Philanthropy must face a reckoning on race in 2021

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Abdullahi Alim, Specialist, Africa and Middle East, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum


2020 has marked an important turning point for conversations on race.

The police killing of George Floyd in the US in May, following too many other similar deaths and injustices, sparked protests and renewed a discussion around civil rights and police reform. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods have disproportionately affected people of color around the world, shining a spotlight on structural economic and social inequalities.

Civil society leaders have stepped up to address these gaps. Yet they continue to face hurdles from philanthropic donors and a funding system that too often creates a power imbalance rather than resolving one. Few frontline workers dare to speak openly about the funding challenges they experience so as not to offend donors, further exacerbating these issues.

As a result, important conversations around equity and inclusion are forced into oblivion, leaving charitable donors to unwittingly perpetuate inequity in the social sector, even as they seek to end it in the wider world.

Image: World Economic Forum

Fighting for people of color

For Carolyn Pitt, CEO of Film Connx, the pandemic focused her attention on the outsized impact on people of color. Drawing on her activist experience, Pitt addressed a bipartisan U.S. Congressional committee to advocate for stimulus dollars to support the battered film industry, which serves as an employment base for a number of African Americans in Georgia.

Cheryl Gordon is a 43-year-old African-American activist who leads a movement to help inspire criminal justice reform. “I’m clocking 60 hour weeks. If I’m lucky, I can spend every second weekend with my kids.”

The cost of her activism is all too familiar for the millions of black women at the frontlines of social justice. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, her work received increased attention but nowhere near as much funding.

“My team could not compete with the big nonprofits,” she said. “They don’t live or work here but still get the funds. I received about one-tenth relative to them, and [the donors] dictated how we spent every dollar. I found it insulting but we needed the money.”

This example raises important questions for the future of charitable donations: By overriding the judgement of those with lived experience, do donors risk perpetuating the very structures they are compelled to address? More specifically, does the power imbalance between Cheryl and the given funder mirror the racial power imbalance experienced by Black people around the world every day? https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/842515834&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true

Obstacles to impact

Lack of funding is one of the largest sources of stress for social entrepreneurs. According to a recent study from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, 47% of social entrepreneurs said that the lack of consistent access to capital is the top barrier to scaling their organization.

Organizations led by people of color or serving the interests of people of color often face additional hurdles.

For example, donors tend to opt to support large and mostly white-led organizations over those led by practitioners with lived experience. This pattern becomes even more concerning when large organizations then subcontract black and brown organizations to do the work for a fraction of their funding.

Another obstacle is called movement capture, where white donors’ compromise social movements by pressuring them to readjust their work to reflect the donors’ own preferences. As a result, communities bear the cost of lacklustre programs while practitioners suffer credibility strains.

Social entrepreneurs also face pressure to cut costs while increasing outputs. Donors treat them like startups and pressure them to be lean, agile and ruthlessly efficient. This can lead to excessive workloads, high staff turnover and low earnings.

“Our donors pressured us to cut back on staff and budget even less pay for the remaining team,” said one nonprofit leader (who asked to be anonymous so as not to impede funding opportunities). “You would be surprised how little we earn and how much we do. It’s a recipe for a toxic work culture.”

By focusing the conversation around organizational efficiency, donors are less likely to think through how decades-long austerity measures that have effectively wiped out the government programmes for the working class in many developing countries, leaving them to rely on an increasingly stretched nonprofit sector. Emphasizing mindfulness is important, but it’s not enough.

The normalizing of low earnings in the social sector poses the question of whether donors can create truly equitable societies when those tasked with such work are ultimately forced to join the working poor as well. This phenomenon cuts across the developed world, too, with practitioners often finding themselves with little savings and pension upon retirement.

Serving vulnerable communities

COVID-19 is prompting the long-overdue reckoning for a social sector marked by burnout, inequity and seemingly endless pressure to be lean.

To reverse this culture, a decent allocation of grant funding should cover salary and overheads, with the understanding that this can lead to better outcomes and less burnout among staff. Donors should also take stock of just how stretched the social sector is and whether their demands for organizational change might hinder the ability of nonprofits to reach the most vulnerable.

These important reflections might cause discomfort to donors and may even surface deep wounds that are at the core of why they choose to fund social change. Nevertheless, such a process can only lead to a healthier relationship between donors and nonprofit leaders and to the benefit of the communities they intend to serve.

By tackling such critical and pointed questions, donors are less likely to centre their funding around an existential desire to find meaning and praise. Moreover, such a shift would instead build on the rich knowledge of practitioners with lived experiences and provide better support to oppressed communities.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This is the environmental catastrophe you’ve probably never heard of

Electronic cigarettes, a better alternative or a well-advertised product

Parmesan cheese on shelves in Italy (Copyright: European Union, 2014 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Daniela Giusti)

CETA at risk again: Italy says it won’t ratify EU-Canada trade deal over product protection fears

ECB’s unconventional monetary measures give first tangible results

Cleaner Air in 2020: 0.5% sulphur cap for ships enters into force worldwide

Antimicrobial resistance: how can an intersectoral approach between society and healthcare professionals be developed and applied?

6th Edition of India m2m + iot Forum to open its door on 14th January, in association with The European Sting

Why press freedom should be at the top of everyone’s agenda

UN chief saddened at news of death of former US President George H.W. Bush

Cum-ex tax fraud scandal: MEPs call for inquiry, justice, and stronger tax authorities

Davos on Climate Change: citizens demanding more actions while CEOs tried to balance profit with sustainability

Mobility package: Parliament adopts position on overhaul of road transport rules

This top-10 of business risks misses the biggest of them all: climate change

Nepal faces a crisis as COVID-19 stems the flow of remittances

Fairness in the Food Supply Chain: Commission welcomes Member States’ support for greater price transparency

Can we automate our way out of the savings crisis?

Climate action: 4 shifts the UN chief encourages Governments to make

Around 23 million boys have married before reaching 15; ‘we can end this violation’ says UNICEF chief

The multidisciplinary team facing the multidrug resistant form of Tuberculosis in the state of Amazonas (Brazil)

EU and U.S. castigate Facebook on Cambridge Analytica scandal as citizens’ data privacy goes down the drain again

Humans have caused this environmental crisis. It’s time to change how we think about risk

What is hydroponics – and is it the future of farming?

Mental health in medical students: the deciphered quandary

UN chief condemns air strike that hit school bus in northern Yemen, killing scores of children

The European Parliament double-checks the EU 2014-2020 budget

What you need to know about the Sustainable Development Impact Summit

How to help an ageing population stay wealthy for longer

One million facing food shortages, nutrition crisis after Mozambique cyclones: UNICEF

UNICEF chief hopes 2020 will be ‘a year of peace’ for Syria’s children

Polluted lungs: health in the center of environment discussion

MEPs want the EU to play a stronger role in improving public health

Can we put a price on clean air? Yes, we can

Commission introduces surveillance of imports of bioethanol, and remains open to examining requests from other sectors

The European Brain Drain: a truth or a myth?

In this Tokyo cafe, the waiters are robots operated remotely by people with disabilities

How can we produce enough protein to feed 10 billion people?

Reforms in a few countries drive a decline in average OECD labour taxes

Western Sahara: a ‘peaceful solution’ to conflict is possible, says UN envoy

The first new university in the UK for 40 years is taking a very different approach to education

This is what a Green New Deal for Europe could look like

How UN cultural treasures helped set the stage for Game of Thrones

Parliament boosts consumer rights online and offline

Militias force nearly 2,000 to leave Libyan capital’s largest shelter for internally-displaced: UNHCR

Key quotes from China’s Premier Li on COVID-19, the economy and US relations

EU Citizenship: New survey shows EU citizens are more aware of their rights

FROM THE FIELD: South Sudan’s green shoots, highlight environmental recovery from war

UN chief hails victory of ‘political will’ in historic Republic of North Macedonia accord

We have a space debris problem. Here’s how to solve it

Hiring more female leaders is good for profits. Here’s the evidence

Why we need to solve our quantum security challenges

70 years on, landmark UN human rights document as important as ever

Righting a wrong: UN Fund helps thousands of sex abuse survivors rebuild their lives

What the future holds for the EU – China relations?

As human genome editing moves from the lab to the clinic, the ethical debate is no longer hypothetical

Companies have a new skill to master – innovation

Why 2020 will see the birth of the ‘trust economy’

The Italian crisis may act as a catalyst for less austerity

Foreign direct investments the success secrete of Eurozone

What makes America the world’s most competitive economy?

Climate Change and Human Health: Two Faces of The Same Coin

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s