Over two days in late September, more than 800 social sector professionals gathered online for the Black Leadership in Social Impact Summit, a conference focused on advancing anti-racism across the Canadian social impact sector and celebrating Black leadership in social change.
“The summit exceeded our expectations in terms of registration, attendance and diversity of talent among attendees and panellists,” said Gladys Ahovi, CEO of the Foundation for Black Communities, one of the two co-hosts of the event. “It was wonderful.”
The summit focused on providing a space and opportunity for Black social impact sector professionals to share and learn together.
“This year, we were laser-focused on supporting Black changemakers to do their work better,” said Anouk Bertner, managing director of Future of Good, the event’s other co-host. “This is really the only space that exists for Black changemakers to have these conversations.”
Seventy-nine per cent of event registrants were Black, and 93 per cent of speakers were Black — a rarity among social sector conferences.
The strong presence of Black professionals meant conversations focussed on topics that don’t often take centre stage in Canada’s social impact communities, including the wisdom of ancestors — to the benefit of all who attended, said Bertner.
Ahovi agreed: “The contributions of Black people have long benefitted marginalized people all over the world, and that our continued contributions will continue to benefit people all over the world.”
Derek Bardowell, CEO of UK-based advisory firm Ten Years’ Time, called the share of funds that flow to Black communities in the UK “horrifying.” He was one of two panellists on a session about Black capital at the Black Leadership in Social Impact Summit.
Social movements key to funder shift
For Black entrepreneurs, non-profits and charities, accessing sufficient capital remains a significant challenge, despite the many corporate statements and diversity, equity and inclusion trainings that followed the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
According to Derek Bardowell, CEO of UK-based philanthropic advisory firm Ten Years’ Time and Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, Founder of U.S.-based Women Invested to Save the Earth Fund, the two panellists on a Black Capital session at the Black Leadership Summit.
“We’re in a sick system that still holds onto some of the implicitly racist and sexist practices of centuries gone by,” said Copeland.
In the UK, there’s been an “awakening” among some funders about anti-Black racism and the need to increase funds for Black communities. Still, mostly, this work has been seen as a “trend” — there hasn’t been “any significant release of funds” nor “any major re-balancing of power,” Bardowell said.
Similar challenges exist on the African continent, too, said Copeland.
“In Africa, the tendency is to support white-led non-profit organizations and businesses,” she said. “Whether we like talking about it or not, there is an anti-Black racist element to funding internationally based on the implicit bias…[that] no matter how many Ivy League or British degrees, we are not equally capable, competent, and moral.”
Research in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada has found that Black communities receive less per-capita funding than their non-Black peers.
But Bardowell said reaching per-capita funding isn’t the goal. The trans-Atlantic slave trade and policies that economically marginalized Black communities have “fundamentally ruptured” the infrastructure of Black communities to create wealth, he said.
“When we’re talking — or advocating — for more money, we’re not just talking about something that’s proportional, we’re talking about something that’s historic,” said Bardowell.
Where funders have significantly boosted support for Black communities, the panellists credited the work of Black staff working behind the scenes, pressure from social movement groups, non-Black staff educating themselves about systemic inequity, and foundations choosing to diversify their board leadership.
This summer, Lankelly Chase, a UK-based foundation, committed to wind down, redistributing more than $225 million to support social justice groups, with a strong focus on racial justice.
That announcement came after social movement group Charity So White called out the funding sector as a whole for systemic anti-Blackness, said Bardowell. It also came after the foundation significantly increased the diversity of its board and following a “quiet mobilization” amongst the foundation’s staff who pushed for change, he said.
Rudayna Bahubeshi, manager of equity with Ontario Health, said researchers must be conscious of the experiences of Black people who live at multiple identity “intersections,” including Black queer and trans people and newcomers, during a panel on Black community engagement at the Black Leadership in Social Impact Summit in September.
Lack of data being used as ‘delay tactic’
Are you designing a new program or service to benefit Black communities? Data experts on the summit panel on anti-racist research and community engagement said you must start by dropping your own assumptions about what Black communities lack and listen instead to Black people about what’s already working in their communities.
“The glass is not half-empty,” said Patrick Makokoro, director of community impact for the Foundation for Black Communities. “Black folks have been part of solution-making for millennia.”
Makokoro said in developing their granting strategy, the Foundation for Black Communities is using a so-called appreciative inquiry approach, consulting first with experienced Black grantmakers on key research questions and then hosting sessions with Black communities across the country about what’s working and how FFBC’s granting can build upon existing strengths.
Fellow panellist Rudayna Bahubeshi, manager of equity with Ontario Health, stressed that evaluation and community engagement must not end after initial consultation — that it be woven throughout a program’s or project’s lifecycle.
Through her work at Ontario Health, Bahubeshi convenes a group of 60 or so health experts who meet monthly to inform the work of the province’s Black Health Plan.
The group was initially gathered to inform the government’s response to the COVID pandemic in Black communities but has continued to support with long-term priorities, such as the recently announced Black-focused health hub in Peel Region, Ont. and emergent issues, like in August, when a group of African asylum seekers arrived in Toronto and struggled to access shelter.
Hildah Juma, executive director of the Black Talent Initiative, said representation matters regarding research and community engagement. “The person behind crafting the questions is key,” she said.
But regardless of background, she stressed researchers must begin their work with an open mind. “There’s an assumption of what outcomes they want to see come out of the research,” Juma said. “Why can’t we just do explorative research and find innovative answers?”
Bahubeshi recommended that organizations look to existing best practices in community engagement, the Jane and Finch Community Research Coalition’s community engagement principles, the Black Health Equity Working Group’s data governance framework, and The First Nations’ principles of ownership, control, access, and possession.
Though she stressed that organizations have a lot of work to do to get this work right, she said that a lack of data should not impede supporting Black communities.
“The idea that we must defer action until more race-based data is available feels like a delay tactic.”
The future of Black Leadership in Social Impact Summit
Based on the success of this year’s Black Leadership in Social Impact Summit, planning is underway for another conference next year.
“The future is bright, exciting and near. The summit returns in 2024 with another exciting opportunity to connect, energize and contribute to brilliance of social impact driven by Black leaders,” said Ahovi.