April 22, 2015

On Earth Day, Empowering Allies for the Year Ahead

People, Place and the Pope offer new hope for environmental progress

Rachel Leon, Environmental Grantmakers Association
Dennis Quirin, Neighborhood Funders Group

There is new hope for sustaining people, place, and planet on Earth Day’s 45th anniversary, as burgeoning voices for equity, community, and faith are rising to the forefront of the environmental movement. Is the philanthropic community poised to invest in these arenas so that we can maximize this moment of opportunity?

Whether your starting place is economic justice or climate resilience, the solutions to these global challenges will require philanthropy, and the broader movement, to move beyond specific silos and recognize the growing power of a multi-sector, boots-on-the ground approach.

Accordingly, Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) find our paths increasingly intertwined. Building a sustainable and equitable future depends on how well we connect our work across issues and communities. To do that, we need to partner in new ways and challenge old assumptions.

One approach to successful collaborative partnering is to focus on places where communities are collectively taking on multiple, cross-cutting issues. Last fall, for example, NFG and EGA co-organized funder learning tour on equity and sustainability in Puerto Rico on equity and sustainability in Puerto Rico, with a follow-up briefing last week with Philanthropy New York. This collaboration is bringing together funders from different sectors with different missions (democracy, climate, equity, conservation), but finding common ground in a special place. The trip highlighted community-based strategies for resilience focused on social, economic, and environmental justice.
 
Puerto Rico is facing a major financial crisis, rising seas, and rising inequality, yet it often falls between the gaps of funding streams due to its geographic and political status (territory vs. state): National funders tend to overlook it as non-US, whereas international funders consider it domestic. Yet this small island is ripe with opportunity. Our tour helped us uncover one of Puerto Rico’s true strengths: a rich culture that has given birth to incredibly robust community infrastructure, including strong community-based organizations. And the work of these organizations is getting noticed in philanthropy: Open Society Foundations has listed Puerto Rico as one of their thee priority "Open Places" sites and the Rockefeller Foundation includes the capital, San Juan, as one of 100 Resilient Cities.

Historically, environmental justice represents a small portion of the “green funder pie,” and when funding public policy, local and grassroots groups generally aren’t the ones who get the funding. In 2012, health and justice represented just 6 percent of EGA members grantmaking, with 84 percent of environmental justice grants going to organizations with budgets over $75,000. These new efforts in places where community is front and center represent a potential shift in that dynamic. The question is, will philanthropy-at-large catch the wave?

Shifting demographics across the United States continue to draw attention to natural allies for conservation and climate. As affinity groups representing grantmakers, we see that to forge a winning path forward, it is more critical than ever for philanthropy to prioritize community, equity and diversity. At EGA’s recent Federal Policy Briefing, for example, we learned about the potential impact of the rising Latino electorate on domestic environmental policy beyond placed-based strategies. According to Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, polling shows that Latinos are an archetypal group of environmental champions—strong supporters of conservation, and in favor of government action on climate change. Latinos rank “combatting climate change” as their second most supported issue after immigration reform, with roughly 90 percent of those polled “in support.”

Many states that are facing major policy decisions around conservation and environmental issues (including Florida, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) also happen to include large and growing Latino electorates. And there’s power in numbers. The size of the voting Latino electorate could grow to more than 13 million by 2016, representing a 34 percent increase from 2008.

New champions are also rising up from faith. This summer, the world is waiting for the Pope to address environmental issues in an encyclical letter that’s likely to include climate change. Carrying the weight of the Pope’s moral leadership and global influence, this letter could potentially plant the seeds of a fundamental shift in public opinion among people of faith and beyond.

To be successful in our efforts to protect our planet, we need to be proactive in engaging as many stakeholders as possible as allies. And these opportunities don’t end with the Latino or faith-based communities—there are exciting collaborations happening in education, arts, health, and beyond.

With environmental issues poised to retake the global spotlight around December’s December’s 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, we hope we can look back and see that not only did strategic collaborations and new voices help dramatically shift public opinion, but also funding streams flowed to places and alliances ripe for support and impact.

-------------  

rachel_leon.jpg  Rachel Leon is executive director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), a network of hundreds of environmental funders working to achieve a sustainable world. EGA works with members and partners to promote effective environmental philanthropy by sharing knowledge, fostering debate, cultivating leadership, facilitating collaboration, and catalyzing action.

@egaconnects

dennis_quirin.jpg  Dennis Quirin is the President of the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG). NFG organizes the field, develops leaders, and cultivates thought leadership among its national base of members and encourages the support of policies and practices that advance economic, racial, and social justice.

@nfg_org

Find More By:

News type: 
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.