Giving Compass' Take:

• Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, shares his work in social justice philanthropy at Penn Pavilion where he gave the Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture. 

• Walker discusses topics such as racism and inequality and believes that philanthropists need to take opportunities to invest in and listen to community perspectives. Do you find that your own charitable giving strategy prioritizes community voices? 

• Read Darren Walker's perspective on the future of work as it relates to equity.

“Name a social ill, and there has been a demonstration project that shows us what works,” said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

Philanthropy has been very successful at supporting demonstration projects, but has been “unable to maintain the progress at scale,” he said. In conversation with Jay Pearson, assistant professor of public policy, Walker gave the Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture at Penn Pavilion on Tuesday evening.

Pearson asked, “What is the root cause of type of inequalities you are looking to address?”

Walker pointed to racism and classism. “Racism is imbued in the foundation of our country,” he said, and “we have to get more comfortable with the contradictions of who we are.”

Currently, the systems, structures and social practices of our democracy are designed to create and support inequality, Walker said. This is not unique to the United States, he said, pointing to the example of Eastern Africa where the Ford Foundation had offices and were criticized for hiring too many people from the privileged ethnic group there.

“People design structures that are intended to create hierarchy. That is a global phenomenon, but in the U.S. it has manifested as white supremacy,” said Walker.

In addition to giving the lecture, Walker has been meeting with a group on campus exploring ways to address inequality in the South. The group includes Durham community members as well as scholars from Duke and UNC.

Pearson asked a questions submitted by a Durham community member: “What are the core characteristics of a justice-informed partnership between funders, universities and those disproportionately impacted by inequality?”

“First, by recognizing and owning the power imbalance, and how that can distort our behavior. We in philanthropy have a false sense of humility, a fake sense,” Walker said.

Philanthropists should not privilege the knowledge of experts over the lived experience of the people closest to the challenge. “The people who are in those communities are the experts, too,” he said.

Read the full article about social justice philanthropy at Sanford School of Public Policy.