3 Ways We Can Restore Hope as a Key Driver to Advance Equity and Opportunity in AmericaJune 21, 2023
We are in a breakthrough, unprecedented moment within philanthropy. The recent inflow of large, unrestricted, multi-year grants is vastly transforming the landscape of the social sector. And the impact of these seismic investments is even more pronounced when we look at how funders are simultaneously shifting their strategies to fuel systems change interventions led by and for communities that have historically been excluded from this type of economic investment.
At New Profit, a venture philanthropy intermediary, we see this moment as a beckoning call to be in deeper partnership with proximate leaders and innovators across the nation. We seek to equitably direct the flow of capital in ways that establish long-term infrastructure for movement partners to lead loudly in the fight toward creating a more just America.
Most recently, we announced our partnership with the Ballmer Group and Echoing Green, investing $40M in catalytic seed funding to address the systemic funding gap for Black-led organizations in the U.S. As part of this work, we will be launching our largest-ever Economic Mobility Catalyze Cohort, bringing 16 early-stage social entrepreneurs into our portfolio by the end of 2023. This cohort will lead at the forefront of economic equity and begin to explore new models of prosperity for all in this country. I am both excited and humbled by this historic opportunity. And I am also reminded that our ability to do this work well must be founded on the shared principle of hope.
Mariame Kaba, abolitionist, activist, and organizer, describes hope as a discipline. I like to hold hope as an anchor – something that centers us and guides us toward possibility – a practice we must turn to over and over again. I also recognize hope to be a core tenet of the American dream and a fundamental truth embedded within our identity as a nation.
On this journey toward liberation, it’s become more apparent that our activism needs to be hinged on hope. While hope is woven into the very DNA of American culture, a failing democracy and an economy that profits from racism thrives on hope deferred. For long enough, the status quo has been sufficient, leaving us with a pervasive narrative of scarcity and growing stagnation. We continue to fall short of delivering on the promise of a thriving multiracial democracy and economy in which all can participate. We live in a time where opportunity and access are reserved for a few, meanwhile in the wealthiest country in the world, a majority of Americans cannot afford a $1000 emergency. This is a time when hope can feel aspirational at best. We, however, should be reminded that the struggle for freedom is a generational call, and in order to sustain ourselves in the work, we must collectively anchor ourselves in the future we imagine – a belief that we hold the power to transform systems of oppression and to co-create the reality of abundance and belonging for which we hope.
The longevity of our movements requires rooting ourselves on the foundation of a shared vision, paired with unified action. At New Profit, we are building a MIC, a coalition of multiracial, intergenerational, cross-sector leaders. We believe it will take our collective experiences to activate a new dream of equity and opportunity in America.
The alternative: the high price of disillusionment, where we risk missing the mark for the next generation; failing to deliver on true freedom and liberation for all, regardless of any predetermined characteristic. Author Heather McGhee of The Sum of Us lovingly encourages us to consider the solidarity dividend, or all that we stand to gain by building across lines of division and learning that we can all have nice things by centering our combined expectation of a just and equitable future.
Based on nearly a decade of my experience working at the intersections of racial and economic justice within the social and public sectors, I invite us to lean into this moment. We are being called to magnify the ways in which our unique stories, positions, and giftings may be leveraged to advance a collective equity agenda and to build a nation of shared prosperity and belonging for all in this country.
To support this goal, I am offering three practices to help us remain grounded in our work as visionaries committed to results, holding in our mind’s eye the essential vision that requires us to fiercely demand more and to lead boldly—a means to actualize our hopes and dreams.
1. Dream: Hold a bold vision for our collective future.
What would it look like to thrive in place rooted within the community you love?
I think of family, places of worship and safety, well-resourced public spaces and thriving local businesses, where everyone who chooses to work can, where no child is born into poverty, where we not only have access to the things we need to survive. But we also have the freedom to choose how we spend our time; where rest, joy, and peace are abundant; where we know our worth and we call our neighbors by name.
As I dream about this bold and beautiful future, I am reminded of the brilliant, Black women leaders of The Highland Project, with whom I recently had the privilege to share space at a community event, Highland Hour: From Seed to Dream.
The space held was sacred and offered those who joined a rare opportunity to connect with our breath, shed the weight of unnecessary constraints or pressures, and consider a question that sparked great curiosity and intention in me.
This question I now pose to you as a source of both reflection and visioning: What seed(s) are you planting, cultivating, and/or harvesting today that build upon the legacy and dreams of your ancestors, the great passions and intentions of those who have walked before you?
2. Uplift: Center the lived experiences and brilliance of your proximate neighbors.
As so many equity practitioners and movement partners know, those closest to the pain are also closest to the solutions. We understand that our work must continuously adapt and evolve to meet a changing ecosystem of demands, challenges, and inflection points.
Equally essential to this evolution is how we hold firmly to thoughtful implementation of our values by continuously centering proximate experiences, voices, and leadership to inform the design, integration, adaptation, and evaluation of our chosen strategies.
Managing Director Melinda Tuan of The Center for Effective Philanthropy recently published insights on Shifting Power at the Intersection of Listening and Participation, sharing that:
“While engaging in authentic listening is more multifaceted than feedback, and feedback is more involved than sending surveys, neither inherently shifts power or builds authentic relationships. Like all practices, listening and feedback can be done poorly or well. They can also be extractive and performative if not approached with humility and care…We call feedback high-quality when data collection is simple yet flexible, captures a critical amount of representative voices, and produces credible, candid responses. And we define feedback loops as an ongoing cycle of gathering opinions and perspectives, where data is shared with respondents and used to inform change.”
A remarkable example of listening well in practice is modeled by Aisha Nyandoro, founding CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, a Jackson, MS nonprofit that uses a “radically resident-driven” approach to end generational poverty.
Nyandoro and Dorian Warren, Co-President of Community Change, recently came together to discuss the existing system of anti-poverty support in the U.S. and the narrative strategies required to shift who we view in society as trustworthy and deserving of assistance.
Nyandoro, who piloted the first in the nation guaranteed income pilot for single Black mothers in Mississippi, The Magnolia Mother’s Trust, shared how she has created both a values system and platform to enable the mothers she supports to reclaim the narratives about their lives and to be the sole owners and disseminators of their stories as a form of empowerment as well as advocacy. Learn more about this radical storytelling practice here.
3. Activate: Design and amplify liberatory strategies in partnership with movement leaders.
Any real social change achieved over time has been realized through mass mobilization of people across race, age, sector, and even geography. A catalytic ability to see beyond difference and cling to the shared value of building on common ground.
Learning from the wins and losses of our past, it is clear that our success moving forward must be built on well-crafted strategy, deep partnership with movement leaders, a complex understanding of root cause drivers of systematic harm, and a willingness to test and push liberation frameworks that hold the potential to free us all.
I am forever inspired by the leadership of Solana Rice and Jeremie Greer, Co-Founders of Liberation in a Generation. LibGen is a national movement support organization building the power of people of color to totally transform the economy. They seek to create a liberation economy where all people of color belong. They do this by powering infrastructure through partnerships, policy, and narrative, serving to dismantle the oppression economy as one built on wealth extraction and exploitation.
Their work is targeted, time-bound, and transformational – and their mission embodies what it means to move with urgency, while still maintaining a focus on intentionality through people, collaboration, and rigorous design.
I believe this offering is an actionable framework that centers proximate experiences and holds the potential to restore hope as a key driver to advancing equity and opportunity for all in this country. The sustainability of our legacy for generations to come depends on us getting this right.
The investments we make today must be guided by our call to both imagine and begin the work of building a world filled with new and greater possibility. May we be encouraged to answer this call with a resounding yes. And may we meditate on the words of Octavia Butler as a source of strength when we grow weary, “Belief initiates and guides action—or it does nothing.”