Mide Akerewusi & Ade Oguntoye On The Power Of Black Philanthropy

When you think about philanthropy, what image comes to mind? White men with deep pockets opening up their chequebooks writing big donations that barely make a dent in their wallets. 

August is black philanthropy month, a time to question their image of philanthropy and offer a space to amplify black voices in the industry. To create a real call for change and be active in creating a more diverse and inclusive space for all philanthropists. 

Mide Akerewusi and Ade Oguntoye join the podcast to discuss the Giving Black conference. A global conference drawing philanthropic voices and viewpoints from across Africa's diaspora to explore how collective action can elevate equity in our unequal world.

Our Favourite Quotes

[04:24] And I think that, for me, is such an important and interesting perspective of black philanthropy that it is very intimate, it is very personal. And often, I think to your point, it's not recognized in either its informal application, which we're involved in every day through remittances, we're sending money back home through helping our neighbours if they need support with finances or health or education or housing. And I think for me, that element of black philanthropy is something that we're very excited to amplify through the Giving Black Conference.

[10:36] This idea of going back to work, it's not just the idea of going back to work after COVID. It's the idea of going back to business as normal because COVID coincided with George Ford, Brianna Taylor, Imad Aubrey and a host of other black people who were murdered by the system, many people's organizations, allowed them to do the things they allowed them to give to organizations they wouldn't normally be able to get to.

[14:31]  I think this is a reflection of the perception by black people that there is a total lack of equity in most workplaces. And that's the issue that I think we need to address, that employers need to address as well.

How do you make workplaces safe for black presence, for the presence of people of all cultures, religions, ages, genders, sexual orientations? How do we create cohesive work environments that are respectful and inviting of all, not just one cohort?

Top 3 Takeaways 

  1. Black Philanthropy has been going on for centuries. It’s based in community and can be as simple as neighbour giving to neighbour. It starts by understanding the needs of the community and those closest to us. 
  2. We can’t go back to business as normal. It’s not just about returning to normal after COVID, it’s about acknowledging the gaps that existed in the system and were brought to light with the Black Lives Movement and the murder of innocent lives like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. There has to be change. 
  3. We have to take a healing-centred approach. This means looking at the environment around the outcomes and asking, why did this happen? 

Podcast Transcript

Today, we celebrate Black Philanthropy Month with a

Hi and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. You will recognize me as your host Sabrina Sciscente, and as you know, Driven is an innovator in nonprofit technology. We're passionate about your data and we want to help you get the most with it. So if you want to unlock your true fundraising potential, please give us a visit at trustdriven.com to learn more.

August is black philanthropy month, it's a time to celebrate, are black and brown colleagues and acknowledge that they're still a long way to go before we reach true equality within the sector.

Part of that means having open and honest conversations about how race plays into people's perception of others. We need to listen to our colleagues, understand their struggles and actively work towards making change. You may remember Mide Akerewusi. He is the founder of AgentsC and has been on the podcast before. He joins us today to talk about the Giving Black Conference, a free event taking place August 12. It's a global conference focused on transformative black philanthropy, and it talks about the power that black philanthropists have and how they can change the world.

Joining him as well is Ade Oguntoye. He is the co-founder of The Imperative. It's a fund dedicated to the wealth, health and connectedness of black people. He will be joining the day and speaking at the Giving Black Conference, along with some amazing fundraisers from around the world. So thank you both for joining me today.

Thank you for having us.

So can you take a minute to explain what black philanthropy means to both of you and how the idea for the giving black conferance came to be?

Well, I'll say that the idea of philanthropy is not a mystical thing. A lot of times we have made it into something bigger than it is. Black people can give it to other people for centuries and time memorium. Lots of studies show that black people give a proportionate amount of their income towards helping other people. I think what we're talking about now in the concept of black philanthropy is that it's an intentional black-led movement to support black people in the same way that white-led philanthropy has been given. And so I think that is the difference now, there is an additional push to both command resources and to control resources, to support black people in ways that will lead towards different outcomes than we had in the past.

So it's taking that shift from kind of informal philanthropy to more formal philanthropy.

Yes, I think it's been formal, too, but it's been quiet, so so we've said it quietly amongst ourselves, those people who've worked in philanthropy. So I think we're being outspoken on the times to call for a different level of intentional calling out of systems. And so I think that that's kind of the difference now is that we don't have to be quiet about it anymore.

How about you Mide? What does black philanthropy mean to you?

Well, I grew up in a philanthropic household. My mother was and is a tremendous example of giving and I write in the Duality of Giving how me being able to observe the way she gives has really opened my eyes to how more generally, black people engage in the act of giving and why and the way that we engage in the act of giving is by understanding the needs of our community and those closest to us. And then the action is born out from giving not about profit or surplus, but directly from the whole of what we have.

And I think that, for me, is such an important and interesting perspective of black philanthropy that it is very intimate, it is very personal. And often, I think to your point, it's not recognized in either its informal application, which we're involved in every day through remittances, we're sending money back home through helping our neighbours if they need support with finances or health or education or housing. And I think for me, that element of black philanthropy is something that we're very excited to amplify through the Giving Black Conference.

How did you begin planning for the Giving Black Conference? I know you have a fantastic panel of speakers. Ade is one of them. And how was that process? How did you pick who was going to come and talk?

When I sit back and think about the conference, I realized actually that this has probably been something like 30 years in the making. As I said, you know, I grew up in a philanthropic household, and particularly when I reached adulthood, I was always very curious about what giving and philanthropy meant. Yes, within the context of me being a black African, but also in the more general context that I was born and raised in London, England. And then my first profession, my professional career, started off as a professional fundraiser.

So I've always I feel, been involved in philanthropy and always also thought about, well, what do black people, people of African descent have to say about philanthropy? Because in all of the philanthropy books, we tend to see white male leaders of industry as the epitome of philanthropic activity. And I knew that my experience was quite the opposite, that I saw black female people who were not tremendously wealthy at all, but just amazingly generous with their giving. And so I think for probably about 30 years ago, I've been asking questions around how do we amplify the voice of people of African descent who every single day are engaged in acts of generosity.

And I think it came to culmination to me just by really wanting to celebrate Black Philanthropy Month in the month of August. And I'm thinking, well, this could be just a Canadian conversation. But actually, I know because philanthropy is just so systemic throughout the diaspora and on the African continent that actually we could bring people from the African continent and African diaspora, the US and the UK together, as well as Canada, and have a broader Pan African discussion about giving.

So that's how the idea came about.

Yeah, because it's such a different experience, not only from your cultural background, but where you are residing currently, because I'm sure and Ade can speak for the states. You can speak for Toronto. You have Camilla Pereira coming on from Brazil. So it's an incredibly diverse panel. And I'm sure that each place has its own values, priorities, methods of giving philosophy around philanthropy. A recent article in The New York Times kind of spoke on exactly what some people were experiencing and the idea that COVID's endings were going to go back to work.

And there is a lot to say about philanthropy as a whole and the act of giving. But I think that a lot of change has to start within organizations. And the study that The New York Times reported about found that 97 percent of black respondents in the US did not want to return to work in an in-person work environment because they said that it brought a lot of challenges like microaggressions, pressure to conform to white standards of professionalism, as well as high rates of workplace stress and burnout.

I remember one quote that stood out to me is one fundraiser said she's like, I just want to go into work and not have to worry about, like, explaining my hair. And it was just like a simple everyday luxury that she's like, I just don't want to have to talk about it. I don't want to tell people not to touch it. And I was like, that's something that I never experienced. So obviously, you guys, as black fundraisers, can speak for your own experiences.

Mide you wrote about being a fundraiser and Collecting Courage a day, you have an article that Ade you that can also speak to your expenses. Well, I just want to know, how does this study align with your experience?

You know, I think it's interesting, I think there are two parts to it. One that's articulated in the article and one that I think is an undertone. I think that when there's an opportunity for blacks and philanthropy and I'll be careful to speak for the whole country about experience of other people, but when we have had opportunities to come together at different conferences and the black contingent together, those expressions of having to go, look, you have to prove yourself or what you are an outsider, regardless of what your position is that the money is not yours to give out.

That you don't have the authority to do so, that you should be on the receiving end of it as opposed to the one those kind of sentiments come out. So I think that's one part of it that people feel. I think the other part of it too. This idea of going back to work, it's not just the idea of going back to work after COVID. It's the idea of going back to business as normal because COVID coincided with George Ford, Brianna Taylor, Imad Aubrey and a host of other black people who were murdered by the system, many people's organizations, allowed them to do the things they allowed them to give to organizations they wouldn't normally be able to get to.

They allowed them to support black people. They were able to support the years before. So I think that just going back into the office and experiencing the micro-aggressions, and going back into the office and being railroaded into doing business as normal and giving to the same places, because there's a sense of autonomy when you're doing it from home, when you're able to have conversations and not be in meetings, where people say, well, you know, this organization has a history of doing this and we know that their history has not been supportive of black people.

History has led to the outcomes that we have right now. So I think it's more than just it's pull on our individual and our individuality, but it's also this feeling of having to conform, this feeling of having to be schizophrenic, to have these feelings at home of people that you should be supporting and things that you should be supporting and not being able to express those things at work. And so I think that's the other part of it, too, is that you know, people have just seen that there's a slippery slope.

In July, there was like a 70 percent support for Black Lives Matter. By August, that had gone down under 50 percent. Now it's lower than it was pre-pandemic levels. And so there's this thought that it's going to go back to the way it was. And so I think that's the fear of going back into the office, is going back into putting on those same clothes that we wore before.

Because how can you? In my perspective, I feel like you can't. I feel like the last year has been so transformative that to ignore it is like. Almost ridiculous. You know, so Mide, I'll let you answer the question then I would love to hear on some of the ways that organizations can combat that return to normalcy.

I really empathize with my black brothers and sisters who kind of expressed a degree of wariness and at the absence of safety and feel insecure in the workplace. And that clearly is based on their experience of aggression and oppression in workplaces. I'm not surprised they don't want to go back. Like how many of us Monday to Friday or even on the weekends would want to enter a work environment that was hostile to our presence. And I think what we need to change is this idea of white space, which is the idea that actually, you know, the space is built for the majority and not the people who represent other ethnic, religious or cultural or racial backgrounds.

And that, for me, speaks also to equity. And I have a feeling that if workplaces were more open, more inviting, fairer places, respectful places for black people to occupy, we wouldn't have such hesitancy in terms of wanting to go back. So so I think this is a reflection of the perception by black people that there is a total lack of equity in most workplaces. And that's the issue that I think we need to address, that employers need to address as well.

How do you make workplaces safe for black presence, for the presence of people of all cultures, religions, ages, genders, sexual orientations? How do we create cohesive work environments that are respectful and inviting of all, not just one cohort?

Definitely. Ade I think your co-founder, Alexandra Bastien
, she wrote an article on your website talking about investing in black leaders for the long haul. And I think she did the perfect job in explaining what needs to be done. To summarize for those listening. She made an excellent point in saying that those who understand equity understand that people closest to the problem are the ones closest to the solutions. So it's clear that black and brown voices have to be present and they need to be a part of the conversation and they have to have power.

So if we do want to create change, how do we do this in communities with little to no BIOPOC representation? Because what I'm finding is that there's a lot of organizations that have a lot of white faces in leadership. So how do they begin to create change when there's probably no diversity in the company itself? Where do they go?

I mean, we have some hard answers, some hard questions we have to ask. Are people willing to give up power, or is it just about maintaining an organization or is it about achieving these equitable outcomes that Mide was just talking about. If we are talking about achieving equitable outcomes that we have to recognize that the systems that we live under were built by oppressing black people. You know, that's the long and the short of it, whether we're talking about Canada, whether we're talking about the United States, whether we're talking about Europe, these systems were built on the backs of indigenous populations in the world.

And if we are not willing to have that conversation, then we can't improve. If we're not willing to start there. Like, that's the starting point. You know, that's not the endpoint that we've made that analogy. But if we do need to make those if we do understand that the oppression that the system still exists today, it's still manifest itself, then we have to have different solutions. So we have to be willing to say, are we willing to give up power resources and share those things with those that are most impacted?

Are we willing to trust people, can we trust black people with the resources, because that's not something that philanthropy, as I said at large, we know the percentage of money that goes towards black organizations? It's not because they're less qualified. It's not because they're worse run, you know. Right. It's because there's a lack of trust. It's this idea of second-class citizenship that's inherent in the way that we care. It's inherent in the way that we measure organizations' progress.

And so I think we have to ask those tough questions. We will ask those questions and come up with the solutions that those questions demand.

It's a beautiful tie in today because I would say that if there's one thing that they giving in black conferences is about and we're trying to showcase, it's black economic empowerment, which links directly to what you were saying, that I think current systems and structures in the Western world certainly have a legacy. And I would say not just a legacy, but a perpetual effect on really subjugating black people and indigenous people.

And that is an intentional practice that has been happening for centuries. I want to go further back, though, and it's shocking and surprising. And some people may not like this comment, but it is one that I fundamentally believe is true. I don't even think in the twenty first century after all we have been through over the last year and a bit. The people are even completely convinced and in alignment that there should be equity between black people and white people.

It's a philosophical argument, a philosophical issue. And my hunch is that the man in the white majority. They haven't yet crossed or addressed that issue of what equality really, really means, that they are equal. To black people, to indigenous people, if we can't even win that philosophical debate as a society. It poses risk to our entire generation as it has posed for generations, for centuries before. That's where the conversation leads.

Just a point of correction, you said white people are the majority, there are the global minority.


I don't say that and I don't say that to, you know, to belittle or to, you know. But it is the truth. I think that's one of the things that becomes the first casualty of seeking justice is the truth. And so if we phrase it that the majority of people are being oppressed by a minority, that makes it, that puts that in a different context and causes us to say that it's not necessarily I use the word sharing resources, you know.

Because language is so important, language is really important. It's not even really about sharing resources. It's allowing people to use resources that are right there. That we talk about communities, black communities, being poor communities, they are not poor communities. Africa is not a poor continent it's very resource-rich. The places that we live are usually not poor. They're just preyed upon. The resources are extracted. So I think that's the other piece of it, too.

If we are allowed to all be free. Then everyone will benefit from this. That is what we have to, you know, often when we think about this is that poor blacks have to be helped by benevolent white people. That is the whole concept of philanthropy, the love of man, you know, the love of humans. And it is not accurate. We are not poor. Africa is not a poor continent, but communities are not poor and they are resource-rich, they're just preyed upon, which are extracted from them.

So we change this dynamic in our language then the solutions become much more clear and we see that being what the outcome could be. So it is not that we have to take wealth from one, from white people and give it to black people. For us to achieve equity it is that we need to remove the barriers that the brilliance that's been interrupted by these systems that don't allow us to do the things that we know are necessary for our surviving, thriving and for equality.

So that we change the language, when we change our lens and our perspective. We actually see how. Removing those barriers from black people can lead to those outcomes.

So it's really giving them that platform just to continue what they're doing but amplify it. So sharing the space, which is kind of going back to what we were talking at the beginning of the conversation. So it's not about taking away. It's about amplifying. And then also, you know, checking our inner biases, making sure that we are questioning things that we're taught to us before the day, as you were saying, you know, it's been a long history, I'm sure, you know, especially people who aren't used to seeing a lot of diversity in their organizations, in their communities, maybe even in their cities.

It's important to question why is that? Has this affected how I perceive power? Will this affect how I treat my coworkers? So I guess my question for you guys is, how do we begin creating that change within the people around us? What are the questions that you suggest people ask themselves as allies in order to become more bias-free in their daily lives? And would you like to start and then we'll go to the second?

Sure. So I guess I would question even what allyship is. I prefer to advocate for an airline because an ally could be passive and an advocate is necessarily promoting something. And so I think it's in the same way of saying it's not enough to be anti-racist, we need something else. But I think that being willing to if you know that you're in a space that is not been open to black people before, opening that door a little wider is one thing.

So this active stuff, they're giving resources, unrestricted resources, because it sends the message that you trust that the person who has those resources knows what to do with those resources. And that I think the final thing is interrogating laws, policies and practices both within your organization and then civically. So it's all well and good to to promote policies. If all of them showed up at a school board meeting where practices are being made that excludes groups. And so your children will never see people that are outside-

So it is kind of it has to be in all parts of your life. You just be we're going to do this at work, at home. It's going to be status quo at home. It's going to be on its promise of restoring the same bubble.

I want to talk about the status of black people. We are donors. We are employees. We are taxpayers and we are consumers, to name just a few, but when we look at the flows of revenue.

Into black communities, governments seem to be quite reluctant in using their own tax dollars to support our communities. Corporations seem to be quite reluctant to use the profit we help them make to invest in our communities as consumers and as employees. There also seems to be some real reluctance to really appreciate and identify the contribution we make with our intellectual property that helps these profits to be made. So I'm not talking about handing out money. What I'm talking about is the proportionate distribution of wealth that we all help.

Societies and governments and corporations make work when we spend what comes back to us. And I think you would know, Sabrina, that a recent report, the unfunded report, indicated that zero point seven percent of all foundation income in Canada is directed towards serving or charities. That's hugely problematic if you look at how the foundations were set up, and it's hugely problematic if you consider the fact that we represent some areas about five percent of the Canadian population. So there's a disparity between the economic power that we bring as black people and the reward, the distribution of the rewards that that that we receive and always say with a discussion around black philanthropy is that, yes, we as black people are involved in giving.

However, we also identify the responsibility of government and institutions to give back what we have helped them make in a proportionate way.

Now that you mention that and I got instantly brought back to an article I read a while ago, and it was a while ago, so excuse my inaccuracy with these numbers. But the article basically explained that they were looking at grants that organizations were given. So they found that white led grants, white organizations were often receiving upwards of like one hundred thousand dollars, whether as the black letter organizations were receiving, I think it was about 50 grand less.

And they're like, why is this? Because they have access to the same grants? Well, when they dug deeper into it, it was kind of exactly what they were saying in terms of resources that communities at their end don't have access to the same help that white communities have. So it's this bigger issue of how do start by fixing the communities. We start by having grants specific for black organizations like how do we get them to the same level in terms of resources and assistance that these other organizations have?

And that goes to Ade who wrote a terrific blog post on Healing Center philanthropy, and I feel like that has in part to do with the answer to that question, because it focuses around the trauma and the outside impact that things like lack of resources, trauma, all of that has on an individual. So focuses on fixing the environment instead of just, you know, healing one single person so they can you share more about this approach, the healing-centred philanthropy approach and how this can be applied to organizations?

Yeah, absolutely. And I think there's this trend towards common care that has been a movement, I think, in the last decade or so. And that is the question of what or answers the question or it looks at what happened to the individual. So that's what happened to you? I mean, that's the way that a lot of philanthropy operates. A healing-centered approach is the question, why did what happened to. And so treatment and care, for example, trauma, would look at a school system and try and take over the educational achievement gap by putting in programs and policies that set funding restrictions without looking at what happens to the person before they came in or what was going on with the person before they came into school.

So what was there blood in the water? Was there structural challenges that they had to go through? So it's a lot of what philanthropy does is it allows people to survive within oppressive systems, survive better within oppressive systems. Healing sense of philanthropy says no. Actually, a part of the healing is actually addressing these inequities. And so philanthropy that looks to build movement, philanthropy that looks to support structural change, a philanthropy that looks towards elevating those who've been oppressed and those wrongs.

That is kind of the difference between the way that traditional philanthropy has operated, this lens of segmenting. You know, we're just going to be educational philanthropy. We're just going to focus on health. We're just going to focus on these particular things and assume that if we fix this one thing, we make the world better. In actuality, in some cases, all we've asked people to do is to survive within the system that's still approaching. You're going to want to say that, you know, and so we're saying no more of that.

We're saying that philanthropy needs to be a part of healing. That needs to be willing to address a history of putting taking five percent of the dollars from your endowment. And that other 95 percent could be doing way more harm than the help that you're doing. So we need to look at this thing holistically.

And I would add to that. I'm prompted to think about the roots of African philanthropy, which often it's expressed the sentiment of Ubuntu, which is the idea that I am because I work with one where unit and so it isn't from the perspective of the dominant viewpoints.

I'm rich. I'll give it to you, which we often see on which I think it is. It's talking about part of what we're talking about in the conversation of black philanthropy is how do we draw more from and a healing center philanthropy approach and anchor that in the entire conversation about philanthropy itself. We have much to learn from indigenous practices that we're getting. And quite often in our Western contexts, we look at those models as sometimes inferior or irrelevant.

This conference, the black conference, is going to bring that conversation right back to the center, which is how do we adopt this community-centred approach that looks at causality and then has far more, I would say, traditional and strategic responses to solving some of the challenges that we see. And I would say to create new opportunities and new narratives that I'm very excited about and hopeful will galvanize black people, people of African descent, into thinking about how they can collectivize that, giving the greater impact.

Yeah, yeah, exactly, so I think that that is the perfect place to end our conversation today. Thank you both for coming on and talking about your experiences and joining me and being on the show.

I am looking forward to you joining us at the conference on August the 12th, the Giving Black conference taking place on August the 12th. And if you need further information, you can visit the AgentC website or W w w dot Agentc.ca that's A-G-E-N-T-C .ca thank you.

And that is all for today's podcast. I would like to thank Mide and Ade for coming on to the show, I linked both of their organizations in the description box. If you want to get in touch with them or learn more about their work. I highly recommend you go and look at their websites. They're doing amazing work. And if you want to register for the Giving Black Conference, you still have a lot of time. I have the registration link and the description box.

Like I said in the intro, it's free. It's a really great opportunity for you to learn about the experiences of your colleagues and how you can create positive change in the industry. So, like, not recommend enough that you sign up. I know I will be there. So again, to find that link in the description box. As always, thank you so much for listening. If you'd like to learn more about Driven you visit us at trustdriven.com and we look forward to seeing you next time.

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Podcast Jul 28, 2021, 12:00 AM

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