Surdna Foundation Stepping Up for Racial Justice
Don Chen, President of Surdna Foundation, announces the foundation's plans to increase its grantmaking by $36 million to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders, organizations, and networks most affected by systemic racism. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.
Don was part of the 2019-2020 Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. Surdna Foundation, a member of NFG, seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.
Across the U.S., millions have stepped up in support of Black lives and against systemic anti-Black racism. Today, I want to tell you how the Surdna Foundation is stepping up, too.
Meeting the Moment
Racial and social justice has long been at the heart of every grant we make. But the pandemic, economic crisis, and our nation’s long-needed reckoning with racial injustices call upon all of us to do more and to do better.
In response, Surdna is increasing its grantmaking for racial justice by approximately $36 million over the next three years. These new funds will intensify our support for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders, organizations, and networks most affected by systemic racism.
Our goal is to give our grantee partners breathing room to respond to today’s urgent needs and to sustain their work toward addressing deep, structural anti-Black racism to realize just and sustainable communities in which everyone can thrive.
Combined with our annual grantmaking of roughly $41.5 million per year, this increased spending will bring Surdna’s total financial commitment to racial justice to approximately $160 million between now and the end of 2023.
How Will the Funds be Granted?
As a longtime funder of racial and social justice, Surdna will initially use additional grant dollars to support existing grantee partners, including:
- Artists and arts organizations that are particularly threatened by revenue losses during the pandemic and those working with their communities to imagine and prototype a more racially just future.
- Grassroot organizations and networks working at the intersection of racial, economic, and climate justice.
- Businesses and entrepreneurs of color in need of access to capital and a runway to imagine, innovate, and generate wealth in their communities.
- Efforts to abolish youth prisons and foster safe communities.
- Program- and mission-related investments that extend the impact of the Foundation beyond grantmaking.
Our Inclusive Economies, Sustainable Environments, and Thriving Cultures program teams, alongside our Impact Investing staff and the Andrus Family Fund, will work within their existing strategies to make investments that support previously identified ideas developed with grantees and partners. Opportunities for new grants and grantee partners will be developed at a later date.
Each year, we will determine the exact amount of increased spending, estimated to total $36 million over three years, by an annual valuation of our endowment on December 31st. In keeping with trust-based philanthropic practices, we will listen to our grantee partners’ needs and award multiyear, core support grants whenever appropriate.
Fulfilling Our Mission
As an institution working to foster just and sustainable communities, we know that thriving cultures, inclusive economies, and sustainable environments simply are not possible without directly addressing structural racism. Sustainable communities must include access to fair opportunities and the processes that shape our lives and communities.
For over five generations, Surdna has been governed largely by descendants of John E. Andrus, who founded the foundation in 1917. As Peter B. Benedict II, Surdna’s board chair and fifth-generation family member said, “Not only is stepping up our funding at this moment the right thing to do, but it also underscores the importance of our social justice mission.”
On a practical level, we fulfill our racial and social justice mission in three ways: 1) programmatic grantmaking, 2) offering support to grantees beyond the grant money, and 3) program- and mission-related investments, including leveraging our $1 billion endowment to influence other investors to do impact investing that will result in more just, sustainable markets and outcomes. We intentionally invest in communities of color, supporting those that have historically been underfunded, and make impact investments that are not only profitable but good for people and the planet.
Centering Our Grantee Partners
For years, the Surdna Foundation has supported solutions to dismantling the policies, behaviors, and cultural drivers that have produced racial injustices over generations. The greatest reward of my job is seeing the transformative work of our grantee partners. Here are just a few examples of initiatives we’ve had the privilege to support this year:
Imagining a More Racially Just Future
Artists can help us radically imagine and build a more just future in which we all can thrive. Take, for example, Designing Justice+Designing Spaces (DJDS), a nonprofit real estate and architecture firm with a mission to end mass incarceration and structural inequality. At the heart of its work is the question: What would a world without prisons look like? DJDS works with communities and those in the criminal justice system to imagine and design healing alternatives to prisons like the new Center for Equity in Atlanta.
The NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through its Radical Imagination grant program, it will fund six Indigenous artists/culture bearers to imagine, design, and create projects that propose solutions to our most intractable societal problems. NDN Collective is one of our Thriving Cultures program’s 11 re-granting partners supporting artists of color to advance racial justice within their local communities.
Caring for the Land and One Another
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental and climate inequity—such as flooding, land loss, and environmental toxins—and have the experience, expertise, and powerful solutions to resolve these inequities. To realize healthier, more equitable outcomes, our Sustainable Environments grantee partners seek to increase the capacity of communities of color to self-determine the ownership, control, and stewardship of land and infrastructure assets.
The National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA) promotes Black food and land, by increasing the visibility of Black leadership, and building power in our food systems and land stewardship. NBFJA has facilitated seed grants to BIPOC members across the country for food security, community wellness, and cooperation.
The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) is an alliance of grassroots Indigenous peoples whose mission it is to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, maintaining, and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws. In response to the pandemic, IEN has been resourcing frontline community-based mutual aid organizations and providing immediate relief to small business owners in need. IEN’s extensive grassroots network of Indigenous peoples has connected community members with basic needs like food and water, healthcare, and preventive measures, and through their PPE partnership has distributed over 190,000 masks to the hardest-hit areas of Indian Country.
Creating Inclusive Economies
People should have power, choice, and ownership over the economy no matter their race or ethnicity. Yet, the Black and white wealth divide is as wide today as it was in 1968. Our Inclusive Economies grantee partners are working to close the gap.
One Fair Wage is a national coalition, campaign, and organization seeking to lift millions of tipped and subminimum wage workers nationally out of poverty by requiring all employers to pay the full minimum wage with fair, nondiscriminatory tips on top. As restaurants and other establishments close nationwide due to the pandemic, One Fair Wage launched an Emergency Relief Fund to provide assistance to restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and other tipped workers and service workers who are bearing the economic brunt of this crisis. Its members are also mobilizing voters to make a fair minimum wage a reality across the country.
Common Future is a network of leaders seeking to shift capital into historically marginalized communities, uplift local leaders, and accelerate equitable economies. From bridging the wealth gap for Black entrepreneurs to ensuring communities have a final say over the development that impacts their neighborhoods, Common Future’s leaders shed light on how to rebuild economies that work for everyone.
Investing for Impact
Investing in entrepreneurs of color is one of the most effective ways to drive job and wealth creation and address long-standing racial inequities. To that end, we make impact investments that provide capital to fund innovative, market-based approaches that address systemic challenges while generating social and financial returns.
For example, The Impact America Fund (IAF) makes early-stage investments in tech-driven businesses that create ownership and opportunity within marginalized communities. The fund’s founder, Kesha Cash, is one of the few Black women in venture capital and understands that traditional venture capital funds often overlook prioritizing and supporting entrepreneurs of color. IAF helps founders get traction with institutional investors, who often don’t have the expertise or lived experience in these communities to appreciate the huge opportunities at hand.
VamosVentures is another investment firm that sees tech as an essential ingredient for communities of color to thrive. VamosVentures, founded by Marcos Gonzalez, invests in diverse teams with a focus on Latinx entrepreneurs. The fund supports diverse-owned companies with capital, commercial opportunities, and strategic guidance with the goals of generating returns and social impact through wealth creation, social mobility, and tech-driven solutions to challenges persistent in communities of color.
Unlocking Potential by Ending Youth Prisons
The Andrus Family Fund envisions a just society in which vulnerable youth have more than one opportunity for a good life. As part of this vision, many of AFF’s grantee partners are working toward a world without youth prisons.
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) unlocks the leadership of formerly incarcerated young people to dream beyond bars. Through youth programs, life coaching, policy organizing, and restorative retreats and trainings, CURYJ helps young people lead the way in transforming their communities and investing in their healing, activism, and aspirations.
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory and abusive policing practices in New York and build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. Running diverse coalitions of more than 200 organizations, CPR works closely with those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD to build accountability and increase transparency. These are just two of AFF’s grantee partners that are shining a light on injustice and lifting up ways to foster safe, thriving communities for all.
Contributing to Racial Justice
This is a year for the history books. Every day seems to bring a new challenge. At the same time, I’m grateful. Having spent a career working to advance just and sustainable communities, I’ve often wondered what it would take to get a critical mass of leading voices to wake up to long-standing racially unjust conditions and demand transformative change. I believe that moment has arrived. By intensifying our support, the Surdna Foundation hopes to contribute to greater sustained momentum for change.
I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months about our grantees and what the Surdna Foundation is thinking, doing, and learning.