Funding BIPOC Communities Like We Want Them to Win: A Conversation with the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective

The Kataly Foundation
6 min readSep 30, 2021

On Wednesday, September 29, the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective (EJRC) at the Kataly Foundation hosted a webinar to share what environmental justice means to frontline communities, and how they engaged in movement-led grantmaking that shifts power and supports collective self-determination.

In August, the EJRC redistributed $31.75 million to 78 BIPOC-led organizations across the country.

Members of the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective (from top left): Gloria Walton, Dara Cooper, Andrea Cristina Mercado, Enei Begaye, Colette Pichon Battle, Miya Yoshitani, Tania Rosario Mendez, Vanessa Daniel, Ozawa Bineshi Albert.

During their webinar yesterday, the speakers shared the origins of the collective, the intersectionalities of environmental justice, what was unique about this participatory process, their grantmaking strategy, and how they built trust and made decisions together. Read on for some key insights and watch the full video of the webinar below if you missed it.

We hope you will also follow the #LetsTalkPower conversation on Twitter, where we will share vision statements from our grantee partners about how philanthropy can do things differently and align itself with racial justice values and practices.

Introduction: 6:00

  • Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund, @AmakaAgbo

EJRC leaders introduce themselves: 11:00

Origins of the EJRC: 16:30

Panel conversation: 23:00

Call to Action for Funders: 55:30

  • Regan Pritzker, Board Member of the Kataly Foundation

Q&A facilitated by EJRC Program Officer Shaena Johnson: 1:00:00

Key learnings shared during the webinar:

On the need to fund frontline communities at scale:

“Frontline communities need to be funded at scale. We need deep investments early and often to prepare ourselves to weather the crises that hit our communities first. We need significant dollars that are moved in ways that trust the leadership of these communities, and not in paternalistic ways.” — Kataly Foundation CEO Nwamaka Agbo

On the origins and structure of the EJRC:

“Staff were present and helpful and also bowed out often to allow us to work and think independently.”

“We’ve had complete creative control over decision making, and power over every dollar moved out the door. We had the ability to move nimbly to respond to crises like COVID-19, while also having the space to move deliberately to develop a thoughtful slate of grantees for the larger docket.” — Vanessa Daniel, Executive Director, Groundswell Fund

On what environmental justice means to people on the frontlines:

“We really see environmental justice as much more expansive than what might normally be thought of as environmental justice. From gender justice, from racial and economic justice, to just transition. All the things that are a part of where we live and where we play and where we pray. It’s not solely about protection, it’s also about celebrating those places, fostering communities for the long-term.” — Enei Begaye, Executive Director, Native Movement

On governance and power, and what was unique about the EJRC:

“We get invited so many times to a table that is already set and we’re expected to make magic happen with something that wasn’t set with us in mind. It’s unfair. That’s not what this table was about, this was about us building and setting a table together, deeply rooted in what we know our people need and our communities deserve, that’s what was different about this initiative.” — Dara Cooper, National Organizer, National Black Food and Justice Alliance

On setting grantmaking priorities and committing to multi-year funding:

“We prioritized collective healing, community infrastructure, and coordination and power-building within movements, which have consistently been underfunded.”

“Since the beginning we really wanted to commit to at least 5 years of investment that could send the message: we trust you enough for you to dream boldly around this investment.” — Tania Rosario-Mendez, Executive Director, Taller Salud

On building relationships and trust, and decision-making:

“We had no application process for these grants, we really trusted the leadership, the work, the hands in the soil of each of the women in the group.”

“We built a consensus-based model — no voting process. If there was hesitation, we paused.” — Enei Begaye

“The moment when we felt like time wasn’t enough, we came up with small group work and delegated. So we trusted what the rest of the small groups decided. That was very strategic and allowed us to keep the work moving and not get permanently stuck.” — Tania Rosario-Mendez

“Many, if not all of us, are organizers — you gotta know how to get to consensus together. That’s a gift we brought into the space to be able to govern together in this way.” — Dara Cooper

On the call to action for philanthropy:

“We need to move resources at scale without depleting the energies and commitments of folks on the ground. Lean into the grantees on the EJRC’s docket, that have been beautifully collected from extensive relationships.

Fund public foundations that are in existence — learn from what is built.

Invest in the infrastructure that is there and move resources in a trust-based way.” — Regan Pritzker, Kataly Foundation Board Member

On the burdens philanthropy places on movement leaders:

“Philanthropy asks a lot of the brilliance and precious time of movement leaders, and in many ways movement leaders already have one job from philanthropy, which is the inordinate amount of paperwork and red tape we put in people’s path to be able to get money.

I’ve had leaders tell me, do you know how many books I could have written? You know how I could have contributed to the public discourse in an indelible way with the time I’ve spent writing grant proposals and reports?

We need to be careful about inventing a second job for people in movement, that is now to serve on multiple advisories to tell philanthropy how to do its job.” — Vanessa Daniel

On pathways to redistribute wealth:

“I would also advise folks who are coming into wealth, or who have wealth that they are thinking about redistributing, you don’t need a foundation at all. We get attached to these structures and ideas because they are part of the old model, connected to our tax system and structures of white supremacy culture that are lingering in philanthropy. It’s ok to just move resources to the Groundswell Fund, The Solutions project, straight to these funds.” — Regan Pritzker

On resolving conflict, and how philanthropy can lean in on conflict:

“Conflict is important for funders to be able to hold. I’ve seen funders back away from things that feel hard because there’s conflict there. And what we know to be true is that the EJRC and grassroots organizations are actively practicing what it means to live into the world that we want to create, which means conflict is going to be a part of that.”

“Having the space and time to move through conflict in a way that helps to clarify where we’re going together, that helps to make sure that we’re aligned, is actually a part of where transformation sits.” — Nwamaka Agbo

On prioritizing women of color:

“We come from different communities facing different things; as women of color, our leadership hasn’t been supported adequately, and we wanted to prioritize women of color leadership in the healing of our communities, of all communities .”— Enei Begaye

The default in this system, in this country is white supremacy, is patriarchy. If you’re not actively confronting or resisting, that is the default you will find yourself inside of. — Dara Cooper

On what needs to come next:

“I want to see everybody on that list invested in. I want them to shine and have so much abundance. I want everyone on this call to look at that list and say who can I invest in? Give them all your money, all your coin. Shift the power, let it go.

Let these communities be in our rightful places as the decision makers, governors, and leaders that we are.” — Dara Cooper

Save the date for future Kataly webinars:

  • Thurs, Oct 21 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET: Building Power through Collective Healing and Transformation: A Conversation on Mindfulness and Healing Justice. Register here.
  • Wed, Nov 10 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET: Restorative Economies Fund Webinar. Registration link to come.



The Kataly Foundation

The Kataly Foundation moves resources to support the economic, political, and cultural power of Black and Indigenous people, and all communities of color.