It is possible and necessary for people to engage effectively in difficult conversations about racism, sexism, classism, and other inequities in the philanthropic sector. Each time you do so is an opportunity to explore your tolerance for ambiguity, conflict, risk, and discomfort, and to practice your skills in interrupting harm.
As staff of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we had a chance to learn this first hand a series of anti-racism sessions last year led by Healing Solidarity, sponsored by the Ariadne Network – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights. Building our capacity, courage, and resolve to have these honest and vulnerable conversations about racism is the only way we can identify internal policies and practices that inhibit equity within foundations’ efforts to support social change and human rights.
In multi-racial groups and in caucused cohorts (led by and for people raced as Black, People of Colour, and white), the discussions elevated what feels possible and offered a sense of what transformation looks like: it is not the work of one, but of the collective. It honours and builds on the work of those who came before us, and it is centered in healing the pain and trauma of racism and other oppressions, while encouraging solidarity through a common call to action.
The strength of the Healing Solidarity team’s approach was that it shines a light on and celebrates the knowledge and practices of activists, change makers, and grant-makers working not just in the UK and US, but across the Global South. It was humbling to hear from those doing social justice work across the world, understanding what grant-making practices look like that centres the voices of women and girls and people of colour. This offered us hope – a window into what change could look like, outside of the echo chamber that the philanthropic sector sometimes feels like.
In this blog series, we have each shared a profoundly personal perspective on where anti-racism work has landed for us and what it has meant for us to be accountable to ourselves in doing the work we do at Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
In combining our reflections, we identified three key take-aways to challenge and support us in exploring our anti-racist practice:
- Compassion. This work is hard, and it is triggering for us all in different ways. We’ve found that acknowledging and sitting with the discomfort it raises in us. Showing ourselves, and indeed each other, compassion, will help us move past the discomfort, defensiveness and guilt into change.
- Brave, not safe. Because this work is hard and triggering, we must move beyond needing to feel safe, into being brave. This means actively thinking about what we can do every single time to interrupt harm when we see it occurring – either in words or actions. What more can we do, and how can we do better?
- Truth. Anti-racist practice demands a levelling up and understanding of what racism is – in all its forms and in all the complex systems and structures in which it plays out. We must not hide behind outdated understandings of racism any longer. We all contribute to upholding racist systems and structures and we all have a role to play in undoing the harm and dismantling these systems.
The programme finished with a conversation about what an anti-racism grantmaking pathway could look like, which was adapted from Justice Funders’ strategic framework, ‘A Just Transition for Philanthropy‘, which is well worth checking out, and The Principles Project: Human Rights Principles for Human Rights Grantmaking from HRFN, Ariadne, and PAWHR, among other frameworks and resources.
In order to have impact and meet social justice at its core, we must all rise to the challenge of the times. While we are not experts in anti-racism, we are very happy to continue the conversation with our colleagues in the foundation and across the sector.
We all have a role to play in moving towards making the organisations and systems we operate in anti-racist. What do you need to commit to doing to move forward?
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is an independent funder focusing on the arts, young people, education and learning, and migration across the UK and in India.