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Issue area: Racial and economic justice and equity
Geographic focus: United States and International (Africa)
Giving vehicle: Donor-advised Fund, Foundation (Umsizi Fund)
Years in philanthropy: 15
Wealth story: Liquidity event in early 2017
Recommended Resources: Boston Ujima Project, African Visionary Fund, Just Funders Spectrum
Recommended by: Hali Lee of Radiant Strategies and New England International Donors (NEID)
What is abundance? It isn’t hoarding money. It’s joy and freedom and authenticity and expansiveness. I feel all of those things so much more now that I’m giving my money away than I ever did when I was accumulating it. The pursuit of money is simply not a beautiful, spiritual process. Being in community, envisioning and working towards a just world -- that is indeed a healing, enlivening, joyous process.
I worked at McKinsey for over a decade, while my husband worked in investment banking and then hedge funds. Our investments grew really rapidly within our white supremacist capitalist system -- I think we garnered unreasonable returns for our efforts.
As I’ve learned about the depths to which white supremacy and systemic racism have been carried forward from slavery through Jim Crow through mass incarceration and police brutality and redlining … there’s no way I want my assets to continue as part of those systems in any way.
It’s not just about grantmaking, it’s about 100% of my assets. Where do I bank? Who are my advisors? Where am I purchasing from? Where am I investing? This is a comprehensive call to action … it’s not about shifting 10% of my grantmaking to racial justice in the U.S. This requires so much more of us. If 95% of my assets are invested through, for example, banks profiting off of prisons at the border, it’s working entirely at cross-purposes with any money I might give to racial justice. It just doesn’t make sense.
And, it is using my voice and convening power to join with peers to keep learning and challenging each other to do more.
On investing in racial justice
Truly supporting racial justice also looks like supporting community-based distribution of assets, and shifting power and voice to proximal leaders who know much better than I do how to allocate money in their communities. For that reason, the Boston Ujima Project has been really transformative for me. The thought that I, as an investor, don't get more power than community members is thrilling. As you learn about models like these -- so different from the tools we’re traditionally taught -- the possibilities for equitable distribution of power expand so much!
I’ve also been involved with helping to kick off the African Visionary Fund as a funder, which has been very exciting because of the participatory model. Our goal is to get multi-year unrestricted grants to proximate leaders, i.e. African social entrepreneurs. All of our decision-making committees are formed of proximate leaders, who are defining all of our processes. It’s been fascinating to reflect back and forth between the continent and the U.S. to share experiences during 2020 -- for example, around struggles against police brutality in the U.S. and Nigeria. It has really highlighted the importance of global solidarity in social and racial justice work for me.
On navigating the traditional financial advising system
There’s so much that I’ve had to unlearn and relearn! The traditional definition of “stewardship” and “fiduciary responsibility” that we are taught is that we must optimize wealth and deliver at least market-rate returns. So I’ve had to reimagine my understanding of stewardship. Now I think of it as stewarding resources towards a more just and equitable world.
I’ve also had to rethink the concept of “risk” that I was taught for so long -- so many people think it’s risky to invest in first-time fund managers. But women and people of color have been excluded from the investment table for so long, that so many of them are first-time fundraisers or fund managers. This is similar to what I saw in Africa. Communities that have never been invested in because of marginalization and neglect, continue to be penalized for their lack of investment history.
Shareholder advocacy is another element where I’m using my position as an investor to push funds to invest in communities of color and rethink “risk.” There’s also so much implicit bias at play and that’s been another area where I’ve been finding and stepping into a power that I hadn’t realized I had. I know now that if I really am advocating for racial justice, I need to be fully present, asking questions and pushing people, wherever I can. It’s still shocking to me how often I’m the first person to ask the white male general partners running the funds about what they’re doing to add diversity to their teams and boards, and equity to their operations. Because finances are already complicated, and it can be intimidating to question or push back against an “expert,” but in the fight for social justice, we need to be expanding our conceptions of things like fiduciary responsibility.
Overall, it’s a mindset shift about the ways in which you can use your assets, and the possibilities for how you can truly come alive through asset management -- not something a traditional wealth advisor ever talks about! I truly feel so alive working with and investing in the communities, funds, and CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) I do now.
Final Thoughts: My strategy is built on the premise that all my assets must do good in the world during my lifetime, but it has definitely taken me several years to get here. I did have many levels of insecurity and fear to work through. Not having grown up with money, not knowing anything about asset management, and feeling insecure after a divorce -- there are so many parts of me that want to grab onto the money and keep it for emotional security. But I have learned that financial security is far from emotional security. I’ve had to do a lot of work on building emotional safety for myself, in order to detangle it from money. I’m not painting myself as a hero at all; I am still human and still need to feel safe and secure. And scarcity is getting triggered for all of us on so many levels during this pandemic. I just have an awareness now that so many beliefs and practices around money are actually tied to emotional wholeness.
Read other stories about donors centering equity.
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