What Kataly Learned this Year

The end of the calendar year has become a time for reflection and a time to commit to change. Sometimes, it feels a bit arbitrary to put so much emphasis on doing that thinking in December — after all, we spend all year learning, analyzing, and making commitments.

That being said, taking time to pause and reflect is never a bad thing. To that end, the Kataly team is sharing some of what we’ve learned this year that we intend to bring with us into 2023.

The Kataly team at our November 2022 retreat. Photo credit: Bethanie Hines.

What follows is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a selection that we hope is of value to others. Thanks for reading.

I’m still learning to speak the language of philanthropy. This year, we talked a lot about intersectionality. I thought that it referred to the lens I use to view issues, but from to Laura Steele’s Submittable blog, I learned that “the key to understanding intersectionality is recognizing that it exists within institutions, not people. In the same way individuals cannot be diverse, nor can they be intersectional. The idea of intersectionality refers to the ways institutions and policies make room for these complex experiences.” Given my role at Kataly, this distinction is essential. I’ve learned that no matter how I see an issue, I should ensure that Kataly’s policies, procedures, and interactions be viewed, developed, and implemented through an intersectional lens. I want to ensure that Kataly’s policies and practices are not rooted in white supremacy and come from a place of understanding, collaboration, inclusivity, and love.

— Dana Mason, Operations and Projects Manager

This summer I had the chance to read Jara Dean-Coffey’s essay, “What’s Race Got to Do with It? Equity and Philanthropic Evaluation Practice.” This essay covers the roots of philanthropic evaluation with its inherent subjectivity and bias towards quantitative results that can oftentimes replicate harms on the communities we seek to support. The essay also extends a hopeful invitation to approach evaluation in service of equity by embracing multitudes of truth.

One of the ways we can embrace multitudes of truth is by democratizing the power to decide what key indicators of success such as “impact” means and how we measure it. In 2023, I hope to apply this learning to Kataly’s emergent evaluation practice, as well as existing grants management systems with which grantees engage, in order to explore what would it look like to collaborate in systems that strive toward success as defined by community.

— Danielle Royston-Lopez, Grants and Program Associate

Earlier this year, we attended Funders for Justice’s Dismantling the Medical Industrial Complex (MIC) Institute, led by Cara Page and Susan Raffo from the Healing Histories Project, which grew our understanding of the history and impact of harm from the Medical Industrial Complex. To integrate some of the learning from this series, the Mindfulness and Healing Justice team takes these guiding inquiries into our work in 2023: 1) What is the infrastructure needed to interrupt MIC harms and build collective care and safety? 2) How are we practicing for the future story — supporting those visioning and building the new? and 3) what Healing Justice work (and by whom) is not being resourced or elevated? We are eager to continue this learning journey by reading the upcoming book Healing Justice Lineages by Cara Page and Erica Woodland.

— Donna Bransford, Senior Program Officer, Mindfulness and Healing Justice, and Iris Garcia, Program Officer, Mindfulness and Healing Justice

Over this past year, I’ve been humbled to learn from the roughly 70 Kataly grantees that are healing and building power in Black, Indigenous, and all communities of color through community ownership and stewardship of land, all while bucking traditional, often extractive approaches to capital campaign fundraising, and surfacing regenerative practices to move land-based projects forward in a way that strengthens our communities and remains true to our social justice values. I’m also heartened to see progressive funders — including some foundations that historically do not fund capital projects — come into greater recognition of the history of land theft in the U.S. and move resources to help repair. We will not have racial justice in this country without addressing land justice. Learn more from Solidaire’s Quarterly Dispatch on Land Justice.

— Jocelyn Wong, Capacity Building Director and Analyst of the Restorative Economies Fund

Throughout this year, I have kept coming back to the saying “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We are acknowledging the contradictions of philanthropy while attempting to shift practices to be radically different (for example, transforming internal operations, making values-aligned investment decisions, and redistributing resources more equitably) and there are often obstacles. In the realm of finance, those obstacles can take the form of laws and regulations, “best practices,” ideology, personal capacity, and more. When we push against the bounds of the current system, sometimes we arrive at a place where there isn’t a well-defined path forward, but that is not a reason to stop moving. Solutions live on a continuum, and the perfect product or perfect partner will not always be there. Sometimes we can build upon what exists and sometimes we need to build something new, inviting others to come along and experiment together.

— Joleen Ruffin, Chief Financial Officer

It’s ok to not be ok. This is a feeling I, and many others, have experienced over the past few years. But how do we bring that way of being into our work? Sometimes when times are tough, I want a break from work. Other times, being connected to work keeps me grounded. This year, I learned I can communicate to my supervisor and my team that I’m not ok, but I still want to be in the work with them. It’s been really helpful not to have to pretend that everything’s great and I’m unbreakable, and be my genuine self in my workplace. Moving into next year, I want to take pressure off myself to justify why I’m not always at 100%, be more intentional about sharing how my priorities are shifting, and trust that my team and I will figure it out together.

— Lina Shalabi, Executive Assistant to the CEO

Prentis Hemphill has my favorite quote on boundaries: “boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously,” and I really wanted to work on applying that in a work context. But what do compassionate boundaries look like at work when we have so many competing demands? To me, it looks like honoring the commitments I have made, making sure I have sufficient time to honor those commitments, and being clear about my capacity both internally and externally, even if that means disappointing people and myself. I have also learned that boundaries rarely feel fun or easy and that’s likely never going away. It’s an imperfect practice, it’s a hard practice, but it’s also a kind practice in service of the work.

— Lynne Hoey, Chief Investment Officer

What does it look like to embody responsible and compassionate leadership while managing shifting priorities, competing demands on our time, and constantly evolving political realities? As the CEO of Kataly, I want to ensure we honor our mission and vision, care for our team, and honor our commitments to our grantee partners. When I have felt my attention pulled in many different directions this year, I have learned to take time to ground myself in our purpose as a foundation — redistributing resources to support the power of Black, Indigenous, and all communities of color. Part of what I’ve learned is the value of leaning on my team to step into their leadership. When we trust each other, it creates space for everyone to take ownership of our decisions. Then, we can collectively evaluate when we need to scale back or scale up, and when to make a change.

— Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund

One of the game-changing pieces of work I read this year was Broke, a project examining the stories we tell about wealth and poverty, and how to create new narratives about economic justice. This report made me re-examine my own storytelling. Three lessons I am committed to implementing: 1) Be clear about who has the power in the story 2) Make systems and structures part of the story, rather than an invisible force behind it and 3) Get creative about structure and mode of storytelling, so that people can speak for themselves. Broke was produced by the Radical Communicators Network, the Center for Public Interest Communications, and Milli.

— Zaineb Mohammed, Communications Director

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

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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.