Local leaders and institutions have the expertise and inherent capacities to solve their problems and help humanity address the world’s most pressing systemic challenges. However, they need grant and investor capital, accompaniment, trust, time, and control to effect transformational change. The NEID-TPI’s Symposium, Innovations in International Philanthropy, brought together a cadre of practitioners across philanthropy and impact investment to share critical practices and discuss issues and solutions on how we get to impact through a justice framework.
The Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19 pandemic shed renewed light on longstanding patterns of structural inequities, their racialised natures, and outcomes for people of colour globally. They showcased the power, brilliance, and leadership of people of colour at the frontlines of racial, economic, gender, environmental and political justice efforts through local institutions and movements to solve complex issues in tested and novel ways. In international development, there is a tacit understanding that local actors of colour understand their context far better than the best-prepared international organisations and are the most effective and efficient in responding to pressing needs. It is thus a no-brainer that the localisation of decision-making power and the resources to implement deliberately, and at scale are sine qua non conditions for transformational change across all justice areas. However, the data is conclusive. Over 99 percent of humanitarian and philanthropic funding goes to white-led NGOs, less than 2 percent goes to local NGOs, and 95 percent of philanthropic wealth is concentrated in Europe and North America, Those patterns are consistent across investment management. In her panel talk at the NEID-TPI Symposium, Rachel Robasciotti of Adasina reminded us that 99 per cent of investment management was still white and male-owned, and Amy Brakeman of the Umsizi Fund admonished us in her speaker comments to shift this paradigm. She said we need to urgently shift wealth and control to proximal leaders at the frontline of change.
Prominent voices in international development, including those of Dr. Uzodinma Iweala, Kennedy Odede and Equality Fund Co-Chair Theo Sowa, an opening keynote speaker at the NEID-TPI Symposium, call for philanthropy and finance to address asset-deficit mental models and power structures that frame people of color as victims devoid of agency, unable to take charge of their futures. In order to reach the SDGs globally, power and resources concentrated in white and western centers must shift to afford communities with the means and control needed to reverse generations of systemic exclusion and discrimination and contribute to solving our world’s most pressing challenges. So how do we restore the balance of power? What is our role as philanthropies and impact investors in doing so? The brilliantly inspirational Sowa tells us in her keynote address, ‘To shift power in philanthropy, we need to shift our mindsets to listen and recognise our privileges, limitations, and other people’s expertise.’ One critical first step is naming and identifying the root causes of systemic racism and how they caused and drive structural equities for people of colour globally.
I had the honour of hosting a workshop on ‘Understanding Decolonisation & Race in Global Philanthropy.’ It focused on exploring the root causes of structural inequities through the lens of history and legacies of Western colonisation, imperialism, foreign policy, and their role in shaping modern economic, legal, philanthropic, and financial structures. Five hundred years of Western colonialism and imperialism (1501-1867) enslaved some 12.5 million Africans, caused the deaths of an estimated 17 million African victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (excluding those who died in the middle passage), 10 million Congolese under Belgian rule, and 56 million Indigenous people, through warfare, forced labor and disease. It shifted over 80 percent of the world’s wealth and resources to six countries (France, England, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and later the United States). Colonization and imperialism rely on legal structures (i.e., slave codes, Black Codes, Jim Crow laws), the construction of race and racism, the dehumanisation of enslaved people, paradigms such as Manifest Destiny, foreign policies such as the Monroe Doctrine and ’Development‘ to survive. Similar patterns persist between racialised communities, systems, and institutions globally, including philanthropy, development and investment. The institutions that most strongly influence and shape the world politically, economically, empirically, and theoretically are white and in the West. Dismantling those dynamics are paramount to unlocking transformational change at scale for all.
Across the three days of the symposium, 300 participants discussed several strategies and solutions afoot to reach philanthropic and social impact goals across investing, partnerships, evaluation, and social justice. Powerful suggestions from the speakers and panelists revolved around: power and wealth shifting strategies, the need to center equity in institutions, systems, and practices; the importance of redefining, realigning risk, return and impact for integrated solutions; the opportunity to shift risk from people through trust-based partnerships amongst all actors; the need for greater strategic use of blended finance to address systemic risks at scale and the importance of equity-based narratives. Nonetheless, unless we dismantle bias and racism in our mental models, institutions and systems racialised outcomes globally will persist and undermine our progress. Good intention is not enough. Undoing centuries of injustice is no small task. However, if we listen for local expertise, as keynote speakers Malala Yousafzai of the Malala Fund and Sowa urged us to do, to seize the opportunities they offer and hold ourselves accountable to deliver on power- and wealth-shifting pledges central to communities’ regeneration and autonomy, while embracing change with radical humility, then we will have fully leveraged our total and shared assets in humanity, and in so doing, stand the greatest chance for a transformational change in our lifetime.
Dana Nau François is Program Officer (Haiti & Mexico) at W.K. Kellogg Foundation