Social Justice Philanthropy as a Family of Concepts

This presentation was made by Stephen Pittam at the conference ‘Social Justice Philanthropy: Implications for Practice and Policy’ organised by the University of Kent on 1 March 2013

I would like to thank the team at Kent University for inviting me to contribute to this event. As Carl has mentioned I retired from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in August 2012 after 26 years there. I want to make clear from the outset though that I am speaking today as a Member of the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. I will of course be drawing on my experience at JRCT, but I am not in any way speaking on behalf of JRCT.

What I want to do in my time is four things:

• To give a personal view of how the concept of Social Justice Philanthropy has emerged over the last 20 years or so,
• To discuss what is Social Justice Philanthropy,
• To describe the Working Group’s idea on Social Justice Philanthropy as a Family of Concepts.
• And finally to offer a few thoughts on the future.

Social Justice Philanthropy In USA and UK

First, the emergence of social justice philanthropy. There is nothing new about the concept of social justice. It has been debated for thousands of years. There has been a revival of the use of the concept since the 1970s, focussed particularly around the work of John Rawls. From the 1980s onwards social justice has been a theme in political discourse particularly within the social democratic tradition. It is a contested idea adopted from a variety of political traditions and linked to wider arguments about the role of the state, the market and the individual.* In my experience it is more associated with the centre left, but it has also been adopted by the centre right – note the Centre for Social Justice here in the UK founded by Iain Duncan Smith.

In the UK Social Justice is not a new idea for the foundation world either. I know that Sara will be telling us that Social Justice is a concept that has informed the work of the Barrow Cadbury Trust throughout its whole life. Joseph Rowntree used the term in his 1904 memorandum that has guided the practice of the three Rowntree trusts. So there is a long tradition to this field.

So what is new? Well what I think is relatively new is a focus on what is called Social Justice Philanthropy. Many of us think we have practised this throughout our careers, but we haven’t called it Social Justice Philanthropy. We have described our work as progressive, creative and innovative, but have rarely used ‘social justice’ as an adjective to describe our philanthropy. This term Social Justice Philanthropy only emerged at the end of the 20th century, and as often happens it emerged in the USA.

The language came to my attention in the 1990s. A number of the smaller US foundations oriented towards the civil rights agenda started to embrace the practice, language and ethos of social justice philanthropy from the 1970s. Several of these donors came together in the 1980s through the National Network of Change-Oriented Foundations “to be a voice for issues of social and economic justice within the philanthropic community”. Then in the 1990s some of the larger foundations adopted the term. In 1996 the Ford Foundation created a new programme on Peace & Social Justice. In 1995 the Foundation Center offered an Introduction to Social Justice Grant-making and has since produced 2 updates on the state of this part of philanthropy. The Foundation Centre reckoned that about 12% of US philanthropic dollars were being invested in social justice work in 2005 – a figure that rose slightly to 15% in their 2009 report but is now thought to have dropped again.**

So how has this development translated to the UK? First I want to emphasise again that I think a lot of foundations have been practising a social justice approach for a long time. Also, it is important to point out that the context in the UK is very different to the USA, both in relation to the role of the state and the role of foundations. We do, however, share some common features with the USA within what I would describe as an Anglo Saxon style of philanthropy. Luc Tayart de Borms of the King Baudoin Foundation describes this style as one that emphasises the importance of a strong civil society to act as a counter weight to the state. Within this tradition foundations see their role as enabling and strengthening civil society to act as agents for change, as critics of the state, advocating for reform and fostering pluralism.*** In my experience there is much more in common between philanthropy in the USA and the UK around this style of philanthropy than, say, with our neighbours in continental Europe.

What I want to go on to is based on my experience – it’s a version of history! I want to start in January 2005 when the leaders of several UK foundations went to the USA to the first Transatlantic Future Funders Forum. I don’t think anyone who went will forget the experience! We found ourselves isolated in a wonderful conference centre in up-state New York, under 18 inches of snow. And to cap it all very few of our USA colleagues turned up! So what we had was 2 whole days of discussions between mainly UK foundations.

We talked a lot about the US foundation experience, though. We heard that progressive foundations felt under threat. George Bush had just been elected for a second term and any foundation espousing a social and economic justice agenda felt under scrutiny. We looked at an article that Michael Shuman had written for The Nation^ describing how between 1992 and 1994 twelve major US foundations, often working together, had pumped more than $200million into conservative groups committed to discrediting existing public institutions and cutting loose private corporations from any kind of social responsibility. These foundations had played a key role in fundamentally changing the nature of the political discourse in the USA and cementing rock solid the neo-liberal economic agenda. But Shuman’s article went on to challenge the progressive foundations. He showed that in fact they had more money than the right wing foundations. The real problem, he claimed was that it was spent foolishly. I haven’t got time to go into the reasons he outlined, but they are worth reading. The article certainly created a lively debate.

We eventually got back from the USA, and the experience led to some interesting follow up. We arranged a debate between those espousing a values based ‘social justice’ approach to philanthropy and others promoting an ‘enlightenment’ approach. We discussed the Shuman article and others on similar themes. The Carnegie UK Trust organised a further meeting around the time of its Carnegie International Philanthropy Symposium in 2005. The Barrow Cadbury Trust and the Carnegie UK Trust both commissioned papers on how to support philanthropy oriented towards a Social Justice agenda.

Eventually in early 2006 four foundations (Barrow Cadbury Trust, Carnegie UK Trust, Northern Rock Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust) took the lead to set up what later became the Woburn Place Collaborative (named after the location of the founding meeting) as a forum for those interested to promote a social justice agenda. My sense is that it has evolved into an important meeting place for foundations in the UK which subscribe to the vision of “a fairer, more equal, participative society”. There are about 20 foundations which have agreed to pay a small additional subscription to the Association of Charitable Foundations for the opportunity to work on this agenda.

So What is Social Justice Philanthropy?

This journey that I have described has never been an easy one. One underlying struggle through all these developments has been a central question – what do we mean by Social Justice Philanthropy? How do we define it? The Foundation Center uses the following definition for its project on mapping trends in the sector:

Social justice philanthropy is the granting of philanthropic contributions to non-profit organisations based in the United States and other countries that work for structural change in order to increase the opportunity of those who are least well off politically, economically and socially.

It is possible to pull this apart, but it gives a flavour.

At one level I think that conceptual clarity is all important and a pre-requisite for effective action. My experience though, and it was the case with the Woburn Place Collaborative and later with the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, that one gets completely bogged down if you try to define the concept too tightly.

More useful is to look at the characteristics of social justice philanthropy. The 1995 Foundation Center Introduction to Social Justice Grantmaking report highlighted 4 characteristics that I certainly feel I can subscribe to. They are:

• a focus on root causes of inequality rather than symptoms.
• striving for lasting systemic and institutional change
• employment of a combination of tactics such as policy advocacy, grassroots organising, litigation and communications that together are more likely to yield enduring results
• strengthening and empowering disadvantaged and vulnerable populations to advocate on their own behalf.

A Family of Practices

I am speaking today as a Member of the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice & Peace. Avila Kilmurray of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and I were both invited to join the Working Group by the Ford Foundation when it was set up in 2007. It has been a wonderful experience personally, and it has given me a great insight into how size and place matter in philanthropy. At JRCT we struggled to keep abreast of the national UK and EU agendas. If you work for the Ford Foundation you start by thinking globally.

And so towards the beginning of the Working Group’s endeavours the first Global Convening on Social Justice Philanthropy took place in Cairo in 2009. Altogether about 100 people were invited to attend from all corners of the world. In preparation for the event we were all asked to say what social justice philanthropy meant to us. So we had about 100 responses from people living and working in very different environments. We had about 100 different answers.

To try to make sense of this the Working Group asked one of our members, Albert Ruesga from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, to analyse the results. Albert is an academic as well as a practitioner and he did a brilliant job in adapting the approach of the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to describe a ‘family of practices’ which are connected by certain family resemblances.

I haven’t got time to go into these traditions in detail today, but we have copies of the ‘Traditions’ paper that the Working Group published. It’s called Social Justice Philanthropy – an Initial Framework for Positioning This Work by Albert Ruesga and Deborah Puntenney. I would encourage everyone to read this.

So in brief summary here are the 8 key traditions that those using the Social Justice Philanthropy lens uses:

• Structural Injustice​- addressing root causes of inequality so that inter connected systems no longer produce unequal outcomes for different groups within society.
• Universal Human Rights- promoting security and dignity so that individuals and groups experience security under an umbrella of commonly agreed universal rights.
• Fairness/Equal distribution of resources- promoting equality of outcomes so that local and global resources are distributed among people in a manner that produces equal outcomes.
• Legalism/Rule of Law – promoting equality before the law so that marginal groups are protected through the law being rigorously upheld
• Empowerment – promoting equal access to systems of power allowing individuals and groups to have an impact on decisions that affect them
• Shared Values – seeking consensus and cohesion through different communities working together around shared values
• Cultural Relativism – promoting equal recognition so that all cultural perspectives norms and traditions are treated as equally valid relative to other cultures.
• Triple Bottom Line​- promoting profit out of good through encouraging market innovations that increase individual, community, and planetary well- being.

Thinking about Social Justice Philanthropy in this way has freed us from an ever repetitive debate over definitions and allowed us to discover how we use a number of different philosophical traditions within our work. The traditions are not mutually exclusive but are in fact complementary. Few of us use all of them, and there is a lively debate to be had about the effectiveness of each. The paper has stimulated dialogue and our hope is that it will enable foundations and others to grow in confidence in adopting a social justice approach of the kind appropriate to their situation.

The Traditions Paper has helped us to understand the Social Justice Philanthropy field better. This is the start. We have gone on to define our ideas on the Necessary Conditions for Good Social Justice Philanthropy. This paper describes how we need to undertake a sound analysis of the forces that are contributing to injustice, we need to translate the analysis into an effective choice of strategies and tactics, we need to constantly reflect on our practice and learn from what we are doing, and we need to operate with a clear value base which offers respect to those we partner and solidarity with the communities we aim to serve.

Going Forward

So where do I see Social Justice Philanthropy going. Well, the environment within which we are living is crying out for new visions of how we might create a more socially just society. The growing levels of inequality, the desperate lives of poverty, the threats we are witnessing to our basic rights, and the alienation that so many feel from our political system are all indicators. Clearly philanthropy cannot solve these problems, but what it can do is help shape the debate and showcase ideas for how we get out of the difficult situation our society is in. Let’s celebrate the fact that foundations have supported work that has highlighted the benefits of a Living Wage, and the damage to society of high pay; work that has demonstrated the link between inequality and a wide range of social problems; the real dangers that climate change poses and what communities can do about this; the loss to the nation that corporate tax evasion has caused; the waste of talent resulting from the lack of women and ethnic minorities in public life. The list goes on. These are significant, if insufficient, achievements in the face of the crises we face.

It is estimated that about 15% of foundation funds go towards social justice work in the USA. We don’t have any way of producing a comparable statistic here in the UK. Even if it were to be higher in the UK, there is still a lot of room for changing the discourse about philanthropy. That is what the Working Group wants to assist with, by building a supportive Community of Practice for those already working in the field and wanting to get more engaged.

Recently the Working Group has surveyed and interviewed foundation leaders on priorities. The opportunity to help change the discourse and direction of mainstream organised philanthropy came high on the list. There is a strong desire to emphasise the vision and values for working for long-term change. Respondents want to keep the definition of social justice philanthropy flexible, open and evolving so as to avoid any kind of hierarchy which might create a sense of people being in or out. But there was a strong interest in the idea of using a social justice lens to help practitioners look at their current practice and improve it. Genuine interest was expressed in learning from other practitioners and developing tools for assessing impact within a social justice framework.

The Working Group will be looking at the survey results and working on how to respond. We want to build a community of practice in the European region. And, maybe we can encourage our academic friends (recently described to me by a colleague as being involved in “an often somewhat cynical extractive industry”) to assist in promoting a praxis between reflection and action in this field.

* Delivering social justice through philanthropy – paper by Gary Craig
**I have drawn much of the information for this paragraph from The Case for Making a Social Justice Case in Grantmaking by Michael Seltzer published by the Grant Managers’ Network 2012
***See Foundations: Creating Impact in a Globalised World by Luc Tayart de Borms 2005
^Why Do Progressive Foundations Give Too Little to Too Many? Michael H Shuman The Nation 1997