Stories in philanthropy

“Advocacy fuels the power of justice” – Daniel Lee

“We need to embrace advocacy as a high impact, high leverage strategy,” Lee told delegates at the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit. “Advocacy is not a minefield of risk, but a garden of opportunity.”

Nicole Richards

Daniel Lee captured hearts and minds with his compelling, evidence-based case for advocacy at this year’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit. 

Dressed head to toe in the denim Levi Strauss is famous for, Lee outlined some of the advocacy terrain, wins (and even a loss) that the Levi Strauss Foundation has traversed since its inception in 1952. “Engagement and activism are core to our spirit,” Lee said. 

Referencing the organisation’s four values (originality, empathy, integrity and courage), Lee urged the audience at the sold-out event to take a stand on issues they believed in. 

“Values show up in tough times, in moments of truth,” he said. “Live your values.” 

When asked how the Levi Strauss Foundation defines advocacy, Lee gave a simple, to the point explanation: “It’s what we do every day, bringing in voices from the community so they can be heard.” 

“Advocacy is the lifeblood of democracy,” he continued. “It’s the participation of all people in the issues facing them.” 

Ninety per cent of the $7.5 million funding the Levi Strauss Foundation distributes each year goes to underserved communities. Roughly 80 per cent of those funds either directly fund or are associated with advocacy.  

Though advocacy has been a space in which some philanthropic foundations have feared to tread, Lee argued passionately that philanthropy cannot afford to neglect advocacy as a tool for catalysing social change.  

"Advocacy fuels the power of justice. If we are not fuelling the power of justice, then what the hell are we doing? It’s an indispensable part of the tool-chest of philanthropy,” he said. 

Lee pointed to the Levi Strauss Foundation’s Pioneers in Justice initiative as a model for investing in community leaders who possess the potential to enact deep social change.  

“Meaningful philanthropy requires outstanding advocates – they are the first movers when bad things happen and they have deep connections and trust within the community,” Lee explained. 

“These are the people who can seamlessly bridge sectors – they are masterful code switchers. Good advocates tell good stories about good people. Advocates are made for turbulent times.” 

In working effectively with non-profit partners, Lee emphasised the importance of trusting relationships and a commitment to listening on the part of funders.  

“We need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we having conversations with grantees that help us understand what nonprofits really want and need?’” 

Lee also noted that funders needed to nurture those relationships and be prepared to stay for the long haul. 

“One of the most under-rated virtues in philanthropy is patience,” he said. “Real change is hard – it takes time.” 

Lee wrapped up his Day One session with a powerful quote from Dr Martin Luther King, Jr:  

Love without power is sentimental and anaemic;  

Power without love is reckless and abusive.  

Power at its best is love implementing the demands of  

justice, and  

Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. 

“The words of Dr King suggest that philanthropy is not a sentimental, feel-good proposition. Rather his words implore us to look deeply at the fault-lines of justice — and mobilise our funding in the service of those with the least wealth, opportunity and power.  

“To paraphrase the American philosopher and intellectual, Cornel West of Harvard University: Justice is what love looks like when it shows up in public.”  

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Philanthropy Australia thanks the Paul Ramsay Foundation and all our event partners at the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit. 

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