Sekou Kaalund, JP Morgan Chase, Advancing Black Pathways Initiative Ron Cooke, The Peebles Corporation Donahue Peebles III, The Peebles Corporation Jeanne Wardford, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Tene Taylor, The Kendida Fund Janelle Williams, Annie E. Casey Foundation

How are Black people working in foundations and philanthropic-oriented organizations stepping into their power?

I asked  Edward Jones, VP of Programs at the Association of Black Foundation Executives how he sees Black philanthropic professionals reimagining philanthropy. As he puts it, “Black people who are working in philanthropy, whether as program officers or trustees, have more power than often times they want to wield. Anyone who is in a position of power should lean into that power they hold.” 

A national membership association, headquartered in New York — and a remote workspace at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator, DC’s first space dedicated to inclusion, incubation, and innovation, the association is credited with many of philanthropy’s early gains in diversity. Established in 1971, it continues to serve as an influential network.

In 2019, it is more important now than ever to reimagine what is possible through philanthropy. At a series of panel discussions co-hosted by ABFE and JP Morgan Chase at the Congressional Black Caucus’s 91st Annual Legislative Conference, Jones broke down why: 

“Given the state of the union, there is a heightened sense of urgency around boat-rockers and pot-stirrers.” Jones explains, “When people get into positions of power, they don’t want to stir the pot, they don’t want to rock the boat. We need more boat-rockers and people with power leaning into that power they hold.” 

Jones was not the only philanthropic leader at the conference challenging others to embrace their power. The event showcased curated conversations full of fearless leaders unapologetic about rocking the boat. It was a powerful experience to engage with some of the country’s most daring and innovative funders of Black communities.

Tené Traylor, a fund advisor for the Kendeda Fund, charged funders in her field to not think of their work as charity. “I’m here to challenge the notion that when we offer resources to the community it is benevolent or charitable.” She clarified, “What we are really trying to do is stabilize our economies and our communities. So our communities can stand on their own and hold their own.”

JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways Initiative combines JP Morgan Chase’s business and philanthropic resources to accelerate economic empowerment and opportunity for Black people. Panel moderator Sekou Kaalund, head of JP Morgan Chase’s Black Pathway Initiative, asked panelists, “What has your organization done to fill the gap in terms of the capital that is needed for black entrepreneurs who have good ideas that are scalable?”

Janelle Williams who oversees economic opportunity efforts for the Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site responded, “Access to capital continues to be a barrier to entry. We have worked with CDFI’s to scale character-based loans and have seen really promising results. Of all of the character-based loans that have been deployed through the CDFI’s we have invested in, we have seen a zero percent default rate.” 

She continues, “Fundamentally, the data shows when we change the rules of engagement people have higher rates of succeeding. Then why not scale this practice at the institutional level?”

Traylor touched on the need for philanthropic funds working with entrepreneurs to be patient with capital and to be risk-tolerant. She explained, “When we invest philanthropic resources into entrepreneurs, we understand that we cannot expect the same philanthropic return in terms of timing as we would in a typical non-profit setting.”

Traylor charged entrepreneurs who are seeking funding to ask for the dollars they need. “Do not come to my door asking for $10,000 when you know it is a million-dollar need. If you can’t get all of it from us, we need to figure out a way for you to get it. What we are not going to do is short change what we are seeking to achieve in these big gap problems with this little bit of chump change that we continue to get.”

Williams agreed, “We want to tackle the racial wealth divide. We are making data-driven decisions, and informing a racial equity lens to apply that work.”  

“The Association for Enterprise Opportunity’s data shows that if funders invest in scaling Black businesses, it will not only tackle the racial wealth divide, but also significantly reduce Black unemployment,” explains Corey Briscoe Vice President of Strategic Engagement & Communications. 

Williams continued, “We see this as a multiplier effect. We are entering this space where we want to support businesses that are willing to invest in the community. We’re doing this as a long term play, through grant investments, program investments, and partnerships. No one organization can independently address decades, generations, of structural racism and oppression.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation also had a presence at the conference. Jeanne Wardford, program officer for Family Economic Security at the foundation, provided perhaps the best quote of the day. “The revolution not only needs to be televised, but it also has to be financed.”  She explained that closing the racial wealth gap was a primary concern for the Kellogg Foundation. “It is particularly important because we care about children and we know for children to thrive their families need to thrive as well. At Kellogg Foundation, racial equity and community engagement are in our DNA. We are consistently trying to work with the people closest to the problem.”

Institutional racism in traditional financial institutions is real. According to 2River, every business day sees 8,000 credit applications from small businesses that are declined. Based on AEO’s research, this creates a $44-$52 billion credit gap. Increasing access to capital for underrepresented small-businesses is important to economic growth and healthy communities. Reflecting on these stats, Warford said, “We know that Black businesses hire Black people. We know that there need to be support systems in place to sustain, grow, and develop Black Businesses.”

She continued: “We confront institutional racism towards Black businesses by investing in organizations looking to design new loan products, building accountability of CDFIs in low-income communities, and supporting advocacy organizations working to improve the Community Reinvestment Act in order to  strengthen efforts that remove barriers to access capital for small businesses.”

ABFE encourages co-investments between funders to multiply impact. Williams, Traylor, and Wardford are bright spots in the spirit of how funders can pool dollars in a transformational and catalytic way to collectively leverage investments and resources. Earlier this year,  the three foundations co-invested to relaunch the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative to tackle Atlanta’s income inequality and advance the initiative’s effort to bolster African American entrepreneurship in Atlanta while closing the city’s racial wealth gap. The W.K Kellogg Foundation contributed $1 million — coupled with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kendeda Fund.

Williams closed the panel by highlighting the need for the philanthropic sector to be rooted in community development. “Any development that happens absent of the community is gentrification and displacement,” she argued. She asked the funders in the field to ask themselves, “How are we investing in community organizing so that the businesses that we are investing in are good neighbors, so that businesses that we are supporting are reinvesting in their community? And more importantly, how are we investing in community organizing to hold private, public, and philanthropic systems accountable?”

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