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‘It still feels as if philanthropy has turned its back on black people’

24 Jun 2020 News

Charitable trusts and foundations have been too slow to take action on racial justice and risk doing more harm, experts have warned. 

Yesterday the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) held an online panel discussion called Foundations, Covid-19 and racial disparity: A time for urgent action. Panellists criticised grantmakers for systemic failings, said they were too slow to change their behaviours, and warned of a lack of trust among the communities they should be helping. 

Fozia Irfan, trustee ACF and CEO Befordshire and Luton Community Foundation, opened the discussion by saying: “I really think the foundation sector needs to pause, and to reflect and think about our role within our greater circumstances. 

“We know for example in relation to BAME-led charities that even though they are at the coal face of dealing with the crisis, they are underfunded, the infrastructure is weak, and the demands being placed on them are greater than ever.”

‘Anger had turned to heartbreak’

Derek Bardowell, Future Foundations UK, explained that people were becoming frustrated with the slow pace of change from the foundation sector.

He said someone had recently messaged him to say that their “anger had turned to heartbreak” because it was taking too long for things to change.

Bardowell said: “It still feels as if philanthropy has turned its back on black people. And it feels as if at a time when the pain – when I say the pain, anyone who is a person of colour knows this pain – is really high for us now. Our expectations are low.” 

He said that because people of colour experience Britain differently to how white people who run the vast majority of the foundation sector do, there is a “lack of understanding” and a “disconnect”. 

Bardowell said the “inertia” is not recent and has been going on for decades. He said it is a “conscious act”. He criticised foundations for “investment into organisations that are doing harm and are exacerbating some of these issues”.

He called for funding to be directed towards existing BAME-led organisations, with a view to “building endowments for black and brown communities”. 

“There are plenty of organisations that can be invested in that can do this work and take it forward,” he said. 

‘Coming up to a moment of reckoning’ 

Fatima Iftikhar, committee member at #CharitySoWhite, said her organisation has been inundated with stories about racism in the charity sector. 

She said that BAME-led organisations had been in crisis well before Covid-19, and that this was down to a “structurally racist funding sector”. 

Iftikhar said the sector faces a “moment of reckoning” if it does not change and should stop making excuses. 

“It is time for the sector to consider the origins of its wealth,” she added, and highlighted corporates that have done so recently. 

“Why was it not the foundation sector that was leading this,” she asked. 

She added that foundations have the power to change how they behave and to influence how those they fund behave. “Not doing so is an active choice.” 

Comic Relief’s first use of ring-fenced funding 

Dilhani Wijeyesekera, head of influence at Comic Relief, said her organisation has begun changing how it works following evidence and discussions at the beginning of the crisis. 

She said there is a “very specific set of challenges”. 

The first step, she said, was a “proactive funding programme for intermediary organisations from the community”, targeting those who can pass grants on to smaller organisations in the UK who have “better grassroots reach”. 

Comic Relief had 88 applications to the programme and expects to make a decision on grants soon.

The charity is about to launch a Change Makers programme, which will be the first time it will ring-fenced funding for people from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background (BAME). 

“There’s a couple of reasons why we’ve done that. One, we felt absolutely straight off the bat that if we did not deliver a tailored programme, we were not going to get applications through the door,” she said. 

She added: “We also want to signal the importance of this issue at this time.” 

Wijeyesekera also said that Comic Relief is undertaking a broader review of its application and data journey. She highlighted trust as issue for grantmakers and grantees. 

“This issue of traditional evidence as a basis for action is holding us back. So who is it we’re going to trust? When is it sufficient that we focus on the experience and insight that we’re gaining from organisations and not waiting until the official national statistics emerge?”

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