When I formally entered the field of philanthropy, I was certain of my commitment to improving the overall quality of life for children and families. But to be frank, what I was not certain of was the full scope of the vast and unique role philanthropy could play in facilitating such change. As a former program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I brought with me deep experience on the “dance floor.” I have since learned the importance of “going to the balcony” to bring about change on individual and enterprise levels.
The idea of raising the bar in the philanthropic sector is a great one, but we need to acknowledge some potentially hard truths first: a) the bar is actually set pretty low, so the idea of raising it shouldn’t be the pinnacle of our aspirations; b) we haven’t reached the goals represented by the positioning of the current bar; and c) there are policies, structures and behaviors in our sector that act as weights holding the bar down.
Like many of us in the philanthropic sector, I have, over the past year, been to more than a few webinars and conferences on philanthropy’s role in advancing equity. It can often feel like we’re all following a standard script. We acknowledge that racism exists, and has in fact existed for a while; we acknowledge that philanthropy has traditionally perpetuated injustices; and then we conclude that we must fund communities of color. We’re often too scared of saying the “wrong” thing or the “radical” thing to go any deeper than that.
I came away from the second day of the Council on Foundations’ Leading Together 2021 conference with an enormous amount of hope. Hope in humanity and in the kind and equitable future we will create together, if we challenge ourselves to do better and shift many of our sector practices.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis and violent racism against the Black and AAPI communities provided a moment of reckoning for philanthropic practitioners across the United States. We can capitalize on this moment if we work together, and if we understand that the greater good is more than a lofty ideal.