December 6, 2017

What It's Going to Take to Change Philanthropy

In October 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ), a program of Neighborhood Funders Group, hosted a funder briefing on the Freedom Cities Movement at the NoVo Foundation office in New York City. FFJ got the chance to sit down and talk with NoVo's Ramatu Bangura, Program Officer for Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights, and Jesenia Santana, Program Officer for the Initiative to End Violence Against Girls and Women, about the foundation's vision and funding of the movement.


Ramatu Bangura

FFJ: The last year or couple years have been really the challenging ones in many parts of the country with police accountability and gender and racial justice. As you've tried to grapple with everything that's going on, what have you learned about the role of philanthropy in this work? 

Ramatu: Jesenia and I came into our roles as Program Officers coming from working as advocates and activists.  While we’ve had an opportunity to help shape NoVo’s response to this current moment, NoVo has since its inception been a funder that both invests in and is in invested in movement building. Therefore, I don’t see a drastic change or uptick in that commitment. Instead, our work has been trying to figure out how to respond to this very particular moment—figuring out what our role should be in dialogue and community with both our existing partners and new and emerging work. Our role is not to take up space better suited to activists, but to figure out ideologically and logistically how we get the resources to folks, how we remain open to dialogue and conversation, how we respond rapidly, and how we influence our sector to do better.

Jesenia Santana

Jesenia: A couple of things—our partners have always told us that the way that change that can happen is for philanthropy to support people on the ground to do base-building and organizing work, provide long-term and flexible support, make sure that groups have what they need to build and sustain their capacity to respond to these kinds of moments and acts of resistance.

R: As a sector, we must continue to question ourselves in terms of how we silo work. By necessity, the power of movements in the current moment is that the work is both intersectional and inter-related. We hope to challenge ourselves to reflect that back to our partners by continuously examining how we do our work.

FFJ: It sounds you have to move, in some ways, out of your comfort zone, and building on what you'd done, but maybe moving a little bit faster and getting out there and asking a little bit more.

J: It’s actually not been a huge leap. An intersectional analysis, flexible and long-term funding is our comfort zone. Our question is more about how we can all work together to influence philanthropy as a whole to think more holistically about how it funds across movements. We continue to engage with the philanthropic sector to act on that question. 

FFJ: What do you see as the place to begin? Where does the community have the leverage to begin to change all the things that need to be changed? Is there a logical place to start?

J: We believe the place to begin is with women and girls. Women and girls are already leading movements for change both visibly and invisibly, even as the gendered way that they experience violence may go unaddressed. However, when movements are able to recognize violence against women and girls-- you get insights into the way in which patriarchy, hierarchy, imperialism works. Without addressing all the levels at which people experience violence—both structural and interpersonal—you miss opportunities to address the roots causes that lead to this violence at a systems level as well as within families and communities...

Centering the most impacted is the way in which we can support community working toward systemic change. Obviously we don’t create movements, but we can support the vision for a social change and create conditions that support the activists leading this work. Again, our challenge is how do we best support and move resources to the base that’s already mobilizing? Our approach is to support movement-building and capacity-building, so that they can strategize with each other and share resources with each other. How we can use philanthropic resources to deliberately create spaces to reflect, imagine new realities, collaborate and build solidarity across movements. 

FFJ: Why did you join Funders for Justice and what is the benefit to you, being part of this group?

R: I came to FFJ through the calls, it was a really great space to hear what was going on right away, to connect with other funders who are really interested in learning if we’re really trying to understand how we should respond.  It was a really great place for us to connect to movement leaders to understand what’s needed. As an institution, we have an eye towards the field and community-based work, and also an eye towards the funding world, and in particular towards supporting women and girls.  We are also interested in learning how other funders are showing up in the work. Being able to see where there might have been gaps, we could really raise issues within the funding community in terms of women and girls. Where there were places we could plug into and lend our particular perspective, and I think that was crucial in determining our work.

FFJ: As you have those national conversations, is there a consensus forming around the philanthropic response to police accountability as it relates to gender and racial justice?

J: We see growing attention to addressing the rights of incarcerated women and girls within the philanthropic sector but there is still a huge gap in centering gender justice within the overall criminal legal system reform and anti-mass incarceration conversations that this sector is having. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls are pushing us all to ensure that when we are working to address police accountability, that we are not forgetting the specific and particular ways in which arrest and incarceration impacts women and girls—and its because of their activism that I am hopeful that the philanthropic sector will incorporate a gender justice framework to this issue. 

FFJ: Let's talk about divest-invest/community control of the police. In particular, your support of general community self-determination efforts that are rooted in gender justice and transformation of systems.

R: NoVo supports Freedom, Inc. as part of our Adolescent Girls Rights portfolio. We came to learn about Freedom, Inc. because they were generous enough to share their perspective on the field for girls and young women of color in the U.S. as we build our strategy for that work. As we continued that conversation with M and Kabzuag, we were excited by how Freedom, Inc.’s analysis beautifully weaves together a gender, racial and youth justice lens, with a focus on the intersections of state and interpersonal violence. Their work challenges patriarchy, imperialism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and hetero-normativity while being intentional about providing substantive opportunities for girls and young women to participate in, learn from, and lead campaigns to structurally address the injustices they experience. 

Freedom, Inc. is not only doing the work, they are theorizing and creating knowledge about the movement from within the movement and that is powerful. From our conversations, we learned about the thoughtful way that M and Kabzuag both support Black and Hmong communities to build strong work in their own communities but how they continue to do the introspective and risky hard work of building solidarity across racial and ethnic difference in Black and Hmong communities.

J: I came in right as the Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families report [co-authored by the Ella Baker Center and Forward Together] came out. It highlights the ways in which women and girls have a specific and different experience both around having been incarcerated and around being in communities where people have been incarcerated. The particular burdens and challenges that they face as someone who’s home and caring for the family’s needs when someone’s been incarcerated.  We need to talk more about who pays when the women are home and are care-taking, are trying to make visits happen, are trying to hold provide emotional support for their incarcerated loved ones as well as the family waiting for them to come home.. When we think through who is paying for the cost of incarcerating millions of people in the United States, the answer is society pays—and women and children hold the largest cost. We’re paying upwards of $80 billion a year to incarcerate people. Is that really the best use of taxpayer dollars? Lets have a country that invests in education, housing and communities. How do we stop criminalizing poverty? The report did so much to amplify these conversations.

FFJ: What is it going to take to change philanthropy? Philanthropy has a pretty strong culture and, as you said, doesn’t always fund the intersectional, movement-oriented, or nimble work. 

J: First, philanthropy needs to trust more that the people on the ground doing the work know what they’re doing and know how to use the resources. Second, it needs to be in relationship with partners, where we can all vision together towards the world we want. We need to be willing to ask: What does it mean for us to also be transformational? How can we push ourselves to look towards a larger vision; not just to how things may be different in the next two years? I think a large part of this is about letting go of power—transformational work simply won’t happen without that. Philanthropy will also have to be open to experimentation and risk; in order to support transformational work, we have to embrace experimentation.

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June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!