August is a historically significant month for Black power building and revolutionary action in the Black radical tradition.
Last month, the organizers of Black Philanthropy Month—now in its 11th year—seemed to evoke that liberationist legacy at a global summit to celebrate Black giving and demand Black funding equity.
The 2022 conference brought together dozens of speakers from across the Black diaspora to speak to this year’s theme: “The Fierce Urgency of Now: From Dream to Action” to “highlight new strategies to advance lasting funding and racial equity in Black communities worldwide.”
This year’s conference theme recalls an earlier period of Black struggle—specifically, the civil rights movement’s March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In it, King urged the audience to make his dream a reality through action: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Black Funding Pledges and Principles
What strategies and actions should be taken? This year, BPM participants spoke of the need for creative approaches to funding equity that look beyond traditional philanthropy. Achieving funding equity worldwide, they argued, would require the combined efforts of philanthropy, venture capital, impact investing, and alternative social finance.
According to an Urban Institute report, the corporate and philanthropic sectors’ financial commitments to racial equity between June 2020 and May 2021 totaled at least $215 billion.
Despite these numerous pledges, conspicuous gaps in giving remain. Research has shown what many organizers already knew: few of the billions of corporate dollars pledged to Black communities in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd have reached Black people, let alone Black-led or Black-serving organizations.
Foundations hardly fare any better. As discussed at NPQ, philanthropy’s historical origins in colonialism and slavery persists in its funding practices. Very little funding is granted to Black communities—and when it is, it comes with conditions and programmatic requirements.
This philanthropic gatekeeping has led, as NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez wrote recently, to the emergence of Black funds—namely, philanthropic vehicles controlled by Black communities.
Giving Back, Giving Black: Funding with Fierce Urgency
In addition to demanding philanthropic and business funding equity, Black Philanthropy Month asks the sector to consider who is recognized as a philanthropist by highlighting Black giving within and across the Black diaspora. The event’s founder noted that in the US, Black people donate the highest percentage of their income, constituting a $23 billion economy of giving.
As discussed before at NPQ, BPM is a program of The WISE Fund (Women Invested to Save Earth), a coalition to seek, find, and fund climate impact technologies in areas of the world made vulnerable to environmental crisis. Dr. Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, the WISE Fund’s founder, launched the first multinational summit in 2011, the start of the United Nations Year and Decade of People of African Descent, to elevate global Black giving and funding equity.
Only two percent of foundation giving in the US goes to Black communities; even less of this funding goes directly to Black-led organizations.
In addition to the sector’s typical practices, Black philanthropy includes Black socio-cultural forms like giving circles. These circles have existed historically and today under many different names and are sometimes known as “susus,” from the Yoruba word “esusu”—an African form of social finance that was introduced to the Americas with the transatlantic slave trade, and which has since been transfigured and renewed in Black American cultural life and the practices of contemporary immigrants to the US.
Despite such a rich tradition of Black giving, funding equity for Black communities continues to be a challenge. Only two percent of foundation giving in the US goes to Black communities; even less of this funding goes directly to Black-led organizations. According to social sector research from Echoing Green and the Bridgespan Group, the revenue of Black-led organizations is 24 percent less than that of their white-led counterparts, and their unrestricted net assets are 76 percent smaller. Looking beyond charitable giving and at Black funding more broadly, Black-founded businesses receive only one percent of US venture funding.
Global Black Funding for Racial Justice
Given the power of US philanthropy and venture capital worldwide, the issue of Black funding equity is a global one. As in 2021, this year’s global summit was held virtually, with a US kickoff followed by events held to highlight Black philanthropy in Africa, Brazil, Canada, and the Caribbean, and an end-of-month Reunity summit for Black women funders. The conference featured numerous keynote speakers who drew on BPM’s Global Black Funding Principles and made connections between struggles for racial and economic justice.
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BPM’s funding principles were designed to mobilize post-COVID economic recovery and racial justice, based on the feedback of over 1,500 conference participants representing 30 different countries. Using a trust-based approach to philanthropy to recognize and support Black philanthropic values, the principles include practices like setting public, transparent annual Black funding goals; providing long-term, multi-year funding; and supporting Black innovation and creativity alongside an intersectional human rights agenda.
Respecting Black communities and trusting Black people also means holding the business and philanthropic sectors accountable for broken promises to distribute their wealth.
After these goals were created, funders were encouraged to sign BPM’s Black Funding Equity Pledge, which recognizes the “fierce urgency” of Black funding needs in these crisis times. Its signers note that “Black communities are at a crossroads, potentially losing the hard-won gains of the post-Civil Rights and post-Independence eras. We, the undersigned, recognize that Black organizations do not have equitable access to the private capital necessary for strong communities. Covid, the recession, continuing anti-Black racism and environmental decline are disproportionally decimating African-descent communities worldwide. As part of the solution, and in intersectional solidarity with all disadvantaged communities, our organization commits to racial equity, diversity and inclusion in its funding policies and practices. We respect Black communities’ lived experience, resilience, wisdom, and ingenuity.”
Measuring Progress on Funding Equity
Respecting Black communities and trusting Black people also means holding the business and philanthropic sectors accountable for broken promises to distribute their wealth. In a step toward making funding equity a reality, BPM’s coalition of advocates recommended a study to measure progress on funding equity. A field opinion and self-assessment survey was designed in 2021 to track each of the 10 principles outlined.
Using data from this survey, BPM has begun to identify philanthropic and business investors across continents who best exemplify these global funding equity principles. This year’s inaugural awardees were celebrated at the summit’s kickoff. Later in the month, BPM and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute also honored the contributions of 10 Black women philanthropists honored on their 2022 Black Women Give Back List.
Evaluating and consistently tracking funding equity is an important tool for racial equity and justice because Black-led movement work has suffered from philanthropy’s erratic commitment. As Will Cordery wrote for NPQ at the start of the 2020 uprisings while looking back at the previous wave of Black-led organizing in response to state violence in Ferguson, “It did not however take long for philanthropy to begin to shift its priority from funding Black-led movement to funding specific interventions it thought were best for Black communities. This distinction may seem minor, but it has proven to be critical in how resources would flow to Black-led organizing work and who determined what was ultimately the best approach.” Philanthropy thus failed to resource expansive movement infrastructure for strong and nimble organizations to advance racial justice post-Ferguson.
Making Black Funding Equity Real
Recognizing this, BPM 2022 placed funding equity at the center of today’s struggles for racial justice. At the conference’s opening keynote, Dr. Copeland spoke with Ayo (formerly Opal) Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, founder of Diaspora Rising, and a former executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
At the event, Dr. Copeland asked, “As a global leader in the movement for RJ, what do we need to do to finally get funding equity? What do we need to do differently to make funding equity real?”
Tometi’s response emphasized the importance of applying a racial justice lens to all giving and investing: “It is vital that we continue to underscore the need that we have. Because it’s clear that in the US and around the world, we’re operating at a generational deficit.” Discussing why this systemic wealth gap continues to exist, she added, “We’re living in societies that systematically devalue Black life.” In so doing, Tometi noted, our governments have actively divested from Black communities. She also situated the conversation about funding equity in a broader discourse about economic justice. By pulling out public funding by painting Black people as the sole beneficiaries of the welfare state’s safety nets, anti-Black racism undermines economic justice for all, and Black communities especially.
Though not explicitly discussed here, a similar dynamic plays out in relation to international governance structures and global South debt. Tometi hinted at this. Speaking of her experience as global organizer, she discussed how pan-Africanism isn’t a theoretical framework to her—it’s part of her “fully lived experience as the daughter of Nigerian immigrants in diaspora, a Black woman in the United States, in solidarity with global struggles.” She urged participants to attend to the economic conditions that Black people face globally. “Anti-Black racism is global. White supremacy is global. We’re still reeling from the legacy of colonialism, and quite frankly, neocolonialism. It continues to reconfigure, recodify itself.”
Since global and US Black communities have diverse needs, it’s vital to note that even less funding goes to Black people who contend with multiple, intersecting forms of oppression—including Black migrants and Black trans youth. Tometi shared a news story that she couldn’t get out of her mind—about an undocumented Nigerian man who was beaten to death in Italy—to draw attention to multiple forms of oppression and experiences of precarity that make Black people vulnerable to brutalization.
Building power and shifting resources through sustained investment is about more than financial assets. It’s also a relational project.
At the end of their conversation, Dr. Copeland returned to the corporate sector’s recent proclamations to fund Black communities, asking Tometi, “What are your thoughts on the racial reckoning? Is there a racial reckoning? Has it waned? What else do companies have to do to build funding equity and economic justice for all communities, including Black ones?”
Reflecting on these proclamations, talking points, statements, and so on, Tometi said, “I have to keep it real…while there may have been an uptick in some giving and investments a year or two ago, that has quickly dwindled. We need and deserve sustained investment and sustained giving.”
Building power and shifting resources through sustained investment is about more than financial assets. It’s also a relational project. As Dr. Copeland reminded participants at the global summit’s closing event, “Black philanthropy is not just about money, but [it’s also about] mutual support and self-love—as a culture, a way of life, it’s the spirit of ubuntu, that I am because you are, that our current social circumstances and futures are linked.”