A new year is full of opportunities. But before we embark on any new efforts and initiatives, I hope we can all pause and take stock of all of the rich and urgent learnings from the past few years. I empathize with the desire to leave crises behind us, but I urge us not to fall into a regressive state. Our sector has mobilized like never before, and we can accomplish much more. We have just begun the transformation required to radically reimagine our world.
What will we take with us as we move forward? What can we not afford to lose as the world around us continues to change? What are the shifts in practices that need to be re-enforced? Here are the five hopes I have for all of us as we continue to expand our commitments to justice and liberation this year.
Abandoning the Zero-Sum Narrative on Race
At SCG's 2021 Virtual Conference, Rise Up: Closing the Racial Wealth Divide, Heather McGhee shed light on our country's "zero-sum" narrative that claims that progress for one group must come at the expense of another. Specifically, she outlined how this worldview intensifies racial divides and fuels white backlash against any gains made by BIPOC communities. Heather writes, "the logical extension of the zero-sum story is that a future without racism is something white people should fear because there will be nothing good for them in it." However, the "zero-sum" mindset is fundamentally untrue. When we design solutions that benefit the most historically marginalized groups, we create solutions that benefit everyone.
Our sector needs to break down the narratives maintaining the zero-sum worldview. Funders can invest in the narrative infrastructure needed to shift our country's prevailing attitudes and mindsets around systemic injustice. Philanthropy can ensure that narrative change is at the heart of every effort that it funds — from guaranteed income pilots to gender justice to homelessness and housing issues — and articulate how solving these issues will serve our collective interests. Funders can also invest in artists and storytellers to help build empathy and inspire us to come across lines of difference. We need an abundance of storytellers to shift our cultural landscape, and we need to center the voices of those who were historically silenced, erased, and not represented.
What is lost when philanthropy invests fully in the communities and solutions it seeks to support? How does the idea of "giving up" power reinforce a zero-sum paradigm within our work?
Centering Community Experiences & Needs
I want us to continue centering community wisdom and the lived experience of those most impacted by inequity in our efforts. For years, movement leaders have asked philanthropy to abandon the harmful practices that obstruct the work on the ground. Philanthropy's fixation on rigid evaluation, proposals, data sets, and spreadsheets has created a culture of compliance, which Vu Le notes is "...an oppressive dynamic built on power imbalances and suspicion-based philanthropy." Philanthropy must cede decision-making power in the communities that it funds. While it may be uncomfortable to "give up" this power, I invite us to reflect and interrogate that feeling. What is lost when philanthropy invests fully in the communities and solutions it claims to support? How does the idea of "giving up" power reinforce a zero-sum paradigm within our work? I believe that in the long run, the solutions set by those who are closest to the issues will benefit — and liberate — all of us. And funders can continue to listen to community leaders who have asked for the space, power, and resources to create their own solutions and priorities. I hope to see more of us engage in equitable grantmaking practices that help frontline leaders and grassroots movements build political and economic power.
“Wealth is where history shows up in your wallet.” Heather McGhee
Developing New Economic Models Rooted in Racial Justice
Settlers founded this country on economic systems built on racial hierarchy and extraction that have prevented Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color from achieving economic prosperity and building wealth for generations. As the pandemic demonstrated, racial and economic disparities continue to widen, with Black and Latinx wealth predicted to fall to zero by the middle of the century, according to an analysis by Prosperity Now. I encourage funders to continue reckoning with our country's and our sector's legacies of injustice. Funders can divest from financial models that perpetuate racial inequality and, instead, invest in new solutions that address the racial wealth divide.
Investing in Black Businesses, Entrepreneurs, and Communities
Entrepreneurs of color don't often have reliable access to mainstream financial institutions needed to make investments or build a business. BIPOC entrepreneurs are expected to break into investor spaces and persuade them to redirect the flow of capital. Funders and investors interested in tackling the racial wealth divide can begin by seeking out BIPOC entrepreneurs and business owners and bringing targeted investments into their hands at the local level. Funders can invest directly in BIPOC communities by helping them finance their projects, support their entrepreneurship, and build the skills needed to succeed in our new economy. By proactively providing communities with the capital they have been historically denied, funders can eliminate the financial barriers that have impeded them from innovating and participating fully in our economy.
Championing Pilot Programs Like Guaranteed Income
In January 2022, Los Angeles County began distributing $1000 monthly payments to the 3,000 recipients of its 12-month guaranteed income pilot program. This $24 million program is the country's largest guaranteed basic income pilot and is considered crucial in addressing generational poverty in LA. Moreover, this program seeks to help communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Among the more than 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, half are now 'liquid asset poor' and are just one paycheck away from a severe financial crisis. Guaranteed income efforts are becoming increasingly central to racial justice agendas as a viable strategy to combat the economic insecurity impacting communities of color. While these programs offer financial relief for the most economically disenfranchised, they should not be considered a cure-all to systemic racism. Instead, pilot programs showcase that addressing systemic issues requires a wide range of coordinated actions and policies.
Racial justice is not a short-term project we can evaluate at the end of a one or two-year cycle. It might be frustrating to not always have clear markers of success or feel like we haven't made a significant impact. We are in real-time designing new solutions to address systems that have existed for centuries. I hope our sector will not become discouraged or dial back its commitment to racial justice. Instead, let's build upon what we've created. I encourage all of us to continue reflecting on the makeup of our staff, board, and funding portfolios. Let's rework our budgets to direct funds to BIPOC-led and -owned vendors, consulting firms, and organizations. After all, our budgets are moral documents. In short, let's continue to operationalize equity internally and create organizational cultures that reflect the future we want to build.
Embracing Advocacy & Forwarding a Racial Justice Agenda
As we approach the 2022 midterm elections, I encourage even more of us to participate in advancing an equity-focused agenda, locally and at the state level. Advocacy is a vital component of our systems change work. This year and onward, we have an opportunity to become civic leaders and advocate for racial justice at the policy level. If you are new to advocacy work, I encourage you to learn about the different ways you can get involved and reach out to SCG's Public Policy team if you have questions. Funders can learn from the success of the 2020 Measure J campaign and follow the advocacy recommendations provided by The Committee of Greater LA's report to address systemic racism in LA County, which include: funding organizations with political expertise at the state and local levels, supporting organizations and movements that are building power around racial and economic justice, and providing organizations with the resources and connections needed to scale their advocacy efforts.
Let's not forget the commitments we've made. Let us hold firmly the energy and conviction we all had when we made pledges to racial equity and justice. I look forward to expanding our work together this year and taking the next steps in our journey for justice.