The Power of Community and Possibility

A recap of our October 21 gathering

Step into a room of feminist philanthropists and things just feel different. There’s a sense of shared purpose, even if we’re meeting for the first time. There’s a shorthand and synchronicity, even as we arrive from different places and hold different stories. There’s laughter and connection. It feels like a beginning.

This sense of possibility was pulsing throughout the room at our community gathering in Vancouver on October 21. It brought together members of the The Conversation: Emergence community, fellow feminist philanthropists, Equality Fund partners and staff, policymakers, and new friends. If you missed the magic or just want to relive it, below are some takeaways from Equality Fund staff.

Grounding and Land Acknowledgement

We were so grateful to be joined by Orene Askew for a deeply meaningful grounding and land acknowledgement. Orene is Afro-Indigenous and a proud member of the Squamish Nation, and her powerful words connected us to the space and helped us see—right from the beginning—how our work is inextricably connected to the work of local Indigenous justice. (Many of us also know Orene as the fabulous DJ O Show – be sure to check out her work!)

Finding our North Star

Our Vice President of Philanthropy, Roz Lee, led a revealing conversation about the values that unite us. Using 21/64 motivational cards, this was a chance to examine many different values and find the ones that felt like our own. As the cards were spread across the tables of our small groups, everyone was asked to narrow down to three values that felt most essential. 

An illuminating dialogue quickly followed. Some values, like effectiveness, seemed positive to some on the surface, but also felt imprecise on closer look. Is “effectiveness” really what we’re after, or does that feel too much like grind culture? Others, like power and pleasure, opened up a fascinating dialogue about our experiences as women in a patriarchal world. We’ve been taught that women aren’t “supposed” to claim these values and to be passive and pleasing instead. What could it mean to claim power and pleasure for ourselves, our communities, and our movements? The conversations were interesting and revealing. Most of all, they were a great way to get to know each other and think about the core beliefs that will guide and connect us ahead.

When you think about your philanthropy, what do you hold sacred? What led you here today‐– and what will keep you showing up tomorrow?

The Power of Feminist Philanthropy

Next came a moving conversation with Mebrat Beyene and Kris Archie, one that many have told us has stuck with them in deep ways. Mebrat is the Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre Society and Co-Chair of the Equality Fund Board; and Kris is Executive Director of The Circle on Philanthropy, an organization dedicated to positive change between philanthropy and Indigenous communities.

Drawing on her work with The Circle, Kris offered a fundamentally different lens for examining our roles within the philanthropic ecosystem. The Circle promotes moving in connection with seasons—and unique the energy of each—as a way to restore, heal, and find balance. Spring, for example, is the time of emergence, while summer is a time for connection and tending relationships. Fall is the time of harvest and learning, an opportunity to share what we’ve learned and tend to what we’ve been sowing all year. Winter is a time for internal introspection. 

This seasonal pathway has captured the imagination of the philanthropy sector and is starting to disrupt common practices and thinking. More and more people, for example, are understanding that pace matters. We are pushing against the rush and burnout of grind culture, creating space to slow down and go deeper.

What does this tell us about the future of philanthropy? In the future, more philanthropists will let go of old restrictions that do not serve our communities. More will show up in solidarity as collaborators and co-creators, contributing to pooled funds that are already established and connected to communities. More nonprofits and philanthropists take more time to slow down and reflect–to make a daily practice of connection to spirit, to form and nurture relationships. 

What do these shifts mean for relationship-building and impact within the sector? For one, there is less fragility: More people with privilege will be willing to do the hard work of learning and unlearning without extracting the labour of marginalized communities and people of colour that was so often expected in the past. At the same time, Covid has taught us that many of the old rules and limitations of philanthropy are self-imposed. When funders moved quickly in the face of a pandemic, it revealed a powerful truth: We can mobilize a lot of resources, very quickly and with fewer restrictions, if we want to. 

Following the talk, Kris led us in a reflective exercise called Head, Heart, and Hands—a revealing way to examine what we are learning, understand how it makes us feel, and think about what we will do with what we’ve learned. The exercise is a powerful tool to make sense of many different moments across our work and our lives, and with Kris’s generous permission, we are attaching it here.  

Panel Discussion: When Purpose Drives Policy

For our final session, we were thrilled to be joined by the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada. This timely panel discussion—about philanthropy and government working together to advance feminist change—was guided by Equality Fund Co-CEO Jess Tomlin and included Manisha Mehta, Program Director for the Women’s Rights Program at Wellspring Advisors and Lisa Wolverton, President of The Philanthropy Workshop Canada. 

By leaning into the best of their respective roles, governments and philanthropists can unlock the full promise of collaboration. Donors and funders, for example, can provide essential risk capital and space for innovation, helping to incubate new ideas, pilot new solutions, and test new approaches in ways that governments cannot. In turn, governments can then bring those promising solutions to many more people. Each role is different—and necessary.

With its historic contribution to the Equality Fund, the Canadian government wants to show the world that it is invested in gender equality and women’s rights and ready to make big moves. By acting with boldness and urgency, it encourages other governments to do the same. In this way, the Equality Fund is itself a living example of the power of collaboration, allowing philanthropists and policymakers to multiply and magnify their impact and deliver more resources to feminist movements at a time when the world desperately needs them.

All panellists agreed that there is much more work ahead. Only about 10 percent of Canadian philanthropic dollars go to international causes, for example, while just 1.9 percent of giving globally goes to women and girls organizations. Yet gender injustice knows no borders, and progress at home depends on progress everywhere else. While many Canadians feel pride in the country’s commitment to international human rights, now is the time to back it with increased global giving. 

With so many challenges around the world, it will take every sector working together to achieve the just, equitable, and sustainable future we deserve. Philanthropy and government can challenge each other, hold each other accountable, and work together to bring that future closer to our reach.

Inspired by this conversation? We always invite you to join in. Drop us an email at [email protected] if you have more to add or to join us at our next event.

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