The wisdom comes from the grassroot


Qing Gu


‘Diversity, equity, and inclusion in grantmaking’ at the Philanthropy for Better Cities Forum 2023

The 2023 Philanthropy for Better Cities Forum (PBC 2023), convened on 11-12 September by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, was the first international trip after the pandemic for many philanthropy stakeholders, including over 130 participants from mainland China.

The Forum served as a critical hub where western and eastern philanthropies could converge, interact and incubate new ideas, drawing inspiration from immersive exhibitions with rich cultural elements from the Western Kowloon Cultural District, where the forum was hosted. This was particularly true during a panel discussion I had the privilege of moderating titled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in grant-making.

For a long time, DEI has been a blurred and abstract concept for philanthropy practitioners from an East Asian cultural context. Some argue that many East Asian cultures have single nationalities and DEI is thus irrelevant. Some try to interpret DEI as token philanthropic actions—grantmaking in areas focused on vulnerable groups, ethnic minorities, women or disabled groups. In western philanthropy, with surplus information, DEI is not only challenging to define but also can be very broad. Addressing these pervasive challenges, the DEI session at PBC 2023 started by grounding DEI in the local context. Participatory grantmaking can have different connotations in diverse regions, yet the essence is the same: communities affected by grantmaking decisions are represented and can contribute to the discussion. They feel welcomed and respected, and have a sense of belonging.

Why is shifting power critical?

Why is shifting power to grantees important? To put it simply, this wisdom comes from the grassroots. In various regions, we understand that grantmaking institutions are often not representative of the communities where the social and environmental challenges originate. There is often a disconnect between people who are affected most by those challenges and people who lead and govern philanthropies. This makes it difficult for grantmakers to provide culturally sensitive and mutually empowering solutions. There is a danger that well-intentioned grantmaking practice can reproduce and reinforce social inequalities rather than reduce them. Breaking this hierarchy helps address exclusion at the bottom of the power pyramid and helps prevent making less-informed and wrong decisions.

How do we overcome the barriers?

There are social norms and intrinsic institutional barriers in grantmaking institutions that can hinder DEI and participatory grantmaking approaches. It often requires transformational change to address existing grantmaking practice, acquire new knowledge and nurture authentic mutual trust between the funders and grantees. More diverse representation on  boards in grantmaking institutions, data to ensure transparency and accountability, and necessary capacity building for both the grantmakers and recipient communities are all essential to reduce the DEI deficit in grantmaking.

East or west, there is a long way still to go to shift both the perception and power of grantees from beneficiaries to decision makers. PBC 2023 in Hong Kong was well positioned to harness diverse opinions and enrich concepts such as the DEI with convincing local examples and best practices. This important forum provided me with rich learnings, exciting insights, and many important interactions with my global peers. Crucially, it provided food for thought and triggered the desire for more exchange and collaboration among stakeholders of this global philanthropy community.

Qing Gu, Senior Program Officer, Ford Foundation

Click here to access the session recordings and photos.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *