How must institutional philanthropy change to become a better tool for delivering social justice?

Rachel Findlay, Philanthropy Australia’s Director, Impact and Engagement (NSW & ACT) Fri, 17 May 2024 Estimated reading times: 4 minutes

In this view from the UK, we look at the key takeaways from a new report by Fozia Irfan OBE, Director of Impact and Influence at BBC Children in Need and recent Churchill Fellow. In a podcast with commentator Rhodri Davies, she unpacks some of her ‘punchy’ suggestions. Rachel Findlay, Philanthropy Australia’s Director, Impact and Engagement (NSW & ACT), says their discussion reflects the emerging themes for Philanthropy Australia’s UK Study Tour she is hosting later in the year, in which Fozia and Rhodri will participate.

The podcast, from Rhodri’s Why Philanthropy Matters series, digs into key areas in which institutional philanthropy in the UK could learn from developments in the US to enhance its delivery of social justice programs and support social movements.

Fozia shares some of her findings from the report – Transformative Philanthropy: A Manual for Social Change – and reflections from her interviews with philanthropic leaders in the US as part of her Churchill Fellowship.

I found it really interesting because it reflected many of the conversations I have been having with philanthropic leaders in the UK in preparation for PA’s Study Tour on what is happening there. Many of these observations can be translated to the Australian context.

Fozia argues that although many funders may be working in the social justice space, they may not be using a shared vocabulary and framework, which underpins the collaboration needed to support large-scale social change.

There is also an opportunity to shift institutional funding out of its ‘Victorian model’, in which institutions fund other institutions – and consider radical alternatives, such as funding individuals leading social change movements.

Here are the key takeaways.

1. Social justice giving: Fozia reflects on how funders in the US use the term social justice philanthropy to describe their giving. While social justice giving is a concept in the UK, Fozia hasn’t seen engagement with it to the same extent as in the US. This is not a term I have seen used much yet in Australia. Fozia has included five elements to define social justice giving in her report, explaining that social justice giving:

  • focuses on systemic change that addresses the root causes of issues
  • centres the people who are most impacted as key decision-makers
  • encourages foundations to be accountable, transparent and responsive in their grant-making
  • includes the giving of not only money but time, knowledge, skills and access, and
  • leverages foundations’ assets and investments, alongside grants, to support progressive social change.

Fozia hopes the report will give the vocabulary and tools for funders to see where they are on the social justice giving spectrum. On the Study Tour, we will be hearing from social justice funders, like the Civic Power Fund.

2. Taking a community centric and intersectional view:  Fozia and Rhodri discuss examples of how increasingly funding decisions are being led by communities, with funders stepping back from issues and letting communities decide where funding is spent. These funders recognise that they aren’t experts at delivering what a community needs. Many of the organisations we are hearing from in London use participatory approaches to decision-making, especially the community foundations we will be hearing from including Camden Giving, where Natasha Friend, CEO, is also part of the global Participatory Grantmaking Community of Practice.

Funders are moving away from having programmatic areas (eg: a women and girls program, a mental health program etc) because this siloed view of issues doesn’t reflect the real world – these issues are all interconnected. Funders have removed these silos and taken an intersectional view, requesting applications for all projects that touch on one of these issues.

3. Movement building and supporting individuals: recent movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have created huge changes to how people are treated for the first time in over 50 years – these movements were started by individuals rather than organisations. These movements have changed narratives and perceptions and bought people together around causes – Fozia argues that institutional philanthropy has not managed this in the same time period. The majority of foundations only give to institutions – missing out on individuals who are connected and build a movement in ways that institutions can’t. If philanthropy wants to be effective it should think about movement building, which will involve funding individuals and the wraparound support they need to be movement builders.

4. Using an array of tools not just funding to change hearts and minds: storytelling, narrative change, giving a platform to people, amplifying voices and filmmaking are all tools philanthropy could and should be using – where changing perceptions and winning hearts and minds is incredibly important. Funders often have the resources to do this, and also have the platform to leverage and amplify voices.

5. Origins of wealth: Fozia and Rhodri discuss how funders, who have wealth that has come about from colonialism or slavery, make reparations for how the wealth was created. Some UK and US funders are grappling with this. Fozia’s advice is for funders to explore the source of their wealth, acknowledge the source of their wealth and of past wrongdoing and then work out how to counteract the wrongdoing of the past – for example by placing decision making with those living with legacy of past atrocities. An example of a pioneer leading the way in the UK is Joseph Rowntree Foundation who we will hear from on the Study Tour. The peak body for foundations in the UK, the Association of Charitable Foundations is also launching an Origins of Wealth toolkit in June, which will learn more about on the Study Tour.

Fozia’s report is also accompanied by a workbook, which poses questions grantmaking teams and trustees can use to discuss on their approach, which I would highly recommend people working through.

I am really excited to be able to hear more from Fozia, Rhodri and many other inspirational leaders later in the year. If anyone would like to learn more about the Study Tour you can find more information here. Applications to join the tour close on Monday 27 May 2024.