203 posts categorized "Social Justice"

Climate philanthropy beyond the check: holding banks accountable

February 18, 2021

Pumpjack in Alberta Oilfield_GettyImagesClimate philanthropists are often called on to support grassroots activists fighting fossil fuel projects in their backyards — like the Black community in Louisiana's Cancer Alley that is protesting the siting of yet another petrochemical plant or the Standing Rock Sioux fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. A growing awareness of environmental justice means we look to fund folks who are directly impacted by the project in question, as they're usually the ones with the best solution. That's a positive development.

But philanthropists can do more to support climate action — and they can do it without having to give more dollars. How? By using the clout we have with our banks.

While individuals and foundations give generously in support of frontline climate activists, most of our wealth is parked in banks that use those funds in ways that exacerbate the problems we're trying to address. Big banks like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, and Morgan Stanley are major funders of the fossil fuel industry and provide many of the players in that space with unrestricted lines of credit. That money, in turn, is used to fund the projects our grantees are fighting to stop.

Sound wacky? It is.

Enbridge's Line 3 project is a case in point. In northern Minnesota, Chippewa water protectors have been sitting in trees and in front of bulldozers, fighting to stop construction of what has been billed as a "replacement" tar sands pipeline across three hundred and thirty-seven miles of treaty-protected lands and waterways used by the Chippewa since time immemorial for hunting, fishing, and wild rice gathering. Pipelines leak; sooner or later, they do. The Line 3 pipeline would transport more than 900,000 barrels of diluted bitumen (tar sands) over two hundred different water sources to Enbridge's refinery each and every day. The completion of Line 3 would also lock us into another half century — the lifetime of a pipeline — of tar sands pollution and the further destruction of Alberta's boreal forest. Tar sands are an environmental injustice of historic proportions perpetrated on Canadian First Nations and a climate tragedy for all of us.

Many philanthropists have provided support to the groups that are fighting Line 3 and getting arrested on these cold winter days; they include GINIW, MN350, and Honor the Earth. The work of these activists truly is heroic, and they deserve our support. But we have influence beyond our philanthropic dollars, because Enbridge needs a new loan if it is to complete the pipeline, and that loan likely will be coming from your banks.

Nearly three dozen big banks currently underwrite a $12 billion-plus "credit facility" for Enbridge. One loan is up for renewal at the end of March, another in July. The lead agents in the U.S. are Bank of America, TD Bank (a Canadian bank with a strong U.S. presence), and Wells Fargo. These banks will orchestrate the securitized funding with participation from Citigroup, Huntington Bancshares, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Truist Financial.

What's more, the loan to Enbridge is an unrestricted line of credit, meaning the company can build whatever it wants with the funds. Interestingly, many of the same banks that extend credit to Enbridge have made commitments to align their loan portfolios with the Paris Agreement, including achieving net-zero carbon emissions in those portfolios. JP Morgan has adapted a "Paris-aligned financing commitment" that says, in part,  "[we] will establish intermediate emission targets for 2030 for [our] financing portfolio," while Morgan Stanley has announced that it intends to reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050. Elsewhere, Bank of America has joined the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF), a Dutch organization that measures the financing of carbon emissions, with BofA vice chair Anne Finucane announcing that "we are helping to drive a consistent framework for institutions to measure financed emissions, as well as providing a useful tool in the management of these emissions...."

Despite such statements, participating in an unrestricted credit facility that enables Enbridge to complete Line 3 means these banks have no current plan to meaningfully address or measure financed emissions — let alone  "manage" them. Indeed, by going ahead with the loan, these same banks are increasing their financing for carbon emissions. 

High-net-worth clients of these banks can and should be questioning them about their hypocrisy. We should ask — no, demand — that they not just measure financed emissions but take action to reduce them. Banks listen; they care about their reputations. In response to a spate of negative publicity, demands from the G'wichin people, and much client pressure, all six big U.S. money-center banks and dozens of international ones recently announced they will not fund drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These are just a few of the examples of successful environmental pressure campaigns brought to bear on banks.

It may seem like a tough ask to suggest to your bank how it should conduct its business. It's not. First of all, it's your bank, and it needs your deposits. Second, you're only asking them to observe and strengthen their own commitments to climate action and environmental justice. And third, with "peak oil" upon us, banks will benefit from our prodding, in that the actions they take to address climate change almost certainly will improve their bottom lines. Don't believe me? Consider: the market capitalization of Exxon Mobil (XOM), which peaked above $500 billion in 2007, no longer is large enough for the company to be included in the Dow Jones, while the two best performing equity funds in 2020 were Invesco clean energy funds. The times they are a-changin'.

Foundations and high-net-worth donors can help advance the climate action movement by raising their voices. For some, that might be more difficult than writing a check, but it's really not that hard — and the upside is, well, exponential. Imagine if no one had to chain themselves to an Enbridge bulldozer; imagine if Enbridge couldn't secure the funds it needs to build Line 3. Imagine the impact your action would have on Native communities, ranchers, and farmers — not just tomorrow but for generations to come.

Fellow philanthropists, let's make our voices heard. Starting with Line 3, let's demand that our banks and bankers stop funding the climate crisis.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Jill Soffer_PhilanTopicJill Soffer is co-founder of Our Part, a foundation that funds climate and democracy work, with a focus on movement building initiatives.  She also serves on the boards of the Sierra Club Foundation, the Wilderness Workshop, and the NRDC Action Fund and recently founded Banking for Climate, a campaign aimed at engaging high-net-worth individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to ask their banks to stop funding fossil fuel expansion.

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's 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_PhilanTopic

Chris 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.

2020: A year to remember

February 03, 2021

Social-media-engagementI've spoken often about how people get involved in social causes. And despite the turmoil we experienced in 2020 and the competing demands on our attention, I believe more strongly than ever that social issue engagement begins and deepens in predictable ways.

The steps look something like this:

 

1. We hear about a social issue or cause that intrigues or moves us and get to work learning everything we can about the issue;

2. Energized by what we've learned, we take a small action to demonstrate our support for the issue or cause

3. Now fully committed to the issue or cause, we look to band with others — in the real world, virtually, or both — to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act.

Because they represent a natural progression from initial interest to full engagement, each step is both a destination and a link to the step that follows.

Let's take a closer look.

Social Issue Engagement

You become aware of an issue and what others are saying. The first step toward having a position on any issue is to educate oneself about the issue. Whom does it affect? What are the possible positions I could take? What are people in and outside my networks saying about the issue? Is everything people are saying accurate? Do I have enough information to form a sound opinion?

As we've seen in our Cause and Social Influence research over the years, the sources and veracity of the information young Americans use to educate themselves about an issue are changing. With the racial equity protests in 2020, for instance, Black Americans responded more to statements and calls to action from organizations they already followed online or to comments in online forums by their peers than from broadcast news or social media advertising. During the presidential election, on the other hand, young Americans reported being most influenced by social media — even though 87 percent of respondents to our survey agreed with the statement that social media platforms "often" or "very often" propagate false or misleading information and statements.

There are 3.8 billion social media users in the world, a number that's increasing more than 9 percent a year. Yet according to the Digital 2020 report from We Are Social, social media penetration (users per capita) is still only 49 percent. Which, fake news concerns notwithstanding, means social media as a go-to source for information is here to stay.

You take a small action because it's easy. I've said this many times: In almost any situation, our natural inclination is to do the easy thing. Even when our empathy is triggered and we feel we must do something to help, we're usually happy to settle for the small, passive action; it doesn't take much to feel good about and convince ourselves we are helping the cause.

Our research bears this out. The top three actions young Americans took in 2020 to help others were to shop locally more than they had In the past, post or share content on a social media platform, and sign a petition. By performing these small acts, many young Americans felt they'd made their voice heard.

Band with others to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act. Although this deeper level of engagement is not for everyone, it is an opportunity for movement leaders, community organizers, and others to bring people from different backgrounds together to actively work to advance action on an issue or cause. For folks on the front lines of an issue, this is where real change happens.

The biggest takeaway from the research we conducted last year (see Cause and Social Influence 2020 Year in Review) was this: Young Americans believe the best way to bring about social change is to vote.

We also found that a high percentage of young Americans were donating to the issues and causes they support. Indeed, the giving participation rate for this cohort, which had held steady at 9 percent from 2017-19, doubled in 2020, with especially strong support for:

  • Animals/Animal Rights                             34%
  • COVID-19                                                     26%
  • Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination         25%
  • Healthcare Reform                                     23%
  • Climate Change                                           17%

Companies are on a similar journey

Companies and brands continue to take their own steps on the road to more robust civic engagement. Our finding that young Americans increasingly expect corporations to support issues and causes they care about and to be genuine in their support is echoed by the recent Social Trends 2021 report: "Being a purpose-driven brand isn’t something you can fake.... 60% of millennials and Gen Z plan on spending more money with businesses that take care of employees during the pandemic."

In other words, companies concerned about authenticity and transparency should look first to their own internal practices. Companies that want to be credited with socially aware and environmentally responsible policies should be sure they're walking the walk before they start talking the talk on social media or in their advertising campaigns.

After so many significant moments in 2020, some marketers began 2021 with lowered expectations; others are being extra careful not to say the wrong thing or strike the wrong tone. Nothing illustrates their concerns better than the decision by many brands to pull their Super Bowl advertising. Others, including teams at Pepsi, Budweiser, Ford, Olay, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, and Little Caesars, are starting the year with more of a corporate social responsibility mindset and planning to allocate some of their advertising dollars to boosting awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures and vaccination campaigns.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

Last February, before COVID was on most Americans' radar, I wrote about the many individuals who wished we could "return to a time when people knew right from wrong and were committed to liberty and justice for all." Little did I know what the months ahead had in store for us! But even then, I noted that levels of engagement shift based on a range of factors: individual perceptions of what is (and isn't) important, our understanding of the root causes of problems, and new ways to engage with issues and each other.

A year later, having witnessed any number of shattering moments and a fair amount of intense social upheaval, we find ourselves, in many ways, in the same place. Certainly, the way people engage with issues and causes hasn't changed. And the basic question remains: What have we learned from the past and how can we apply it to the future?

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the book The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

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

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

Make America whole: how to heal our divided society

January 08, 2021

America_dividedOn Wednesday, a white man strolled into an office, settled down in a leather chair, and casually put his dirty boots on the desk in front of him. I saw this, and I wept.

For this was not his office, but that of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She had been evacuated by armed police for her own protection, and the man, Richard Barnett, was part of a pro-Trump mob of domestic terrorists who had smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol building. It had been a long and traumatic day at the end of a long and traumatic four years, and this is what reduced me to tears — a photograph of a white man with his feet up.

How very easily he and his fellow extremists had strolled, virtually unchallenged by police, through the halls of power. How comfortably he committed the crime of sedition, disgracing our country while the whole world watched in amazement. How warmly he was praised for his thuggery by a president who called him a "very special person" and a "patriot."

I wept for our national humiliation and for the violation of our precious, fragile democracy. I wept for all the Black protesters who just six months previously had knelt on the hard, hot streets outside that very building to peacefully proclaim that their lives matter and who had been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and arrested for their pains.

Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol in the dying days of Donald Trump's nightmarish presidency had tattoos linking them to White supremacist groups with their roots in some of the darkest — or perhaps whitest — chapters of U.S. history. Racism and its dreadful consequences are deeply engrained in our past and have never been fully resolved. Our present is tainted by the ongoing devaluation of those with Black and brown bodies: we can still hear their blood crying from the ground.

I truly believe that the struggle for justice for all will succeed one day, but not before we, as a nation, own the sin of racism. Its horrors cannot be negated; they must be examined honestly and repented, and the pernicious myth of race dismantled for good.

But rather than seek retaliation against those who are taken in by racist lies and madcap conspiracy theories, we should reach out to them. We should strive for reconciliation, for with God's blessings of forgiveness and grace, even the worst of us can be turned away from evil in repentance and redirected toward good. And if it proves beyond us to change the minds of these people, then we must hope to teach their children the true values of democracy. We must show them how to love those who don't look or sound like their parents, so that this hatred does not poison the hearts of another generation of Americans.

Sadly, the divisions we face today are wounds that go well beyond a few extremist groups; they permeate our society. President-elect Biden is now fighting to mend the soul of America. He cannot do it alone or quickly — a cure will take decades — but he can lead us all in taking bold steps toward healing.

Wounds must be allowed to breathe: first, we must talk openly to one another about our discontent and our anger, our fears and our hopes. And we must listen. This will require love, civility, and courage, but we should not rest until we find common ground. We may be surprised by how much unites us. We all have a soul. We all dream of a better future for ourselves and our children. We are all patriots. We all long for justice. We are all God's children.

Having acknowledged our shared humanity, the next step will be to repair our broken nation. Politicians, faith and community leaders, and educators all have their roles to play, but each of us has the capacity to offer our own unique solution: look into your heart and ask yourself, What can I do to make the world better? How can I overcome my suspicion of the "other" and truly attempt to engage with, understand, and even love someone whose ideology is utterly different from my own? How can I redirect our energies toward the common good?

If I could, I would sit down in a neutral space somewhere with that man who put his feet up on Speaker Pelosi's desk. I would ask him what he was hoping to achieve that day, what he was so angry about and why. I would try to really listen to his answers, however abhorrent I mighr find his beliefs. I suspect he would tell me he thought he was fighting to save democracy, because he saw it as the very soul of America, the source of all hope. That, surely, is one thing we would be able to agree on. And perhaps it would be a start...

Headshot_keith_mageeKeith Magee, author of the forthcoming Prophet Justice: Essays and Reflections on Race, Religion and Politics, is a theologian, public intellectual, and social justice scholar. He is also chair and professor of social justice at Newcastle University and a senior fellow in culture and justice at University College London.

3 ways to decolonize philanthropy right now

December 23, 2020

News_globe_africaThe events of 2020 reinforce how desperately a paradigm shift is needed in philanthropy if it hopes to create more durable solutions to the world's most complex challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how important it is to have agile, innovative organizations capable of responding quickly to shifting local contexts. At the same time, the reawakening of the social justice movement in the United States crystallized what happens when people are chronically underrepresented and left out of decisions that affect their lives.

While addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming, it's clear that one of the most effective ways funders can contribute is to support organizations built around community-driven solutions. Why? Because solutions for the people created by the people have the greatest chance of successfully changing the status quo.

While this may seem obvious, it entails a major shift in the way donors currently approach their giving — indeed, nothing less than a desire to "decolonize philanthropy." Decolonizing philanthropy, a term introduced by writer and activist Edgar Villanueva, requires philanthropists to assess to whom they choose to give as well as how their giving perpetuates the very problems they aim to solve.

Whether in the U.S. or in Kenya, where our organization, RefuSHE, operates, we see countless examples of well-intentioned donors pouring money into solutions they think should solve a problem — without checking whether the solution was created with input from the community most impacted by the problem. In the global development space, this often manifests as NGOs working in the Global South being led by leadership that sits in the Global North, far from the realities of the work and with only an anecdotal understanding of the local context. Too often, this modus operandi funnels money into short-lived solutions that feed an organizational culture of dependency rather than one of sustainability.

The approach itself is rooted in the imperialistic origins of "international development." Following World War II, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, introducing the building blocks for the international and humanitarian aid structure we see today. During the long decades of the Cold War, the U.S. awarded aid to other countries with the understanding that those countries would play by our rules and that the aid itself would be used in ways we approved of. At the other end of the spectrum, private philanthropic giving was driven, in part, by a "savior" mentality and the need to "lift up" poor people in other countries. In both cases, financial assistance was "given" from a place of control by people who thought they knew what was best for the communities they were trying to help. Solutions were parachuted in, communities were forced to adopt new ways, and, in many cases, the improved quality of life that was promised often failed to materialize.

To ensure greater progress toward a shared prosperity, decolonizing philanthropy presents an opportunity to make every dollar go further by centering investment in community-driven solutions. Here are three ways funders can ensure their investments are more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Invest in local leadership and programs co-designed with the communities served

Time and again, we've seen that lasting change arrives when communities have ownership of the solutions to the challenges they face. Interventions that feel forced not only tend to have a short life span but often yield less impact. The stories of PlayPumps and READ Global illustrate the difference well. The PlayPump system, a merry-go-round-like wheel that pumps water from wells as it is turned, was heavily endorsed by the international aid community and quickly scaled to more than fifteen hundred pumps in Zambia without much research or surveying of communities in advance. Not unpredictably, within two years a quarter of the installed pumps were in need of repairs. PlayPumps, it turned out, were fragile and cost four times what a traditional pump costs. What's more, many local women where the pumps had been installed reported feeling embarrassed every time they had to get water for their families, while a report by the Guardian found that children would have to "play" on the pumps twenty-seven hours a day to meet the per-pump target of delivering water to twenty-five hundred people. In short, the pumps failed to improve clean water availability in communities across Zambia, and much money and time was invested with little to show for it.

By contrast, READ Global embraced a community-driven approach that has stood the test of time. For more than twenty-five years, the organization has partnered with rural villages in Nepal, India, and Bhutan to establish community-driven libraries, resource centers, and social enterprises known as READ Centers that are owned and operated by the local community. There are now more than a hundred self-sustaining centers spread across the three countries, and not one center has closed since the first one opened in 1991.

Locally driven solutions are most effective when an organization's leadership team understands the local context first-hand and is strongly connected to the local community. Local leaders have a better understanding of how to create culturally relevant programs, how to optimize operations for the local context, and how to build trusting relationships with and beyond the community. All of which creates more opportunity for partnerships between those providing the service and those using the service.

At RefuSHE, we witnessed this first-hand when we invested in bringing on Geoffrey Thige to lead our Kenya operations as executive director. When COVID hit, having that executive presence in Kenya enabled us to navigate the public health crisis much more quickly and effectively. In fact, we were the first organization serving refugees in Kenya to move to virtual learning. And despite initial concerns that some donors might balk, seeing the tangible benefits of Geoffrey's presence in Nairobi gave us the courage to restructure our leadership and shift the majority of our executive functions to Kenya.

Funding is the biggest hurdle facing NGOs looking to similarly restructure. Donors need to trust local leadership and stop supporting organizational infrastructures that are built to cater to them more than the beneficiary communities they are intended to serve. Having an organization's CEO and "top brass" in the West is a relic of a twentieth-century donor model that has lost much of its relevance. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good solutions. If they truly want to support effective, long-lasting solutions, donors need to move away from creating cultures of dependency that too often are perpetuated and reinforced by a "white guilt" mentality.

Fund collaboration rather than competition

The current donor incentive structure is rooted in competition. Organizations in the same field are constantly competing with one another to secure funds they need to survive. Competition for funding among NGOs working in similar spaces also stifles their ability to share information, data, and learnings. This scarcity model disincentivizes transparency and pushes organizations to keep lessons learned to themselves in order to stand out in the quest for funding.

Real, tangible impact requires collaboration. Our NGO, for instance, equips girl and women refugees with housing, education, counseling, and the vocational skills they need to reestablish some semblance of stability in their lives. While our services are rooted in a holistic approach to the plight of refugees, we don't work on resettlement cases (where refugees are formally resettled to a country like the U.S.); instead, we partner with organizations like HIAS and Refuge Point that specialize in refugee resettlement cases. When funding streams disincentivize an ecosystem of NGOs from collaborating, it is a disservice to the very communities we aim to serve.

Funding — and rewarding — organizations that work together to address the root causes of multifaceted issues enables communities to walk through all the doors of opportunity at once, rather than one door at time. Collaboration also fosters a culture where service providers share learnings and don't waste precious resources repeating mistakes. Above all, it means the people we aim to serve can more easily navigate the various services they need to establish productive, fulfilling lives.

Award unrestricted grants

All too often, funding comes with restrictions on how, when, and where it can be used. This assumes the donor knows best just because they have the money, rather than acknowledging the hard-earned insights of organizations working on the ground every day. Unrestricted funding requires trust in the organizations in which you invest. Unfortunately, this kind of trust too often is awarded to organizations led by leaders in the Global North with whom donors feel most comfortable. While many have good track records, the practice cuts out organizations that may be smaller in scale but that have more depth and experience collaborating with the communities they serve.

It's an open secret in Kenya that if you set up a nonprofit and are hoping for funding from the West, you'll have much better luck if your leaders are white and/or of Western origin. Whether in the U.S. or other developed countries, data backs up the observation that Black and African leaders are not awarded the same kind of trust. This leads to nonprofits where white, often well-connected Western leaders earn the top salaries, sucking up resources that could otherwise be used to attract top local talent that is much better suited for the job but too often undervalued.

Unrestricted funding also has the power to build more durable institutions. It allows organizations to balance how much is invested in program implementation and how much is invested in competitive salaries, technology infrastructure, and/or new facilities that can enhance the organization's operations over the long term. (We should all toast Mackenzie Scott for shattering the philanthropic establishment glass ceiling with her unprecedented giving in the form of large unrestricted grants.)

The time for change is now

As with any change, there will be those who resist it, those who say there isn't enough local talent to fill the available leadership positions, and those who say local leadership team won't get enough face time with donors if those donors are based in far-off countries. We ask those naysayers to take a critical look at how that critique is rooted in an imperialist mindset that blames communities in need for their problems rather than seeing them as the solution to those problems.

The movement to decolonize philanthropy is a big step forward in terms of making the most of every dollar invested in social good and creating inclusive, durable solutions to economic prosperity. We can make the choice to stop wasting money on short-sighted solutions. The time for change is now.

Thige_adly_refuSHE_philantopicGeoffrey Thige is the current executive director and incoming CEO of RefuSHE. Jailan Adly is the organization's outgoing CEO and incoming managing director.

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.

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

Why regulatory modernization is essential to a nimble human services system

October 30, 2020

Food_bank_central_eastern_north_carolina_philantopicOver the last eight months, we've all watched as existing health inequities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also learned that social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, and play — put people of color and low-income Americans at greater risk of infection than others, and that those communities are more likely to be negatively impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic. The supports that normally help families meet such challenges are delivered through the collaborative efforts of America’s health and human services infrastructure, including public-sector agencies, philanthropic entities, and community-based organizations.

COVID-19 has turned everything we know about how to deliver these critical services on its head. The way people apply for help, the ways in which the human services workforce carries out essential duties, and even how clients engage in program activities are being redesigned and -imagined. As a result, public agencies and their community partners have had to accelerate the modernization of their business processes to preserve and expand access to the services that undergird an effective health and human services ecosystem.

Even as we carry out this work, however, organizations on the ground must operationalize these changes within a local, state, and federal regulatory framework that is in desperate need of remodeling. Congress and federal agencies have taken emergency actions since the pandemic hit to give more flexibility to service providers. One such agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, relaxed its payment rules so that medical practitioners can be reimbursed for the purchase of remote communications technology. While the change is temporary, it underscores the long-term need to simplify rules and regulations in ways that enable organizations to prioritize outcomes over process. There are similar opportunities across the health and human services sector.

In 2018, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association released the National Imperative Report: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, which identified overlapping, conflicting, and outdated regulations as one of the major barriers to successful service delivery. The report recommended that regulators at all levels of government commit to a fundamental review and reform of human services CBO regulation. The pandemic underscores that need.

One example of needed regulatory modernization is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Unlike block grant programs, SNAP, the largest nutrition program in the country, operates within a highly regulated framework, with detailed rules that dictate how various agencies can administer their respective programs. As the pandemic has revealed, such a framework is particularly challenging for service providers to adapt to during a crisis. From March through June, states submitted more than five hundred and sixty waiver requests across seventy-nine different waiver categories related to SNAP. Approval or denial of these waivers repeatedly came just days before, or even after, states were required to implement changes and often required further guidance, clarification, or re-issuance at a later date. The constant state of uncertainty created inefficiencies and sub-optimal outcomes in service delivery at a time when providers should have been empowered to take decisive action to maintain critical services.

The pandemic also reinforces the need to review and modernize regulations to better reflect what is currently working. Rapid scaling of remote benefit processing functions suggests that agencies can reduce their reliance on onerous interviews in the application process and still maintain the integrity of their programs. Similarly, policies that support expansion of online purchasing options can have a major impact in reducing barriers to food access for individuals and communities. There's also a need to evaluate current and proposed SNAP regulations that restrict the strategies states can use to support households facing barriers to employment and to better align the program with other systems to create pathways that lead to greater economic mobility.

The child welfare system, which often relies on in-person visits and interventions, is another system that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, it became apparent that the system could not continue to operate normally and that changes were needed to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children, staff, and families. The U.S. Children's Bureau was extremely responsive to these challenges, issuing modifications to allow monthly caseworker visits by video conference and later providing funding flexibility under existing federal law for the purchase of cell phones and equipment for birth parents and foster kids. This kind of flexibility with respect to technology has allowed those in the system to better meet the needs of the children and families they serve and to maximize the efficiency with which interventions are delivered. Given the ever-increasing role of technology in society, these changes should be made permanent.

The pandemic has underscored the need for a more flexible, nimble regulatory environment that enables state and local agencies and CBOs to creatively engage in experimentation and innovation, embrace technology, and improve outcomes for individuals and families in their communities.

The time is ripe for more permanent regulatory modernization in the health and human services space. We urge federal, state, and local policy makers to embrace such a paradigm shift, building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and providing the kind of regulatory flexibility that fosters innovation and, ultimately, leads to better outcomes for all.

Headshot_ilana_levinson_matt_lyons_philantopicIlana Levinson is a senior director for government relations for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Matt Lyons is the director of Policy and Research with the American Public Human Services Association.

Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities

October 27, 2020

Stop_AAPI_hateAs the nation grapples with its legacy of systemic racism and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poor people and communities of color, philanthropy needs to take a stronger stand for a community that too often is overlooked: the 22.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who call the United States home.

As a formerly incarcerated immigrant who is now leading a foundation, I am acutely aware of the need for increased philanthropic support targeting marginalized AAPI communities. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic dollars goes to funding AAPI causes. At a time when AAPIs are facing a new wave of discrimination and hate and, like other communities of color, are suffering disproportionately from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, that's not enough.

Why are AAPI causes so underfunded? Partly because of the false perception that Asian Americans don't face the same kinds of structural racism and discrimination as other communities of color. But a quick tour of American history reveals that AAPI communities have always had to contend with racist policies driven by anti-Asian sentiment — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the Immigration Act of 1924, to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s.

Sadly, the tradition of scapegoating and discrimination against Asian Americans has once again reared its ugly head, with people in power spreading racist characterizations of the pandemic as the "China virus" and the "Kung Flu." In July, Stop AAPI Hate — an initiative launched in March by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University reported 2,583 incidents of discrimination and harassment against Asian Americans in the three months between March 19 and August 5, 2020.

Even before COVID-19, Asian Americans were facing significant challenges. When people think of Asian Americans as a single monolithic group, they are ignoring the appreciable diversity of AAPI communities, as well as the many disparities in education, income level, health outcomes, and other measures. Pew Research reports that Asian Americans are the most economically unequal group in the country and, as a group, have seen a dramatic increase since the 1970s in the number of its members living in poverty.

We can thank popular culture for perpetuating the myth of a monolithic "Asian" community. It is often the wealthy, successful Chinese- or Japanese-American professional or whiz kid who comes to mind, not the persecuted refugee from Southeast Asia whose pending deportation is a likely death sentence, or the poverty-stricken Pacific Islander caught in the net of mass incarceration. But as long as this "model minority" myth persists and people in power continue to use it as a wedge to seed hate and division, those of us not living the stereotypical "model" life will remain invisible.

I started the New Breath Foundation in 2017 in an attempt to address the lack of funding for AAPI immigrants and refugees, with a focus on those most likely to be impacted by incarceration, the threat of deportation, and violence. As a formerly incarcerated "juvenile lifer," I wanted to stand up for marginalized AAPI populations in the same way that many people stood up for me. People like Anmol Chaddha, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who, over the span of seven years, organized campaigns to support my release from prison and then from immigration detention. There are thousands of other AAPI immigrants and refugees in detention who deserve the chance at a decent life I got as a result of Anmol's efforts.

We support grassroots AAPI organizations that don't currently have a seat at the funding table. And we have connections to and trusted relationships with smaller, less-resourced, community-grown nonprofits that provide a lifeline to people who have nowhere else to turn. For example, without financial support from the New Breath Foundation, Sok Khoeun Loeun, a single father of three who was wrongfully deported to Cambodia, might not have received the legal advocacy and grassroots support that led to his being reunited with his family in the U.S.

Foundations must fund intersectional work that builds power and voice across all Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. To effectively build equity and address the harmful disparities affecting communities of color, philanthropy must look beyond stereotypes and public misconception to see the individuals whose lives are full, complex, and valuable. When we, as donors, take the time to get to know the unique and varied challenges that Asian Americans face and, more importantly, include them in our giving, we are modeling a fuller understanding of racial justice and our commitment to a truly pluralistic, multi-ethnic America.

(Photo credit: Stop AAPI Hate)

Headshot_eddy_zheng philantopicEddy Zheng is founder and president of the New Breath Foundation.

America is ready for a more equitable economy and society

October 12, 2020

Hands holdingThe social ferment we're seeing in Louisville, Kenosha, and many other parts of America is fueled by more than a legitimate revulsion over systemic racism as manifested in discriminatory policing. It has broader underpinnings, led by widespread frustrations with economic inequality.

We believe a substantial portion of Americans, and not just communities of color, support stronger government efforts to narrow these inequality gaps and create a world that works for everyone. And we have survey data to prove it.

For instance, we've found that most Americans support guaranteeing a job for those able and willing to work; suspending rent and mortgage payments (without requiring repayment) for the remainder of this pandemic-wracked year; expanding the Child Tax Credit to provide a refund for children in all low-income families; and mandating that employers follow fair hiring practices that remove barriers to employing people with a criminal history after they have served their sentences.

These are among the findings from a nationwide survey of a thousand adults, and an additional oversample of four hundred Black adults, conducted between August 28 and September 1 by Lake Research Partners. The survey was commissioned by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley and Prosperity Now, and the over-sampling of Blacks was needed to obtain statistically reliable results for a group typically underrepresented in surveys.

The survey found substantial support for a range of possible reforms. The idea of increasing taxes on large corporations to provide grants to Black entrepreneurs was backed by 68 percent of Black respondents, 51 percent of Latinx respondents, and 43 percent of White respondents. In addition, 71 percent of Black respondents support providing payments to Black Americans as restitution for slavery and generations of discriminatory policies, while 24 percent of whites do.

The survey found widespread support, across all ethnic groups, for police reforms that might avert future atrocities such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It showed that nearly three-fourths of Black Americans, two-thirds of Latinx respondents, and three-fifths of whites said they would place a high priority on "having community-resource professionals like social workers, paramedics, or mental-health workers respond alongside police officers in encounters involving homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness, or nonviolent offenses."

Smaller majorities of these groups also supported an alternative version in which community-resource professionals would respond to such calls instead of police officers. Roughly two-thirds of Americans, across all racial lines, would require police officers to live in the cities or towns where they work.

Clearly, our nation's racial and economic divides won't be resolved overnight. But the survey's findings are encouraging, and it's no time to let politics steer us away from feasible, even-if-partial, progress.

In short, the survey identifies common ground with respect to real solutions, as a majority of people across the United States of different racial and ethnic backgrounds support broad economic programs to help close the racial wealth divide. This includes policies designed to guarantee jobs or ensure people's ability to pay for basic necessities such as housing.

Even where there's disagreement, there is space for us to talk with each other. These are complicated issues, and even in these extraordinary times, it's encouraging to see people grappling with them and making good-faith efforts to find a way forward. In fact, rather than stymying progress it seems that the dual crisis of social unrest and COVID-19 is giving our nation an opportunity to create a new economy that serves all Americans.

A holistic approach to building an inclusive economy would require balancing solutions to the most immediate financial needs of the most vulnerable households — in particular, households of color — and the creation of and advocacy for longer-term solutions. The survey's findings suggest the need for proactive efforts to create broader consensus around longer-term policy mechanisms as well as targeted policies to address the specific realities of the most vulnerable groups.

As this presidential campaign enters the final stretch, let's not be distracted by political name-calling but instead seize on the nation's appetite for a fairer, more equitable society.

Powell_cunninghamjohn a. powell is a professor of law and the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. Gary L. Cunningham is the president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a D.C.-based nonprofit focused on financial security for all Americans.

What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning

August 31, 2020

Sierra_club_history-edward-t-parsonsThe Sierra Club, that paragon of environmental activism, just did something unusual: it admitted it has a problem. In July, the nearly hundred-and-thirty-year-old organization released a statement in which it acknowledged the racial prejudices of its founder, environmental icon John Muir, as well as the harm it has caused Black, Indigenous, and people of color over the decades. 

The nationwide protests that followed George Floyd's killing in May have reenergized conversations around our collective need to grapple with the long history of racism in America. The Sierra Club's acknowledgement of its problematic origins and its sincere commitment to make amends should serve as a model for how other organizations and institutions can reckon with their own checkered pasts while not invalidating the positive work they have done over the years. Problems can only be fixed when they have been identified and named; others should take note. 

The Sierra Club is one of the nation's largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the protection of clean water and the adoption of renewable energy, campaigned against the continued use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It's co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and was instrumental in creating the movement that led to the establishment of the National Park System, earning him the sobriquet "Father of the National Parks." 

Notwithstanding its achievements over the decades, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir's harmful writings and beliefs in which it noted that his characterizations of Black and Indigenous people often played on racist stereotypes. "As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history," the statement read in part, "Muir's words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color."  

In its early days, the organization screened out potential members based on race, limiting the environmental engagement of people of color. Sadly, Muir's views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement's failings — most obviously the fact that the very lands being protected were expropriated by white settlers from Indigenous populations. Muir's ideal state seemed to be "the lone white man at one with nature." This exclusionary view has had long-lasting impacts, including the disproportionately low number of people of color who visit national parks today. 

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but who considered the land on which it was based "free" only after its Indigenous inhabitants had been removed. A visionary whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching message — a message he and his peers couldn't and, frankly, had no desire to uphold. An iconic figure who helped move the country in a positive direction while ignoring and damaging communities of color. It's an all-too-familiar story. 

With its recent acknowledgement of Muir's failures, the Sierra Club has taken a bigger step forward than many others in the United States. Indeed, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59 percent of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44 percent believe it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions — in effect putting the burden of systemic racism on a few "bad apples." 

And while the poll also found that a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, support the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces, an ABC/Washington Post poll that asked the same question found that only 43 percent of Americans supported the removal of such statues and only 42 percent supported the renaming of military bases named after Confederate generals. Polling discrepancies aside, the message is clear: at least nearly half of Americans believe we should continue to honor men who fought to protect and preserve chattel slavery in the United States. 

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Admitting that the United States has a racist past and has long ignored structures and systems that are inherently racist is not the same as saying that Americans are rotten to the core, incapable of doing good, or  irredeemable; it is, instead, an acknowledgement that we have harmed ourselves and those to whom we have a moral responsibility. Sometimes the only way to address a problem is through an intervention, but even interventions are futile without fundamental acceptance of the basic problem. The Sierra Club has begun to do the work needed to heal the damage and move forward; the rest of us should follow its lead.

(Photograph by Edward T. Parsons, "Group on Summit of Mount Brewer," 1902)

Headshot_garret_zink_PhilanTopic

Garrett Zink (@GarrettZink) is a corporate social responsibility specialist based in Washington, DC.

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

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

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