By the Women’s Philanthropy Institute
The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) team recently had the opportunity to attend Branches of Reciprocity: Growing Ancestral Philanthropy with Girls*of Color. This virtual convening, hosted by Grantmakers For Girls of Color (G4GC), provided a vital perspective on how G4GC operates, and how others can work alongside girls of color.
For the WPI team, this convening was packed full of insights and lessons. As WPI aims to expand and deepen our research on philanthropy focused on women’s and girls’ causes, here are some of our key takeaways from the convening:
Dr. Monique Morris, G4GC’s president and CEO, opened by defining G4GC’s mission—and using expansive definitions in every aspect of that work. “Girls*” has an asterisk for a reason, as G4GC and its partners seek to include girls and gender-expansive young people.
In terms of age, it focuses on those 25 and younger. Girls of color means Black, Latina/x, Asian, Indigenous, and other groups. While grantmaking is a part of G4GC’s work, it also includes community-building and supporting girls of color in their efforts toward liberation.
WPI has also emphasized broad definitions in our recent research. We know that philanthropy is more than just giving money—it’s contributing time, talent, testimony, and ties as well. And we know that this expansive definition of generosity resonates with women and marginalized groups more broadly.
During the convening, a number of speakers reflected on the concept of philanthropy. For many, philanthropy implies competition between grantees for limited resources. Additionally, grantmakers often have the resources they do because of a history of injustice and systemic oppression. G4GC speakers stressed the importance of remembering the history of women and girls of color, who have always been generous and community centered.
For the ancestors and foremothers of women of color, giving was about more than finances; it involved community, reciprocity, and the idea that we all have something to give. It was about collaboration rather than competition. This focus on partnership and nurturing the collective helps people grow their own power.
Doing with rather than for girls of color
G4GC organizers emphasized that the people most affected by an issue have the greatest ability to inform solutions. For this reason, G4GC and its partner organizations go to great lengths to meaningfully engage young people of color. Youth tend to see things in different ways; they come up with solutions, and they are passionate about engaging issues that affect them. Their voices are important.
Valuing and protecting the voices of girls of color
Though doing with rather than for girls of color is key, it must be done with sensitivity. If an organization is not experienced in engaging young people of color, asking them for their time, input, and experiences may be re-traumatizing. This process can adultify youth when many of them have not been listened to and not been able to simply enjoy their childhood.
To avoid doing this, those who want to engage young people should communicate that their time and voices are valuable. Having trained professionals is important; nonprofits often have experience engaging young people, but this may not be the case for grantmaking organizations. G4GC gave the example of having a counselor on hand to talk to youth they were engaging one-on-one as well as to sit in on group conversations for one of their funds.
The term “REALsearch” was created by the Youth Justice Coalition, and it involves research being done by rather than on or to the community. In this case, women and girls of color have been the subject of research but have not typically been consulted about or involved in leading such work. G4GC views individuals themselves as the architects and experts of their own experience.
Dr. Whitney Richards-Calathes, G4GC’s senior director of research, advocacy, and policy, highlighted that people from marginalized groups are often most readily accessible to researchers, but are less protected. She called on researchers to more carefully consider the ethics of this approach, and she also reinforced that researchers need to be more intentional about collecting data on women and girls of color.
The concept of “REALsearch” and other lessons learned from the G4GC convening tie into recent conversations WPI has been having with our partners. For example, WPI has released the Women & Girls Index (WGI) annually since 2019, and we plan to update the Index again in October 2021.
The WGI has shown that just 1.6 percent of charitable dollars go to women and girls. However, the current WGI examines giving to all women and girls and does not yet disaggregate it to specific groups of women and girls, so at this time we do not know how much philanthropy is going to specific groups like Black, Latina/x, and Indigenous girls and gender-expansive youth. This is a top priority for WPI in our future research.
WPI would like to thank Grantmakers For Girls of Color for hosting the convening and the speakers for participating and sharing their insights.