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COVID-19 is already defining our world -- economically, culturally, and politically -- and how we connect to each other. It calls into question all that we have practiced and opens up possibilities for the future.
From my vantage point of leading SVP International, the world’s largest network of engaged philanthropists, I believe individuals -- especially through their giving -- can right now strengthen communities and reimagine systems for a more just world.
Here’s where you can start:
1) Assess and align: Examine how you practice philanthropy. How much of your wealth goes to efforts led by and for those most impacted by unjust systems? Are you giving outside of your normal networks? Because individual donors offer some of the most flexible resources, consider how you can maximize your impact by putting it to work in places others are less likely to invest. We know that “women of color are the M.V.Ps. of social change” -- leading community scale innovations that transform our movements -- yet they struggle to get the same level of easy, general operating support afforded to many large organizations.
2) Write a check and connect: This moment calls for long-term commitment - do make the response-fund gift, but also join a network like Social Venture Partners, Social Justice Fund NW - or your local Giving Project, Resource Generation, and/or Donors of Color Network.
Networks help to transform your philanthropy so you can better connect to movement building and ensure your resources support on-the-ground leadership and expertise. They create space for you to be in communities of shared accountability, identify your blind spots, and bring a holistic approach to your giving.
Social change movements need more philanthropists who understand the whole system but this is a hard view to get without help. By aggregating your philanthropy, and being an engaged donor who organizes other people with wealth to share power, you will catalyze greater impact and change.
3) Practice political solidarity: For many, the ways in which we earn money, or the communities our wealth gives us access to, have also given us something else: power and influence. As state and national advocacy landscapes shift in the coming months, donors need to be in deep relationships with communities, advocating alongside those who are pushing for equitable solutions.
We also must engage corporations, large institutions, foundations, and each other to ensure solutions that push power outwards rather than concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. If you are not already using your voice to urge changes to the incredible economic injustices in our world, it’s time to start.
4) Protect free press and support culture makers: In the U.S. and abroad, this moment is fertile ground for the rise of authoritarianism - and undermining trust in institutions including local government and media. Systemic vulnerabilities and white supremacy are on display -- even magnified -- now. In the coming months there will be a push to “go back to normal” and minimize what we are seeing.
Philanthropists have a critical role to play in protecting our democracy by resourcing free, independent journalism to continue documenting and sharing stories of current impacts. You can subscribe to your local newspaper or public radio or look to entities like the American Journalism Project to help you have the most impact.
We also need to support cultural workers -- writers, filmmakers, photographers, artists -- who dream from the margins and bring into life the emerging future. Your investment in this culture change now will seed transformation for the long term.
5) Shift resources upstream: The current inequities are no surprise to those living with the daily challenges of our system. Those who were already vulnerable are even more so now. Going upstream brings a system change focus so movements can address root causes. This work includes shifting public narratives, policy advocacy, increasing racial and social equity practices, strengthening democracy, and powerbuilding across communities, to name a few.
Systemic approaches address current and historic inequities and increase community resilience. But because these approaches are less immediately tangible, they struggle to get sufficient funding. Moving your giving to systemic interventions has a multiplier effect, catalyzing impact for long-term benefits.
It has never been more urgent to join together to ask what is possible now that was not possible before, and to imagine what needs to be in place for a new future - one where we have globally connected communities, increased democratic practices, healthy environments, and more systems that support the authentic leadership of people currently impacted by unjust systems and oppression. For those with wealth, we must act now to use our money, influence, and power, in solidarity with those on the frontlines, and hasten the creation of a world where all communities thrive.
By Sudha Nandagopal, CEO of Social Venture Partners International, a network of over 3,500 engaged philanthropists, volunteers, and social change leaders, working in partnership with communities in eight countries around the globe.