Philanthropy’s Young Leaders Working Toward the Future

Written by: Nat Chioke Williams

Date: January 05, 2016

“All organizing is science fiction … because whenever we envision a world without war, without prisons, without inequality, we are producing speculative fiction,” writes Walidah Imarisha in Octavia’s Brood. This ability to envision and work toward future worlds not bound by the constrictions of current reality requires the fervent cultivation of a radical imagination and a forward-facing faith. It is often our younger leaders who are most apt to engage in this kind of courageous and creative speculative thought and action. The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s new 40 Under 40 list reflects this future-oriented leadership.

And the future these leaders are imagining and working toward is glorious. It is the dreamed-of time where the scourge of anti-Black structural racism is once and for all eliminated, because the Black community has built the necessary power to ensure that all Black lives matter and that the Black community thrives. It’s a tomorrow where we have perfected a true sharing economy that shares prosperity and the benefits of technological innovation with everyone, especially rural and underdeveloped communities. It is a future where welcoming communities are created based on a recognition of our common destiny, and newcomers and those on the social margins are not treated as if they are strangers in a strange land.

In the meantime, I think there’s also room for a future with greater recognition for those who are under 40 but under the radar. These unsung leaders embolden the vibrancy of our democracy and the prospects for our collective future through their work. In this future, people are honored and rewarded based on the worth that they bring to communities – not merely their net worth.

Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector can serve as foundational pillars of a bridge to the tomorrow envisioned by many of the leaders selected by the Chronicle, but it will require a fundamental reorientation of our priorities and approach in at least two areas:

  • Our sector needs to prioritize achieving social, racial and economic justice and equity as our primary purpose. This means adopting a systems change approach grounded in an equity analysis that is centered on improving the conditions and opportunities for those who are least well-off in our society. This also means significantly increasing funding for community organizing, advocacy and impact investing.
  • Philanthropy must develop a truly responsive and collaborative process that listens to, follows the lead of and builds authentic partnerships with those who are most affected by the issues that we address through our grantmaking. This will improve the practice and impact of philanthropy, and serve as a powerful model for the kind of responsiveness and accountability from the public and private sectors that is necessary for creating a more fair and just future for us all.

We must work toward a future in which combating systemic economic and social inequity is the primary focus of philanthropy – showing that we recognize it as the unequivocal social and political imperative for our country. Another world is possible if we can but bring our radical imagination into reality.

Nat Chioke Williams, Ph.D. is executive director of Hill-Snowdon Foundation.

CC image by Buckaroo Bay.