July 19, 2018

Reimagining How We Fund and What We Fund

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Dr. Carmen Rojas, NFG Board Member and Co-Founder & CEO of The Workers Lab, reflects on reimagining the role of philanthropy in these pressing times.


 

gMYRU0Qs.jpegThe NFG conference could not have come at a better time. We are at a critical juncture as a country, and the field of philanthropy has a number of hard truths to face if it hopes to realize a better tomorrow for everyone in the U.S.

We are living at a time when newspaper headlines are describing a booming economy. But, the truth is that four in ten workers is leaving retirement and to returning to work to cover health care, housing, and living expenses. The vast majority of working people earn less than $15 an hour. Only 15 percent of workers have access to paid leave. And half of the people in the U.S. do not have $400 to address a financial emergency. This means that when a child unexpectedly breaks an arm or a car breaks down it can throw the lives of working people into disarray.

There simply isn’t a fair return on work right now. No one who works full (or more than full) time should be living in poverty. And this shouldn’t be the reality in the richest country in the world.

Philanthropy can play a critical role in calling out this absurdity and supporting organizations that are organizing, building, and delivering a better future for working people in our country.

At The Workers Lab, we’ve been thinking about how to partner with our funders and donors to do the work necessary to truly change the lives of working people. The three things that we are encouraging them to do and consider are:

  • Recognize the difference between branding the change and being the change:

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of the rebranding of philanthropic organizations. More people of color protesting on websites, more of the word “power” emblazoned on materials, more mostly white organizations going through anti-racist training. We need to do more to challenge the norms and change practices in our field. There are a handful of foundations having honest and hard conversations that fundamentally change their composition, practice, and leadership. 

  • Provide a greater set of incentives that treat people as whole:

Most people in this country don’t understand what philanthropy does or can do to make their lives better. This is because the siloing of programs treats people as fractions of themselves and not as whole human beings that think about paying rent, buying food, making it to work, and having the capacity to dream better days all at the same time. We need to create incentives that work across issues and communities. We should fund in ways that reflect people as whole. 

  • Fighting for what we deserve, not what we can win:

We are entering an era when our democracy is actively and publicly being set on fire. There are those who do not believe that we should put working people ahead of corporate profit. There are those that do not believe Black lives matter. There are those who believe that immigrant families should not have the right to be together. Those folks are unabashed about their agenda. They are clear about their north star. We, who believe in justice, need to stop the calculations for what is palatable and feasible. We need to be public and unabashed in fighting for what people in this country deserve, not simply what we can win.

Now, is the time to think in new and creative ways. We must experiment — both with how we fund and what we fund. We must continue to seek innovative capital structures to accommodate a variety of programmatic interventions. We must be open to viewing philanthropy with more flexibility. We must seek new solutions to rebuild a social safety net fit for the 21st Century. Equally important, we must seek innovations for worker power. This could be reimagining new worker ownership structures like worker cooperatives.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-19_at_7.42.03_AM.png

Needless to say, the NFG conference did come at the right time — for the country and for me personally. It gave me hope. If you’re reading this, I likely don’t have to tell you that these are challenging times for those on the side of justice. Being in a room with like-minded leaders who are speaking truth and reimagining a new role for philanthropy was both reassuring and reinvigorating. I left even more committed to this cause and grateful to have NFG as a partner.


Connect with Carmen on Twitter at @crojasphd.

Follow The Workers Lab at @theworkerslab.

Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on the NFG blog.

Find More By:

News type: 
August 14, 2019

Identify. Describe. Dismantle. Repeat.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, writes about calling out and then rejecting systems and institutions rooted in racism as a way to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist. This post was originally published here on Medium.

Nicky 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. The Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington, is a member of NFG.


 

Nicky GorenRecently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.

We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.

A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.

We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.

White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.

I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.

In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Let’s keep going.

Find More By:

News type: 
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.