IPA Blog

A Conversation on Race and Power With Author Edgar Villanueva

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Central Indiana Community Foundation recently hosted Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance.

Villanueva is a globally-recognized expert on social justice philanthropy. He currently serves as board chair of Native Americans in Philanthropy, board member of the Andrus Family Fund, and senior vice president at the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Rob MacPherson, CICF vice president of development & strategy, introduced Villanueva to the group of about thirty. Both MacPherson and CICF President Brian Payne talked about the work CICF has been doing around social justice and equity, which helped frame the discussion.

Villanueva opened his remarks by sharing the journey that led him to write the book—citing both his upbringing as part of Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina and his work around the country in philanthropy as inspirations. 

“The conversation about race and power is THE conversation we need to be having in our communities,” Villanueva declared before asking: “Is there a way to use money to heal?”

CICF staff and a few people representing partner organizations engaged in a discussion about how community foundations could work to decolonize grantmaking by making racial justice and equity a priority. 

When asked how community foundation development staff should incorporate this approach with their donors, Villanueva encouraged them to “bring donors into the journey. Don’t have donor fragility. People want to have this conversation.” 

Pamela Ross, vice president of opportunity, equity & inclusion and an IPA board member, asked Villanueva what it means to an organization to “tell the truth.” He responded by encouraging the sector to “hold space for truth and healing” and shared examples of reconciliation work by foundations, government, and communities that have prioritized it.  

He suggested philanthropists consider the following questions when working to incorporate decolonizing concepts into their grantmaking:

  1. Resources: Who has them?
  2. People: Who gets to decide?
  3. Rules: Who makes them?
  4. Stories: Who tells the story/controls the narrative?

Near the end of the conversation, Villanueva posed the question: “What is the net value of philanthropy?” With grantmakers and their investment managers often at odds, many wondered how philanthropy can be more intentional with their giving so as not to harm the people they are trying to help. Villanueva suggested divesting from companies that are contrary to an organization’s mission and investing in financial products that are in keeping with an organization’s stated purpose and values. He also encouraged philanthropists to speak in terms of how much they give away rather than how much they hold in assets. 

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