Equity in Our Work and World: What Are We Doing About It?

November 4, 2015

Anne Yoon, Associate, The Giving Practice

In the world of philanthropy,  "diversity," “equity” and “inclusion” have been lumped into a safe three-letter acronym that only people in our sector can decipher. Try to throw “DEI” around in a conversation with people at your local bus stop, and you will certainly get blank stares. So understandably, “DEI” did not once come up at PolicyLink's Equity Summit 2015 in Los Angeles last month — but diversity, equity and inclusion reverberated as our shared values and focus.

The conversations at the conference about diversity, equity and inclusion also took a different tone than the ones I've heard at foundation offices this year. Our sense of urgency climbed as we discussed DEI in the context of immigration, a living wage and police brutality. Grassroots movements including Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, Fight for $15 and We the Protesters have brought these issues to the national stage on a groundwell of populist support. And so across municipalities, nonprofits, advocacy groups, the public and private sectors, more than 3,000 people gathered at the Equity Summit to talk about what equity should look like in our communities and across the country.

I'm still reflecting on everything I learned, but here five of my highlights for the philanthropic sector:

  1. The revolution will not be funded. Philanthropy must see itself as a partner in organizing and advocacy work. As a partner, funders need to understand the anatomy of movement-building. How can philanthropy leverage its dollars and relationships in movement-building, without claiming ownership?
  2. Fund your own irrelevance. In a recent letter, Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stating, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."
  3. How do movements and organizers inform grantmaking structures? Would you have asked Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth for their theory of change and strategic plan?
  4. Every decision we make is an equity decision. Every investment is a social investment.
  5. Why are we using the language we use? Challenge: have a conversation without using “capacity building” and discover what you really mean.

And five bullet points for everyone:

  • How do you come to the table when you are talking about problems of equity? Did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. come saying “I have an issue?” Often times this is how we approach the table. Instead, let’s come saying “I have a dream.”
  • Equity is the superior economic growth model and racism is the corrosive economic growth barrier.
  • The first revolution is an internal revolution.
  • A panelist quoted a Palestinian woman telling her, “I support Black Lives Matter because the liberation of my people hinges upon the liberation of your people.” Our liberations are tied with each other.
  • It is not about making people feel comfortable.
  • Are you willing to tell the truth wherever you go?

We must believe that philanthropy has a role in the ecosystem of social change and has the responsibility to act. In Philanthropy Northwest's learning network, we’ve accepted a responsibility to be part of the movement for change, within the culture of philanthropy and out. We've begun to act through our CEO cohorts on diversity, Momentum Fellowship and Community Democracy Workshop, a national project incubated by Philanthropy Northwest that's helping build the knowledge, practices, skills and relationships needed for community-centered problem solving.

However, in my past year I’ve heard and experienced the crawling pace of philanthropy and the acquiescence of the culture. I come away from the conference with a greater sense of urgency — that now is indeed the time. How is philanthropy being a partner to the movement builders, the organizers, the advocates, the community? How can philanthropy be a more effective partner, right now?

Here's PolicyLink’s Equity Manifesto. Read it, digest it, and let us know what it inspires for you.

It begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.

It embraces complexity as cause for collaboration, accepting that our fates are inextricable.

It recognizes local leaders as national leaders, nurturing the wisdom and creativity within every community as essential to solving the nation’s problems.

It demands honesty and forthrightness, calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic.

It strives for the power to realize our goals while summoning the grace to sustain them.

It requires that we understand the past, without being trapped in it; embrace the present, without being constrained by it; and look to the future, guided by the hopes and courage of those who have fought before and beside us.

This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.

Anne Yoon is a program associate with The Giving Practice, Philanthropy Northwest's consulting team. She can be reached at ayoon@philanthropynw.org.