By Simone Hill, Senior Manager, Omidyar Network
In June, Omidyar Network committed $500,000 to organizations fighting on the frontlines for racial justice because we firmly believe that this work is core to our ability to create inclusive, equitable societies. While the funding is an essential step toward our vision, the way we invested was also critical to developing thoughtful partnerships with organizations already building or scaling innovations.
What does it mean to invest in justice? It begins with a clear-eyed recognition of the systemic racism that manifests within all of our systems to undermine the safety of Black and Brown people. Investing in justice means attacking the many resulting symptoms of white supremacy at their root by finding organizations working to innovate and advance holistic ways to create lasting change. It means being strategic and careful about ensuring that while we are looking for ways to address the wrongs that pervade our societies, we are not inadvertently causing more harm. With that, an awareness of our own limitations as a funder is required –– financial investments are a step at the beginning of a long-term journey towards holistic, strategic action. Finally, investing in justice means continuing to integrate racial justice with our firm-wide focus to reimagine systems: building an economy that works for all — an anti-racist economy is a key pillar of our point of view; realizing the promise of responsible technology; and fostering a more pluralistic society.
We searched around the country for Black-led organizations whose work combined economic, civic, or criminal justice reform with narrative shift or movement building towards racial justice. Among many organizations doing incredible work, the following five are achieving impact in ways that align with our current strategic focus.
Large Scale Change, Powered by Deep Networks: Centering Blackness Initiative
Spearheaded by three dynamic women of color, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development has developed the Centering Blackness Initiative; a lens to identify how and where economic policies, practices, and institutions harm Black people.
A multi-pronged approach to systemic change, the Initiative is a new framework for examining and reimagining systems. It is accompanied by a set of tools, currently in development, to encourage multiracial, progressive organizations to adopt the framework. Not only will organizations be supported to develop new internal operations through this lens, but they can also adopt it for their policy advocacy campaigns.
Because narrative shift is a critical component of the Centering Blackness Initiative, the Insight Center has also launched the Black Thought Project to create safe spaces in cities that center, celebrate, and protect Black thoughts and expression.
Systems Change in the Informal Economy: Equity & Transformation
“Black informal workers are resilient and creative, and they have constructed an informal economy to acquire a means of subsistence,” — Richard Wallace, founder, and director of Equity & Transformation (EAT).
Founded in 2018, EAT is the only organization in the United States, specifically focused on protecting and uplifting Black workers operating in the informal economy. Defined as a set of unregulated economic activities, the informal economy includes street vending, childcare, auto-mechanic, and moving services—activities which allow people who cannot find standard employment to make a living, but without the protection of formal labor standards.
While EAT’s work includes research and policy development to destigmatize the informal economy, the organization also educates workers about their protections. EAT spearheads and collaborates on campaigns across Chicago to improve the lives of Black workers in the informal economy. The Guaranteed Income Project, for instance, provides previously incarcerated individuals with $500 per month to help cover their bills, find homes, and ultimately reduce recidivism.
Building Power through Black Leadership: Advancing Black Strategists Initiative
Black leadership is critical to the success of racial and economic justice movements, but while BIPOC are often the implementers of social change campaigns, they rarely drive the strategies that energize these movements. The Advancing Black Strategists Initiative (ABSI)—a joint project led by The Jobs With Justice Education Fund, in collaboration with the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies and Morehouse College—is raising a cohort of Black economic-justice and labor-focused strategists to lead, develop, and advance policies and campaigns.
ABSI will provide the tools and knowledge to equip Black strategists to work from the strength of their lived experiences, to inspire participation and engagement around polices that center Black economic justice. As this new generation of Black leaders takes on bigger roles and builds and wields power across movements, they will ultimately strengthen Black institutions, advance economic democracy, and change the socio-economic conditions of the Black community.
Narrative Shift at the Intersection of Race and Technology: Center for Critical Internet Enquiry
While technology permeates our everyday lives, it is another system where built-in white supremacy limits both usage and accessibility by Black people.
The Center for Critical Internet Enquiry (a newly-founded interdisciplinary research center at UCLA) aims to use art and storytelling to reimagine technology, and in the process, champion racial justice, reframe our understanding of the role of technology in our lives, and strengthen democracy by holding those who create unjust systems and technologies accountable.
Over the next year, artist-in-residence, film-maker Oge Egbounu, will work alongside the center’s co-directors and racial justice lead, to translate the center’s work into cultural artifacts that can resonate with a broad audience. This project creates a unique opportunity to develop cultural artifacts grounded in the center’s research that can shift narratives for mass audiences and tech workers alike, to more intentionally use and create technology in ways that do not harm others.
A Clear Path Forward: Movement for Black Lives
Movement for Black Lives has a courageous vision: a long-term plan to shift the consciousness toward racial reckoning, and an ability to chart a clear path towards their goal. Fiscally sponsored by the Common Counsel Foundation, the Movement for Black Lives’ Black Power Rising: Vision 2024 seeks to build the social, political, institutional, and collective power of Black people by harnessing the collective power and creativity of Black people. Grounded in Black culture, the initiative aims to bring an informed electorate to the table to drive anti-racist policy shifts.
This strategic five-year plan will guide the coalition’s programmatic and campaign efforts to build mass support for progressive policies that center the needs of Black people. A core part of this work will equip local leaders with tools and strategies to build power within and between their organizations, scale engagement around political participation, and attack white supremacy by ensuring political representation and leadership, especially in Black communities.
Restorative Justice Requires Restorative Investment
Why invest specifically in narrative shifting, and power-building in the intersections between movements, institutions, and Black leadership? Why look for spaces that prioritize economic justice in underfunded regions? Because we believe that this is where organizations are creating innovative, holistic solutions to specific problems that will generate the most significant returns.
In the course of identifying these organizations, we collaborated with five of our sister organizations within The Omidyar Group — Democracy Fund, Flourish, Humanity United, Imaginable Futures, and Luminate — to jointly fund two regranting organizations focused on supporting grassroots racial justice groups. Emergent Fund (a fiscally sponsored project of Amalgamated Charitable Foundation) quickly moves no strings attached resources to communities of color under attack by federal policies and priorities. Liberated Capital Fund of the Decolonizing Wealth Project (fiscally sponsored by Allied Media Projects) provides unrestricted resources through a reparations model to Black and Indigenous-led organizations to shape a future where we can all heal from generations of colonial trauma. As a result of the substantial work we’ve seen around the country, we will have exceeded our initial goal and invested a total of $1,050,000.
We believe that these investments are a significant step towards creating the world we are advancing toward in our mission as an organization. But this is only a first step. We are committed to building true partnerships with these organizations, putting our relevant resources at their disposal, and amplifying their work to a broader audience of both practitioners and funders. Investing in justice means much more than dollars; it is a whole-hearted commitment by our institution.