Black People Are Not Broken: Lesson #1 from #Empower Philanthropy! 2016

This is the first installment of a 6-part series on lessons from Empower Philanthropy! Annual Conference presented by ABFE-A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities.

By Natasha A. Harrison
“Black people are not broken,” exclaimed Diane Bell-McKoy, President and CEO of Associated Black Charities during the opening plenary of Empower Philanthropy! Annual Conference presented by ABFE-A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities. Her statement embodies the asset based thinking among 400 conference participants committed to positively impacting Black families and communities through responsive and transformative philanthropy.

Ms. Bell-McKoy’s poignant statement comes at a time when philanthropic investments in black boys and girls appear to be more pronounced than ever. Based on the language of these granting programs, there is real intention on improving the lives of Black youth by providing services. However, most of these programs are only equipping Black youth to continue to swim in infested pools with the hopes of them persisting with a great deal of resilience to gain a ‘better’ life. There is little to no action on the system infrastructures that are causing malignancy.

The lesson for philanthropy is if you are only investing in services, projects, or programs, you are putting out a small fire, at best, within a forest engulfed in flames. So, how can a foundation focused on funding programs begin to invest in positive system building or overhauling?

Conduct a System Analysis
How does the system create, contribute to, or maintain the problem? With this question, a foundation can begin to dive deep into the many layers of the system in which the issue they address resides. Criminal Justice Policies and Planning’s guide on how to conduct a system analysis is a great tool that can be applied to any issue area.

Ask Your Grantees
This may be obvious; but, I rarely see this as an immediate resource. Conduct a facilitated convening with your grantees to learn more about how the target population navigates within the issue; how the organizations view the system; and discover ideas on how to change the system.

Ask Your Peer Network
I have not met a foundation yet that does not engage in professional development with other funders. Schedule a private conversation with a peer that you know is investing in system change. If you are not ready to schedule a meeting, check out grantmakers’ groups. Here are just a few (in no particular order) present at Empower Philanthropy! 2016:

Natasha A. Harrison is founder and president and CEO of CommunityBuild Ventures, LLC. CommunityBuild Ventures provides training, consultation, and coaching services that result in strategic solutions. CB Ventures equips government agencies, businesses and nonprofits to effectively produce sustainable, large-scale social change in African American communities. Follow CommunityBuild Ventures @CBVentures1.

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