‘Killing our capacity for justice’: Advancing racial justice at WINGSForum 2023


Amy McGoldrick


The first session I attended was Advancing racial justice & transformation through philanthropy, run by Ana Maria Sanchez – Philanthropy director at Cemefi (Mexico); Cassio França – Secretary General, GIFE (Brazil); and Lori Villarosa – Founder and Executive Director, PRE (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity), USA.

Villarosa set the scene, stating that there are several ways that people discuss racism in philanthropy. The first, is focusing on those who make the decisions; who’s on staff, who’s on the boards of foundations, etc. The second focuses more on how things are being funded, such as through trust-based philanthropy. Are we funding in a way that’s inclusive and respectful?  Another focus is zeroing in on the strategies you’re advancing.

‘With PRE,’ said Villarosa, ‘our focus is much more on the latter. We recognise, of course, the importance of all the different aspects – but while they’re all interrelated, the first ways can happen without ever actually impacting what you’re focusing on.’

Villarosa also discussed the definitions of ‘racial justice’ and ‘racial equity’, and when to employ those terms.

Racial equity:

  • Analyses data and information about race and ethnicity
  • Understands disparities and the reasons they exist
  • Looks at structural root causes of problems
  • Names no race explicitly when talking about problems and solutions

Racial justice:

  • Understands and acknowledges racial history
  • Creates a shared affirmative vision of a fair and inclusive society
  • Focuses explicitly on building civic, cultural, economic and political power by those most impacted
  • Emphasises transformative solutions that impact multiple systems

Villarosa emphasised the need for both, that these were not two types of grantmaking to be pitted against one another.

Particularly following the Black Lives Matter (LINK) movement after the murder of George Floyd, it was reported that ‘billions’ in funding were now going to racial equity and racial justice grantees – but Villarosa explained there are many myths and misconceptions around this.

The number of grantmakers in the US who are investing in equity and justice over the past decade has grown significantly. In 2011, there were 3,369 grantmakers in equity, and 470 in justice. In 2018, there were 18,272 in equity and 2,753 in justice. However, the percentage of giving in the US remains miniscule. In 2018, amidst a $92 billion total of foundation funding, equity funding amounted to $5.79 billion, and justice only $0.93 billion. In other terms, 6 per cent of grantmaking is devoted to racial equity, and 1 per cent to racial justice. ‘We’re coming to a point of dangerous regression,’ said Villarosa. ‘False stories that ‘we’ve given so much’ and others that are unfairly attacking organisations that have received significant sums.’

In the Brazilian context, França reported that Brazil’s population is 56 per cent Black. Despite representing the majority of the population, 78.9 per cent of people killed in police interventions in 2020 were Black; in 2010, Black people occupied just over 28 per cent of management positions. ‘In Brazil, we also still have to deal with a myth of racial democracy. A lot of people still believe ‘that there is no racism because we are mixed race’. This has made it really hard to tackle racism.’

GIFE launched a Racial Equity working group in 2020 to attempt to raise awareness among sector leaders, and have also implemented a Black Philanthropy Month.

GIFE are also looking to have leaders in Brazilian philanthropy commit to promoting racial equity in their organisations. ‘Philanthropy must take the position of our vision for the country… that isn’t just parochial. …Philanthropists in general don’t take a position because they want to be low profile. It’s killing our capacity to make justice.’

Lastly, GIFE are looking for organisations to implement racial equity practices. ‘If it’s difficult to bring diversity into our institutions, it’s even more difficult to bring diversity to our board members. This is the moment that leaders in philanthropy can really show what side they’re on.’

Sanchez spoke last on Mexican philanthropy. ‘I want to address that philanthropy has never addressed racism in Mexico, and that’s shameful. I’m sad I’m here standing in front of you telling you about our context… but I want to do something about it.’

How to address it? ‘We are part of the problem. How did these philanthropy organisations get here in the first place? How did they get wealthy? How do they redistribute their wealth? These are the sorts of questions we have to ask, and look at how we’re reproducing inequalities.’

Cemefi knew they couldn’t export US concepts of racism; they had to understand their own context. First they held dialogues, then conducted a Cemefi-UNESCO-UNAM study.  The key findings:

  • Few entities identify racism as an important problem in our country. Most of them define racism in a vague and confusing way, and there’s a lack of knowledge about the presence of our Afro-Mexican population
  • No institution develops projects that explicitly aim to combat racism. Many have not considered racism as a problem affecting the populations they work with, and priority is given to strategies of education and training
  • Racist biases – that Indigenous people live in rural and isolated communities; the work they perform is agricultural or artisanal, or that people of African descent are all migrants who come to take away job opportunities, etc.

Sarah Nkuchia-Kyalo of Co-Impact Kenya then spoke. ‘For Africa, it is entirely impossible to disassociate the question of race with our history of colonialism – you cannot separate the two, because with colonialism came the construct of race. We did not have it before.’

As a practitioner of philanthropy over the last ten years, Nkuchia-Kyalo spoke of the hesitance around NGOs in local populations, ‘even after our so-called independence’ – because they remind them of their colonial experience. ‘Even myself as I enter this space to work in philanthropy, you can imagine that I am also wondering if I am part of the problem. It’s a valid question to ask, and because I’m African I will come with that question, as to whether I’m perpetuating what my ancestors experienced, or whether I’m here to actually help.’

The way to tell if an organisation is rooted in advancing racial justice and in transforming, is staffing and board membership. ‘If you just moved your office from London to Nairobi, it’s not enough.’

  • The floor was then opened to comments from the audience, which included: ‘For me, as a pan-African person – pan-Africa is a territory, not a continent. It’s about us, Black people. [Our highest population] is in Nigeria, second is Brazil and third is the United States. We need to recognise these things, moving us to a solution that we are not the few, we are many’
  • ‘There are very strong ‘anti’ narratives – anticolonial, antipatriarchy – but what are we then for? In the absence of defining that, you can’t pinpoint where exactly we need to invest’
  • ‘Yes, there is a deep systemic imbalance in the way philanthropy works… but the one thing I worry about is dismantling quickly. Philanthropy has worked in a particular way for four or five decades on this continent. Now we want to dismantle it – we need to be careful about how, and the speed’
  • ‘White supremacy and racism is the original sin of globalisation. It runs through anyway you look at it, and it permeates everything, including those of us who are fighting it, who sit in those chairs’
  • ‘People talk about minorities in the US, whether Indigenous or Black, majorities in Brazil, even if it’s not seen.. but to me, developing South-South relationships is one way out, one way forward. There is a South in the West, and we need to connect with each other. There is a South in every one of these countries, and these are the links we need to build’
  • ‘It’s easy for us to get so lost in the discouragement, the negatives. How do we start making steps in the right direction? How do we help shift the middle, so that the right things can happen?’

Amy McGoldrick is the head of marketing, advertising and events at Alliance

Tagged in: #WINGSForum2023

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