As hundreds of everyday givers gathered virtually this week to kick off the month-long We Give Summit, it was a solid reminder that we are “Stronger Together” (the event’s theme). 

During week one, attendees heard from influential leaders like Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The session -- Wealth and Power Sharing: A Candid Conversation with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal -- was moderated by Sudha Nandogopal, CEO of Social Venture Partners International, a donor network that is reimagining giving and catalyzing more resources to address the challenges of our time. 

Jayapal is a rising star in the Democratic Party and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She’s also co-sponsor, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Brendan Boyle, of the Ultra Millionaire Tax, a proposal to ask the wealthiest 100,000 households in America to pay their fair share and help narrow the racial wealth gap. 

We captured highlights from the conversation, including Jayapal’s advice for how donors with economic privilege can best advance social change.

Do advocacy work: Jayapal acknowledged that when people have economic power, it also means they have political access and access to voices that matter in the debate. 

Don’t feel afraid or feel there is hypocrisy about using your economic power to advocate for a more level playing field. In fact, that is one of the most important things you can do. I’ve seen Abby [Abigail] Disney do this. I’ve seen Jane Fonda do it. For example, on the issue of raising taxes for the wealthy. They say, “Tax us. We’d be happy to pay a wealth tax.” They believe that we are all in this together and that they benefit when we all do better. That is an important message.

Jayapal also encouraged donors with influence to “join coalitions, follow the lead of the organizers who are at the forefront of our movements, and do the actual advocacy necessary to create change.” 

Go with your heart: Jayapal says donors should find an issue that resonates with them. 

“Carry a little notebook around and make a note of every time your heart starts beating in a good way. Then, go research that issue and find out more about the groups working on it. Educate yourself and call a group up and offer to volunteer. There are so many opportunities for engagement.”

Do not run away from race: Speaking to donors who are not people of color, Jayapal recommended that they lean into and understand that “the sense of discomfort that sometimes comes up when we talk about race and racism is actually part of what is necessary in order to make a change.” 

She went on to give an example: “After we held a judiciary committee meeting on reparations, there was an OpEd in The Washington Post. The conservative columnist said something like this. “I find myself often annoyed by what liberal Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says and her outspokenness. Listening to her at the recent hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking about reparations, I found myself annoyed again. But this time, I was annoyed because she was telling the truth. We, white people, need to understand how we have benefited from slavery and why reparations is so important. 

This is a conversative columnist making the case to conservatives for reparations. That is the kind of leaning into discomfort that creates the biggest opportunities for change.” 

Have hope: How does Jayapal avoid feeling defeated as she encounters obstacles in her work? She reflected on the difference between hope and optimism.

“It can be overwhelming to be confronted by the intense xenophobia and hate in our country. When I’m feeling down I reflect on something that Bishop Desmond Tutu said in a conversation with the Dalai Lama. He said, ‘I’m a hope-ist not an optimist.’ Optimism is temporary. Hope comes from deep inside you and you hold it regardless of what comes at you from the outside. We need to keep ourselves grounded in the hope that this world can change.”

To learn more about Jayapal, check out her new book, Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change.

To learn more about best practices in giving and the power of giving circles, register now for the We Give Summit.