Philanthropy has long been a catalyst for change by way of offering resources, support, and opportunities to those in need. The altruistic spirit that drives philanthropy knows no bounds—it seeks to heal, uplift, and empower. But in the noble pursuit of philanthropy, a fundamental aspect is often overlooked: the intersectionality of the communities served and how this influences the allocation of grant-making funds.
An intricate web of identities
It is important to recognize that communities are not monolithic entities. Rather, they are intricate webs of diverse identities influenced by factors like race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and more. Ignoring these intersections can undermine the very essence of philanthropy, which is the pursuit of justice and equality.
It is not enough to view communities through a single lens; we must strive to understand the multifaceted identities and narratives that define them. The urgency to address intersectionality arises from the understanding that inequity is not experienced uniformly. Take the D.C. community, for example. The challenges that Black women in an urban neighborhood face differ significantly from those their white counterparts experience. To truly uplift and transform communities, we must explore these differences, strive to truly understand them, and view them as strengths to build upon.
Data as a cornerstone
Trying to solve a complex puzzle with only a handful of pieces is not effective. Similarly, attempting to tackle societal issues without considering intersectionality and how it impacts advantages and disadvantages is like addressing the symptoms rather than the root causes.
Collecting comprehensive and inclusive data is the cornerstone of informed philanthropic decision-making. The power of accurate data cannot be overstated. When philanthropic organizations invest in data collection that reflects the nuances of a community’s identity, they are better equipped to tailor their strategies, allocate resources effectively, and support sustainable change. Data-driven insights reveal the intricate tapestry of challenges and opportunities that exist within a community and enable philanthropic funders like us, the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation, to make a real impact.
An example: community solutions informed by intersectionality
A prime example of seeking solutions that reflect the nuances of a community’s identity is the strategy our foundation uses to invest in partnerships with the community through the Black Women Thriving East of the River. With input from a racially diverse group of women who live in the area we seek to serve, we created road maps for change. This process included analyzing the root causes of problems, creating journey maps, performing thematic analysis and prioritization, developing intervention design, conducting racial equity impact assessments, and evaluating stakeholder engagement. At each step, the lived expertise of this group of women drove our decision-making as we sought to integrate and prioritize their stories as Black women with close ties to communities East of the River. This community involvement was pivotal. It ensured that the solutions that emerged from our discussions actually addressed the unique challenges that Black women from Wards 7 and 8 faced—specifically cancer and economic mobility issues—all while recognizing the disadvantages inherent to these intersecting identities.
The Workforce Development Workgroup created a road map that aims to create and advance individualized pathways toward health-related careers that meet the aspirations of Black women living East of the River and that support their upward mobility, family economic security, and supply of family-sustaining wages. The Patient Navigation Workgroup created a road map that aims to support and advocate for Black women living East of the River across the cancer continuum. The interventions developed target a broad range of systemic issues and establish ways to humanize the cancer journey and improve outcomes.
As we developed our road maps, we identified “landscape analysis” as an important first step to charting solutions, which required us to study the existing systems and best practices through the lens of racial and gender equity. Because of the work accomplished through the Black Women Thriving East of the River, those most affected by discriminatory practices and policies in East of the River communities are now driving change with actionable, impactful solutions.
We worked in close partnership with the community and were able to bring together a host of expertise to inform decisions about grant-funding dollars. Armed with this insight, our foundation can design programs that address the specific, community-identified challenges rather than apply an ineffective one-size-fits-all solution.
Intersectionality: a strategic imperative
Embracing intersectionality in philanthropy is not just a matter of ethics; it’s a strategic imperative. When we acknowledge the various dimensions of identity at play within a community, we nurture deep partnerships with the residents our philanthropic dollars aim to serve and we create a shared purpose and a sense of belonging. When we take the time to listen to their voices, we are telling communities that we see them, we hear them, and we are committed to prioritizing their insights so that they can influence the solutions proposed to solve the real problems in their own communities.
As we embark on this mission to make philanthropy more inclusive and impactful, let’s remember that our purpose is not merely to give but to listen, empower, and pave the way for a brighter future for all. Let us be passionate advocates for data-driven, intersectional philanthropy, and let our actions reflect our commitment to building a more just and equitable world, one community at a time.