What will it take to create a more equitable America? Increasingly, that conversation is turning to reparations for Black people and building a culture of racial repair for everyone, as the missing piece. As of now, at least 80 national funders, including the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, are supporting multiple actors in the reparations and repair ecosystem.
Reparations are used around the world typically in cases where people have suffered human rights violations. “When we ask for donors to support reparations, we are not begging for money for Black people. We’re extending a lifeline into your humanity, into your liberation and freedom, by being a part of this healing journey and process,” says Edgar Villanueva, founder and CEO of the Decolonizing Wealth Project. “When we work to repair as a nation — including ensuring Black folks achieve reparations — we are all going to benefit tremendously, and there are going to be generational impacts.”
Because of that opportunity for transformation, The Bridgespan Group, a global non-profit that advises philanthropy, nonprofits and impact investors, and Liberation Ventures, an intermediary organization and donor committed to reparations, collaborated on a report on the role that philanthropy could play in the movement for reparations and building a culture of racial repair. The research included interviews with more than 45 movement leaders, scholars, and funders, a literature review, and a survey of senior philanthropic leaders representing more than $12 billion in assets.
In our work, we define reparations as a comprehensive federal program that addresses the legacy of slavery and the centuries of documented race-based policies thereafter. Inextricably linked to achieving this is building and sustaining a culture of racial repair. This makes reparations an investment in the future — the more equitable world that can be created from a foundation of healing and repair.
Many funders, movement leaders, and scholars, come to the work of reparations through a desire to address the racial wealth gap. If the current wealth of white households remained stagnant, it would take Black families 228 years to catch up. That is more than 10 generations. There is a growing understanding that the gap is a result of a pattern of race-based policies fueled by anti-Black narratives, that have systematically demolished the wealth and humanity of Black people while reinforcing inequities across generations. Such policies include a hundred years of Jim Crow laws; the National Housing Act and redlining; Social Security’s exclusion of the majority of Black people for about two decades; and the GI Bill, which, in practice, excluded nearly two million Black veterans — all in addition to more than two centuries of enslavement.
Of course, philanthropy’s role in reparations is not to replace the federal government in providing the scale of redress and racial healing the nation needs. Nor are philanthropic grants to Black-led organizations reparations. However, our research highlights three key roles for funders:
1. Live Into a Culture of Repair in Your Own Institution
Liberation Ventures offers one way of thinking about racial repair through an ongoing, iterative cycle of reckoning, acknowledgment, accountability, and redress. The image below illustrates what those four components might look like for philanthropy.
2. Resource the Reparations and Repair Ecosystem
Philanthropy is currently underinvesting in the movement for reparations despite the variety of potential entry points. The 31 organizations with a focus on reparations in Liberation Ventures’ 2023 portfolio reported a combined annual revenue of less than $20 million in 2022, or about 1/1000 the annual revenue of the five largest nonprofits in the United States. Here is what resourcing the reparations ecosystem might look like:
- Integrate Reparations and Repair Strategies into Your Existing Portfolio
Whatever your portfolio’s focus, there is an opportunity to consider how reparations and repair may be integral to achieving the social change you seek. The mission of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is to build a culture of health in the U.S. to ensure that everyone has the chance to live the healthiest life possible. The funder sees the collective work to dismantle structural racism as key to achieving that goal. “Our reparative work comes from understanding root causes,” says Maisha Simmons, senior director at RWJF. Its funding to the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard was used to explore reparations as a public health strategy to help eliminate racial disparities in health outcomes and achieve health equity.
- Support Place-Based Reparations Efforts
Reparations and racial repair activities are happening across all 50 states. In 2021, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the US to create a reparations plan for its Black residents in the form of housing grants. Local reparations efforts are not the final destination or a way to absolve federal responsibility. However, they are a first step. Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) CEO Sol Anderson says, “For ECF and any foundation in this work, we have to recognize that our proper place is backing leaders and members of the Black community in our locales and across the country to do the work they think is most prescient and important to repair the harm that was done.”
- Create New Portfolios
Omidyar Network, a social change venture, is launching a portfolio that explicitly seeks to strengthen a culture of repair in the U.S. at a time when, as the funder says, diverse communities are acknowledging the “foundational harms of colonialism and slavery, and their modern-day legacies.” Omidyar Network sees this as multi-generational work and plans to collaboratively invest in the growing ecosystems of Black-led and Indigenous-led repair and healing efforts including organizations that advance relational, cultural, spiritual, and material approaches to repair. “This work aims to heal our past so that we can fully experience our thriving future,” says Vanessa Masson, principal at Omidyar Network, who leads a new repair portfolio. “By cultivating the soil for repair, we can all benefit from the holistic range of remedies taking root.”
3. Increase the Use of Black Asset Managers and Black-Owned Investment Firms
Given that 95 percent of most foundations’ wealth is invested rather than distributed in grants, shifting endowments to mission-related investments will benefit Black communities and contribute to racial repair.
For funders who believe in racial equity, we invite you to see reparations for Black people and building a culture of repair as a necessity to reach that goal.
Tonyel Edwards is a partner at The Bridgespan Group where Cora Daniels is a senior editorial director; they are co-authors of Philanthropy’s Role in Reparations and Building a Culture of Racial Repair. Ivy Nyayieka is Bridgespan’s racial justice media fellow.
Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.