Tips for infusing equity into philanthropy

In April, we reported on a thread that came up during the Black Birth Maternal & Infant Health Symposium: capitalism and how it influences health equity.

This month, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) hosted Philanthropy with an Equity Lens featuring Dr. Cara V. James of Grantmakers in Health.

Photo by Jon Tyson

For those who couldn’t attend, there will be a recording sent to registrants. And if you missed registration, we’ve distilled the conversation in hopes that you’ll use it as a jumping-off point in your discovery or continued understanding of operationalizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) or what is sometimes referred to as J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion).

First off, USBC Senior Engagement & Training Manager Denae Schmidt and Dr. James made the distinction between operationalizing DEI and advancing health equity. Simply put, the former is the practice and the latter is the outcome. Dr. James suggested participants think of the distinction as the difference between who is doing the work and who is being served.

So, what practices are philanthropists adopting in order to serve the advancement of health equity?

  • Funders are reevaluating what is truly needed from grantseekers. Many are making the application process less tedious, acknowledging that many small organizations do not have the resources to “jump through hoops.”
  • Some funders are forgoing reporting requirements, adopting the concept of trust-based philanthropy.  Trust-based philanthropy embraces the idea that the community has a lot of expertise, as Dr. James puts it. In this relationship, there is trust in the collaboration, a power share. Dr. James nods to MacKenzie Scott who tends to vet organizations on the front end in order to understand their focus, and then give funding with no strings attached.
  • Over the past five or so years, there has been a shift in the field to recognize that there needs to be more capacity-building for grant seekers. Catchafire is a “network of volunteers, nonprofits, and funders working together to solve urgent problems and lift up communities” offering pro bono services. Find out how that works here: https://vimeo.com/462743914
  • Dr. James reports that more people are starting to recognize that policy is an important piece in health equity. She said that we need to get “upstream” to address health disparities which means that we need to address the structures that lead to poor outcomes in conjunction with providing resources to organizations.

 

What are some tips for grant seekers?

Photo by Tim Mossholder
  • Grantseekers can check funders’ websites for statements on commitments to DEI to make sure it’s a good fit for them. Grantseekers might also research what other projects funders have supported to get a sense of what kind of work they invest in.
  • Grantseekers might consider inviting potential funders to their events in order to engage with the community. Dr. James suggests not approaching the first meeting with funders with an “ask”.
  • Work alongside and across spaces to pool resources like talent and time. Collaboration expands reach, and this is desirable to funders.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to funders to get more information about how proposals can align more with their commitment.

Schmidt and Dr. James closed with some thoughts on why good intentions just aren’t good enough. Mainly, good intentions don’t always lead to action, Dr. James pointed out. And sometimes, she added, they can lead to harmful action. She reminded us that we didn’t start talking about health equity in 2020. These discussions had been happening long before, and what has been missing are the resources and the support in leadership.

What leadership talks about in public and in private signals what they care about, Dr. James continued. Individuals leading DEI initiatives need to have the authority and the respect to make decisions.

So, generally speaking, what can we all do to help operationalize DEI?

  • Take the courageous stand to commit to DEI.
  • Facilitate the collection and evaluation of DEI initiatives, so that we can gain an understanding of what is happening in these spaces.
  • Enter spaces with cultural humility. Recognize who is already in the space and what you can learn from them.

Understanding value and accessing capital in Black maternal health

In Kimberly Jones’s 2020 viral video, How can we win, which comments on looting during the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, she asks us to consider the why behind peoples’ actions. To explain, she delves into an economic history of Black people in America and the ways in which capitalism and racism are messily entangled.

Capitalism was one of the first ideas acknowledged during opening remarks at the Black Birth Maternal & Infant Health Symposium at Saint Kate- The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, Wis. last month.

Photo by Anna Shvets

Geraud Blanks, Chief Innovation Officer for Milwaukee Film and one of the organizers of the event, thanked all of the sponsors who showed up.

“Accessibility is the key to inclusion,” Blanks said. The Black Birth Symposium was completely free to participants including parking, lunch and the space.

Blanks went on to share feedback from a 2022 Black Birth Symposium participant, driving home the importance of investment. It read: “I really hope all the medical facilities get on board with this event. They say that this is the most important issue impacting Black women but I didn’t see everyone at the event. Our community watches to see who puts their money where their mouth is. This also helps build trust in our communities. We don’t need another billboard ad, we need your dollars to go to events like this that really make an impact in our communities. We are watching.”

The thread of capitalism held through the keynote conversation with Tiffany Green, PhD, Assistant Professor Population Health Sciences and Obstetrics & Gynecology at UW-Madison and Jeanette Kowalik, PhD, MPH, MCHES, president and owner of Jael Solutions Consulting Services, LLC.

Dr. Green urged Black and Brown individuals to understand their value.

Photo by nappy on Pexels

The Center for American Progress’s piece Women of Color and the Wage Gap points out that, “When looking at women’s wages across broad racial and ethnic categories among full-time, year-round workers, Hispanic women experience the largest pay gap, having earned just 57 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020.  Black women also experience wide pay gaps, with data on Black women alone revealing that—despite consistently having some of the highest labor force participation rates—they earned just 64 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. This number dips slightly to 63 cents, reflecting a slightly larger wage gap, when data on multiracial Black women—meaning Black women who also identify with another racial category—are included in the analysis.”

With these inequities in mind, Dr. Green and Dr. Kowalik acknowledged the difficulty in accessing capital, for both individuals and grassroots organizations.

Dr. Green asked participants to consider not giving away their knowledge. You are a part of the community; how can you take care of the community if you’re not taking care of yourself, she posed. Ask for what you are worth, she further advised.

In the arena of maternal child health research, Dr. Green explained that it is well within reason to ask hard questions to funders and leaders like: What is the budget for this grant? What problems are you addressing? Are you stigmatizing the community? May I co-author or co-create?

Photo by Christina Morillo

An audience participant brought up the phenomena of large funding institutions being insular and wondered who holds them accountable. What is the metric? she wondered.

“Folks like us… with our boots on the ground… doing this work every day, have to fight and jockey to keep ourselves alive,” she pointed out.

The authors of First, Do No Harm: Why Philanthropy Needs to Re-Examine Its Role in Reproductive Equity and Racial Justice address ways in which funders can “embody the equity they aspire to see and build through the operationalization of cultural rigor to advance structural equity and racial justice and to sustain community engagement in research.”

Building upon her previous comment, the participant added that spirituality and emotional intelligence are not valued in science. She called on us to “restore ancient knowledge”, to “transform and decolonize what we consider competence”, and to “honor the people who brought their lived experiences.”

Dr. Kowalik applauded the work of The Birth Justice Fund – Rapid Response Fund (BJF-RRF), an organization addressing the challenges in accessing capital in under-resourced communities. BJF-RRF is a three- year opportunity to advance community power efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) birth justice (BJ) organizations to address implicit bias and structural racism and their impact on maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. The second wave of funding opens this month. Apply here.

Dr. Greene said, “Black scholars need a seat at the table. When you have the lived experience, you ask the right questions. That’s what makes the science better.”

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future echo Greene’s call and write that “public health and policy priorities need to center on listening to Black women, and funding Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) organizations and researchers conducting innovative projects and research.”

More to explore on the intersection between racism, capitalism and research in maternal child health