Social justice movements are facing pervasive threats around the world, prompting activists and organizations, including funders, to reassess their strategies and form deeper partnerships. Over the past year, we at Arcus conducted a rigorous, evidence-based assessment of our Social Justice strategy.
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“’Long shot,’ ‘street protests,’ ‘violence,’ ‘legislation,’ ‘elections’ – too many foundation executives, more concerned about avoiding controversy than achieving mission, shied away from these words.” – Freedom Funders: Philanthropy & The Civil Rights Movement 1955-19651 Any time we stand with those who are the most marginalized and who are often viewed as being controversial, we agree to take on a certain degree of risk. But if not philanthropy – which is largely free of the constraints that have afflicted our gridlocked public sector over these last few years – what other part of society is capable of supporting a risky venture that is initially perceived as being a long shot? Quite frankly, I can see no greater role for foundations than to be involved in the critical effort to, in the words of Martin Luther King, bend the “arc of history” toward justice.
Recently, I was invited to speak on a panel concerning the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and Two-Spirit Native peoples at a grantmakers conference co-sponsored by for Funders for LGBTQ Issues and International Funders of Indigenous Peoples. When we entered the Q&A portion, someone in the audience stood up and asked, "Given that LGBT people are a small minority and Native Americans are an even smaller one, isn’t the population of LGBT Native Americans statistically insignificant?" The attendee then added, "Why would you say to a foundation that they should fund statistically insignificant populations when they want their funding to have a big impact?" It's a fair question.
Melvin Gumal, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Malaysia Program, received the 2014 Whitley Award (the international conservation prize) for his decades-long effort to conserve the world’s rarest orangutans in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, Borneo. He and his team of researchers involve local communities, parks management, and government in enforcement of existing laws and development of livelihood sources that discourage illegal hunting, logging and aim at protection of forestland.
When I arrived at the Arcus Foundation to assume the position of Executive Director in September 2012, the Senior Leadership team was in the process of completing a new strategic framework under the leadership of the Interim ED, my colleague, Annette Lanjouw. This framework sought to guide and focus our work by setting forth the course we put in place to advance our mission.