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Embarking on a continuous learning journey to drive equity 

A group of people taking notes while listening to a speaker.

“Sometimes it’s hard to learn in front of people,” Jay-Z recently told Gayle King. “The mistakes you make, you make in front of the world.” He then went on to say that he loves “being a beacon and helping out my culture, people of color.”  

His statement resonated with me because it reflected all that PEAK Grantmaking worked to do last year: moving from scarcity mindsets to mindsets of abundance—putting possibilities at the center of our approach to our mission instead of limitations. His words also echoed my opening remarks at our 2023 convening: “I’ve been looking for a beacon on the hill to guide philanthropy forward, and I realize that the beacon on the hill is me. It’s you. We are the beacon on the hill.”   

Using the Learn, Share, Evolve Principle for equitable grantmaking

At that convening, we focused on the challenges of advancing racial equity, the need to create more communities of care and move from allyship—which focuses on individuals and partners committed to changing the systems that diminish those with less privilege than you—to coconspiratorship—building a deeply interconnected community of change agents. In a panel discussion, Assets Framework’s Trabian Shorters, FutureGood’s Trista Harris, and Philanthropic Initiatives for Racial Equity’s Lori Villarosa and I broke down why funding approaches that begin with scarcity harm the sector. A mindset of abundance creates abundance. And for those foundations who pronounce the goal to ease the burden for nonprofits and advance more equitable grantmaking practices, a scarcity framing emphasizes what you can’t do and stymies your efforts at the outset. The community will be the judge of whether the funder is living up to those goals, and the organization can create reputational risks for itself.  

This year we released the action planner and an issue of PEAK Grantmaking Journal dedicated to our Learn, Share, Evolve Principle, which focuses on how sharing knowledge across the sector empowers funders to better see the possibilities of what we can collectively accomplish to achieve greater impact. When we put this principle into practice, we create a dynamic where organizations can learn from one another and see new possibilities to better partner with and support communities, and transform the social sector. It’s a principle designed to help funders develop those sorely needed abundance mindsets and become beacons for change. 

With Learn, Share, Evolve, we call on grantmakers to take three key actions: implement practices that promote learning, share knowledge that contribute to the sector’s impact, and evolve and be a part of transforming philanthropy. By designing practices based on this principle, grantmakers can drive the sector’s collective impact in advancing equity. 

How? As I noted in the Journal, “Advancing equity and improving grant practices are complementary, and we must be unified in challenging the community to act on anything that helps advance racial equity.” And if we’re not learning, sharing, and evolving, then—in the words of Candid’s director of partnerships for and former PEAK board member Janet Camerena—we are ignoring, hoarding, and stagnating.  

Embracing abundance and valuing our collective strengths isn’t a message only for funders; it’s for anyone working in the the social sector acting to advance social missions as their primary purpose. “You have all that you need to be successful,” civic leader and advisor to foundations and nonprofits Susan Hairston said when I confided in her on an internal issue that was weighing my soul down. She reminded me that I simply need to breathe, and draw on my talents and my circle with intention, learning and iterating as I walk the leadership path. It was a reminder that leadership is less about mastery and more about practicing loudly and publicly. If ever you have a tough moment when you doubt your worth, I hope you remember her sage advice.  

Learning fearlessly through practice

Equity is not a destination but an ongoing, iterative journey—and the key word to stay focused on is practice. At PEAK, we’ve shifted our focus away from putting forth “best practices”—a term that carries a sense of finality. Instead, we are framing ourselves as being a next-level nonprofit, a description that speaks to the need for continuous learning through practice.  

With that mindset, PEAK is challenging our member community to be fearless emergent learners and change agents for equity. The journey of advancing racial equity requires opening oneself up to a continuous process of learning, sharing, and evolving—publicly and vocally. In sharing what we learn from the mistakes “we make in front of the world,” we can help create paths that are clearer and easier to follow for those who come after us. It is not only appropriate and kind to facilitate the shift to equitable grantmaking practices; it’s unnecessary and inefficient to require every organization to walk the long road toward transformation. 

As I reflect on my own playbook for being an emergent learner, being part of a learning collective is central to how I catalyze my own continuous improvement journey. Forging a more direct path toward racial equity—where an abundance mindset is necessary to launch big, transformational ideas—is in our collective hands. It will take a lot of practice, but that’s the point. Let’s reimagine “Practice makes perfect” to “Practice makes learning possible.” 

Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages via gettyimages


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  • Alde Lewis says:

    March 29, 2024 11:42 pm

    This is an excellent blog commentary.