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Philanthropic Leaders Discuss Racial Justice at Harvard IOP Forum

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UPDATED: March 24, 2022 at 2:16 p.m.

A panel of philanthropic leaders discussed efforts to promote racial justice in philanthropy at a virtual event hosted Wednesday by the Harvard Institute of Politics.

The panel — titled “Advancing Racial Justice in Philanthropy: Aspiration or Reality?” — featured Libra Foundation Executive Director Crystal Hayling, Solidaire Network Executive Director Rajasvini Bhansali, and Borealis Philanthropy President Amoretta Morris. The event was co-hosted by the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project.

The panelists discussed the importance of philanthropy and called for change to promote equity.

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Bhansali, an advocate for grassroot-led social movements, said marginalized groups are often shut out of mainstream philanthropy.

“When people of color, women of color, gender non-conforming people start to lead, there is a big dangerous feeling of like, the structure has shifted,” Bhansali said.

“In philanthropy now…communities are treated as proxies, as subcontractors, as ones that are going to enact our boardroom wisdom to some kind of strategy that helps us check a box,” she added.

Hayling said philanthropy is an important mechanism for change.

“It is organizing money to move it, to organize people,” she said. “Because ultimately, those are the folks that are going to beat the corporate money, the accumulated wealth, the exploitative wealth that’s in our communities.”

She added it is important to “generate joy as we do work” to avoid burnout.

“I kind of came into this work with the belief that social change work was about pushing through and grinding harder,” Hayling said. “And I’ve been taught by people in movement that that won’t work. That leads to burnout, and that leads to bitterness, and it leads to fighting.”

In an interview after the event, Morris said higher education institutions have a responsibility “to equip people with the skills to be antiracist actors.”

“When I think about what the responsibility is for the higher education institutions, I am thinking about the responsibility to equip every single student with the skills to understand how structural racism shows up in our society, in our communities, in policies, and in institutions,” she said.

“I absolutely believe that change is possible in this sector,” she added of philanthropy. “And I absolutely believe that change is possible in the world.”

In an interview, Morris offered an optimistic view of the future of philanthropy.

“As long as we are connected and in community, and not feeling like the change can be made alone or by ourselves, but that the power of movement—the power of transformation—comes in community, and it comes when we’re working together,” she said. “So my advice to people is to join an organization, get to work, and stay hopeful.”

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