June 23, 2020
From the President

Systemic Racism And Philanthropy: From Naming To Action

By Jean-Marc Mangin, President and CEO of Philanthropic Foundations Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic, the massive economic shocks, the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, and disturbing recent deaths of indigenous peoples involving the RCMP have uncorked challenging and much-needed conversations on systemic racism and longstanding disparities in our society. Canada is not immune – inequities experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) have existed since first contact and persist in today’s Canadian institutions and organizations, including in philanthropy. Almost by definition, philanthropy stands from a place of privilege, whether dictated by our gender, skin tone, resources, or education. From this vantage point, philanthropy has the capacity and the responsibility to leverage opportunities, amplify voices, and support long-term strategies to better address COVID-19 and unconscionable racism. This is hard often destabilizing work – both at the personal and organizational levels. The recent months have opened pathways to engage in this work. We can also learn and get inspired by our shared history.  

David Hackett Fischer’s Champlain’s Dream shed some invaluable insight that first contact and privilege do not necessarily translate into destruction and can result in respect of the ’other’ and new alliances. But, too often, our country lost its way in building an inclusive society. One of my COVID read was Jean Teillet’s stunning The North-West is our Mother: The story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation that confirms the axiom that ‘’the ‘past is never dead. It is not even past’’. Teillet chronicles the systemic dispossession, the resistance of the Métis Nation, and the large wealth created as a result. This history is very much alive and is reflected in the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the current crises.

Low-income individuals and marginalized communities are more heavily impacted by this pandemic. More robust partnerships towards transformational change are needed now and for the long haul.

This will require deep listening, challenging conversations about the legacy of our respective journey and unconscious biases, and learning new ways of relating and working. To assist our members, PFC has issued 5 guiding principles, toolkits on gender and diversity, equity and inclusion, and a guide highlighting the importance of advancing equity and inclusion while responding to COVID-19. Hopefully, these will provide ideas to renew and deepen dialogue on how to collectively address pressing issues experienced by racialized Canadians and very pragmatically to deploy a diversity, equity, and inclusion analysis in their grantmaking, evaluation, and decision-making practices.

Foundations have the option to contribute to change by amplifying and supporting BIPOC voices within their projects and decision-making bodies. Recently, the COVID crisis has deepened relationships between racialized community organizations and a few foundations, Montreal-Nord, one of the most COVID affected neighborhoods in Canada to strengthen resilience and agency.

Foundations should not be afraid to have these conversations internally- for things to change, we must engage in difficult and paradigm-shifting dialogues. How many BIPOC are on your board? Your advisory programming committees? How many are in your management teams? How are you listening to their voices and integrating their contributions to avoid tokenism?

Demonstrating solidarity and recognizing that the ‘’other’’ is also ‘’us’’ will require more than public statements and a few marches. We will overcome trauma, and build empathy and hope through meaningful action, small and large. Fortunately, there are several examples emerging in recent months but also across our four hundred years of history that we can live up to our values of diversity and justice. The connected crises are calling on all of us to build back better, for a just and vibrant society where everyone can breathe.

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