A paper collage showing a dream-like landscape where spiral staircase rises out of a snowy bank in front of a pool of water. A man floats in the pool. The sky is desert sand.
Image credit: Yannick Lowery / www.severepaper.com

Editors’ note: This article is from Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine’s fall 2023 issue, “How Do We Create Home in the Future? Reshaping the Way We Live in the Midst of Climate Crisis.”

This speculative fiction work is drawn from Resonance: A Framework for Philanthropic Transformation.1 A version of this story was previously presented as part of remarks made at CHANGE Philanthropy, in 2021.2 It has been edited for publication here.

The year is 2053. Dusk. An elderly Asian-American woman is sitting on a porch swing surrounded by plants and flowers. The buzzing of delivery drones fills the air. People on holo meetings walk past her house.

A screen door creaks open, then slams back against the door frame.

Obachan (Grandma), will you tell me about your home from when you were young?” 

“The combination of racial injustice and climate disaster led to #LandBack campaigns that gave Indigenous forest stewards the resources to manage the land as they had since time immemorial.”“Sit down next to me, kiddo.

“Now, take a big, full, round, deep breath in. Do you feel how because it’s a bit cool right now, there’s a crispness to the air we breathe?”

“Yes, it’s like how sometimes when you run too fast your lungs hurt.”

Chuckling, “Yes, kind of like that. What I notice, though, is the smell; it’s not tainted by smoke. When your Mom and Uncle were small, we lived in California and witnessed more than one-third of our state burn by terrible forest fires fueled by climate change in the late teens and early ’20s. That was when we relied on incarcerated people to fight fires on lands that were viewed as a source of profit. The combination of racial injustice and climate disaster led to #LandBack campaigns that gave Indigenous forest stewards the resources to manage the land as they had since time immemorial. The success of these efforts renewed support for Tribes in Oklahoma, who were in long, contested fights to be recognized as sovereign nations. Wins in Oklahoma led to land in South Dakota, Hawaii, Canada, and across the globe being rematriated to Indigenous stewardship, beginning to repair trauma caused by colonization.”

“What’s colonization?”

“Colonization means to take over a land or community by force…” 

“You mean like what’s happening on Mars?”

“Yes. When your Mom was a teenager, there was a global pandemic, during which over seven million people died. And rich people who could afford to isolate, not have to go into an office, could afford healthcare, got richer. Backlash against billionaires spurred community efforts to retain the wealth that their labor created, leading to a growth in cooperative businesses. Frustrated with large corporations that ran their businesses off a contingent workforce that didn’t provide minimum labor protections or benefits, much less keep their employees safe during the global pandemic, we saw a growth in unions. Worker power and ownership really grew during this period. Local communities began to create their own infrastructure for building community wealth through mechanisms like community land trusts, which accelerated efforts to decommodify land.

“In cities like Richmond, California, and Boston, Massachusetts, which had experienced ‘food apartheid,’ the need for locally grown, healthy food supported the rise of urban farms that employed returning citizens. The local farms provided produce to cooperative restaurants and stores, which also worked with cooperative composters to take commercial and residential food waste to create regenerated soils to sustain the farms. These successes transformed our agricultural practices, so that rather than relying on large commercial farms, regenerative farming practices gained prominence, creating food sovereignty. The growth of these efforts required more access to nonextractive investment capital, creating a demand for public banks and democratic loan funds across the country.”

“Didn’t you run a democratic loan fund?”

“The organization I worked with at the time, Justice Funders,3 helped to build a democratic loan fund that was run by community leaders from across the country.”

“Mom says that democratic loan funds used to be rare.”

“She’s right. When I started at Justice Funders, the majority of philanthropic assets were held in private foundations where a family board made decisions about how resources should be allocated.”

“But how would they know what the community needs?”

“That was the problem, kiddo—they didn’t. Two things changed how wealth was managed. First, democratic funds like Seed Commons,4 Ujima Fund,5 and the Just Transition Integrated Capital Fund gave us a new model for how communities could steward and govern capital together. Second, after the Senate did away with the filibuster, Congress responded to the public outcry for increased regulation on philanthropic wealth, resulting in a series of laws mandating:

  • payouts from Donor Advised Funds within 10 years,
  • minimum annual payouts of 10 percent from all foundations, and
  • the prevention of endowments from being invested in the stock market.

“These new laws channeled philanthropic assets into municipal bonds and community development loan funds, which stabilized local municipalities. And over time, instead of starting new foundations, wealth was given over to democratic loan funds to redistribute.

“Fierce grassroots organizing led to the passage of the BREATHE Act,6 and cities finally had the resources to make investments in the commons, including alternatives to policing. We witnessed huge shifts to public education with dramatic differences in per-pupil spending, because resources were no longer allocated by zip code. With more local resources, child care became free, along with public school–provided breakfasts and lunches.”

“How did kids eat, if their school didn’t give them breakfast or lunch?”

“That was the challenge, sweetie—many kids went hungry. Local communities needed more resources to accelerate the Just Transition away from an extractive economy. Back then, our economy was organized around the right to accumulate wealth through the exploitation of labor and extraction of our natural resources—enforced through militarism. What our communities fought for is what we have now, which is a regenerative economy centered on social equity through ecological restoration, and full and fair participatory processes for all people.

“As part of the Just Transition, our natural resources were revitalized due to federal policies to ban fossil fuels, increase the production of solar and wind, and the migration from corporate-owned to community-owned utilities. The passage of the THRIVE Act prioritized renewable, environmentally sound, ethically sourced energy production, from development to deployment.7 It provided environmental protections and ecological restoration pathways to address the human-caused damage, destruction, and degradation of ecosystems by extractive industries.

“With policy changes in taxation and increased regulation governing corporations and philanthropic wealth, our economy became more regenerative, and everyone had the resources they needed to thrive.”“All of these gains were made possible because Indigenous peoples (as members of their Indigenous sovereign nations), Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Brown, and poor White marginalized communities built local, regenerative economies with thriving democracies in which all people have a say in the policies governing their lives. New policies were passed that mandate that corporations and private foundations pay land taxes to local Tribes. This led to the requirement of US federal agencies to secure the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous Nations related to their environment, lands, water, livelihoods, and culture.8

“In the late ’20s, a sweeping wealth tax endowed a federal Reparations Commission. The Commission resourced community healing initiatives, honored land grants made to Indigenous Tribes, and finally paid reparations to all the descendants of US chattel slavery. The Reparations Commission immediately passed policies that made the implementation of the BREATHE Act stronger. Public resources flowed into health and human services, gender-affirming care, and equitable housing. What followed was a period of healing and reconciliation for our country as we reckoned with the history and impact of racial capitalism.

“In the early ’30s, the Reparations Commission funded new public monuments in communities across the country. The changing cultural narrative, combined with the changing demographics across the country, provided the momentum needed to end other archaic reminders of this country’s White supremacist history—we finally did away with the Electoral College, created a national paid day off to vote, and shuttered the Supreme Court as lingering artifacts of an antiquated democracy.

“In the ’40s, shifts in our governance practices became more visible in every aspect of civic life—local governments adopted public budgeting processes, and democratically governed community loan funds replaced many philanthropic institutions. This is when the political journeys of all were supported by mass-base-building organizations, as the prior focus on those with wealth was no longer a need. With policy changes in taxation and increased regulation governing corporations and philanthropic wealth, our economy became more regenerative, and everyone had the resources they needed to thrive. The combination of all of these shifts contributed to our being able to slow global warming.”

“Then I was born!”

“Yes, baby, your parents wanted to wait to have you until they were sure that your home had clean air for you to breathe, safe water for you to drink, that your history would be taught to you at school, and that you could grow up and have agency over your own body and be able to make decisions about things that impact your life.”

“May the work of our movements serve to reimagine ways to govern and steward capital. When we consider the magnitude of natural and man-made disasters happening, we need all of our philanthropies to deploy all of our assets to usher in the world we want, the world we need.”


The year is 2023. Dusk. A middle-aged Asian-American woman is sitting on a porch swing surrounded by plants and flowers. The buzzing of her cell phone on silent hums in the background, as she reads an essay by Arundhati Roy:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.9

When I imagine the world anew, I think about what kind of ancestor I will be to my future grandchildren. I think about how we are in a moment of transition and the fact that it is up to this generation to ensure that we have a Just Transition. In particular, I think about this reminder from Climate Justice Alliance:

We can only undertake…global efforts to remediate and restore ecological balance if we redistribute the wealth accrued from stolen lands, stolen lives, and stolen labor to those from whom it was taken and who continue to be most impacted by pollution, poverty, racism, state violence, and pandemic around the world.10

From my perch at Justice Funders, I imagine the powerful role philanthropy can play in supporting bold solutions for systems change by resourcing new paths toward a more regenerative and racially just future. A Just Transition will require us to build new systems, practices, and institutions from the ground up that are rooted in honoring the sacredness of all life.

This necessitates that philanthropy:

  • commit to build and repair relationships in ways that shift the power imbalances that are the source of harm; and
  • support groups working to build local, regenerative, feminist, solidarity economies with grantmaking, investment, and 501(c)(4) capital.

Ultimately, this means that we need to:

  • end wealth accumulation, privatization, and control by private philanthropies;
  • redistribute wealth from private philanthropies to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities;
  • democratize power away from investors and people with wealth; and
  • shift economic control of philanthropic resources to communities historically exploited and historically disinvested in.

The kind of ancestor I want to be is one who supports racial, economic, and social movements to build, contest, and win power, so that all of us have full access to healthy food, renewable energy, clean air and water, good jobs, and healthy living environments. May the work of our movements serve to reimagine ways to govern and steward capital. When we consider the magnitude of natural and man-made disasters happening, we need all of our philanthropies to deploy all of our assets to usher in the world we want, the world we need. I welcome co-conspirators in building the portal to this world.



  1. Resonance: A Framework for Philanthropic Transformation (Oakland, CA: Justice Funders and The Resonance Collaborative).
  2. CHANGE Philanthropy, accessed September 10, 2023, changephilanthropy.org.
  3. Justice Funders, accessed September 10, 2023, justicefunders.org.
  4. Seed Commons, accessed September 10, 2023, seedcommons.org.
  5. “Invest in Ujima,” Ujima Fund, accessed September 10, 2023, www.ujimaboston.com/invest; and see the Boston Ujima Project, accessed September 10, 2023, www.ujimaboston.com/about.
  6. The BREATHE Act (Cleveland, OH: The Movement for Black Lives, July 7, 2020).
  7. See Green New Deal Network, accessed September 10, 2023, www.greennewdealnetwork.org/the-thrive-act.
  8. See Free Prior and Informed Consent: An indigenous peoples’ right and a good practice for local communities—Manual for project practitioners (Rome, Italy: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2016).
  9. Arundhati Roy, “The pandemic is a portal,” Financial Times, April 3, 2020, www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca. (Italics not in the original.)
  10. “Bezos’ Earth Fund is an Unnatural Disaster,” press release, Climate Justice Alliance, December 10, 2020, updated December 14, 2020, climatejusticealliance.org/bezos-earth-fund-is-an-unnatural-disaster/. (Italics not in the original.)