Leading for Good 2021 engages executives in rethinking business and philanthropy
Over 900 people participated in Leading for Good 2021, which was held virtually this year over the course of three weeks. While the conference looked different, the purpose remained the same: to bring together leaders who are seeking the skills, knowledge, and networks to integrate business strategy and social purpose.
One memorable panel of the conference was “Rethinking Philanthropy with an Equity Lens.” Moderated by Brenda Asare of The Alford Group, speakers Helene Gayle of Chicago Community Trust (CCT) and John Palfrey of the MacArthur Foundation shared valuable insights on how to think about philanthropy in a more equitable way.
Asare kicked off the panel by highlighting two important aspects of the current philanthropic landscape:
- The influence and power philanthropy wields is under scrutiny. Funders hold power and resources, but they are not typically representative of the communities that they serve.
- There is a push in philanthropy to recognize the inherent power dynamics involved in giving people money, and to take the steps to shift the power into the hands of those funders are seeking to help.
With these realities in mind, Gayle and Palfrey shared actionable steps philanthropists and foundations need to take to shift the power and engage in more equitable funding.
Gayle and Palfrey believe one of the first steps is to look internally at the way a foundation operates. CCT is shifting its practices to more “participatory grantmaking.” “We took time to go out and listen to the community and asked people what they most wanted from us as an organization,” Gayle says. In addition to operating differently, Gayle encourages philanthropists to think differently. “How do you think differently about your role as a foundation so that we are not looking at ourselves as all-powerful and all-knowing but looking and listening to communities we want to be in solidarity with?”
Recognize and understand your identity.
Gayle and Palfrey recognize they are both informed through their identities. As Gayle states, “I can’t be anything but an African American woman. That’s who I am. That’s my experience…I grew up in a world that looked at me in certain ways…I hope it gives me a certain sensitivity around the issues that we’re trying to address.”
“There are times and places,” Palfrey shares, “where it has always been helpful to be a white man of privilege…I try to think about how I can use that identity for good and to be a part of this racial equity process and make change.”
Make racial equity a movement, not a moment.
“It can be a moment if we let it be a moment. It can be a movement if we all work together,” Gayle asserts. “People are what make anything happen…How are we making sure that, at the community level, we are giving the kind of support that allows people to have the agency to move these issues forward?”
In philanthropy, risks are inevitable. Both Gayle and Palfrey agree that sometimes grants don’t work out as planned, but, as Gayle states, “philanthropy…is supposed to be able to take the risk that others can’t…I look at parallels when you’re talking about venture capital…we’re willing to take a risk on those, but we’re not willing to take a risk on building a better society? It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“In the case of venture capital,” Palfrey adds, “we are willing to take risks in…an incredibly segregated field, whereas we’re not in other fields that are more diverse. We have to ask ourselves why we take the risk there, but not this ‘perceived’ risk in the social sector.”
Gayle agrees, asking, “what we are willing to put at risk and what we are not willing to put at risk, and what does that say about our values and our sense of equity?”