February 15, 2017

Funders: Let's Stop Fixating on Our Issues and Start Supporting our Values

Dimple Abichandani, NFG member and Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, encourages colleagues to move from business as usual toward new practices of solidarity, including increased funder alignment and greater support of cross-issue movement building efforts that often struggle to raise funds.

This post originally appeared in Inside Philanthropy here.

As I think about where we go from here, I can’t stop thinking about the election.

The 2010 election.

In 2010, there were two dozen states that had anti-Sharia law ballot measures and/or legislation pending. In fact, Sharia law did not pose any real threat to communities, but these ballot measures introduced by conservatives tested whether Islamophobia mobilized voters. On election day in 2010, voters in Oklahoma overwhelmingly voted to amend the state constitution to ban the use of Sharia law in state courts. The vote in Oklahoma confirmed the potency of Islamophobia and the degree to which “othering” and fear turned out voters.

At that time, I led the Security & Rights Collaborative, a donor collaborative at the Proteus Fund fighting Islamophobia. In my progressive philanthropy circles, there were colleagues concerned about the troubling trend, but only a handful of foundations were supporting anti-hate efforts in 2010. And more often than not, when I reached out to funders to invite their support, I would be met with regret that “this is not our foundation’s issue.”

On December 7, 2015, candidate Donald Trump announced a proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. Where philanthropy ignored the early warnings, he had clearly paid attention. And as we all know, last week, President Trump made good on his promises by passing an executive order temporarily barring entry into the United States of people from seven majority Muslim countries.

Today, we all can see how hate and “othering” helped elect one of the most dangerous and xenophobic administrations in U.S. history. Decades of hard-won progress across so many issues from racial and gender justice to reproductive rights, economic justice, and environmental justice may be unraveled.

So where does that leave us in philanthropy? As we face multiple challenges on multiple issues, how can philanthropy most effectively fight back?

I ask this question today from my current position as the Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, a private foundation that advances justice. In my first year at GSF, our board and staff took time to look beyond and behind the issues we fund to articulate our core values and the impact we are working toward. As I work with my fellow funders in this moment, I know that these core values, our clarity about our purpose, and the example set by movement leaders charts a path forward.

Today, advocates across issues are coming together to stand with each other in solidarity. As they lock arms to demonstrate a progressive united front, there is growing power and potential for a movement of movements. Funders ought to follow suit, and adopt a practice of solidarity that supports a more unified field in this unprecedented moment—a moment that warrants a continued, strong, and united response at a scale not seen before.

Solidarity is the opposite of saying, “Sorry, that’s not my issue.” Rather, this is a time of affirming our shared values, and seeing the intersections between all affected communities and the various issues that we are fighting for. It is a time for us to work together across our institutions to advance shared values. A practice of philanthropic solidarity is an invitation to be more expansive in our own vision of justice. What if, when they came for our immigrant sisters, reproductive rights funders stepped in, understanding that separated families cannot experience reproductive justice? What if, when they shut down the Flint water crisis investigation, funders of racial and economic justice joined environmental funders and those who support women and families to fight back together in recognition of our common cause?

Today, many of our institutions are stepping up and increasing our payout to meet the challenges of the Trump era. These new commitments of funding represent an opportunity for us to move from business as usual toward new practices of solidarity. At GSF, our first step in moving from issues to values came a year ago when our board approved a spending policy by which any increase in payout would be available for more flexible funding that was values aligned rather than issue specific. This small shift opened the door for us to focus on strategies rather than issues and to support cross-issue movement building efforts that often struggle to raise funds.

After the election, when our board approved an increased payout for 2017, we committed to aligning our giving with fellow progressive funders. Aligned giving is a departure from philanthropy’s default culture of autonomy, and it will take experimentation to find ways that work, but in this moment, we are clear that aligning our efforts will increase impact and can reduce the burden of fundraising on grantees. We are excited to partner with other funders in this moment to seed new practices.

Last spring, I moderated a conversation with Linda Sarsour and Marisa Franco at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrant & Refugee Rights, titled “Crucial Intersections: Race, Immigration and the Future of Cross Issue Social Movements.” Many of you may recognize Linda Sarsour, a Muslim American activist, as one of the lead organizers of the historic women’s march. When we spoke about philanthropy’s role in supporting cross-issue work, Linda described how she has long fought for reproductive rights, immigrants rights and police reform, but she has only ever received funding from national security-focused funders. She felt frustrated and handicapped by the constraints of philanthropic silos, to have the breadth of the Muslim community’s concerns put in a narrow, foundation-defined box.

“I’m so ready to show up and be whole in my work,” she told me.

In this moment, we need all of our leaders across so many movements that are building power for marginalized communities to be supported in ways that allow them to show up and be whole in their work. If we practice philanthropy as usual and stick to our silos, we are easily divided by our opponents. Instead, we can approach our grantmaking from a broader perspective of the values that guide us, to show up together and in solidarity. Woven together, we are strong. Together, we are whole.

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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.