“Social justice philanthropy is really sexy right now.” ~Marcus Littles, Frontline Solutions
People want to address how to use money to achieve the greatest change. First we need to define what social justice philanthropy is. Marcus Littles of Frontline Solutions defined social justice philanthropy as “funding is directed towards collective interest of disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. Central to SJP is the concept that poverty is caused by poor allocation of resources and our focus should be on giving people the tools they need to challenge these structures. “
Using this definition as a guide, the panel discussed practices in how to implement social justice philanthropy, with an emphasis on the following:
- Looking social justice as an outcome of philanthropy instead of a value or identity that we sign up for.
- Unpacking notion of disadvantaged and underrepresented. Representation can mean many things some of which are ot releveant to how we engage in social justice. Disadvantaged is often framed around poverty. Advocating for rights isn’t always about access to more financial resources.
- Focusing on the givers: It is not just about demand side of philanthropy—those who receive resources. It is also about those making decisions and how they come to those decisions.
First, Neeraj Mehta of Nexus Community Partners, outlined their approach to social justice giving and support for communities of color:
- People centered strategies: take into account needs and differences based on race and culture.
- Reach those more isolated and vulnerable—least likely to benefit from mainstream community activism. We must have targeted approach. It is not enough to say we help poor people—there is great dieristy in poverty.
- Focus on rebuilding and strengthening human capital—people are key to creating and sustaining economic health of a community.
Regan Gruber Moffitt of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which focuses on educational attainment, poverty, community building, and nonprofit capacity, emphasized the importance of a targeted approach when addressing inequality.
They are intentional in using a race and gender lens when trying to achieve goals. An example is the Marginalized Males Workforce and Education Consortium. They noticed that after 1 year of college, African-American, Latino, and poor men had a gpa of 1.8 and after 6 years only 13% graduated. Through the consortium they collaborate with other foundations and organizations across Arkansas to fund and build programs to address this disparity.
Mia Brown of Third Wave Foundation stated the problems that fuel how their organization is structured. Only 8% of funds given go to girls/women programs and majority of foundations themselves are not diverse. To challenge this diversity is embedded in how foundation gives money and who is in power.
At the Third Wave Foundation, 50% are people of color, 50% are LGBTQ and more than 30% are cis gender men. They have given over $2.5 million to orgs led by young people across the country in 160 orgs. They emphasize transformative direct service: mobilize communities to act in accordance to their interests.
An example of this is Spark Reproductive Justice Now in Georgia that the Third Wave supports. There were anti-abortion billboards put up saying that black people are an endangered species and thus abortion was dangerous. However, Spark emphasized that the power of black women over their bodies and plan families is crucial for community well being.
Another challenge Mia addressed is how we view people in need. A common assumption for example is that girls selling sex for money can’t be empowered. However, this is not true—there is a great deal of decision-making and resilience of young people in the sex trade needs to be discussed. In fact, when we realize that most violent experiences young people in the sex trade have were w/ health care providers, police officers, and school, the people who are supposed to help them.
In the Q&A session, a major issue when dealing with social justice philanthropy is measuring outcomes. Mehta stated the best approach is to allow constituents to define how they see success. How can we help people create knowledge and ownership of outcomes? Also pay attention not just what we do but who we are reaching—being as inclusive as possible.
Mia stated that we also need to reflect on how we re making progress, not just those we serve. We have to ask, who is missing from these conversations, be willing to make mistakes, and institutionalize change. You have to be transparent with the community and allow them to hold you accountable.
What other strategies can foundations use to ensure they get to the root of inequality?