One of the reasons I left the fashion world, and sold my fashion business, 14 years ago, was because I was hugely uninspired by the uniformity in fashion. That may seem surprising, but the very entrenched power systems back then were dull and anything but radical and inventive. If one buyer from a big important store brought a collection, another buyer did. If one editor from an influential magazine featured a designer, another one did, and so forth. I felt like I was operating in a land of sheep (obviously it was a land of huge extraction and superficialities too but that’s not the focus of this post). And in my short time working in the Foundation and philanthropic world I’ve been nervous that there’s some similar behaviour.
Which is why I loved Darren Walker’s latest blog post calling for more nuance and complexity – I’d also add to that, plurality.
Rather than building bridges and relationships based on mutual understanding or shared respect, this oppositional, nuance-averse posture rewards ideological purity and public shame – the very things that scuttle strong working relationships and incentivize people to dig in their heels.
As Foundations and philanthropy are more in the spotlight about their power, privileges and where they spend their money, can we also, please, hold on to some nuance.
Yes, we need to evolve power towards communities but we also need infrastructure and institutions.
Yes, we need to do more participatory grant-making but we also need to recognise that there are some decisions that need specialist expertise.
Yes, participatory grant-making is a brilliant way to reorient power but only if those participating have access to support, information and capacity.
Yes, we need to fund core costs, but we also need to think much more about the long-term and ensure that core costs don’t keep organisations and their impact stuck in today.
Yes, we need those with lived experience to have much more voice and decision-making power, but they’re not the *most* important voice – the skill and our future will be in how those voices, experience and expertise are combined.
Yes, we need to ask people what matters to them, but we’d be foolish to think that people then always know how to bring that into reality.
Yes, there’s a huge amount of healing that needs doing across the world, and we have a climate crisis that needs some urgent action and commitment.
Yes, we need to direct as much money as possible towards the climate crisis but we also need to remember that very responsive and immediate funding is needed for other (but related) issues today.
We need plurality in philanthropy and grant making, in what and how we fund, and that won’t come from a single view, whether that’s a lived experience one, or not.