“Money should be a tool of love, to facilitate relationships, to help us thrive, rather than to hurt and divide us. If it’s used for sacred, life-giving restorative practices, it can be medicine.” - Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance

The We Give Summit wrapped up last week with a conversation between Mijo Lee, principal of Mijo Consulting, and Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance and founder of Liberated Capital, a community of 1,500 donors supporting Indigenous and Black-led organizations and communities. Villaneuva is a former program officer and outspoken advocate for transforming philanthropy as an instrument of justice. He joined the Summit to share his vision for the future of philanthropy, talk about why redistribution must be a goal of philanthropy, and identify ways that giving circles can help.

This interview from the event has been edited for length and clarity.

Lee: If we are successful in the work of decolonizing wealth, what will that actually look like? 

Villanueva: For me, ultimately, decolonizing wealth is about closing the racial wealth gap. I’m not anti-wealth. I want us all to have wealth. To do that, we need to acknowledge how wealth was accumulated in the U.S. and the harm and trauma it engendered.  

The words that I say every day and that live in my spirit are truth, healing, reparations, and redistribution. These are all threads of modern-day philanthropy and inform the ways that we are shifting in our personal giving and in giving circles. Institutions are beginning to shift too. Instead of hoarding wealth and sprinkling some resources around, folks are moving to a place of interdependence and reciprocity.  

Decolonizing wealth means letting go of power and resources and centering people.  And shifting our mindset from wealth and money belonging to us or me to belonging to the community.

Lee: What role can Giving Circles play in this shift?

Villanueva: Giving Circles play a critical role in decolonizing wealth because they are made up of people and while we may think of the big institutions when we think of philanthropy, the majority of giving comes from individuals. 

At the end of the day, this is about all of us using everything that we have to advance racial justice. We can’t wait for big philanthropy and the government to save us.

Giving Circles can “shift the weather” in philanthropy by changing narratives about who is philanthropist, building power in communities, and advancing justice through the relationships we build with each other and the money we give.   

Lee: You’re reminding me of the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was supported by individual folks giving what they had to share. Eventually, it was supported by a group of Freedom Funders, but only many years later.  

Villanueva: That’s right. Everyday people have always been the loudest voices for increasing funding for racial and gender justice and for investing in under-resourced places and communities, like the South. Big philanthropy and institutions may follow suit but individuals are always going to be the ones that are outfront and doing right by our communities. That’s because we are the community.  

Lee: You talk a lot about redistribution as a practice or goal of philanthropy. Can you say more about why it matters and how it shows up?

Villanueva: When I was working in institutional philanthropy, I felt really good about what I was doing. I still believe that sharing resources is a good thing. But in institutional philanthropy, we have much more money than we are giving.  Sometimes, the good that we’re doing with grantmaking is being cancelled out by the harmful ways that we are using our endowments. The same can be true in our personal giving. 

Also, it’s really important to mention that much of the wealth that has been made in this country was generated via theft. Colonization is about extracting resources.  We see this across the globe. In the U.S. context, colonization meant taking land from Indigenous people.

We will never close the racial wealth gap we have today through strategic acts of kindness or the sprinkling of charity. We need an approach that is more radical. The more radical idea for me is looking at that sum of the wealth that exists and actually redistributing it -- giving it back to communities that were harmed.

Lee: What is one practice that you would love to see every Giving Circle implement?

Villanueva: If you are not a person of color, find a way to talk about race and power. Find a way to bring these conversations into the mix. Ask yourself, “what are we going to do about white supremacy?” Also, consider giving half of your funding to Black or Indigenous-led groups. Sometimes by moving money and supporting these groups, you open yourself up to new relationships and learning that you may not have had before. 

Finally, money is medicine both for the people who we are supporting but also for us -- the people who are giving. We have an opportunity to heal based on what we choose to support. 

To learn more, read Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance and check out Liberated Capital