A Playbook for Power-Shifting in Philanthropic Investment

Wednesday August 30, 2023

by Smitha Das, Joi Edwards, Katheryn Witt  

Rethinking Who’s at the Table

Philanthropy has the power and the resources to help build an economy where all people—no matter their race or class—can thrive. Power, ownership, and choice over where and how capital is used—to build a representative economy—should be shared. If we want investments to have the most impact, we need to deconstruct unjust systems, and trust communities to know what they need.   

Philanthropic funders are well-positioned to reimagine their practices, policies, and praxes to center community, voice, visibility, and virtuous autonomy. Funders hold trillions of dollars in their endowments, invest billions to drive impact every year, and to a vast degree the most decision-making power when it comes to making systems more equitable. That’s no small task, and it can’t be done well without the expertise of those most affected by systemic challenges. That’s why so many folks at decision-making tables are beginning to rethink who is at the table, and how those decisions are made.  

Why a Toolkit?

With this in mind, we launched the Action Lab—a partnership between Common Future and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund—with the goal of incubating, defining, and catalyzing the nascent field of participatory investing within the context of philanthropic institutions. The Action Lab offered a unique, safe space to learn, experiment, and co-create new models and strategies for participatory investing within individual institutions and through a collaborative fund. 

In collaboration with the funders in the Action Lab cohort and a wide range of advisors, we’ve co-developed a Participatory Investing Toolkit designed to support philanthropic leaders who recognize the importance of shifting power and harnessing equitable practices, but are missing the mechanisms and tools to support their journey. Its content has been informed by the institutional work of Action Lab participants, the knowledge and experience of advisors, and collective doing through the allocation of a collaborative fund through participatory processes.  

Just the Beginning

This Toolkit is intended to be a starting point for the field; it is incomplete and we are excited to take your feedback and experiences and shape it in an iterative process.. We encourage you to dig in, learn about participatory strategies and practices, talk to your peers, and explore what shifts might be possible within your institution.  

To learn more, check out Impact Alpha’s analysis of our Action Lab: Participatory Investing and the Toolkit. And please email Cristina Lara-Agudelo at [email protected] with any questions, comments, or feedback. 

We’re excited to be on this journey with all of you redesign the systems in which power and capital are held.  

Stay in Touch

Thank you for your interest in the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. We’ll share updates on the Fund’s efforts, what we’re learning, and opportunities through our email list.