March 8, 2022
PFC Blog

A Vision for the Future: Justin Wiebe, Mastercard Foundation

Justin Wiebe

As the world changes, the non-profit and charitable social sector is adapting, and so must philanthropy. Our sector is a fundamental aspect of civil society, but reform is paramount. The status quo is not sufficient. Inequity is rampant in our communities, and there are global challenges we must step up to meet. In our new series, A Vision for the Future, PFC has asked non-profit leaders to share their understandings of where our sector is today, what its role is, and where we need to go. We’ll be sharing new contributions regularly, both in blog and podcast format, throughout Spring 2022.

What three things motivate you today about the charitable and non-profit sector?

As an Indigenous person working in philanthropy, I have a responsibility to shift how we work, and transfer power and resources to communities who continue to be excluded. In my work I am motivated by:

  • Justice
  • Community
  • Transformation

What three things need to evolve to create a more sustainable philanthropic community for all people in Canada?

  • Reciprocal Relationships. The philanthropic community needs to be a real partner to the communities, people, and organizations it serves. It starts with recognizing the inherent power imbalance between funder and community, and deliberately embracing meaningful and respectful relationships.
  • Trust. The language of trust and trust-based philanthropy is increasingly commonplace in our sector, but we have a long way to go to get from talk to action. The philanthropic community must really trust partners; we must truly recognize the wisdom and expertise at the community level to solve complex challenges and meet the needs of their community. The philanthropic community must reflect deeply on our policies and practices by embracing trust, emergence, and removing burdens in pursuit of equity, justice, and transformation.
  • Abundance. We must collectively shift from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance. For the philanthropic community, we should utilize 100% of our assets in service of the public good. Go beyond the disbursement quota, align our investments to impact, and make flexible and unrestricted grants regardless of charitable status. Giving abundantly also includes being forthcoming with time, knowledge, and networks.

As we continue to battle COVID-19, what gives you hope?

Within my own community, and the broader Indigenous community, I see our people continuing to take care of each other. Despite the pandemic and ongoing injustice, Indigenous peoples continue to practice generosity. The concept of mutual aid has risen to prominence during the pandemic, but for many of us taking care of each other is just what we do. It’s what we’ve always done.

If you could change one thing about the non-profit sector, what would it be? What would you keep the same?

Without a doubt, I’d keep the people. There are so many talented and brilliant people working in the sector who are committed to justice and transformation. Despite being overworked and underpaid, people continue to show up every day for the people and communities they serve. If I could change anything, it would be ensuring the people and organizations in our sector are valued, supported, and resourced abundantly.

How important are Canada’s foundations to the well-being of Canadians?

There are many great examples of philanthropy showing up in positive ways and investing in critical work. Equally, though, there are examples of philanthropy showing up in extractive, counterproductive, and even harmful ways. Contributing to the well-being of people and communities in Canada and beyond requires deep self-reflection on the origins of wealth, perpetuity, and impact; greater transparency and accountability to the public; and transferring of power and decision-making to those often excluded. Philanthropy is at its best when it takes risks and is committed to transformation. I believe this is not only possible, but essential for foundations to maintain any degree of legitimacy.

What are the most pressing issues that government needs to be paying attention to right now when it comes to the philanthropic sector? What are the most important regulatory reforms for the philanthropic sector that government could implement now to ensure the biggest or most important impact?

Lifting the restrictive, colonial, and counterproductive limitations put on charities related to “direction and control” and qualified donee status is key if our goal is to maximize impact for the public good. The philanthropic community needs to be enabled and encouraged to resource essential work, regardless of charitable status – and to be able to do so abundantly and with minimal restrictions imposed on the already under-resourced groups doing the work on the ground. Foundations must also align 100% of their assets for impact. Governments need to encourage, incentivize, and even mandate impact investing. Lastly, we need better data to support greater transparency and accountability to community. The T3010 and other reporting mechanisms need to include information about the composition of boards and senior leadership, where funds are being disbursed, and the makeup of foundations’ investment portfolios.

Complete these sentences: 

The philanthropic sector of the future should look like… the communities we exist to serve, where Indigenous knowledge and approaches to philanthropy are recognized and embraced.

For philanthropy to renew its social contract with Canadians, what needs to happen is… much greater transparency and accountability to the communities most often excluded, where power, resources, and decision-making are transferred to those same communities.

Justin Wiebe is Program Partner, Canada Program, Mastercard Foundation

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