Diversity, equity, and inclusion in grant-making needs radical new approaches: The Baobab Foundation could offer one

Angela Kail

99% of foundation trustees in England and Wales are white. It is little wonder then that the sector has a diversity and inclusion problem. During the last year, many charities and foundations have been taking a belated long, hard look at their DEI approach, and realising how far we have to go, Fortunately, a range of vital initiatives have been established during that time that can help us along this journey.

One new foundation, the Baobab Foundation, offers a particularly exciting approach that could light the way.

A ‘by us, for us’ approach

Led by the black and ethnic minority community organisations it supports, the Baobab Foundation is being created through an alliance with private sector organisations, philanthropists and existing trusts and foundations.

Covid-19 showed very clearly the need for radical new approaches. Although BAME communities were being hardest hit by the pandemic, minoritised groups were not getting the funding they needed.

Baobab was set up to respond to this need. It seeks to address profound power imbalances in current funding processes, which are often extractive. The Foundation criticises typical DEI responses as short-term and lacking an in-depth understanding of inequity. Indeed, instead of being supported, organisations helping minoritized groups argue that their expertise, knowledge, and connections are exploited by funders and charities.

Baobab is enshrining co-creation, shared decision-making, and the lived experience of BAME communities and organisations at the centre of its practice. Click To Tweet It hopes this user-centred  approach will help not just address the chronic underfunding for ethnic minority community organisations but also build a movement developing more inclusive funding practices.

A systemic approach

Baobab are beginning with research to fully understand where they can best add value, what their priorities should be for influencing systems change, and what products and services are most needed. Strategies being explored include offering grants, social investment, microfinance, pooling reserves, merging back-end systems, and connecting grant-holders with fundraising agencies.

These decisions are not being rushed. They are seeking to recruit over 1,000 BAME member organisations from across the country who will make funding decisions and set the direction for the foundation.

It is a wide-ranging and ambitious approach, with a goal to raise a £1bn endowment from philanthropists, government, and corporates. While some funders have sought to ringfence funding for BAME groups, Baobab’s response goes much further, seeking to tackle the systemic factors behind inequalities in the sector by putting the experience and expertise of BAME groups at the centre.

It is of course still very early days, but its potential impact goes beyond the ambitious fundraising target. Putting power over resource decisions in the hands of BAME groups at this scale could disrupt power dynamics inherent in current funding processes and help change systemic inequality in the sector. The model could also offer a new template for how more equitable grant-making practice that other under-represented groups could follow.

We’ll be closely watching developments and sharing lessons from its process.

We’d love to know what you think in response to these questions, comment below with your thoughts, ideas and what else we should be asking…

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