What’s Equity got to do with it? It is the Key to Success


My colleagues and I posed this question—“What’s equity got to do with it?”—to those who took part in our session at the Collective Impact Forum’s funder convening in May. As foundations explore how best to support collective impact efforts amongst their grantees, they need the chance to explore blind spots when it comes to ensuring that there are no barriers in place to full community participation. That is, are there foundation practices or policies at work that may deter people of different backgrounds—racial/ethnic, educational, economic, sexual orientation, gender and language—from participating in a collective impact effort, and thus having the genuine impact they all seek?

Based on Everyday Democracy’s work with the Graustein Memorial Fund to support its grantees’ interest in having conversations about equity in their collaborative efforts, Angela Frusciante, knowledge development officer at the Memorial Fund and Collective Impact Forum advisory group member, approached us to help bring an equity focus to the May convening. Angela joined Everyday Democracy’s Carolyne Abdullah, director of community assistance, Valeriano Ramos, director of strategic partnerships and alliances, and myself, Carrie Boron, organizational effectiveness officer, to design and facilitate a conference session on equity.

A note about who we are and the perspective we bring: Everyday Democracy helps diverse community coalitions build inclusive civic engagement for community change; for the past decade, we have focused on helping them build an “equity lens” into their efforts. As a national operating foundation, we have worked less on grantmaking with an equity lens, and more on the community and technical assistance side of the equation. Through twenty-five years of experience in coaching communities around the country to organize accessible dialogue and deliberation, we have learned with and from our local partners about the difficulty and value of inclusion and equity. We have also seen the impact of foundation decisions—including our own—that have unwittingly worked against the very values of inclusion and equity that we stand for. Thus, we came to the collective impact funder convening as an intermediary—with some experience on the grantee side and some experience on the foundation side. We also came with humility about “walking the talk” as we help embed principles of equity into community change processes.

Our first priority in the conference session was to connect people personally and professionally to the issue of equity. With that grounding, we provided an opportunity for participants to use an equity lens to reflect on the practices of their foundations and that of the collective impact community.

It was not an easy session for anyone involved. From the design of the session, to helping people on the spot work through some uncomfortable realizations, to deeply listening to people’s own experiences with inequities, facilitators and participants may have walked away pained, fatigued and/or frustrated. But we hope that many also left with a powerful “a-ha,” a sense of possibility and a desire to do something to address inequities that their foundations might be inadvertently perpetuating.

For those who want to do something, we’re sharing two of our session’s activities that can help organizations  surface and address inequities that may be in play when working with grantees on collective impact efforts.

  • The first exercise is “Move Forward, Move Back.” Participants step forward, remain stationary or step backward in response to a series of statements related to power and privilege. The activity illustrates how long-term accumulation of advantages based on skin color and other forms of privilege can produce gaps among groups within foundations and create or sustain inequities in the communities we hope to serve.
  • The second exercise is “Collective Impact and White Privilege Scenario.”  This role-play scenario can serve as a tool to help foundation leaders begin to explore issues of white privilege, internalized bias and racial equity as part of a broader conversation on making collective impact authentic, inclusive, and equity-focused.

Another resource worth checking into is the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) and the latest volume of its Critical Issues Forum, “Moving Forward on Racial Justice Philanthropy.” Martha McCoy, Everyday Democracy’s executive director and PRE advisory board member, is quoted in the volume in response to the question of whether philanthropy has made progress on structural racism:

There have been many shifts over the past two decades in the ways structural racism manifests in U.S. society—with progress on some fronts and further entrenchment of racial inequities in others. In light of this, racial justice grant making has been critical to analyzing structural racism across policy and community arenas and to assessing philanthropic approaches to addressing and flipping these destructive power arrangements.

This is hard work, but it’s much needed if we’re going to tackle today’s toughest social issues. And, you’re not alone. Everyday Democracy is happy to share additional insights and resources, and direct you to organizations that can help you as you take on equity at your foundation and in your collective impact work.


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