A social and environmental justice leader, Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland is Founder and President/CEO of Black Philanthropy Month, and The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund, an innovation enterprise, supporting grassroots Black and Indigenous women climate change innovators in Africa, Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, India and the USA. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Dr. Jackie speaks on her career-path into philanthropy, her organisations; Black Philanthropy Month and The WISE Fund. Excerpts.
Alaba: Dr. Jackie, could you briefly tell us about yourself, career-path and philanthropy journey?
Dr. Jackie: I am a humanist, Pan-Africanist, and woman of faith, believing in philanthropy as not just about money, but an expression of love for humanity united for justice against all the odds, including the capacity of Black people to create a better future for their communities and the world. These values have evolved from my upbringing as an African-American from Philadelphia with parents from the South with proud Gullah-GeeChee heritage. These early experiences of giving over the years have coalesced into a life purpose to heal people, society, and the Earth. My vision is a world where all people have the resources (confidence, tenacity, mentorship, sponsorship, education, funding, etc.) to save the planet.
I started this journey with my studies as a cultural anthropologist and urban designer, working in the 1980s on community development projects in Africa, the US, and then worldwide, and earning my various credentials. I continued working as a foundation, bank, fundraising executive, investor, evaluator, professor, and board member, always with a focus on social and environmental justice, including Africa and the global Black Diaspora.
When I did not see vehicles to express and live my purpose, I created them, which is how I became a serial founder. One pivotal initiative was founding the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, now called Reunity, in 2001 with a diverse coalition of Black women innovators with global ties in Minneapolis. I thought that together we could build a global economy of giving and mutual support. Their example inspired me to create Black Philanthropy Month and its summit series in 2011, celebrating the UN’s International Year for People of African Descent. They organized the first summit with me. Without them there would be no Black Philanthropy Month. I honor them and the more recent leaders, who have help expand Black Philanthropy Month further, making it a global movement.
Reunity was founded 20 years but movements need to change with the times to remain meaningful, In 2020, concerned about the quadruple threat of the Covid-19 health and economic crisis, racial injustice, extreme wealth inequality, and climate change, I created The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund (The WISE Fund) to support diverse climate change innovators with affordable, accessible, quality environmental solutions that could benefit the communities hit hardest by climate change worldwide.
I also wrote a position paper for our partners detailing a enhanced BPM Summit design that would bring together Black funders across philanthropy and business worldwide to answer the question: How can we amass the financial and other resources that will be necessary to rebuild from the pandemics of Covid and anti-Black racism worldwide? Fortunately, partners agreed to move forward with a greater focus on donor and investor funding equity, bringing BPM squarely into a new era of economic and racial justice for these new times.
Alaba: You founded the Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) in 2011. What does it mean to you and the inspiration behind it?
Dr. Jackie: Inspired by Reunity’s ingenious blending of traditional African financing mechanisms with American funding structures, I founded Black Philanthropy Month in 2011 to celebrate the UN’s International Year and then Decade for People of African Descent by highlight Black-led giving as a central part of our global culture and resource for positive, equitable social change and economic justice.
In 2013 and 2014, other key leaders joined us, most notably co-architects, Valaida Fullwood, Creator of The Soul of Philanthropy; Tracey Webb, Founder of Black Benefactors; and Kula Addy, now The WISE Fund’s global programs and operations manager. Although we already had been long-time colleagues supporting each others’ efforts, last year, Thelma Ekiyor, founder of Afrigrants Foundation, officially joined as the BPM Africa Host and Chairperson, solidifying our longstanding African roots. Together, supported by a network of other global chairs, planning and funding equity committees, we have combined networks and talents to build the movement across at least 60 countries, this year highlight Black funding issues and equity in Brazil, the Caribbean, and Canada too (click here for a full list of chairs, partners, sponsors, and co-architects).
Alaba: Kindly share this journey of a decade, challenges and achievements?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month (register at BPM 2021) has continuously expanded the community and is now a global movement celebrating our homegrown giving, while advancing funding equity for Afro-descendant communities across the globe. In large part, it is about reminding ourselves of the power of community giving together as we have done throughout Black history’s funding and leadership of our various liberation movements from abolition to civil rights, independence, anti-apartheid and other movements that have moved us along what Dr. King called the long, universal arc of justice.
But 2020 has taught us that our and allied philanthropy are not enough. There is a $40 trillion global social finance industry. And it is time for philanthropy, venture, and impact investing to start judging Black communities by the content of our character and capacity, just as it does with other communities. The post-Covid recovery will require a massive investment of capital or funding, or our communities will regress.
Recognizing this need, last year Black Philanthropy Month revived the action summit series I founded in 2011 to create a Global Black Funding Equity Principles and a Pledge.
Among our greatest challenges as still a largely volunteer-driven movement is to:
1) generate the capital needed to sustain and further develop our growing movement;
2) devise tools to measure and track funding equity;
3) develop our movement’s organizational capacity in a fast-changing world where new models and skills are required for long-lasting impact;
4) expand recognition of every August as Black Philanthropy Month by more governments and multilateral organizations throughout the US and world, including the African Union; and
5) strengthen the movement’s leadership capacity, as many Black leaders worldwide are overstretched and overwhelmed, especially during Covid.
One way we are trying to build leadership and wellness is through Reunity, our women’s network founded 20 years ago, which will be closing out our BPM series again this year with its Being Well, While Doing Good Summit. Reunity will add to our global funding equity strategy, celebrate Black women leaders’ unique contributions, and revive community and wellness. Scheduled for August 31st, Reunity’s BPM Summit is on August 31st. Register at bit.ly/Reunitysummit2021.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month is a movement comprised of multiple organizations convened with The WISE Fund support as a backbone organization or administrative hub. Our four key impact criteria are longevity, diversity, engagement, and advancing funding equity. From inception, BPM has steadily improved along all these dimensions, using the power of social media and other technologies as national and global community building, and organizing tools along with the support of Black leaders from all walks of life following their networks throughout the US, to Africa and its global Diaspora. It has been difficult, but with the contributions of many leaders, we are still here after 10 years for BPM and 20 years for Reunity, its precursor. So, we proved that we have relevance and staying power.
We have engaged at least 18 million people in 60 countries. The United Nations has recognized BPM twice as an important celebration of global Black culture and innovation, as have 30 governmental bodies that have declared every August Black Philanthropy Month, prompting local philanthropy, civic improvement, and other funding bodies to celebrate the Month with various initiatives that increasingly continue year-round, increasing the movement’s visibility and engagement. The most obvious indicator of our impact is our tenacity and growth. Now we are holding ourselves accountable for enhancing the capacity for our global community to spotlight and advance donor and investor funding equity as a racial and economic justice issue, including Africa and its Diaspora from the Americas and every corner of the globe.
Alaba: The theme for this year’s BPM celebration is “TENacity: Making Equity Real.“ What is the significance of the theme, and how do you see people responding to it?
Dr. Jackie: We spent a lot of time crafting this theme together. “TENacity” has a double meaning referring both to our 10th BPM Anniversary but also reminds our movement of Black people’s resilient capacity to weather the compounding crises of the times to create an even stronger community together. “Making Equity Real” reminds us that celebrating our resilience is needed but insufficient. We have an ongoing responsibility to move to proactive, concerted social action together to create a more just future. Black Philanthropy Month builds our resolve and capacity to make a true difference as a global community everywhere.
Alaba: This year, BPM will be celebrated in other regions e.g., Africa, Canada, Brazil. etc. What should we expect?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month has always been celebrated across the world—60 countries to date, doubling from the 30 countries in the very first celebration in 2011, because its co-organizers were global from the very beginning of Reunity 20 years ago. However, most of the celebrations were organized independently by individuals and organizations within various countries. What is different now is that whole countries and continents are organizing coordinated Black Philanthropy Month celebratory, action Summits in collaboration with our Architects steering committee and other volunteers. This started with Africa in 2020 when Afrigrants became the BPM Africa host, organizing the first ever BPM Africa Summit, featuring leaders across the continent.
Global engagement continued with our convening of a Funding Equity Committee, including several African and Black Diaspora representatives. Also, Reunity continues, now as a BPM partner, further deepening global engagement, including African Americans and others from the US, while uplifting the often less visible role of Black women funders and innovators. This year other global regions reached out to ask how they could join us to organize BPM 2021 in their countries, including Brazil, the Caribbean, and Canada. We look forward to continuing global expansion of the movement, celebrating, and advancing our giving while promoting funding equity overall by donors and investors of all backgrounds.
Alaba: In your words, how would you define philanthropy?
Dr. Jackie: “Philanthropy” is a term used to describe giving in the West, among wealthy individuals, professionals and scholars working in the industry. But giving flows through many community-based and other voluntary organizations and groups of more modest means, including, for example, sororities and fraternities, religious institutions, hometown associations, small businesses, guilds and other professional associations, rotating savings and credit institutions, giving circles to name just a few.
Philanthropy is just one type of private capital used to improve society and develop communities and is primarily donated to qualified nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations, although institutions such as foundations, also can fund cause-related businesses organized for societal or environmental impact instead of profit. Two other primary forms of private capital are investments in businesses that also can benefit the public instead of just private individuals for profit: venture capital funding and impact investing. All these types of giving are now part of a growing funding field, sometimes called the “social finance sector,” estimated to be a $40 trillion US global sector. Black people contribute mightily to the world’s economy and giving. Now we need fairer access to dominant funding to rebuild our communities, still inhibited by legacies of anti-Black racism and colonialism.
Alaba: What changes have you seen in philanthropy in the last 10 years and your expectations for the next decade?
Dr. Jackie: Here are a few distinctive characteristics of Black giving and trends over the past 10 years.
Black giving is organized through diverse organizations. Nigerian and Caribbean esusus or susus; Black Brazilian quilombos; African-American churches; South African funeral associations; Kenyan harambees; Jamaican hometown associations, and much more were all equally worthy Black or Afrodescendant philanthropy institutions that are a basis of civil society equivalent to foundations and other more dominant funding institutions.
Giving is not just about money. It is about the love of humanity and the power of community to create a more just society, supported with time, talent, treasure, voice, and other means.
Giving is a tie that binds the immense diversity of Black people. There is enormous ethnic diversity and other diversity among the approximately 1.5 billion people on the planet that many would describe as “Black” or “Afro-descendant.” But a strong spirit of mutual support through giving is a common cultural feature of most Black communities, although there are contemporary forces trending towards the deep hierarchy, individualism, and paternalistic models of dominant Western philanthropy models now being critiqued by more participatory, “trust-based” giving approaches.
Giving can transform hope to justice. As a basis of identity, Black giving is also seen as a form of energy that sustains hope, helping us replant and remake our culture across eons and tragedy for justice and future generations.
Alaba: How do you see the role of women in philanthropy as a positive force for good?
Dr. Jackie: Women are the key, because traditionally, they have taken on primary responsibility for community improvement, although their efforts often go unrecognized in the annals of history. Both women and men have led Black Philanthropy Month as a movement to uplift all genders. Today our co-architects, who help with strategy and inclusion especially throughout the US are women. Reunity, BPM’s precursor and women’s network, continues to uplift and build women’s leadership especially given the unique challenges we face leading our communities and broader society in the face of racism and sexism. As all the research shows, societies that empower women’s human rights and leadership are more vibrant and healthier. Black Philanthropy Month and Reunity actively include women to advance all Black communities.
Alaba: What advice would you give to black people who want to become philanthropists, or give back to the community but do not know how?
Dr. Jackie: Remember that the basic requirement to be a good philanthropist is to have compassion and empathy for other people. You do not need to be wealthy or prominent. Most of the people reading this article are likely already giving to their school, alma mater, church, community clinics, or some other cause. If you are, then you are a philanthropist. The question is how to make your giving more impactful to make a difference on the issues about which you care most. Here are a few tips;
- Steward your resources to make your community and environment better, which will strengthen the people and natural resources upon which all markets, and future generations, depend.
- Commit to sharing resources and opportunities with others, often called “paying it forward,” a mindset fundamental to a life of giving for a better society that you can teach your children and grandchildren.
- Define the legacy you would like to leave your primary community or the world.
- Identify a cause and reliable institutions through which you can give to advance your legacy.
- Use Black Philanthropy Month every August to self-assess your giving journey and adjust it as necessary for more meaning and impact.
As we struggle against the continuing scourge of racism, a little Love of Humanity, including Black People, can go a long way to create a better world for all.
Happy Black Philanthropy Month! Be sure to join us tomorrow and all-year-round! We are the change and have the power to create a better future from crisis.
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