Future of Philanthropy: Innovation & Intersectionality: “Connecting the Dots”

The concept of intersectionality is a perspective which posits that many forms of oppression and discrimination are inter related and multi-dimensional. This perspective was developed out of the work of early feminists and the feminist movement. More recently the social justice movements have added additional texture to the complexity of societal relationships and socioeconomic dynamics affecting life.  Consequently when we are looking at strategies or solutions to societal problems it is important to recognize the inter-relationships of oppression and discrimination as they relate to justice and equality. Intersectionality in social justice movements and the importance of the philanthropic world understanding this perspective in order to fund innovative initiatives, has to be considered a necessary strategy in the future of philanthropy.

Most of us would agree that we live our lives not only in an increasingly globalized fashion but we exist with many different identities and societal affiliations. Sometimes these affiliations are synergistic but other times these multiple affiliations or self-identifying characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation,(just to name a few of the obvious ones)  are the precarious tightropes many of us walk in order to exist in society and avoid the traps of discrimination and oppression. It is through the acknowledgement of our multiple identities that the work around true social justice and the role of philanthropy should be viewed.

We have an obligation as educators, activists and good citizens to engage the philanthropic community in shifting the paradigm from a “silo approach” of problem solving, whereby funding priorities are set by foundations to address a specific issue, to an “intersectionality approach” in setting funding priorities. We also have an obligation as community leaders to create strategies that encourage advocacy and education groups to develop solutions for problem solving that do not mirror the silo approach. At the end of the day we must strive for a society that truly recognizes that all systems of oppression discrimination are related and you cannot focus on “your corner of the world while injustices are being carried out in another corner of the world.”

The future of philanthropy lies in challenging the philanthropic community to think beyond solving a specific problem and reframe the discussion on how to build and sustain coalitions and relationships that result in a more just society. It is also critical that activists and organizers work with one another and across superficial divisions and fragmented agendas in realizing that social justice movements and change are not about “co-opting” any one group’s struggle. It is the real recognition that most of the struggles are fundamentally the same.

Why does this understanding of intersectionality become so relevant for us on either side of the fundraising and grant making spectrum?

The answer is not overly complicated yet it is labor intensive and requires a fundamental shift in cultural thinking and the use of language, not to mention dedication and perseverance. To effectively use philanthropic resources, we must encourage philanthropists to examine the “connectedness” of many funding priorities for foundations.

An excellent example of this model is the incredible work done by a cutting edge social justice organization that focuses on reproductive justice. This organization known as the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) is a group I have worked with as a consultant and admired for several years. NAPW founded by Lynn Paltrow, who is a leading community voice in social justice movements and coalition building, has worked tirelessly to organize communities not only around abortion rights as a reproductive rights issue but around the social justice/reproductive justice rights of all women as it relates to personhood measures and the push to potential punish women who are not successful in going to term when pregnant. This push potentially undermines the rights of women and creates a “second class” of citizenry for women who are already mothers or potential mothers. NAPW has focused its work on showing how the flaws in the courts and criminal justice system, economic disparities, racial and ethnic oppression and healthcare disparities are all underlying related “connected” elements of the same struggle for reproductive justice rights as part of a broader social justice agenda. The model NAPW uses creates grassroots efforts bonded together by a strong commitment to addressing intersectionality and creating a common language for communities to help define and ultimately fight the broader societal injustices. This model has begun to impact the thinking of foundations involved in reproductive rights. We can only hope that as the philanthropic community realizes the connections among struggles for justice, there can be a collective effort to replicate NAPW’s approach within the foundation community and within the social justice movement.

It is my belief that the more we can incorporate intersectionality into our work as activist, the more we can influence the philanthropic community to the do the same in setting funding priorities. Hopefully these efforts will create an environment of efficient and effective philanthropy.

This commentary is dedicated to the fearless activists of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Lynn Paltrow.

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