210 posts categorized "Human/Civil Rights"

'The world must not turn its back': A commentary by John Canady

September 30, 2021

Girls_school_Afghanistan_USAID_viaPixnio_ccThree ways funders can protect Afghan girls' rights and access to education:

In 2012, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she defended girls' rights to an education.

Malala Yousafzai's story shocked the world and became a catalyst for the international efforts to increase educational opportunities for girls in developing countries or living under oppressive regimes.

Nine years on, as the world has watched the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan with horror and despair, girls' education — one of the country's greatest successes over the last twenty years — is now in grave danger.

A recent announcement by the Taliban Education Ministry confirmed those fears when it effectively banned girls from secondary education by stating that "all male teachers and students should attend their education institutions," leaving the issue of female education unaddressed — and girls at home.

Global attention understandably has been focused on the plight of many Afghan nationals and U.S. citizens desperately trying to leave the country. The distressing images of helpless parents passing their babies over the perimeter of Kabul International Airport to beleaguered U.S. soldiers are heart-wrenching. But we must not forget the urgent needs of those left behind, especially women and girls....

Read the full commentary by John Canady, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust UK.

(Photo credit: USAID via Pixnio)

'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.

'What happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making': A commentary by Hannah Lee

September 07, 2021

Headshot_Hannah Lee_Cognizant_FoundationIt's time for philanthropy to trust and listen better to grantee partners

When Ralph Hoagland, the founder of CVS, recruited three hundred of his neighbors from the wealthy, liberal, and largely white Boston suburbs to donate to the Fund for Urban Negro Development (FUND) to support Black entrepreneurs, he promised a “no strings attached” approach to philanthropy. The group's aim was to support Black businesses and community organizations, build Black wealth, and foster community development across the city. FUND emphasized that Boston's Black leaders already had "the ability to solve the problems” facing their communities but just lacked the necessary resources to do so.

Importantly, the group promised not to interfere through "white controls, advice, or helpful hints." At the same time, FUND's white members did expect to serve as coaches and mentors. When Black leaders rejected some of the mentors' advice, members began pulling their support to FUND — and just four years after its launch, the group disbanded.

The story of FUND, more fully detailed in a research paper, took place more than half a century ago. But the rhetoric and eventual outcomes feel all too familiar. It serves as a powerful reminder about what happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making. And it remains a cautionary tale for those working in philanthropy today — especially in the wake of COVID-19 and our nationwide reckoning around racial justice....

Read the full commentary by Hannah Lee, a director at the Cognizant Foundation.

 

 

'We have to rise up and do better': A commentary by Donita Volkwijn

August 02, 2021

Black_lives_matter_james-eades_unsplashContinuing the conversation: How philanthropy is changing how it talks about race

In June 2020, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors responded to questions in the sector about how to begin difficult conversations in the workplace. Our response was meant to provide guidance on how to talk about a reality that had left many of us in the philanthropic sector and beyond speechless. One in which the dual crises of the pandemic and racial injustice were shifting how we lived, thought, and yes, even breathed.

A little more than a year later, we are exploring how, if at all, these workplace conversations have evolved. As we enter yet another new reality, the most obvious shift in direction is to the talk of reopening (if we were privileged enough to work remotely). A friend recently shared a statement that captures what many of us are feeling: "Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn't working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better."...

Read the full commentary by Donita Volkwijn, outgoing manager of knowledge management at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

'Philanthropy must have its own racial reckoning': A Q&A with Rashid Shabazz

July 30, 2021

Headshot_rashid_shabazz_critical_mindedRashid Shabazz is the inaugural executive director of Critical Minded, a grantmaking and advocacy initiative founded in 2017 by the Ford and Nathan Cummings foundations to support cultural critics of color in the United States by building a cultural ecosystem celebrating the multiplicity of perspectives from critics of color. Shabazz joined Critical Minded after serving as the chief marketing and storytelling officer for Color of Change, where he helped push for accountability within the media to more accurately portray Black narratives, and as vice president of communications for Campaign for Black Male Achievement, where he created programs that directly challenged false narratives about Black men and boys and expanded access to resources and financial support.

PND asked Shabazz about how philanthropy could more systematically address social inequities in arts funding practices, the steps museums and galleries should take to advance equity, and how Critical Minded is working to narrow gaps found in the underrepresentation of cultural critics of color in art spaces. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: Despite the efforts of several leading foundations, arts organizations of color and those serving low-income communities in both urban and rural communities face distinct challenges in securing equitable funding. In what ways can philanthropy more systematically address social inequities in its arts funding practices?

Rashid Shabazz: Philanthropy must have its own racial reckoning. It must acknowledge its role in fostering disparities and reinforcing the systems that we are working to dismantle. Foundations generally are not accountable to anyone outside of their donors and boards, so how do we ensure communities of color become part of the decision-making processes? In the past decade, there has been a movement to see grantees as partners and collaborators who specifically address the racial disparities in how funding reaches organizations led by people of color. Yet we know that the funding remains embarrassingly minuscule. So, it means philanthropy must take more risks and be more disruptive. It must be "decolonized," as Edgar Villanueva says. This means shifting the measures and requirements so that more racial equity can be achieved by allowing resources to flow not only to the largest, most sophisticated, and strongest organizations with existing infrastructure but also making big bets on communities of color and shifting wealth so the infrastructure can be created for BIPOC-led organizations to also thrive....

Read the full Q&A with Rashid Shabazz here.

 

 

 

 

'Now is the time for philanthropy to support today's brave movements for justice': A commentary by Jesenia A. Santana

July 28, 2021

Black Lives Matter Phoenix MetroToday's racial justice movements need protection — and funders must respond

Like so many others across the country, members of Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro have organized and participated in numerous protests and public calls for racial justice in the past year. Their activism has kept a powerful spotlight on the harms and trauma caused by white supremacy and the need for healing and liberation for Black communities and other oppressed people. But that work has come at a great cost to the safety and security of people and organizations on the front lines.[...]

Across the country, activists and movement leaders are facing heightened levels of risk, trauma, and violence simply for speaking out for our collective rights and standing up for Black lives and communities of color. If it is not trumped-up charges and police violence, it is vicious harassment delivered both digitally and physically by people and groups spewing racism and hate. The problem has only gotten worse since the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Now is the time for philanthropy to support today's brave movements for justice....

Read the full commentary by Jesenia A. Santana, senior resource strategist at Solidaire Network.

'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.

Twenty years after 9/11, still fighting the criminalization and dehumanization of our communities

July 15, 2021

DRUM protest for excluded workers_risetogether_philantopicOn September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona, when Frank Silva Roque, a white Boeing aircraft mechanic, saw Sodhi's turban, a sign of his Sikh faith, and shot and killed him. Silva Roque then drove through town and shot two people of Middle Eastern descent, who thankfully survived. Roque was apprehended the next day and is now serving a life sentence.

Sodhi's murder was just one of an onslaught of hate crimes committed in the wake of 9/11. Nor were hate crimes committed by individuals the only threat to targeted communities. The Department of Homeland Security spearheaded the criminalization of Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) immigrant men through humiliating racial profiling programs like the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Tens of thousands of Black and Brown men were forced to line up at federal agencies to register for ongoing government surveillance based on religion, ethnicity, and national origin, targeting foreign nationals from twenty-five countries. Before the program was finally dismantled in 2016, thousands of families were torn apart and entire communities were devastated by job losses, deportations, and ongoing harassment.

Stories of interpersonal and structural violence against BAMEMSA communities after 9/11 are ubiquitous, but so are the stories of activists rising to these challenges and leading a vibrant movement to secure their rights and inclusion. Members of the Sikh community formed the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit that has won numerous court cases against workplace discrimination, school bullying, racial profiling, and hate crimes and has secured the passage of groundbreaking religious rights laws and significant policy improvements. Community-based activist organizations like Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), founded in 2000 to build the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low wage immigrant workers, youth, and families in New York City, mobilized to support the victims of state-sponsored discrimination, offering "know your rights" training, holding vigils and protests at federal agencies, documenting civil rights violations, and working in solidarity with other social justice organizations to demand policy change.

That movement includes the founding of the RISE Together Fund (RTF) in 2008, the first national donor collaborative dedicated to supporting directly impacted voices to lead policy and social change in BAMEMSA communities. Housed at Proteus Fund, the RISE Together Fund is led by an all-women team, each of whom identifies with the communities we support, connecting our personal and political commitments to build a just, multiracial, feminist democracy.

This year, as we mark two decades since 9/11, we're reflecting on the milestones of our movement, including working with grassroots organizations over four years to organize against the Muslim & Africa Bans, a series of Supreme Court-approved restrictions on travel to the United States from thirteen countries — which was finally rescinded on day one of the Biden administration. We also helped increase voter turnout among BAMEMSA communities by mobilizing significant support for civic engagement initiatives. We partnered with Dr. Tom Wong, a specialist in identifying high-potential voters of color, who worked with twelve grantees, including the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, on non-partisan voter messaging, outreach, and technical support.

Despite these many successes, BAMEMSA communities continue to be underinvested in and excluded from broader conversations and philanthropic opportunities around racial justice and immigrant justice. We also are up against a tidal wave of funding in support of efforts to demonize and criminalize our communities. According to a 2019 report authored by Abbas Barzegar and Zainab Arain, between 2014 and 2016, more than a thousand organizations funded thirty-nine groups with a total revenue capacity of $1.5 billion that foment hate toward BAMEMSA communities. While RTF and our philanthropic partners are making great strides in supporting BAMEMSA communities, we have a long way to go to fully address their continued criminalization and dehumanization.

Since 2009, RTF has worked with longtime field partner ReThink Media to ensure that BAMEMSA movement leaders speak for themselves and build media savvy. ReThink offers fieldwide spokesperson training, messaging research and guidance, op-ed writing support, and direct connections to journalists. The overarching goal of RTF is to direct grants toward building a long-term, sustainable movement and work alongside grantees and the wider BAMEMSA field to develop and amplify a collective voice — a voice that is particularly critical this year in countering nationalistic sloganeering and offering more critical perspectives that address the ongoing harms of the 9/11 era.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, RTF is offering a variety of opportunities for funders to learn more about our communities and support their efforts to build a stronger democracy — through funder briefings, panel discussions, and blog posts. In June we co-hosted a funder briefing with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) about supporting impacted communities; in October we will hold a panel discussion on "The 20th Anniversary of 9/11: BAMEMSA Women Activists Leading Resistance and Resilience" at the CHANGE Philanthropy UNITY Summit; and in collaboration with Democracy Fund and Mission Partners, we are working to publish a series of blog posts to educate philanthropy about the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA movement. We are speaking with funders about opportunities to support the urgent needs of grantees in their efforts to mobilize around the 9/11 anniversary, such as locally focused arts and culture programming to share the experiences of BAMEMSA communities over the past two decades. There are opportunities for partners to support BAMEMSA field leaders with long-term cultural strategy training and coaching to help them communicate their work more effectively to wider audiences and coherently connect post-9/11 harms to broader conversations on surveillance, policing, and racial justice.

While the anniversary is an important moment for us to reflect on the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA field, our work is ongoing. Policy advocacy is needed to address the ongoing criminalization of our communities, such as efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and defund Homeland Security grants used to support spying and psychological warfare in BAMEMSA communities. We must fund ongoing nonpartisan voter engagement efforts outside of federal election years, and we need to protect field leaders who face doxxing and threats online with robust digital security support. Given that 80 percent of our grantee organizations are led by women of color, we need to support their leadership with resiliency training and capacity building efforts to empower their work well into the future.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, we at RTF reaffirm our commitment to support communities who have been on the front lines of creating a just society and we invite fellow funders to support BAMEMSA communities in this important year.

(Photo credit: Desis Rising Up & Moving)

SheilaBapat_ClaireDowning_AlisonKysia_DeborahMkari_RTF_philantopicSheila Bapat, is senior program officer, Claire Downing is program officer, Alison Kysia is grant writer, and Deborah Makari is program assistant for the RISE Together Fund at Proteus Fund.

Unfinished business: Why the social justice movement needs nonprofits

June 18, 2021

BlackLivesMatter_protest_fist_minneapolis_foundationIn 2020, social justice issues moved front and center in ways most of us couldn't have predicted. As some of the largest and broadest demonstrations for racial justice in U.S. history erupted across the country, corporations came under greater pressure than ever before to take an active role in addressing social injustices.

At the same time, the events of 2020 highlighted how essential nonprofit organizations are to efforts to advance social justice.

Understanding equity vs. equality

The ongoing fight for equality in our country has traveled a long and storied road. The related but separate movement for social equity digs deeper into the ways in which opportunities are presented — or are closed — to different groups.

While equality means each individual or faction is given the same resources or opportunities, equity recognizes that each person or faction comes from different circumstances, which may require a restructured allocation of those resources and opportunities. Incorporating those factors into programs serving marginalized populations results in better outcomes; nonprofits make it their business to understand those complexities.

"Equity is a way, not a what," André Ledgister, communications catalyst at Partnership for Southern Equity, told me. "We make sure our efforts reflect equity in that we take into account what specific community organizations need in order to access resources. In that sense, the work of nonprofits is to empower the community to create their own change."

Nonprofit leaders know that fostering allies beyond donors, volunteers, and sponsors is critical to success. Similarly, for social justice activism to effect lasting change, education and advocacy efforts need to cross various divides to become truly multiethnic and multicultural.

"Nonprofit organizations teach, whether the work is relevant in science, in STEM fields, or in humanities and the arts," said Vicki Crawford, executive director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. "The hope is that this type of education will open people up to exploring the ways in which we are inextricably linked; to open up the conversation around the commonality of all humans across the differences of race, class, gender, religious affiliation."

Taking that understanding one step further means recognizing the ways in which we fall on either side of the ally relationship.

"Everyone has multiple identities, some of which can be privileged and some of which can be marginalized," said Sharmila Fowler, founder, coach, and consultant for the Red Lion Institute. "Your particular situation really depends on which room you're in. I could be a woman in a room full of women with very few men, or I could be an Asian American in a room full of many other ethnic identities and few Asian Americans. It's important to recognize that your identity shifts around privilege and marginalization, and to allow for that fluidity of identification."

Connecting the dots

Driving fundamental social change requires multiple levels of expertise and influence. For nonprofits, making connections and appealing to specifically focused stakeholders is a way of life. Already primed to network toward a goal, these organizations know how to pull the right levers to move social justice causes forward in an impactful way.

"For us, relationship acceleration is connecting those philanthropists, policy makers, community organizers, grassroots groups — putting everyone into the same room and saying, 'Okay, this is the problem we need to address,'" Ledgister explained. "They're all coming together from different areas of life, different industries, working together to push for change."

Leadership development

Social justice can't happen in a vacuum, nor can real change be achieved when dictated from outside the communities where the greatest need exists. In addition to creating social equity by clearing access to resources, nonprofits are positioned to build sustainable social change by inspiring community-based leaders and, more importantly, potential leaders.

"Supporting leadership development is so important," said Ledgister. "Making sure community members have the opportunity to be trained on initiatives is essential to progress. They can bring that forward and continue to push for change in the way that best fits. Those in the community are closest to the issue; they are the ones closest to the solution."

Generational mindset

The hard, long-term work needed to move the social justice needle can be daunting. Organizations looking for quick solutions will likely be disappointed and unable to sustain the effort. But nonprofits are used to going for the long game. Change doesn't happen in a funding cycle; it requires unwavering focus on the horizon despite the inevitable setbacks.

"All this work we're doing, this is generational work," said Ledgister. "I may not see results in my lifetime, but my daughter will hopefully see the purpose of this labor — when she goes into the marketplace and she's not looked at as somebody that is 'less than,' when she is looked at in the fullness of her character and has everything she needs to thrive."

Crawford agreed, recognizing that by drawing from the past, nonprofits and allies can better inform the future for the next generation. "It's important to learn the history of a particular era, because that moment speaks to the present moment," she told me. "Because ultimately, it's unfinished business that we're dealing with."

If we are going to finish that business by learning from and improving upon the work of past social justice leaders, nonprofits will have to be at the forefront leading the way. With their boots on the ground and connections to local communities, nonprofits are the heartbeat of the development pipeline for future leaders, the ones who know how to listen as allies, lean on their constituencies, and push new paths forward. We need these leaders now more than ever, and it's more important than ever to support them in every way possible.

Sima Parekh_PhilanTopicSima Parekh is executive director of 48in48.

Funding criminal justice reform in Latin America: Investing in affected communities

June 15, 2021

Casa de las Muñecas_PhilanTopicThere is always a glass-half-full aspect to grantmaking: While we are proud of what our grants have helped accomplish, we recognize that we can always do better. Looking back on the past decade of grantmaking by the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative in support of criminal justice reform, we can draw critical lessons from both our successes and our failures.

We would like to share some lessons learned from our work funding communities affected by over-policing, mass incarceration, and state violence in Latin America.

A bedrock principle for us is that affected communities are the most capable drivers of long-term, sustainable change, and funders need to prioritize providing them with direct support.

There are four fundamental reasons why donors funding criminal justice reform should support leaders of the movement who are directly impacted by the system:

1. Investing in collective organizing and leadership provides affected communities with resources to build their power. It enables them to shape a narrative on public safety that highlights the stories of the victims and exposes the root causes of violence and harm such as social, economic, and racial injustices — and the way the criminal justice system is designed to criminalize and discriminate against marginalized communities. Funding their leaders also empowers affected communities to develop solutions to problems that directly impact them, and funding is critical to effectively challenging structural inequality and injustice through a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach.

2. Investing in affected communities contributes to a more representative, diverse, and inclusive criminal justice movement that nurtures new and emerging leaders. In Brazil, for example, white — and often elite — legal and policy advocacy groups tend to dominate the criminal justice field — but this is changing. More Black activists and Black-led organizations such as the newly formed Black Coalition for Rights, are leading advocacy on criminal justice reform and placing racial justice squarely on the agenda of the broader movement, and more donors are funding racial justice work in the country. In Mexico, the trans-led NGO Casa de las Muñecas is introducing new perspectives in the criminal justice debate regarding discrimination against trans women, which other organizations in this space have not prioritized. Building the leadership of affected communities has a knock-on effect on mainstream organizations as well, motivating them to recruit staff and board members from these communities, diversifying their membership.

3. The strong connection between directly impacted people and their families, neighbors, and/or people with similar experiences gives those leaders and organizations legitimacy in the eyes of their communities and the public. They therefore have a greater capacity to mobilize and galvanize people around their demands. In the United States, as a result of the shift in the profile of its leadership to include more people from impacted communities, the criminal justice movement has pushed new and more radical ideas to the fore, such as "prison abolition" and "defunding the police," and is placing greater emphasis on initiatives dealing with violence prevention, community reinvestments, and reentry. In Latin America, a nascent network of formerly incarcerated women (including Red de Acciones por la Justicia in Mexico, Mujeres Libres in Colombia, and Amparar in Brazil), is developing an advocacy platform to promote transformative justice across the region, a topic that traditional criminal justice organizations, which have been more focused on technical legislative reforms, have not prioritized.

4. While directly impacted individuals are arguably the most capable and effective leaders of the criminal justice movement, they are also the most in need of and the least able to access resources. Groups and movements led by affected communities are typically under-funded and conduct most of their work on a volunteer basis. They lack the vital resources required for organizational and professional development (e.g., fundraising, advocacy) and end up giving their time and energy free of charge, despite precarious living conditions, such as insecure housing, lack of access to basic services (health care, education, etc.), and the stigma that comes with having spent time behind bars or the trauma of having lost a family member to state violence.

Donors have an important role to play in supporting affected communities' efforts to organize, strategize, and develop their own solutions to problems of which they have an intimate knowledge.

Here are four lessons we'd like to share from our experience in Latin America:

1. Funding affected communities requires grantmaking that is flexible, long-term, and premised on trust. Keep in mind that while grantees will choose the path that works best for them, it may take time to figure this out, and results may not be immediately tangible. There may be an advocacy win down the road, but the organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing necessary to make it happen could take years. Results need to be measured against movement-building milestones such as agenda setting, increased visibility of advocates and positions, stronger networks/development of new organizations, and law and policy reform).  

2. Affected communities should make their own decisions, but they need allies and assistance from well-established organizations that can offer respectful accompaniment and technical support. Allies (including donors) must perform a delicate balancing act: committing to nurturing the leadership of affected communities while knowing when to step back to let them make their own decisions.

3. We need to navigate movement dynamics carefully. Funding one set of affected leaders or organizations but not another may pit groups against each other. Donors need to understand alliances and rivalries and asses how best to support the movement as a whole. It is also important to recognize the tensions between movements. For instance, in Colombia, we cannot assume that solidarity is automatic between female coca growers in rural areas and women who use or sell drugs in urban settings, but they could rally around common goals such as the need for economic opportunities.

4. Some communities self-organize to defend their rights and interests but do not focus on criminal justice reform. For instance, while associations of sex workers, people who use drugs, or LGBTQI communities are victims of violence and criminalization, they tend not to operate in the criminal justice field. They could, however, be allies and help break silos between movements.

It's too early to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the impact of this strategic shift on policy and practice and people's lives. Yet, after a few years of funding affected communities in Latin America, we already see changes in the types of organizations and activists present in the criminal justice field across the region: They are more diverse, they have brought new voices and perspectives to the table, and they have given a sense of empowerment to disenfranchised communities. We hope the donor community embraces this approach and understands that systemic change requires a sustained and collaborative effort and a commitment to invest in building the infrastructure for movements that have historically lacked access to resources.

(Photo credit: Casa de las Muñecas)

Soheila Comninos_Nina_Madsen_PhilanTopic Soheila Comninos and Nina Madsen are program officers in the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative.

 

What COVID-19 has taught us about the humanitarian system and women's rights organizations

June 02, 2021

CFTA_feminist_humanitarian_networkWhen the COVID-19 pandemic struck — and with it came public health measures including stay-at-home orders — women's rights organizations (WROs) the world over were quick to sound the alarm: Gender-based violence (GBV) would increase. Women and "marginalized" groups would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and the inequality they already face would deepen. The gendered impacts of crises are well documented, and COVID-19 would be no different.

WROs acted swiftly to address those issues, working to strengthen community-based mechanisms to ensure that women could report GBV and expect a response. Organizations adapted their systems and approaches to ensure that women could continue to access critical services during lockdowns, including psycho-social support, maternal and newborn child health care, and sexual and reproductive health services. WROs also advocated for recognition of the impacts of the crisis on women's rights and called for funding to be targeted to mitigating those impacts.

While responding to the pandemic and its fallout, WRO members of the Feminist Humanitarian Network (FHN), a collective of women leaders working together to transform the humanitarian system into one that is guided by feminist principles, saw an opportunity: Here was a moment to document the essential role WROs play in humanitarian action, to capture the work that they do, any time an emergency occurs, to ensure that women and "marginalized" groups aren't left out of relief efforts.

FHN member organizations — of which 70 percent are WROs working in the Global South and 30 percent are international non-government organizations (INGOs) and organizations based in the Global North — are working to achieve a global humanitarian system that is responsive, accountable, and accessible to women and the diverse organizations that serve them, and that challenges rather than perpetuates structural inequalities. A pervasive lack of recognition of WROs as humanitarian actors and leaders is just one of a number of critical issues that FHN is working to change.

The current humanitarian system and the actors it is comprised of (governments, United Nations agencies, INGOs, and national actors) systematically exclude women and their organizations from all phases of humanitarian action, from funding to decision making. WROs are rarely invited to contribute to national planning processes for humanitarian response or to sit on emergency committees. When a funding call is made, WROs rarely receive the information, and when they do, rarely succeed in their grant applications.

Needless to say, the impacts of this exclusion are enormous. Women's needs — and indeed, the needs of "marginalized" groups, such as people with disabilities, refugees, and the LGBTIQA community — go unaddressed as a result. WROs and women-led organizations, which often represent diverse groups of women and their communities, are uniquely positioned to highlight the needs of those they work with and ensure that they are addressed. When the leadership role of those organizations is undermined, basic requirements like including sanitary supplies in relief distributions and ensuring that distribution sites are accessible to people with disabilities are overlooked.

In addition to presenting an opportunity to showcase the role that WROs working at grassroots, local, and national levels play on the frontlines of humanitarian action, COVID-19 offered a snapshot of the global humanitarian system — how the current system works and the challenges it presents for WROs in the Global South — the patriarchal and colonial practices embedded in the system that are at the root of the lack of recognition, lack of access to resources, and exclusion that WROs experience.

And so FHN members in Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, and South Africa – conducted research to document their own humanitarian leadership, and that of their peers in the response to the pandemic. Their findings have been published in a series of national reports and a global report entitled Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens. The reports highlight multiple critical barriers presented by the humanitarian system that undermine the leadership of WROs, and describe not only their ability to respond to crises but their long-term sustainability as essential women's rights actors working to protect and advance women's rights.

In six of the eight studies, WROs were unable to access donor funding, in large part as a result of excessive due diligence requirements that these organizations, working around the clock to respond to the emergency with limited resources, were (particularly in times of crisis) unable to fill. Instead, WROs undertaking critical work — ensuring that women with disabilities were able to meet basic needs throughout the crisis, for example — funded their efforts with their leaders' personal resources or funds contributed by the community. At the same time, women and their organizations were excluded from decision-making processes — left out of planning undertaken by international and national actors and from emergency response committees at all levels.

And yet those organizations persevered, working collectively in the "spirit of sisterhood" to challenge injustice, demand that their voices be heard, and work to influence the response efforts — and ensure that women's needs were addressed in each context. WROs continue to take action so that women are not left behind in the COVID-19 response and women's rights are advanced through humanitarian action.

For many of us working in the humanitarian sector, the pandemic has re-emphasized much of what we already knew: Emergencies exacerbate gender injustice, in part because the humanitarian system reinforces existing patriarchal social structures by excluding women from funding and decision making. Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens has captured the creativity, resourcefulness, and deep feminist approaches of WROs in the Global South and has presented a powerful argument for why that system must change.

To be part of that change and to create a system that is inclusive of all and creates sustainable, transformative change, humanitarian actors across the system must immediately increase support for organizations advancing women's rights, in the form of direct, long-term, flexible funding. They must recognize their expertise and follow their leadership. A feminist humanitarian system is not only possible; it is critically needed and requires every humanitarian actor — including, importantly, donors — to take action.

Holly_Miller_Naomi_Tulay_Solanke_PhilanTopicHolly Miller is lead at the Feminist Humanitarian Network, a global collective of women leaders working together to achieve a humanitarian system that is guided by feminist principles. Naomi Tulay-Solanke is executive director of Community Healthcare Initiative and a member of the Feminist Humanitarian Network Steering Committee.

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

Business must do more to restore our democracy — and philanthropy must help

February 12, 2021

News_capitol_building_from_mallOn January 6, we witnessed an unprecedented attack on American democracy — the culmination of a sustained campaign to undermine the integrity of the November 2020 election and, ultimately, overturn the will of the people. While our democracy withstood the assault, the insurrection revealed its underlying vulnerability.

Now more than ever, we need to defend democracy. The business community bears some responsibility for our current predicament and has an especially important role to play in upholding democratic norms. Philanthropy can help by holding corporate America to account for its role in degrading those norms, and by encouraging reforms that ensure that corporate political activity works for, not against, the public interest.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many CEOs, companies, and trade associations responded by condemning the assault and calling for consequences for those responsible. A number of major corporations, including Marriott International, American Express, Dow Chemical, and AT&T, ended their political contributions to members of Congress who voted against the certification of the Electoral College votes. Dozens of other companies temporarily suspended all political contributions.

These statements and actions have been important. Amidst a broader, troubling trend of declining trust, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows business to be the most trusted of our major institutions — and the only one seen by a majority of Americans as both ethical and competent. The same survey revealed that 86 percent of Americans expect CEOs to speak out on social issues and highlighted the expectation among respondents that corporations should work with government to solve problems. Given Americans' generally favorable view of business, business leaders' unambiguous condemnation of the attack was a necessary affirmation of the election's legitimacy.

And yet it is deeply troubling that it took such a profound crisis for a critical mass of business leaders to express their concern about our broken politics and to condemn racist, anti-democratic actions. Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and current chair of the B Team, said in the Harvard Business Review that CEOs "chose tax breaks and a booming stock market over ethical leadership," and concluded that "this silence — in the face of repeated assaults on common decency, respect and rule of law — helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the recent insurrection to occur."

This abdication of responsibility by business leaders is remarkable given the formidable political power corporations wield. And as large corporations in almost every industry have consolidated their market power, they have also assembled a formidable political advocacy infrastructure to protect and advance their commercial interests.

This power is overwhelmingly deployed to advance specific policies that advance individual companies' commercial interests, but often directly contradict companies' public commitments and stated aims on important social issues.

For example, with respect to racial justice, companies have contributed to state-level 527 organizations that are at the forefront of rolling back voting rights for people of color.

On climate change, many of the companies publicizing the steps they are taking to achieve net zero carbon emissions are contributing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the strongest lobbies opposing major climate reform.

Even during the COVID pandemic, companies have been supporting organizations behind the scenes working to advance litigation designed to weaken unions, or have been engaged in outright union busting.

Such hypocrisy has to stop.

Investors increasingly are demanding greater transparency and accountability from corporations, as evidenced by demands from asset owners for companies to immediately stop funding treason, and by the growing number of shareholder resolutions concerning political spending and lobbying disclosure.

The American public is also demanding greater accountability from corporations with respect to their political activity. According to recent polling from JUST Capital, 78 percent of Americans favor requiring companies to publicly disclose all political donations, while a majority believe corporate political spending is harmful to democracy.

Collectively, these trends are changing the risk-reward calculus for corporations engaged in political activity. Indeed, this could be a moment when norms and standards of corporate political accountability actually shift. But for that to happen, philanthropy needs to be more strategically, deliberately, and forcefully involved in catalyzing the change we need.

First, foundations and family offices that have direct relationships with corporations should explore opportunities for direct engagement and dialogue with respect to corporate political accountability. Through their board members, endowment investments, and/or philanthropic partnerships, foundations can signal how important it is that the positive impact of corporate philanthropic engagement is not offset, undone, or undermined by corporate political activity working at cross-purposes to the public good.

Second, philanthropies can do more to support the advocacy organizations fighting for accountability in corporate political spending and lobbying. These organizations are often small and lightly funded but punch well above their weight and have been highly influential. Look at the impact that data from the Center for Responsive Politics has in the media, or the influence that Wharton and the Center for Political Accountability's Zicklin Index has had on incentivizing companies to voluntarily disclose their political spending.

Third, philanthropies can strengthen their focus on corporate political accountability in their programmatic work and across their influence strategies, from federal and state policy advocacy to grassroots power building. For example, the Action Center for Race in the Economy works with organizations leading local campaigns for racial, economic, and environmental justice. They use their in-depth research capabilities to investigate sources of corporate political influence and dark money in key policy fights and help those campaigns connect the dots between their issues and corporate and Wall Street actors who often operate out of sight.

Finally, the philanthropic community collectively needs to build stronger coalitions to address corporate political influence — coalitions that span different issue areas and deliberately ignore funding silos. Funders approach corporate political influence through multiple frames, including democracy reform, getting money out of politics, climate change, and racial and economic justice, among others.

Now is the time for funders to come together to explore how we can complement and reinforce each other's work and leverage this moment to drive real change in the relationship between big business and democracy.

Chris_Jurgens_Omidyar_Network_PhilanTopicChris Jurgens is a director on Omidyar Network's Reimagining Capitalism team and leads a portfolio focused on how corporations and capital markets can contribute to a more inclusive capitalism.

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

Challenging ableism through language justice

December 03, 2020

Disability_word_cloud_GettyImages

Social justice movements have long recognized the power of language. The idea of language justice — "the right everyone has to communicate in the language in which we feel most comfortable" — has helped bridge the equity gap when people who speak different languages work together. Multilingual spaces can connect movements across language barriers and build shared power across language differences. Below, we argue that the concept of language justice needs to be enlarged to other contexts and forms of communication — in particular, that by and about disabled people.

In 2017, we launched the Open Society Community Youth Fellowship Program, with a focus on engaging young people as individual grantees through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens. Through this experience, we learned that certain words can have unintended and damaging consequences and can reinforce stigmas related to oppression and ableism. We also learned what it means in practice to apply language justice to all stages of grantmaking, centering disabled people in these processes. Here we want to share these lessons, which both involve listening to and learning from disabled people, in accordance with the disability movement's key principle of "Nothing about us without us."

Shifting power through word use

Discriminatory and stigmatizing words are often used in everyday exchanges. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and with the current political instability in the U.S., there has been widespread use — in emails, tweets, and mainstream media — of expressions such as "You're not nuts. This is a really crazy time!" or "I hope this finds you well during these crazy times," "falling on deaf ears," and "interrogating our blind spots." Politicians are referred to as "mad," "psycho," or "narcissistic." These everyday uses of language can reinforce stigma, implying, even when it is not the intention of the speaker or writer, that people with mental health conditions never make sound judgments, that being deaf means being stubborn, or that being blind means being unaware. Terms like "crazy," "nuts," and "insane" can be especially discriminatory and offensive, particularly when metaphorically used to mean "bad," "bizarre," or "very unusual" (as in "these crazy times").

In applying a language justice approach as funders, we also learned to be intentional in analyzing the words we use to talk about disability. In some parts of the world, disability rights activists tend to prefer "person with disability" to "disabled person," which, they argue, can suggest that one's identity is wholly defined by one's disability, perpetuating stigma and discrimination. In the United Kingdom, however, "disabled person" is widely used by activists due to the stronger prevalence of the social model of disability, according to which a person is disabled not by their sensory, motor, intellectual, or other impairments but by physical barriers, gaps in provision, and social attitudes that marginalize or exclude them. Adherents to the social model prefer "disabled person" because it emphasizes the disabling effects of society and they do not see such phrasing as discriminatory. It needs to be recognized that both of these naming conventions — "person-first" and "identity-first" — are widespread.

The example of autism highlights a different dimension of this debate. The term "neurodiversity" stresses that all people are different in terms of their expectations and identities, and moves us away from pathologization. It was once considered appropriate to say "people with autism," using person-first terminology. But some with lived experience have stated that autism is part of their identity, not an addition, and therefore prefer "autistic person." Disability activists often emphasize a point that Tom Shakespeare has succinctly stated: "[I]t is a good principle to call people by the names they themselves prefer."

Judgments about what terms are acceptable or discriminatory change over time. Many words referring to people with intellectual disabilities that are now regarded as highly stigmatizing were once used in scientific communities, as well as in official medical and educational policy documents, as legitimate descriptions of certain individuals and their genetic conditions. This does not mean that those words were not already problematic; it just means their connotations and the extent of their social acceptance changed over time until they eventually became unacceptable and taboo.

The word "cripple," and in particular its shortened form "crip," is a particular case. In the last two decades, disability activists have reclaimed "crip" and "cripple" as positive terms, as a badge of identity, flipping their connotations against their oppressive usage in much the same way "queer" was reclaimed by the LGBT movement. As an article written early in that process explained, "by reclaiming 'cripple', disabled activists take the image in their identity that scares outsiders and make it a source of militant pride." It remains problematic, however, for non-disabled people to use the term, even if their intention is to express solidarity with the disability rights movement. Here, too, people with disabilities must be in control of decisions about language that refers to them.

The point is not to "police" or "cancel" certain ways of talking, to ban certain words and elevate others, but to argue that we all need to be aware that expressions like these carry considerable power and can reinforce negative narratives, stereotypes, and discriminatory attitudes. Prejudiced language is endemic in society. As funders working through a language-justice approach, we need to recognize this and be guided by what disabled people themselves feel and say is discriminatory, stigmatizing, offensive, and/or hurtful. This is a basic principle of language justice in relation to disability.

Shifting power with language justice in grantmaking practices

In a grant-giving context, as elsewhere, a language-justice approach can help shift power and challenge ableism at each stage of a grant cycle. We learned that implementing these approaches meant rethinking timelines and systems based on notions of urgency and perfectionism. It does take longer to create the conditions and the spaces where people can exercise their power in their own language and in ways that are accessible for them. Looking, even inadvertently, for conventional kinds of "perfection" in applicants or our own operational processes can reinforce existing power relations and made us reflect on the intersections between ableism and other forms of discrimination, as highlighted by the Disability Justice movement. Based on our experience, we offer some suggestions on how language justice can be implemented through grantmaking practice.

First, reduce barriers and widen participation, calls for proposals must be accessible. This means application materials should be translated into the languages used by potential applicants' communities and also re-worked into Easy-to-Read, a format that conveys information in short sentences with widely used and easily understood words in combination with images, or Plain Language. Word, PDF, and Power Point documents should use accessible document formats. Informational webinars or events should be conducted in the languages used by applicants (with interpretation for the funder, if needed), as well as offered with sign language interpretation and Communication Access Real-Time Transcription to enable better information access.

Second, applicants should be given the choice to submit their materials in different communication formats (written, video, audio, etc.). No one method of communication should be imposed. For example, requiring only written submissions — even for only one part of the application — could exclude some signing Deaf people. If interviews are conducted, simultaneous or consecutive interpretation should be made available.

Third, once the successful applicants have been selected, welcome documents and other important information should be provided in Plain Language, and in the languages and formats used by the communities they represent. The same applies to reporting requirements, which are often daunting and technically complex. Grantees should have the option of submitting reports in their language or format of choice (video, audio, etc.). In our case, this then meant transcribing reports to meet the required formats of our institution. When grantees come together for virtual or in-person meetings, they must be asked well in advance what accessibility and accommodation supports they will need. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and European Disability Forum offer excellent guidance for accessible meetings.

Final thoughts

Language justice is about challenging a widely accepted and internalized reality of exclusion and the dominance of institutionally powerful cultures and people. For us it has meant checking our own privilege as people holding particular kinds of institutional power. It has also meant acknowledging that we need to learn from the communities we want to support. Listening carefully is just as important as speaking.

Rachele_tardi_zachary_turkRachele Tardi is the director of and Zachary Turk is a program officer with the Youth Exchange at the Open Society Foundations.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


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

Subscribe to PhilanTopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Filter posts

Select
Select
Select