December 19, 2019

Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

In October 2019, Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening that brought foundations together for what many participants said was an unprecedented conversation on the racial and gendered inequality inseparable from US and global capitalism – and what funders can do to address these realities. The FJE program intends to continue the conversation throughout 2020 and integrate the frame of racial capitalism, power and resistance into all of our programming. As part of this process, we held a series of one-on-one dialogues with program officers who attended the event to talk about how how they are bringing the information from the event back to their institutions.

As we close 2019 and in the first weeks of 2020, we’ll post these conversations as a means to ground where we go next as a program. If you did not attend the event, these posts will share the conversations and strategies that emerged among community, philanthropic and academic speakers and attendees. If you did attend, we hope these posts provide insight into what your colleagues are considering as we head into a new year, ready to make change together. 


Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

An Interview with Altaf Rahamatulla,
Program Officer at the New York Foundation

Can you share a bit about your journey to grantmaking?

Part of the reason I came to social justice work is that my personal became my political. I come from a very diverse background—my Dad is Guyanese and my Mom is Italian and Honduran. Growing up in a single mother home, in a low income, immigrant family, issues of race, class, and gender shaped my experiences from an early age. Later, I became a student of history and politics, and I saw my family history and my own circumstances in a broader spectrum of movements for justice and structural change.

After college, I saw policy advocacy as my route – first, starting with economic justice and then moving into criminal justice reform. I wanted to explore that issue as one where I could engage explicitly with issues of race. I was at the Innocence Project for a few years – and it was incredibly profound work.  From there I thought to myself: if I want to work in social justice for my career, I should get to know what philanthropy is like.

I was at the Ford Foundation for almost five years, where I worked on a team focused on criminal justice, immigrant rights, and racial justice. From there, I joined the New York Foundation (NYF), where we support community organizing and grassroots advocacy here in New York City. Our funding seeks to elevate those most affected by different forms of inequality and oppression, develop emerging leaders, and support organizations that prioritize racial and gender justice.

A group of five people seated in a discussion circle at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

What brought you to NFG’s Racial Capitalism Convening?

I’ve been involved in NFG’s Democratizing Development Program while at NYF and since my time at Ford, so I am familiar with NFG’s work and moved by its leadership. Whenever y’all are doing an event, I’m there!

NFG’s space provides an ideological home for grantmakers who are working in their own ways to advance justice. I thought the Racial Capitalism meeting would be an opportunity to engage more deeply on issues of equity and see how different grantmakers were conceptualizing this context and political moment. I thought it was unique to open with the frame of racial capitalism, and that really encouraged and inspired me to come in and engage at the event.

Are there any key ideas or practices you’ve brought back to your foundation? 

Everything Dr. Ananya Roy shared, really! The conversation really grappled with contradictions of philanthropy, and Dr. Roy’s opening frame of the sector as emerging from twice-stolen wealth [cf. Gilmore 2009] was a dynamic way to start the day. How do we sit with these contradictions, while being champions for organizing and grassroots leaders? One of Dr. Roy’s questions really stuck with me: [referencing Colin Kaepernick,] how do we take a knee in this sector? It was a call to push our work, to be audacious, to be insurgent, and to be more explicit about our values. What I also found interesting was starting with a look into the historical root causes of structural oppression and inequalities and bringing that frame to understand the moment and the work of grantee partners to get a sense of how we move forward as grantmakers.

I was moved by how folks in the room saw the power, value, and need to support organizing and support communities of color. That view is rare in philanthropy, unfortunately. I will definitely be reviewing the article Dr. Roy shared on the political negotiations of program officers by Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas.  I want to explore this idea about what insurgency looks like in this sector.

I’m fortunate to work at an institution that has historically supported community organizing, and has a deep commitment to equity. We want to be explicit about what racial and gender justice looks like for us. We are working to make that commitment unequivocal in terms of our grantmaking, operations, communications and asset management.

The Racial Capitalism convening’s focus on power dynamics and the inextricable link between capitalism and racism provided an analytical and intellectual foundation to bolster our work here at the Foundation.

People seated several discussion circles at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

Can you tell us more about your current grantmaking process? 

NYF’s grantmaking process is open and collaborative. We accept proposals three times a year. Any organization can apply based on our guidelines. From that point, as a program team, we review each application, and based on our criteria, select a set of groups to explore in more depth. We do research, site visits, connect with trusted partners either in the philanthropic space, among grantees, or with board members who might be familiar with the groups. We then come back as a team to collectively decide on organizations to recommend to our Board, which has final decision-making authority over our grantmaking. We are a small foundation and unfortunately, we can only fund a limited number of grants each year. We primarily offer general multi-year support, and we place emphasis on startup organizations and those with limited access to other sources of funding. We provide up to five years renewable general support for startups, and three years for more established groups.

What role do you think FJE can play going forward in this conversation on race and capitalism? 

FJE can continue to be an ideological home – there’s power in cultivating a network of solidarity, strategy, and collaboration. Providing a space to elevate racial and economic justice, the importance of community organizing, and learning on funding efforts and campaigns across the country is really valuable.  It’s a space to have intense conversations on the issues that folks may not be able to have in their own institutions or with their Board. That’s how I’m seeing its value – that’s created through the bold programming NFG offers – through webinars, conferences, specific policy explorations, and site visits.

Thank you to Altaf for sharing his thoughts, time and energy with Funders for a Just Economy!

January 22, 2020

NFG Member Spotlight: The Libra Foundation

Logo of The Libra FoundationThe Libra Foundation staff: Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

(L-R): Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

NFG's network is composed of 120+ members that work in every part of the nation, in both urban and rural settings, and includes private and public foundations, community foundations, family foundations, corporate foundations, faith-based funders, and other grantmaking institutions. 

We recently connected with Crystal Hayling and The Libra Foundation team about their growth and vision for 2020, which organizations are giving them inspiration in this moment, and why they continue to invest in NFG with their renewed and increased membership.

We love to connect with our members! Share your experiences as part of the NFG network by getting in touch with Lindsay Ryder, Senior Membership Manager, at

  1. How do notions of people, power, and place fit in with Libra’s grantmaking approach?

The organizations Libra supports are building a world where low-income communities of color have the power to determine their own freedom, define safety, and thrive in healthy environments. Families that are separated by mass incarceration, communities whose voting rights are suppressed, and neighborhoods suffering from contamination are among the many ways people, power, and place are at the foundation of structural oppression, and, therefore, the heart of Libra’s grantmaking approach. We are centering organizations building power through grassroots community organizing, deep network and coalition building, and progressive advocacy for lasting solutions that work for all.

  1. Libra has gone through a bit of a transformation over the past few years, including a new ED and larger staff, a larger public profile, and a refined grantmaking strategy. How has being a part of NFG’s network informed or served Libra along the way?

Transformation is a daily practice - a collection of intentions and ideals - with no clear point of arrival. I knew when I joined Libra as Executive Director I wanted to help guide a team of passionate, heart-driven individuals who are committed to doing philanthropy differently and moving resources to frontline communities. We are so grateful to the NFG network for guiding and supporting the changes we continue to undergo. NFG’s community of funders and activists have a rigorous and thorough analysis that not only informs our community’s understanding and actions, but pushes us all to do better. The network brings together social movement leaders and funders that drive our field to be accountable and unified in our vision for justice.

  1. Libra recently renewed its membership with NFG, opting to increase its membership level for 2020. As we enter NFG’s 40th Anniversary year, what are your hopes and plans for engaging with the NFG network?

We are intentionally investing more in NFG because of our shared belief in organizing institutional funders to mobilize more resources for grassroots power building. Too often in philanthropy we are siloed by issue areas. Meanwhile, the same folks who are most impacted by criminal justice are disproportionately affected by gender and environmental justice as well. Although it’s vital to develop and focus on expertise in each of these areas, it’s critical that we as funders take an intersectional approach that recognizes these truths. NFG is leading in this regard, especially in its prioritization of people of color, and Libra aims to do the same.

Our team is planning to engage more in Funders for Justice this year. Lorraine Ramirez helped orient us to all the avenues for collaboration, and we’re excited to learn more from the field advisors and members. And we are really looking forward to this summer’s national convening! A lot has happened since the NFG community got together last in 2018 and we’re hoping that the entire Libra staff will be in attendance.

  1. Of NFG’s 125 member organizations, are there any funders you would like to give a shout out to for inspiring or partnering with Libra?

What an inspiring group! We are motivated and encouraged by so many of our peer members at NFG. We are fortunate to be in community with lots of NFG members and look forward to deepening relationships. 

To name a few that are a part of the Libra grantee community, Groundswell Fund is doing incredible work in the reproductive justice field protecting women, nonbinary, and trans folks of color across the country. Proteus Fund houses essential donor collaborative funds (like Rise Together Fund) and fiscally sponsors many of Libra’s grantees. And of course Common Counsel, which among many other philanthropic services houses Native Voices Rising, a fund that supports Native-led community driven projects across Turtle Island.

When we began refining our strategies here at Libra, we leaned on many of our friends in the NFG network. Specifically in environmental and climate justice, we are learning from close colleagues like Mertz Gilmore Foundation and Surdna Foundation that have shifted their strategies to uplift frontline leadership and people centered solutions to the climate crisis. And we continue to be inspired by colleagues that have led the charge to do philanthropy differently, like Marguerite Casey Foundation and Chorus Foundation (among many others!).

  1. And most importantly, are there any community leaders or organizations that you’ve been connected to through NFG’s network that Libra is supporting or that you are inspired by?

Specifically in 2019, members of our program team attended the Funders for a Just Economy Racial Capitalism convening. We were blown away by presentations from Trans United, which supports visionary trans leadership, and ACRE Institute, which organizes campaigns working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. Following that convening and based on recommendations from partners in the field, Libra funded both in our latest docket.


January 15, 2020

Racial Capitalism, Power & Resistance: Keynote Videos & Highlights for 2020

In October 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, an unprecedented conversation with more than 70 funder participants on the racial and gendered inequality defining US and global capitalism — and the role of philanthropy within these structures. FJE is moving this conversation into action in 2020. Towards that goal, we are recapping the convening and providing video from the seminal keynote talks by Dr. Ananya Roy and Dr. Barbara Ransby that grounded our meeting.  

Nine speakers who were at the convening.

Top (L-R): Dr. Barbara Ransby, Mónica Ramírez, Dr. Ananya Roy
Middle (L-R): Cindy Weisner, Alicia Garza, Aaron Tanaka
Bottom (L-R): Dimple Abichandani, Farhad Ebrahimi, Pamela Shifman

FJE’s Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening was about asking hard questions and opening a conversation about the underlying history of the US economy and the origins of philanthropy as a way to ground us in how to support powerful resistance movements. Through this piece, we wanted to bring you some of the critical questions that stuck with us — and ways to move forward the themes and ideas generously offered by our activist-academic, movement, and philanthropic speakers and participants.

Who are we in alliance with? And how does that shape the real choices funders make?

Dr. Ananya Roy started off our conversation with a powerful question: Can we decolonize philanthropy in a real way? She also offered a proposition: We can’t do so without facing the way foundations are based in “twice-stolen wealth” — profit extracted via exploitative racialized capitalist means and through evading public taxation. [1]

Dr. Roy offered the example of her work with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA, working to “turn the university inside out” through co-creation of knowledge alongside movement leaders; simplifying funding opportunities for community organizations; and paid, unfettered residency programs for activists. She pushed us to reflect on “what additional work we create for communities” through our grantmaking practices and the “difficult choices we must make on who we are in alliance with” — including standing up when foundations undermine community-led liberation movements.

You can hear Dr. Roy's keynote, Decolonizing Philanthropy? A View from The Public University, in the video below.

How do we define and confront the deep histories of racialized capitalism?

FJE presented a portion of the Action Center on Race & the Economy and Grassroots Collaborative’s popular education workshop on racial capitalism. The material examined how core institutions of US capitalism — like banking — built wealth directly off the slave economy and indigenous genocide. Grappling with the inextricable connection between racism, patriarchy, and capitalism raised the fact that Black women and other people of color also face these traumas every day in philanthropy. How can funders collectively support healing among philanthropic staff as they find ways to fund movements genuinely addressing the genocidal histories of greed?

“What happens when we put life [and sustaining it] at the center of our work?” — Cindy Wiesner

To bring us into how contemporary movements are confronting racial and gendered capitalism, Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab led a conversation with Mónica Ramírez of Justice for Migrant Women, Aaron Tanaka of the Center for Economic Democracy and Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice. These leaders shared that grassroots, collaborative, feminist, and anti-capitalist social justice movements serve as “kryptonite” (in Cindy Wiesner’s words) to racial capitalism and neo-fascism. These movements range from organizing for a Green New Deal to local democratic investment structures, to migrant women-led sexual harassment activism. Speakers challenged funders to work alongside communities to resource experimentation and “freedom dreaming” — and to understand the solutions won’t come quickly or easily. They also asked foundations to use their own power — as investors and public figures — to take on racial capitalism.

What power do we have in our institutions? And how do we shift power with communities?

Pamela Shifman, formerly of Novo Foundation; Dimple Abichandani of General Service Foundation; and Farhad Ebrahimi of Chorus Foundation shared how as Executive Directors and alumni of NFG's Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship, they recognized and acted on their power to shift their institutions and the sector. As Dimple Abichandani noted, “These rules and practices that we work in come out of racial capitalism and corporate compliance frameworks. We can decide to change those.”

The speakers raised the fact that while education programs are plenty, actively organizing foundations towards collective goals through leadership development — like Philanthropy Forward — is rarer but necessary. Foundation staff also rarely hold other funders publicly accountable – perhaps because feel that they cannot tell others what to do with their money. Yet recent campaigns to discourage the Gates Foundation in awarding the fascist, Hindu-nationalist aligned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggest insurgent philanthropy is percolating.

What are the projects we fund to undo racial capitalism, and what logics are the projects based on?

On Day 2 of the Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, Dr. Barbara Ransby offered three key elements to understand racial capitalism today: First, the irreconcilable relationship between capitalism's “infinite growth model on a finite planet;” second, financialization and the global “ponzi scheme;” and third, automation’s influence on worker's lives and consumption. She urged us to hold these contemporary capitalist crises with their roots in slavery and empire.

Dr. Ransby offered that dealing with this past and present means actively confronting white supremacy and nationalism; “building as we undo” through solidarity economies and other alternatives; and thoughtfully advancing abolition and reparations. Such ongoing processes require reckoning with anti-Blackness and asking: “How do you relinquish some of the power [that you have over organizations] and see yourself with a greater sense of humility?”

You can watch Dr. Ransby's keynote, Racial Capitalism, Power and Black Radical Tradition, in the video below.

“How do we show up, use our collective assets, and stand behind our grantees?” — Marjona Jones

Marjona Jones of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, José García of the Ford Foundation, Emma Oppenhiem of Open Society Foundations, and Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, in conversation with Anna Quinn of NoVo Foundation, brought the meeting home with a dialogue on how we could take tangible action, including through the Funders for a Just Economy.

Participants then honed in on key work areas to follow-up on after the event including: building accountability mechanisms in philanthropy; transforming partnerships with our grantees; healing and strategizing together as co-conspirators; remaking tax structures and philanthropic asset management.

Stay tuned for more from FJE as we work together to provide the space and tools for philanthropy to take these ideas into action into 2020 — and into a more just tomorrow.


[1] Roy was quoting Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2009). “In the Shadow of the Shadow State” in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Boston: South End Press, 2009).