August 4, 2016

#NFG2016 Conference Recap from Native Americans in Philanthropy

Jennifer Fairbanks, Communication Specialist at Native Americans in Philanthropy, provides her perspective on NFG’s 2016 National Convening.

This post originally appeared on Native Americans in Philanthropy’s blog, which you can find here.

The Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) held their national convening this year from June 14-16 in Oakland, California. With a focus on Philanthropic Strategies for People, Place & Power, the content and programming centered around rethinking the role of funders in building long-term holistic transformation and community power.

Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) has a mission that closely aligns with this to power reciprocity and invest in Native communities through our three strategic directions: ENGAGE together to develop meaningful philanthropy opportunities; EDUCATE to master a method of philanthropy rooted in Native values; and EMPOWER each other to advance Native assets and strengths.

Oakland has a long history of innovation and movement building that has stemmed from grassroots organizing which made it the perfect location to house NFG’s discussions around people, place and power. One of the most well-known grassroots groups that emerged from Oakland is the Black Panther Party, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and recognized by NFG with a special movie screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

As a “newbie” to the conference, I was excited to see the three-day conference was filled with progressive and thought-provoking sessions that challenged funders to take a look at their own funding and grantmaking portfolios and how they add to the power imbalance or are preventing transformation. Oakland’s history and grassroots advocacy was consistently at the forefront of conversations discussing place and what we could all learn from one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the US. The impacts of displacement and gentrification on communities were examined at the conference with author Jeff Chang who presented on the An Exploration of Power plenary challenging, “We have to understand displacement as another form of re-segregation.” 

Another plenary explored power through three different lenses: political, economic, and cultural. Attendees of the conference were encouraged to not approach government as an adversary but instead to look for champions within who have a commitment to equity. Funders must look at approaching problems with bridging and bonding in collective solutions. “Poverty is not a policy problem. It’s a function of seeing some people as ‘not people’. Diversity is scary to people,” explained John A. Powell, Director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Learning tours gave participants a chance to explore Oakland on various site visits. The Arts and Culture for Community and Power Building tour that I went on highlighted for us how arts and culture have advanced social justice and supported community activism in the downtown area. We were treated to a tour and panel in the Malonga Casquelourd Center for The Arts, a presentation on the Alice Street Mural, and a look at the inner workings of Youth Radio.

All sights posed a question that many communities of color face: Do you want to be a part of my community or do you want to just benefit from the resources? Native communities in particular who have a long history of removal and displacement are faced with sports teams using Native American names and mascots and non-Natives appropriating cultural praxis while Native people themselves are suffering from health and disparity issues.

The theme of Philanthropic Strategies for People, Place & Power also probed at moving beyond conversation and onto operationalizing the shifting of power. Challenging funders to fund not only people’s pain but also their power will hopefully inspire not just funding needs but funding aspirations as well. Sessions and panels urged the importance of organizing and working collectively in order to see these shifts in power happens and to transform the philanthropy sector as a whole. Taking accountability for your organization’s power and creating strategic philanthropic partnerships is the key to uplifting People, Place & Power.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.