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What do Funders Need to Give Up to Achieve Racial Justice?

What we learned in a Dalberg and Common Future hosted conversation with leaders in philanthropy and academics on what we need to do to shift power and wealth to reach racial justice.

Authors: Common Future

What we learned in a Dalberg and Common Future hosted conversation with leaders in philanthropy and academics on what we need to do to shift power and wealth to reach racial justice.

On July 23rd, nearly 1,000 people registered to hear a conversation on how funders can shift power in the first entry to a two-part webinar series by Dalberg and Common Future, “What do funders need to give up to achieve racial justice?” The conversation — with speakers Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth, Megan Ming Francis, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, Vini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network, and moderator Crystal Hayling, Executive Director, the Libra Foundation — ranged from asking funders to reckon with the sources of their accumulated wealth to sharing examples of how funders are stepping up and reimagining what it looks like to fund equitably and humanely.

A big part of shifting power is shifting resources, changing leadership, and building communities based on trust and accountability, not just traditional track records or institutionally-based credentials. Below are quotes gathered from the conversation that stood out to us as laying the groundwork for greater introspection and action on how funders can center racial justice.

If you are a funder wanting to explore how you can start taking action to support racial and economic justice, we invite you to watch the recording then sign up here for the second part of this conversation taking place on Thursday, August 13th at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET. Joining us for part 2 are Mekaelia Davis, Program Director of Inclusive Economies at The Surdna Foundation, Cuong Hoang, Director of Programs at Chorus Foundation, and Preeti Bhattacharji, Vice President of Integrated Capitals at Heron Foundation. The conversation will be moderated by Erika Seth Davies, Founder and CEO of The Racial Equity Asset Lab (The REAL) and Social Entrepreneur in Residence (SEIR) at Common Future.

Money has caused harm but it can also be part of healing.

“The idea of using money as medicine is really an invitation to the sector to understand that the history of wealth accumulation in this country has left a trail of trauma. Wealth was extracted from communities of color. Our economy was built off of slavery and genocide and land extraction. So we as philanthropists or anyone that has wealth has to come to terms with the fact that wealth means trauma for a lot of folks. We have an opportunity to flip that paradigm to think about using money differently. Using money as medicine is actually understanding what has harmed communities can be repaired at some level. We can’t undo everything that has been done. But we can begin to repair and restore by putting money where the hurt is the worst.”

—Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth

Wealth holders have the power to cause great harm and great healing with their money — with both mindset and structural shifts, they can choose the latter and defy expectations around the harmful effects of money. For a 101 on what “money as medicine” really means and the value of “decolonizing wealth,” read Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva.

We must prioritize equity by starting with our leadership.

“I believe that the leadership of a lot of nonprofits, that if they are interested in doing this type of work, needs to change. You can’t say Black Lives Matter and you don’t have Black people in leadership positions. Otherwise, we need to call a spade a spade and admit that we are actually not interested in any type of revolutionary reform for people of color and marginalized people to live equitable lives. That actually what we want is to maintain our positions and we just want life to be a little bit better on the margins for some people.”

—Megan Ming Francis, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington

A profound lack of diversity in leadership cannot continue to reside next to the words “Black Lives Matter.” The first step philanthropic institutions, other wealth holders, and nonprofits need to take to progress toward racial justice is away from hollow words and into examining who big decision makers are.

To dive deeper into philanthropy’s reckoning and history, visit Megan Ming Francis’ Philanthropy and Social Movements radio series and Harvard Kennedy School course.

Funders need to consider their personal connections in addition to their professional ones.

“So now that you have moved the resources, can you organize your own families? Some of our members have exemplified what it means to lean into this moment and have the hard conversations about slavery. About chronic Black disenfranchisement. About wealth built on the backs of Black people in their own families. And to do that deep courageous work? Communities like ours can provide scaffolding. A place to actually make some mistakes and experiment and learn together so that people can learn together so that people are more effective.”

Vini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network

We can’t deny the role funding institutions play in pushing for (or against) equity but we exist in communities beyond our work. How might we engage our families, friends, and others in this work? And, how do we find and support places that encourage this kind of action?

Read more on Vini Bhansali’s work in community with Solidaire Network here.


Our own expectations are holding us back from equity.

“We’re trying to free everybody. We can identify many specific things that philanthropy needs to give up and a lot of those things that we couch as being positives in this society right now are actually giant burdens. The expectation that we are experts in how to build a better world and people keep looking at us well maybe we can let go of that. We don’t have to be the experts. Expertise is very isolating. Extreme wealth is very isolating. Sitting in an ivory tower is very isolating. We have a crisis of fear in this country and people want to be in community. We in philanthropy can begin to model that too.”

Crystal HaylingExecutive Director, the Libra Foundation

As we grapple with divides we know that going at it alone isn’t helping anyone at any level of power and trying to save everyone isn’t a realistic goal, we need to be focused and in community to close divides to reach greater equity.

Read more of Crystal Hayling’s quotes on possibility and timing in this piece.

We can model what it looks like to build communities based on trust. In doing so we also create more valuable connections to reach a higher level of racial and economic justice.

Watch the full recording of the conversation here, and follow along on social with the hashtag #FundersShiftPower.

For updates on virtual gatherings and content like this, and more, sign up for Common Future’s list.

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