July 12, 2018

Bringing Our Whole Selves to Philanthropy and Our Grantmaking

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, Ryan Li Dahlstrom, Program Officer for the Fund for Trans Generations at Borealis Philanthropy, reflects on ways funders can live their values in their work.


 

Ryan_Li_Dahlstrom_headshot.jpegOften times in philanthropic spaces we are not encouraged to bring our whole selves—to share and reflect on how our identities and values as people and as funders intersect. This year, during my first time attending the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) convening, I was thankful to be able to bring my full self, as both a funder and an organizer, to the experience.

I see my role in philanthropy as helping to redistribute resources from a reparations framework. I know it is a privilege to be in these spaces and I feel an incredible responsibility and accountability to my communities to share back learnings, help make connections, and serve as a bridge of information and knowledge between philanthropy and grassroots communities.

I was fortunate to experience my first NFG convening as a member of the Program Committee thanks to the leadership and invitation of NFG VP of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and conference co-chairs Marjona Jones and Retta Morris.

In my experience on the committee, I was heartened by the centering of people of color, specifically women of color, including trans women of color, in the planning process. There was a strong commitment to intersectionality and members showing up as their whole selves. 

The recognition of people’s multiple identities and centering of communities that are traditionally marginalized in philanthropy continued from the planning process into the convening. One highlight was how disability justice and accessibility were uplifted: at the opening of the convening, Sebastian Margaret, who served as an advisor to the conference to help ensure stronger accessibility within the space, provided a 10-minute overview of what disability justice is and why it matters, along with concrete ways that every participant could co-create an accessible space for people of all abilities. Making a space accessible means that more people can participate, and we have a more inclusive and democratic conference.

For example, Sebastian instructed us to look at the floor – were our backpacks in the middle of the aisle? Had we cleared walkways so people can easily enter a space? That moment reaffirmed that we must all do a better job at truly addressing how and why disability justice is integral to every issue and community we care about.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-10_at_5.23.31_PM.pngWe were also pushed to consider how we are living our values during the workshop session by the Movement for Black Lives. Given the history of slavery and genocide coupled with how most people have accumulated their wealth, philanthropy must begin to truly address what it means to approach grantmaking from a radical redistribution of wealth framework and recognition of how wealth has been made from stolen land and on the backs of Black and Indigenous bodies in particular. “Caring about Black lives” means investing in Black-led work not just because it’s timely and long overdue, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

The number of funders and grassroots leaders who “came out” as survivors of sexual violence as part of what shapes their work as organizers and/or funders was another powerful moment in which people were able to share more of their full experiences, particularly amidst the #MeToo movement-moment. All too often funder spaces mirror a certain level of middle-class, white, professionalism that asks people to leave parts of themselves at the door. This felt like a different and new moment in which more people were able to courageously tell their truth and be heard so that others too know that they aren’t alone in this collective struggle to end all forms of violence – particularly sexual violence, assault, and harassment.

I’m looking forward to joining the #metoo strategy conversation that will bring funders together to talk about how philanthropy can better respond to sexual harassment and violence happening within the sector and in social justice movements. (This conversation is taking place in September and is for members of NFG’s Funders for Justice program – to get involved, write to fundersforjustice@nfg.org.)

My time at the conference left me with five reflections on how we can be more responsive, responsible funders by living our values and recognizing people’s full selves in our grantmaking:

  1. Believe in and fund constituency-led work. That means investing in the leadership of Black, Brown, immigrant, queer, trans, intersex, women of color, poor and working class, disabled, and currently and formerly incarcerated communities.
  2. Trust the people doing the work on the ground. Communities have the solutions and strategies that work best for them. People closest to the problem are also closest to the solution.
  3. Provide flexible, multi-year, general support grants. Strengthening grantees’ capacity to do their work comes through a steady stream of reliable resources that they can choose how to use.
  4. Reduce barriers to access and apply for grants. Ask yourself, why is our process so laborious? Are there ways we can simplify the burden on current and prospective grantees? Could we eliminate some reports? Could we take applications or reports over the phone? Ask for advice from other funders.
  5. Invest in alternative and anti-oppressive systems. Support healing justice, transformative justice, anti-criminalization, and anti-violence work that seeks to create alternative futures where all of us can be free from oppression, policing, and violence.

I look forward to seeing you at the next NFG event, and learning what brings you to your work as a funder.


Connect with Ryan Li at @ryanlidahlstrom and FTG@borealisphilanthropy.org.

Follow Borealis Philanthropy at @BorealisPhil.

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

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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.