'Moment of reckoning' near for foundations, CharitySoWhite warns

The foundation sector is heading for a “moment of reckoning” if it does not change the existing systems to make them more equitable for BAME people, leaders have been told. 

Speaking at an online conference hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations, Fatima Iftikhar of the anti-racism campaign group CharitySoWhite, said that in the foundation sector “inaction on racial justice is an active choice”.

She said: “I believe that if the sector does not change the way it works it is coming up to face a moment of reckoning.”

She said foundations should scrutinise the leadership and governance of the organisations they are considering funding, asking them if they are reflective of the communities they say they serve and examining their commitment to anti-racist work. 

“You have the power to look inward and challenge yourselves, become more transparent and accountable in how you make decisions, and act on what communities tell you,” said Iftikhar. 

“You have the power to work together to create endowments and work better to get funds to black and brown communities. Not doing so is an active choice.”

She said it was time for the sector to consider the origins of its wealth, pointing out that Lloyds of London and Greene King had recently acknowledged their ties to the slave trade and committed to making amends.

“Why was it not the foundation sector that was leading this?” she asked, adding that the ACF should hold the foundation sector to account. 

The writer, journalist and philanthropy adviser Derek Bardowell, who was taking part in the session representing Future Foundations UK, said it felt as if “philanthropy has turned its back on black people”. 

He said people of colour experienced life totally differently from most people who run trusts and foundations. 

“It’s clear there is a lack of understanding at how people of colour experience life in Britain,” he said. “And there is a disconnect in the actions of foundations on these issues because of that lack of understanding. 

“We’re still in a position where black people are having to ask white people for money. This means the level of honesty is not going to be there. It means the power dynamic is going to be weighted in one way. And it means that the level of trust is very difficult because it feels that we are not trusted.”

Bardowell added: “It shouldn’t take an incident like George Floyd’s murder. It shouldn’t take the Covid statistics for people to take action around issues of race, given that it underpins everything that foundations, funders and all institutions should be doing.

“This doesn’t go back to just the last three months. This goes back to the last three years, the last 30 years, the last 300 years – and still there is a high level of inertia.”

Carol Mack, chief executive of the ACF, said the Covid-19 pandemic had “laid bare the systemic racism and discrimination in our society for all to see”. 

She said there was an urgent need for action to tackle the Covid-19 crisis and the effect on BAME communities. 

“An effective response now needs BAME voluntary organisations to be at the heart of it, as well as in the thinking about how the country comes out of the current crisis,” said Mack. 

“To achieve that, national and local government, foundations and other funders need to work with BAME organisations to build long-term sustainable funding for the sector.”

She said the ACF was making progress in the way that it supported foundations in their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“But we know that we, and the foundation sector, still have a long way to travel, not least in addressing with urgency the specific racial inequalities this meeting explored,” she said.

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