Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Last month, Black Philanthropy Month (BPM), a group founded to honor the United Nations’ International Year for People of African Descent in 2011, celebrated its tenth anniversary. This year’s summit (held virtually) had the theme “TENacity: Making Equity Real” and took stock of racial equity pledges made by philanthropy and corporations in 2020 are whether they were being honored in 2021. (The capital “TEN” alludes to the group’s 10-year history.)

BPM’s vision centers on “informing, involving, inspiring, and investing in Black philanthropic leadership to strengthen African American and African-descent giving in all its forms, for the benefit of our planet, our communities, our organizations and our lives.” The scope is global; the conference included sessions on the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Brazil, Africa, and Black women’s philanthropy.

At BPM’s annual virtual gathering in 2020, based on surveys of 1,500 conference participants, BPM developed a set of 10 Black funding principles. In brief, these are:

  1. Public, transparent annual Black funding goals for impact
  2. Long-term, multi-year funding
  3. Remember small- to medium-sized Black businesses and startups
  4. Trust us for a change
  5. Flexible, general support for operations
  6. Funding with a social justice lens
  7. Preservation of the Black philanthropic practice of self-reliance and mutual support
  8. Supporting Black innovation and creativity
  9. Supporting an intersectional human rights agenda
  10. Inclusive and mutually supportive funding across the global Black community

From the perspective of 2021, how much movement have philanthropy and business made on these goals? To begin to address this, at the opening session, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker was interviewed by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, founder of BFM and executive director of the WISE (Women Invested to Save Earth) Fund, an internationally focused nonprofit based in northern California.

Walker noted that “there is a huge gap” between the aspirations of young Black entrepreneurs and their ability to raise funds from friends and family to get started. Walker added, “That is something we have to talk about. It is not enough to say, ‘I’m going to start a loan program for Black entrepreneurs.’ Black entrepreneurs don’t need loans. Black entrepreneurs need equity.”

Walker said the Ford Foundation intended to place a sizable portion of the $1 billion pledged in 2017 for impact investing over 10 years “in Black-managed funds.”

As for those investments, in March, Anne Field reported that “initial areas of focus have included affordable housing in the United States and access to financial services in emerging markets.” Ford has also identified “quality jobs” and “diverse (fund) managers” (the field Walker mentioned) among its focus areas. As of June 30, 2019, Ford reported investments of $129 million toward its $1 billion goal.

As for moving corporate policy, Walker named two areas where he believes that leverage exists to advance racial equity. One involves employee resource groups. Walker observed that 20 years ago formal groups were rare, but now they are common. “Black employee resource groups are a critical part of how we will advance this [racial justice] agenda in the future,” Walker said.

Walker also emphasized the importance of changing who’s on company boards. Walker noted that as of 2020 one-third of the 500 companies that constitute the Standard & Poor’s index did not have a single Black director. An important step in this direction was taken days after Walker’s remarks by the NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) stock exchange, which announced new rules that require companies listed on its US exchange to “publicly disclose board-level diversity statistics using a standardized template [and] have or explain why they do not have at least two diverse directors.” Companies have until the end of 2022 to come into compliance with the new rule. Among the companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange are such leading tech firms as Apple, Microsoft, Google (Alphabet), Facebook, and Amazon.

A follow-on panel—moderated by CNN analyst Bakari Sellers and including Christina Lewis of Give Blck, Dr. John Jackson of the Schott Foundation, Nneka Eze of VestedWorld, and Dr. Bhekinkosi Moyo of the Africa Centre on Philanthropy and Social Investment in Johannesburg—picked up on some of Walker’s themes.

Had business funding increased? As Walker noted, enormous gaps persist in the US. According to Eze, the situation in Africa is not better. Asked if the availability of capital was increasing, Eze responded, “On the venture side, I would say not really. The gap is so significant that the amount of capital that would need to come in is probably too much, but I hope that changes.… There are a few funds-of-funds starting; they are mostly focused on the US. You’re not really seeing that attention on the continent.”

By contrast, philanthropy has increased. Moyo noted that in Africa, due to COVID-19, there was “a huge increase compared to what has happened in the last 10 years.” A recent Bridgespan report found giving in Africa by philanthropy to nonprofits was $269 million, compared to an average of $103 million per year between 2010 and 2019. Still, the population of Africa exceeds 1.37 billion. Even at $269 million, that’s less than 20 cents per capita. And funds reaching local grassroots groups remain limited; Bridgespan estimates their share at nine percent.

For the US, the best data came from Lewis. Give Blck, which Lewis cofounded in 2020, maintains an online portal to enable donors to give to Black-led nonprofits. The site presently lists over 500 Black-led nonprofits. Lewis said she surveyed the list’s members and that 80 groups responded. “More than half,” she said, reported at least a 20-percent increase in donations over 2019.

Building Peer-to-Peer Connections

One consistent theme throughout the conference was the call to build more peer-to-peer linkages among Black communities, both within countries and across the world. At the panel, Jackson highlighted the role of institutions like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), while Lewis emphasized the value of giving circles.

At a separate session, Dr. Nelson Colón, president of the Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Community Foundation), focused his remarks on this topic. Colón has helped launch an initiative which he calls the Racial Equity Building Institute for the Americas or REBIA. Aided by seed funding from the Mott Foundation, REBIA seeks to, as Colón puts it, “build the capacity of networks and organizations to close equity gaps” and “to connect the US diaspora with their countries of origin.”

One goal, Colón notes, is to create an Afro-descendent communicators’ network “of journalists, communicators, and artists that will generate narratives and blueprints for change.” Network building, Colón emphasizes, “presents ample opportunities for philanthropy.”