BD Giving Notes – #12 ‘Walking into the future backwards’

The question of how we fund the transition while having due regard to the need for healing and reparation to the communities that have been at the sharp end of inequality and exploitation is undoubtedly the most important challenge facing philanthropy today.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last weekly note. I have needed to take some distance from writing, partly because I felt like I was at risk of repeating myself, but also because June and the first half of July have been so busy that I have struggled to keep up with the weekly publication pace. 
One of the reasons last month has been so busy is due to the onboarding of three new colleagues at BD Giving: Shola, Cláudia and Jack to bolster our communication, fundraising and programme-delivery capacity. While it’s naturally going to take them a bit of time to find their feet, their fresh perspective on our work and ideas is something I’m keen to make the most of. So from next week onward, I’m excited to announce that BD Giving Notes will start to feature colleagues, new and less new that work to make BD Giving the fantastic organisation it is.
Just shy of a month since we launched the Community-Led Investment Policy at the House of Commons, last week I was invited to present our work at a conference on the future of Philanthropy organised by Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The conference was a jammed packed two-day event with no less than 57 speakers (including me) so there was a lot to take in. I met some fantastic people and got into too many conversations to summarise here, but some things stuck with me, which I wanted to share: 
Two years after George Floyd’s death, it is clear that the need for reparative philanthropy is still not being met with the priority and speed it requires. It was acknowledged that modern philanthropy is the product of four centuries of violence, extraction and exploitation. However many foundations are only starting to reckon with the origins of their wealth, or do not go beyond symbolic gestures towards reparation. Poignant presentations by Ten Years Time, Decolonizing Wealth, the Digital Freedom Fund, Thousand Currents argued that Trusts and Foundations need to stop giving and start ‘giving back’ to the people and communities that have been at the heart of their systems of exploitation, in particular black and Indigenous communities. 
Another dominant thread of the conference was the role of philanthropy and impact investing in financing the ‘transition’ towards a more stable, climate resilient society. At the time of writing, England is baking into sweltering heat and wildfires rage across Europe. We must recognise that these extreme temperatures are quickly becoming more frequent. They are an early taste of a new normal that will creep up on us in the next few decades, with consequences much worse still for poorer countries. In the face of this challenge, ‘there is no convenient collapse into a new localism’, it was argued. If we’re not able to take bold actions now, and at scale, it will be too late tomorrow. 
The question of how we fund the transition while having due regard to the need for healing and reparation to the communities that have been at the sharp end of inequality and exploitation is undoubtedly the most important challenge facing philanthropy today. It is one that will require us to look at social and climate justice through a historic, deeply participatory lens, while also making space for rapid innovation and scaling up. 
It is about, as was poetically said, ‘walking into the future backwards’.

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