Justice & Transformation: A Call to Action for the TPW Community

When we announced the Global Summit theme of Justice & Transformation, we heard everything from skepticism to excitement. 

Over three days, we saw a consensus emerge across a number of themes. We have shared three of the most important below:

1. Justice is about systems.

“A lot of people think the system is broken – but the system is actually doing exactly what it was intended to do.”
Rodney Foxworth, CEO, Common Future

The call to look beyond symptoms and consider root causes and systems is not new; it is the logical approach to making a lasting change.

The invitation to look beyond grantmaking portfolios and to question how investments behave across the full spectrum of capital is newer, but no less logical when thinking systemically. Failing to do so, in the words of TPW member Jessica Houssian, is like “shoveling snow in a blizzard.”

 Meredith Heimburger

“Capital markets are the only way to move significant amounts of capital in the direction we need it.”
Meredith Heimburger, TPW Member & Principal, Head of Impact, Global Endowment Management

“How bold do we want to be? How innovative, inspiring, expansive? If we’re honest about the scale of the problems, philanthropy isn’t going to cut it. Government can’t do it. If we aren’t leveraging all of the tools in the toolkit, we don’t have a chance.”
Lauren Booker Allen, TPW Board Member & Partner and Head of Impact, Advisory, Jordan Park Group

Throughout the Summit we asked the question: can we pursue transformation within the systems that have got us to where we are today – or do we need a more radical overhaul? Do we look for solutions by working with those who hold power, or by amplifying the work of those who are historically excluded?

This is the big question of our generation, and yet it isn’t as binary as it might appear. While each individual may lean towards agitation or engagement, both will be needed for systemic change.

Jacqueline Lee-Tam (left) & Aliénor Rougeot

“Mass mobilization shifts the window of what’s politically possible. It forces an issue into the sphere of public dialogue and asks people to choose a side, to stand on the right side of history.”
Jacqueline Lee-Tam, Co-Director, Climate Justice Organizing HUB

2. Systems are about people and relationships.

The Global Summit took place one week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The origins of the crisis provided a timely reminder of the importance of storytelling within our social systems, and the consequences of imposing a single perspective.

“History matters – it shapes who we care about.” 
Fernande Raine, CEO, The History Co:Lab

Ultimately, social systems are defined by people, relationships and power dynamics. Democratic social systems aspire to share power, asking hard questions about whose voice is being heard. That is particularly important during a crisis, which provides the disjuncture needed for change.

“We cannot have a conversation about justice without people who have experienced injustice.”
Andrew Chunilall, TPW Board Member & CEO, Community Foundations of Canada

“How can we bring together the right voices so we can listen to and understand what’s happening? …It’s so important right now to center refugees and their lived experience in our response.”
Sasha Chanoff, CEO, RefugePoint

The Covid crisis hit historically excluded communities disproportionately hard, and yet, in Canada, less than 1% of philanthropic funding goes to Black-led organisations. That figure is similar in the US and in the UK. Democratising the philanthropic sector means we have to talk about race and equity:

Left to right: Liban Abokor, Naolo Charles, Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Jess Tomlin

“An equity benchmark would be a powerful tool to course correct the appalling level of underfunding to Black and Indigenous communities”
Liban Abokor, Executive Director, Youth LEAPS

All of this means that brainpower alone isn’t going to bring Justice & Transformation. Data and technical innovation are crucial but insufficient on their own. Ultimately, we have to ask who has the power to make decisions, and then to democratise that process.

3. Transformation is about our relationships – not just with colleagues and partners – but also with ourselves.

From learning hard truths about our shared history to letting go of the assumption that life is about maximizing wealth accumulation, transformation can be uncomfortable.

“The world needs more people who want not just to make the world a better place but to be better people. That is the work of transformation.”
Mia Birdsong, Executive Director, Next River

There are few incentives to embrace this discomfort, but there is no shortage of funders who have seen beyond this anxiety and are leading from the front, dispelling myths about the relationships we can have with money and society.

“Let’s tax wealth. Let’s tax the wealthy. It will not change my life. I will have a good life if everyone else does as well.”
Sylvie Trottier, Board Member, Trottier Family Foundation

Kris Archie spoke to how her community finds inspiration in the natural world, including the salmon that learn to swim upstream:

“A little bit of bruising is inevitable with transformation. It means you’ve made the journey home.”
Kris Archie, CEO, The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples

Within the TPW Community we see different levels of readiness to make that journey, and that’s OK. We choose to define ourselves not by our failures or successes, but by a shared sense of purpose to take this work seriously, and to be the best partners we can be.

“If we have a binary view of what is good and bad, it is hard for us to improve.”
Narinder Dhami, Managing Partner, Marigold Capital

This brings us to a final learning – perhaps the most important for us at TPW:

Justice and Transformation require action; action requires accountability; and accountability requires community.

Mia Birdsong

“Community, and I mean real community, provides us with encouragement, perspective, information, advice, and support. Community is also where we find the accountability necessary to maintain course, to sustain action and to make real, transformative change happen.”
Mia Birdsong, Executive Director, Next River

“Justice is that core idea that every single individual, no matter what they look like, what they believe, where they’re from or who they love, is entitled to dignity, worth, value, freedom and fairness. This needs to be the core of everything that we do – everything has to be predicated on this core idea of justice. And then we need to bring the strategic imperative of transformation – which isn’t just about what one individual can do, but what communities can do coming together around broad systems. In some ways this is the TPW model – coming together to provide resources and advice. That’s where the work of transformation occurs.”
David Simas, CEO, Obama Foundation

In our final session, Mia Birdsong invited us to make one commitment, and to share it with someone who would hold us accountable. We invite you to do the same in this moment.

“The transformative change that will bring us a just world is generational… so ask yourself, what am I going to do to be a good ancestor?”
Mia Birdsong, Executive Director, Next River

The joy that can come from this work is very real: the joy of working in Community, of learning with values-aligned partners, and of bringing our lives into harmony with our principles. And most of all, the joy of imagining how beautiful our legacy can be.

“Mutual liberation is tied to the justice mindset. Your power cannot dominate the conversation and we need to co-create.”
Felipe Medina, TPW Member & head of the Transforming Philanthropy Initiative

“I will pray my great-great-grandchildren into existence.”
Jennifer Alicia Murrin, Storyteller, Poet and Artist

Jennifer Alicia Murrin

By: Sam Underwood, TPW Global Director of Programmes

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