups are centering Black lives and framing anti-Blackness through the lens of our lived experience. Civil rights and organizing groups are including AAPIs in their efforts to tackle poverty, health inequities, and barriers to reentry for individuals emerging from incarceration. But there is an opportunity in this moment to dig deeper, to acknowledge that your organization may not have done as much as it could have to follow Black leadership and work with organizations that have deep ties to the Black community and have been doing this work for many years.

It is important that AAPI organizations examine our practices and past policy decisions to better align our future actions with our words. We must think more deeply about what it means for organizations to be anti-racist, to tackle systemic inequities, and to embrace an agenda that goes beyond our immediate self-interest. To achieve this, we need more AAPI organizers and social justice organizations, not fewer, better infrastructure and increased capacity, and more financial support for that infrastructure and capacity.  

— Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund

April 29, 2020

Ellen Dorsey has served since 2008 as the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, where she helped launch Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a coalition of more than two hundred foundations that have pledged to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel companies and deploy their investments to accelerate the clean energy transition. Dorsey and Divest-Invest Philanthropy signatories were awarded the 2016 inaugural Nelson Mandela – Graca Machel Brave Philanthropy Award.

Earlier this month, the fund announced that it would pay out 20 percent of its endowment this year in support of COVID-19 relief and ongoing systemic change efforts and called on other funders to increase their grantmaking. 

PND spoke with Dorsey about the fund's decision-making process, the moral obligations of foundations in a time of crisis, and the longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dorsey_EllenPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the impetus behind the fund's decision to commit 20 percent of the endowment to grantmaking in 2020, and how did you and the board arrive at that amount? 

Ellen Dorsey: We have said for a while now that philanthropy cannot engage in business as usual, either by failing to align our investments with our missions or not giving at a level commensurate with the seriousness of the many challenges we face. Before COVID-19, we were already calling for philanthropy to declare a climate emergency and increase giving levels over the next ten years. COVID-19 was yet another overlapping shockwave added to the list of threats that compounded our sense of urgency.  

For too long, philanthropy has been content to give the bare minimum — the 5 percent required by law — while growing its endowments. Even before COVID-19, the Wallace Global Fund felt it was unethical for any foundation to grow its endowment during a five-alarm fire, particularly given the many financial and logistical challenges faced by our grantees. 

As for the percentage decision, it happened organically. We were already planning to spend a significant percentage of our endowment this year on critical work being done within our core priority areas, and we invested 100 percent of our stock market gains — close to 22 percent — in 2018. Keeping our investments aligned with our mission is something that has long been a board priority. We see this as consistent with the legacy of our founding donor, former U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, and his warning that democracies must put people before profits if they plan to survive. 

PND: In a joint opinion piece with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Aaron Dorfman, you argued that "it is no time for philanthropy to think about cutting back...[instead, it should] give more to address the public-health crisis while continuing to fund existing social and systemic change efforts." You've said elsewhere that preserving foundation endowments instead of boosting granmaking was "both immoral and a failure to honor the mandate that foundations have to serve society." Have you received any pushback from CEOs at other foundations? And do you think philanthropy will take this "opportunity to fundamentally rethink past practices and upend the status quo," especially with respect to the mandatory 5 percent payout requirement?

ED: Ultimately, it's an empirical question. We will see. Right now, many foundations are stepping up and making significant pledges to address COVID-19 and the related economic crisis. Will enhanced giving continue as the reality of reduced endowments sinks in later this year and persists into 2021? The fallout of COVID-19, coupled with the spiraling climate catastrophe, requires dramatically more funding, not less. We have a decade to fundamentally reduce emissions and change the energy base of our global economy while creating more sustainable and equitable systems.

What we need from philanthropy goes beyond simply spending more. Frankly, if ever there was a time to fund system change work, it is now. We need to break the corporate capture of democracy, create new patterns of ownership, change the growth-only measures of economic and societal success, level patterns of inequality, and meet the basic human needs of billions, all while reversing the climate catastrophe barreling down on humanity. Philanthropy needs to support movements that are advancing new paradigms, support systemic theories of change that confront our unjust system, and invest its money in a way that is consistent with these values.

PND: As you've acknowledged, some foundations have taken steps to provide more — and more flexible — support for nonprofits, while more than seven hundred foundations have signed on to the Council on Foundationspledge to do so. Are we seeing a shift among foundations toward more grantee-centered practices? Or will things revert to the status quo after we get to the other side of this crisis?

ED: History shows that there is a tendency among philanthropy to scale back when times get tough. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, philanthropic grantmaking dropped by 15 percent. We've been really encouraged to see the groundswell of statements calling for philanthropy to use this moment to break that bad habit. It is particularly important given the unique vulnerabilities faced by nonprofits, movements, and the communities they serve. 

It is hard to say right now whether the status quo will fully return in any sector, but I will say that philanthropy has an obligation to resist it. Getting rid of COVID-19 will do nothing to stop the dire consequences we were already facing as the result of a number of threats, most notably climate change. In fact, if society returns to its established habits of emitting more carbon into the atmosphere, damaging or destroying ecological habitats, and giving corporations free rein to pursue the myth of limitless economic growth, the consequences of climate change will only continue to worsen.

The same could also be said for economic inequality, the rising privatization of public resources around the world, gender-based violence in the Global South, and the rise in misogyny faced by women around the world. There is no vaccine for social injustice. We cannot allow ourselves to be so relieved once the COVID-19 crisis has passed that we ignore the fissures in society it has exposed. Philanthropy has both an opportunity and a duty to partner with people-centered movements that are fighting for systems change and broad, structural reform today, and we must continue to support them in the aftermath of this pandemic. 

PND: This is not the first time the Wallace Global Fund has used its investment portfolio to boost the impact of its grantmaking; in 2018, the fund pledged to invest all its gains from the previous year into organizations working to advance social and environmental justice. Have you seen tangible returns on those investments?

ED: Yes, without a question. We have already seen positive impacts from our funding and there are results to come that we cannot yet see. We fund progressive social movements and systemic change work both globally and in the U.S. We believe building people power is the necessary ingredient to challenging entrenched economic and political interests. We have been funding the fossil fuel divestment movement for over a decade and, to date, there are more than a thousand institutions  around the globe that have divested — institutions with a combined $14 trillion under management. We have funded the youth climate movement, the so-called climate strikers, and those calling for a Green New Deal. They are changing the debate on climate in truly significant ways. We're also supporting groups around the world that are challenging authoritarian governments and defending basic human rights.  

Often those fights seem insurmountable, but defending the front lines is often the only antibody to the virus of authoritarianism and is essential if we are to preserve our democratic ideals and way of life. In the U.S., our grantees are working to transform conditions of inequality, defend democratic institutions, get toxic money out of our political system, and break up monopolies. These are big and audacious goals, not easy to measure in the near term, but they absolutely are critical in terms of the system change work we need. I think it's fair to say we would rather invest in deep change than obsess about lowest-common-denominator metrics. 

PND: What, if anything, do the systemic social change efforts you've urged your philanthropic peers to support — climate action, defending the rights of marginalized populations, strengthening civil society and democracy — have to do with the public health and economic emergencies caused by COVID-19?

ED: It's true that all those issues were issues before COVID-19. For example, we know that seven hundred people a day were dying from poverty in the U.S. before the virus ever reached our shores. But COVID-19 has laid bare the many ways in which it is not the great equalizer many claim it is.

Communities of color have been disproportionately devastated by the virus. Places with higher levels of carbon-based pollution are seeing corresponding spikes in death rates. Voting rights are under increasing threat from a lack of contingency planning and stalled efforts to expand vote-by-mail nationally. And as millions of small businesses were forced to close their doors — many for the last time — American billionaires made more than $300 billion.

These injustices are all interconnected. One of the movement leaders who inspires me most, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign, has built a movement on the simple yet profound notion that the struggles against systemic racism, inadequate health care, poverty, voter suppression, ecological devastation, environmental injustice, and human rights abuses are not separate struggles at all. We are dependent on each other in our quest for liberation, and our narratives must be bound together if we hope to win.

— Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

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    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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