APRIL 2022

We rely on civil society, cultural assumptions, and, to a great degree, the government to address the issues we individually or even in our communities cannot solve. AFN’s mission relies on members and their grantees understanding where and how to activate, or to work in concert, to achieve progress at both the systemic and individual levels. Without it, environmental change, civil rights, equitable educational opportunity, racial justice, and shared prosperity are not possible. Yet all are possible outcomes if we unlock the potential of all—irrespective of gender, ethnicity, citizenship, or race.

The challenge we regularly confront when seeking to advance an equitable, abundant economy are the unspoken beliefs and biases held by many that are fed by narratives designed to preserve power and privilege. Whether the use of ill-conceived notions of freedom, legal rights, what it means to be American, “deserved” privilege, or fear of inflation (when it often covers record profiteering),  they almost all share the assumptions of scarcity (the economic pie is limited) and that equality and equity are a threat.

These narratives are relentlessly pitched and covered by the media to support those who are economically advantaged, invoke the notions that unrestricted freedom is a right without consequence, and to excuse bad actors who wish no accountability for predatory or extractive actions because they are just being good capitalists. Efforts to unionize, to earn better pay given productivity, to experience educational quality across systems, to fund government through progressive tax policy, to cancel student debt when the system has not functioned well and threatens prosperity, and to realize many other needed interventions are met with resistance because it changes the privilege and power that currently exists. These same scarcity and fear the threat themes are also used to feed an appetite for a feeble government that in turn fosters distrust.

Changing the prevailing narratives and fueling a different, community reinforcing set of beliefs is where the power of philanthropy lies. AFN members  to change narratives with a strategic focus on positive equity-affirming framing and lifting up actual outcomes will reinforce the belief that we all benefit from greater prosperity. Equity is not a threat but, if achieved, a blessing.

Community foundations, women’s and family foundations, credit unions, corporate responsibility funds, and banking foundations all have the power and ability within their means and focus to both present counter narratives and, through their funding, prove the concepts that reinforce the understanding and belief in equity and shared prosperity. Of course, there is some risk when investing in how concepts of justice and equity can improve everyone’s prospects. Yet even those who believe that the power of philanthropy is to create opportunity can embrace a framework of equity and abundance.

With framing tied to shared beliefs and facts to inform local context, we can continue to become aware of why and how we must hold economic raiders and predators accountable. We can share perspectives and grow our collaborative public private efforts for how we equitably fund the societal foundations from care economy workers, legal services, and education.

Financial security is achievable – governmental and private practices that are ostensibly race neutral continue to require examination. Understanding that discrimination and systemic disadvantage was purposely created for many populations of color and women throughout our history is a context needed to motivate today’s actions to foster change, to reinvent, and to achieve our goals.

It is why our National Grantmakers Conference this September in Oakland has the theme—Rebuilding a More Equitable and Anti-Racist Economy. We will explore needed systemic changes and a range of actionable strategies related to small business, home ownership, financial health, racial equity, reparative strategies and proven approaches to both small and large policy change.

As in past AFN national conferences, we are intentionally keeping the registration maximum relatively small to ensure the networking—peer to peer, funder to expert and brainstorming conversations— are plentiful and productive. Registration opens next week, first to AFN members and then to other funders. Act quickly, we expect a sell out again this year!

Join AFN! I’ll see you in Oakland in September!