By Nwamaka Agbo, CEO
Every journey has a beginning, and when we’re lucky, our stories are filled with new starts that point us ever closer to our purpose.
Like so many people I’ve worked with and met over the years, when I started as a young community organizer I played defense. In that critical work pushing back against systems and policies that harmed Black and brown communities, I learned about the history of the philanthropic institutions that I called partners and their role in perpetuating economic inequalities I signed up to change. Standing in that story, as a first generation immigrant and a Black woman, I saw my commitment shift from defense to offense: from chasing the long tail of a broken system to building a community that could imagine a new one.
Today that journey brings me to another new start and a sharpened purpose. I am honored to introduce you to the Kataly Foundation, a new family foundation that I will lead, working to redistribute and redefine wealth. In partnership and with humility, we’ll work to generate transformation, abundance, and regeneration in Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
A New Relationship
Kataly grew from a fundamental understanding that repairing and restoring Black, Indigenous and communities of color compromised by structural racism requires new relationships that center and amplify the voice and vision of those communities in our interdependent liberation.
That requires us to share risk — financial and otherwise — to the same degree as frontline communities that bear the burden of demanding justice and liberty. This commitment to solidarity philanthropy means we can no longer afford to have our endowments and investments working at cross purposes, undermining the campaigns, organizing tactics and strategies that our grant partners are fighting for.
Kataly will use all of the foundation’s resources to redistribute, stimulate and regenerate community wealth. To do this with authenticity and integrity we are committed to building and maintaining right and just relationships with our community partners that make transformation possible.
Moving from “How much?” to “What If?”
Capital can be a catalyst to support visionary alternatives designed in communities to replace our punitive, polluting, and extractive systems. But to get there, we must reject scarcity as a premise for our work and instead ask “what if?” and “why not?” Kataly will lead with what is at stake for the community — what will they gain, what they stand to lose, and how can we be active, supportive partners in their success. Money is plentiful; our relationship to it is the problem.
To that end, we are committed to resourcing our grantee partners early and often through catalytic, multi-year general operating support grants and integrated capital investments that allow them to take their project from vision and design towards implementation. We consistently invite feedback and reflection from our grantee partners and peers in the field that can help us improve and deepen our grantmaking practices and strategies.
Partners in Unchartered Waters
Our funding model is made possible because of the Kataly team: practitioners, teachers, organizers, and activists rooted in deep and trusted relationships with social movements, community leaders, and grassroots organizations. These relationships, emerging from principled struggle, guided us to thoughtfully and quickly move resources to organizers leading through a global pandemic and racial justice uprisings.
Our team did not have to scramble to shift our strategy to be able to show up and resource the mutual-aid networks, like the Mass Redistribution Fund supported by the Boston Ujima Fund and Center for Economic Democracy, or in the case of the Runway Project and Mandela Partners, mobilize resources for essential workers and small businesses, or food justice organizations like Urban Tilth and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. Kataly’s three program areas, Environmental Justice, Mindfulness and Healing Justice, and the Restorative Economies Fund, are tied together through a commitment to challenge traditional notions and approaches to grantmaking and investing. Together, we were ready, and able, to move.
We are confident in our direction, but as we make our formal launch we know this is not about finding one right way; we have learned so much from family foundations, funder advocacy groups, grantee partners, organizers in philanthropy, and many others about bringing about a Just Transition, engaging in Trust-Based Philanthropy, Decolonizing Wealth, and using a Resonance Framework to reduce extractive practices and increase regenerative ones.
Our next steps will embrace a spirit of experimentation that lifts up and creates space for multiple pathways and strategies to coexist alongside each other, based on their unique conditions and context. It’s humbling to bring the Kataly Foundation into the world and into partnership with the movement of social and racial justice philanthropy and look forward to sharing our reflections and lessons learned throughout the many new starts to come on this journey.