Mindful Philanthropy for a Just Transition

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By Bruce Thao, Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow alumnus, and director of the Center for Health Equity, Minnesota Department of Health

From April 25-28, 2017, five Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellows and Trista Harris, President of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the EDGE Funders Alliance Just Giving Conference. Over 260 participants from 34 countries convened in Barcelona around the theme “Re/Organising Power for Systems Change.”

A moment that stood out for me was listening to one of the plenary speakers, Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community 2 Community Development (C2C) from Washington State. C2C works at the intersections of food justice and immigration reform and is at the forefront of global movements on these issues. Rosalinda asked us to think about the berries—blackberries, raspberries and blueberries—that Washington is known for. She asked us to think about where in Washington they come from, then to imagine the hands that planted and picked them, and finally to realize that these hands currently have no rights or fare wages. Rosalinda grew up harvesting the fields in Washington, so she knows the reality of what it takes to get the fruit from farm to table all too well.

Her prompt reminded me of an activity often used when teaching mindfulness. In the activity, we ask participants to place a berry in their mouths without biting it, to first notice the shape, flavor and texture, then to chew slowly at least 20 times to be aware of each bite. We then ask them to contemplate where the berry came from, the hands that cultivated it and the workers who made our enjoyment of it possible.

While mindful eating is a common term to practitioners of mindfulness, mindful philanthropy is a lesser-known term in the philanthropic sector. Just as the mindful eating exercise invites us to contemplate the berry in our mouth, mindful philanthropy invites us to contemplate our role in how the berry goes from farm to table. It invites us to be conscious of the lives of the laborers and their families and their rights to citizenship or a living wage. It invites us to be mindful of our role as funders within these complex systems.

The Global Gratitude Alliance offers five guiding principles to mindful philanthropy: presence, justice, transformation, collaboration, and learning and innovation. These principles offer a way forward toward a paradigm shift in how funders partner with nonprofits to co-create a better future. This falls perfectly in line with a framework created by Movement Generation and presented at the EDGE Funders' conference: “Strategy Framework for a Just Transition.” It is a model to move from an extractive economy to a restorative and regenerative economy. It urges us to rethink what is possible in terms of how we define the pillars of our economy and its purpose. When the purpose of our economy is viewed less in an individual or monetary sense and more in a collaborative and restorative sense, it shifts how we operate within the economy. Activists and organizers often talk about dismantling systems of oppression, but you cannot dismantle without first having a model with which to re-build. The Strategy Framework for a Just Transition is a starting point from which to begin rebuilding and restoring.

Whether we are funding education, the environment, health and well-being, or something else, the Strategy Framework for a Just Transition is a call for funders to take a step back and practice mindful philanthropy—to raise our awareness of how we are showing up in the world, how and why we fund the things we do, and our role in systems from seed to hand to table and beyond. As funders, if we are truly committed to the betterment of society and all its members, it is imperative that we increase our understanding of our role in how we shift from an extractive, exploitative society to one that is restorative, healing and regenerative.

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