20 Jan 2023
As part of London Funders' ongoing learning question on what it means for funders to share power, we asked the Baobab Foundation what they've learnt from building a funding model centred around building power for Black and Global Majority communities.
The Baobab Foundation is a member-led foundation, set out to significantly scale resourcing to Black and Global Majority communities in the UK, contributing to wealth redistribution, equitable access, solidarity, and sustainability.
The foundation was created out of the Black struggle and resilience in the UK, which was catalysed in 2020 by a series of traumatic events, including the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic’s impact on the Black-led voluntary sector organisations.
Collectively we have mobilised resources from UK trusts, foundations, and private businesses to challenge and heal our ongoing experiences of underfunding, marginalisation, and anti-blackness.
From inception, we collectively agreed that if we want to help shape the funding ecosystem, we must be different… But what does that actually mean?
Saadia Neilson, our lead on Disability Justice once said,
As we challenge the funding eco-system and the way they operate we have to challenge ourselves and the way we operate to truly change the system
Part of that process of challenging ourselves includes understanding how power is used. Throughout history and in the funding sector, power has been used to recreate harmful practices. Power structures have further marginalised communities and power dynamics have created a culture that locks Black and Global Majority communities out of spaces where decisions are made.
That's why we landed on being an anti-oppressive non-hierarchical organisation that operates with a flat structure that leans into collective decision-making and ways of working. This governance structure creates an environment where everyone is equally valued, it eliminates any inequity of pay and encourages collaboration and innovative ways of collective accountability.
For us at Baobab, it's reshaping power from a weapon that destroys into a tool that builds.
Power dynamics have created a culture that locks Black and Global Majority communities out of spaces where decisions are made.
If not done meaningfully and equitably, ‘sharing power’ can still replicate the harmful power dynamics that have plagued our sector
A simple example of this can be a well-meaning organisation seeking to 'diversify’ their board by having one or two Black and Global Majority reps on it. However, if these positions are not decision-making positions such as Chair, Finance lead etc, then it risks becoming more of a tick box exercise rather than truly sharing power.
This is one of the reasons why we’ve moved to funding By and For organisations.
Building power goes one step further than sharing power through representation. It recognises that to achieve positive and lasting change, the communities impacted by racism must be part central to the decision-making process to produce solutions. In our case, we held a summit in 2020 that informed our organisation’s strategy - this was led by Black and Global Majority people from all different backgrounds, all across the country. We then did the groundwork of physically traveling to parts of the country to host community dialogues - this helped to shape who and how we resource.
One of the ideas that emerged included a peer reviewer model. Made of our membership, we built a network of peer reviewers who represent grassroots organisations and groups across a range of regions and intersections of society who had decision-making autonomy on where the funds should go.
Building power goes one step further than sharing power through representation. It recognises that to achieve positive and lasting change, the communities impacted by racism must be part central to the decision-making process
Our path to liberation is driven by curiosity, accepting complexity and focusing on people. The people who are on the margins of society tend to be the ones that are rendered powerless. That's why it's vital for us to ensure no one is left out or left behind. It was through this margin-to-center approach that provided the basis for us to begin to embed Disability Justice as a way of achieving Freedom, Justice, and Unity for all.
We know that we are powerful! It’s only because of white supremacy we are made to feel powerless, but our existence as an organisation and the wider racial justice movement is a testament that we are, in fact, powerful and we must reclaim it and build more power.