November 21, 2019

Key takeaways from Rethinking Philanthropy

Doug Hamilton-Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator, SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's blogs are those of the authors, and they do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University or SFU Public Square, or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

Taking place on November 14, the eve of National Philanthropy Day, the event Rethinking Philanthropy: Building a Just Society was designed to question the very notion of philanthropy itself and how it can (and can’t) adapt to meet society’s increasingly complex challenges.

We wanted to discuss the possibilities of social justice philanthropy which seeks to address problems at the source, rather than treating their symptoms. We wanted to think about whether we needed to adjust the definition of who a philanthropist is, and to address the call for better inclusion of people with lived experience into the decision making processes behind philanthropic organizations.

We asked: how can philanthropy be more accessible, equitable, inclusive and accountable?

The conversations between our panelists and the audience were lively, animated, honest and inspiring. We did our best to capture it in a twitter thread, but we wanted to expand on it here, linking to important resources that were referenced along the way and bringing in other’s observations from the night.

This will not be an exhaustive review of the event. Rather, it will give a rough summary of it, linking to the conversations both within the room and on social media. We hope it inspires further reading and conversation. Because given the enthusiasm, passion and open questions from the evening, this will not be the last time we tackle this complex and vital topic.

Elder Syexwaliya weclomes us

We were honoured that Elder Syexwaliya (Squamish Nation) could begin our evening with a land acknowledgement and words of welcome.

Our Panel and Our Moderator

We were privileged to have four incredible panelists with diverse perspectives on philanthropy and social change:

Kris Archie, executive director for The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, an open network to promote giving, sharing, and philanthropy in Aboriginal communities across the country.

Seth Klein, the founding British Columbia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and currently a freelance researcher, writer, and an adjunct professor with SFU’s Urban Studies program.

Manny Padda, an entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist and founder of New Avenue Capital, which brings together financial, human and impact capital for high-growth companies

Dara Parker, vice-president of Grants and Community Initiatives at the Vancouver Foundation, where she leads a team of 17 and is responsible for deploying $15-$20 million annually in grants.

We were also incredibly fortunate to have Gloria Macarenko as our moderator for the evening. Not only an award-winning journalist and host of On The Coast on CBC Radio, she is also an active volunteer in the community and an appointee to the Order of Canada. 

And just a few hours before the event began, Gloria Macarenko had already interviewed panelists Seth Klein and Manny Padda on their divergent perspectives on philanthropy and social change on On The Coast. Listen here.

Opening Remarks

The panelists each had a few moments to make introductory remarks to kick off the conversation.

Kris Archie

Kris Archie found the need to ‘rethink’ philanthropy interesting when Indigenous communities have been doing philanthropy – and doing it well – for a very long time. She suggested that Indigenous knowledge, generosity and stewardship offer a lot to the settler-created philanthropic sector – which she defined as organizations whose endowments come from colonial practices of exploitation of land and resources at the expense of Indigenous people.

Kris noted that almost every Indigenous program has an origin story, often connected to who was in need and how the community came together to respond. She encouraged other organizations to think of – and be honest about – their origin stories, to address where their wealth came from, and who it was taken from, suggesting that they act to redress historical injustices through wealth redistribution.

If philanthropic organizations really want to be radical, she says, give up power and money to Indigenous-led organizations, women-led organization, racialized organizations. They have the lived experience and the knowledge to affect solutions.

Seth Klein

Rather than discuss the potential for philanthropy, Seth Klein chose to discuss the limits of philanthropy. The biggest challenges we face are inequality and the climate emergency, he says, and there isn’t a philanthropic solution to them. They can only be solved at the democratic level. And solving inequality, for example, isn’t rocket science. Some of us are going to have to pay more taxes, he says. And some are going to have to pay a lot more, he emphasized.

To address the climate emergency, we will need to mobilize society on a wartime footing like during the Second World War. Seth also happens to be writing a book on this very topic.

Manny Padda

As an investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Manny Padda says he is witnessing a shift happening in individuals and companies. It’s no longer all about capital and profits, rather stakeholder value is becoming more important than shareholder value. People are investing in their values and companies are increasingly measuring the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial).

Manny says that philanthropy provides a key function in society as it bridges gaps. But he also recognizes that this asks a lot of individuals. He believes that big change can be made on the social impact business side versus Seth Klein’s call for massive government investments in social change.

Dara Parker

Dara Parker quickly realized that the world is an unfair place, growing up as a girl and experiencing sexism at a young age. The fight against injustice and inequality continues to drives her work in the philanthropic sector.

Dara says that the charitable sector is important, and that it attracts a lot of people trying to do good. While it’s not the only vehicle for change, it is one we need to pay attention to…..because it needs to change.

Dara wants to see a shift from charity to justice.

Rather than ‘downstream’ solutions that address the symptoms of the problem, she advocates for more funding into ‘upstream’ solutions that address problems at the sources. 

And she challenged the framing of the evening that suggests that we have moved on to a paradigm of social justice philanthropy. “We are early in moving to social justice philanthropy,” she says. We have just gotten started and there is much work to be done.

The Conversation

To begin the wider conversation with the audience, Gloria Macarenko asked the panelists to provide specific examples of philanthropy that has led to social change.

Kris Archie asked if anyone had heard of the Great Bear Rainforest and the Clayoquot biosphere. Everyone had. She says that both continue to exist, and will continue to exist, due to the actions of Indigenous peoples – just two examples of how Indigenous communities fight for both social justice and real change.

Seth Klein made the distinction between ‘wins and innovation’ and true social change, which is when these shifts become the norm. He says the most significant social change in recent B.C. history is in childcare, which wasn’t the result of philanthropy, but from a decades-long, women-led movement (funded by the Vancouver Foundation, he mentions).

Someone in the audience brought up a story of great project he had been working on that had its funding pulled at the last minute before a major touchstone event. How can organizations and funders develop relationships so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen?

As a funder – and someone who has applied for funding – Dara Parker says that we work in real scarcity. There will always be more requests than there is funding and that it is crushing to say no to important work. While not a solution, it’s a piece of empathy, she offers.

Manny Padda suggests that organizations should work to diversify their funding away from single grants and funders, and to be more entrepreneurial in their efforts to become self sustainable.

Seth Klein celebrates the work, but notes that is downstream, and that the money trying to be raised would be a rounding error in the provincial budget. It will take all of us to take democratic action to make social change; no philanthropist can do this, he says.

From the audience, Jennifer Johnstone, president and CEO of the Central City Foundation said that the philanthropic community must rethink the way it redistributes funds, as philanthropists are not the experts. She echoes Kris Archie’s call for funders to give up power to those with lived experience and solutions to lead the way.

Kris Archie recommended the report Land Back from the Yellowhead Institute based out of Ryerson University as an incredible example of Indigenous scholarship putting forward policy solutions from the perspective of those most impacted.

With the last word from the panel, Kris Archie said that we are still alive due to Indigenous giving and ideas of reciprocity. She reiterated that if philanthropists really want to be radical, they should give up power in their donation and endowment strategies to Indigenous-led, queer-led, women-led organizations. 

And on National Philanthropy Day, she amplified some of the Indigenous led charitable and non-charitable grassroots organizations across Canada that we can support and learn from in a Twitter thread.

The formal event concluded with a thoughtful summary from SFU Chancellor Anne Giardini, but the conversation carried on at a reception in the lobby of the Segal building and on social media. Check the hashtag #RethinkingPhilanthropy to add your own thoughts and questions. 

And stay tuned for future events on and around this topic. We have a feeling this isn’t the last time we discuss philanthropy and social change. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about such events.

With many thanks to our partners on this event at SFU Alumni and Advancement, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and SFU Library.

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