We are at a moment of national reckoning. The COVID-19 pandemic, its disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities and the horrific murders of Black people that ignited protests last summer have laid bare the deep injustices that define this country.

In these times, the corporate and philanthropic sectors cannot remain on the sidelines. The new reality is that business and social issues are intertwined, and companies and corporate funders have an inescapable role to play in our democracy — an obligation to lead, not follow.

But supporting social justice issues is uncharted territory for many socially responsible companies and corporate funders. While there has been a recent surge in conversations within philanthropy about how to build and sustain social justice movements, the funding remains anemic, and only a tiny sliver comes from corporate foundations.

At the Levi Strauss Foundation (LSF), we’re committed to changing this by investing in communities and leaders of color. In 2010, our foundation launched the Pioneers in Justice initiative, a 5-year program empowering a cohort of next-gen leaders of established Bay Area civil rights organizations — all of them leaders of color — to experiment with bold new strategies for movement-building. The program was so successful that it became our foundation’s hometown strategy.

Yes, we’ve helped grassroots leaders strengthen their voices, reach new audiences and elevate their ability to lead today’s movements. But in turn, they have improved our ability as a corporation and foundation to deliver on our core values: empathy, integrity, originality and courage.

For other companies and corporate funders seeking to venture into this largely uncharted territory, we wanted to highlight a few of our most important lessons learned:

  • Widen the stakeholder lens.
  • Bridge sectors and worlds.
  • Learn from social movement leaders.
  • Advance corporate policies and culture.
  • Put your money where your voice is.
  • Leverage corporate platforms.

Read the full article about corporate funders supporting grassroots leaders by Daniel Lee at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.