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‘African descents must lead equity funding to address inequality’

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Businesses owned by African-descendants are not getting a fair share of the global funding and this is reducing the economic impact of philanthropic giving to local African communities. Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, the founder of BPM /CEO, The WISE Fund in this interview with Kelechi Ewuzie, speaks on how BPM is devising new black funding principles for community rebuilding from Covid-19 in Africa. Excerpt:

What are some of the challenges facing Philanthropy, Venture Capital, Angel Investing, Social Impact Funding activities in Africa, and to what extent can you say the Black Philanthropy Month platform has contributed to solving them?

The key challenge is that African-descent people regardless of national origin or ethnicity are not getting a fair piece of the global funding pie. For example, in the US, depending on the study, Black-led organisations only get about 2 to 5 percent of foundation funding.

Black American businesses only get 1 percent of venture funding. In Africa, some studies show that Indigenous NGOs only get about 20 percent of the global philanthropy given in Africa, since many donors still give through expatriate-led intermediaries, thereby reducing the economic impact of philanthropic giving to local African communities.

Also, Africans only get $726 million of the $130 billion global venture funding capital market. Black donors and investors are giving at high levels.

Black Philanthropy Month is promoting increased and more strategic, coordinated giving to help our communities rebound from the Covid-19 Recession, as we hold private funding institutions for fair funding levels and policies. Funding equity is necessary for Black economic security and justice everywhere.

How does BPM structure its annual programmes to drive global participation across the African Diaspora and address peculiar challenges facing Africa?

BPM was inspired by the work of a diverse coalition of Black women founded in 2003 now called Reunity: The Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network. Now with 400 members from 40 countries, Reunity includes African-American, African, and African diasporan women and allies of all backgrounds united in our belief that giving is key to healing and empowering our communities everywhere. Because of its Pan-African roots and volunteer base, BPM has included Africa and its Diaspora from its founding and will continue to do so.

We deepened African inclusion this year by having a two-day Black Giving and Beyond Summit co-organized and hosted by Africans, namely Thelma Ekiyor, Chairperson of Afrigrants, who was the Africa partner. Una Osili, Associate Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy was Africa Summit Planning Chairman and helped recruit the Africa Summit panelists. The event was a resounding success with Dikembe Mutombo, Founder, and Chairman of a foundation by the same name, and Aisha Oyebode-Muhammed, Founder and CEO of Murtala Muhammed Foundation as keynotes.

We devised New Black Funding Principles for community rebuilding from COVID-19 in Africa and its global diaspora. We will publish the principles soon. We have organised a Reunity Summit, a virtual revival, coaching session, and retreat for Black women philanthropists worldwide for August 29th at 11 AM EDT and 7 PM WAT.

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The first 100 Reunity registrants will get a free copy of “Everyday Ubuntu” by Mungi Nglomane, patron of the Tutu Foundation, as well as Bishop Tutu’s granddaughter. All BPM 2020 events are free thanks to the support of our generous sponsors like you.

Attracting funders in Africa is a huge challenge. What measures have been put in place to fund Black communities for post-COVID recovery and rebuilding?

We are hoping that BPM speakers, sponsors, partners, and all participants become a united network for funding to Africa and its global Diaspora, as this needs to be part of the solution to support the massive post-COVID-19 recovery effort that needs to start now. We will establish ways to track our progress and expand the Black funding equity movement through BPM and the support of our constituents with our time, talent, treasure, and voice as much as we can.

Partnership with the private sector is very critical to achieve the vision of BPM. How do you see the role of high-profile social investors and philanthropists towards achieving 21st Century Black Funding Principles?

One of my favorite African proverbs is that “Wealth is not what a person owns; it is what they give away.” And the African-American version is “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Especially with Covid-19 and the resulting recession literally killing our people and decimating our communities, African-descent people of means should stretch giving funding to innovative organisations that can make a difference but also use their influence to stand up for Africa and its Diaspora in corridors of power. But Black Philanthropy is not just about giving money by wealthy people. Everyone has something to give, even financially poor people, including moral support, just sharing what we can.

What inspired you to start Black Philanthropy Month (BPM)?

I have been inspired by my family and community heritage as an African-American person. Philanthropy from Black and non-Black allies enabled me to get an excellent education and jumpstart a career of service, paying it forward to others the way I was taught by my community and mentors.

I also have been fortunate to work and live in Africa and its global Diaspora from age 19. This experience as well as the amazingly creative ways African immigrants in the US and elsewhere self-fund community empowerment, often led by women, along with the United Nations declaration of the International Year and later Decade for People of African Descent inspired me to create Black Philanthropy Month in 2011.

The world has this mistaken impression that African-descent people are supplicants, that we do not give. With Black Philanthropy Month, I am hoping that all people understand the power of our ancient giving traditions, the ways it has funded our progress from African Liberation to Black Lives Matters Movements, and its power to make a better future real for our people, humanity and the planet.

Can you tell us about the BPM programs globally and the works it has done since inception in 2011?

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Our primary programme has been the annual, global BPM as well as Summits that convene our Movement for inspiration, hope, capacity building, and visibility.

We operate year-round and this year will focus on implementing the emerging New Black Funding Principles. With savvy use of technology, this has been a mostly volunteer-driven effort, involving social media, cloud computing, online fundraising, and virtual reality tools.

To date, we have engaged about 17 million people worldwide and are growing. We are grateful for our growing list of sponsors and donors, as we want to keep BPM support free for our Movement and afford the staffing that we will now need for the next phase of impact.

For you to come this far, you must have had some ups and downs in the journey. Was there any point in time when you felt like quitting? Any regrets being where you find yourself?

I am proud that especially with the support of my sisters in struggle, particularly Valaida Fullwood, Creator of Soul of Philanthropy and Tracey Webb, Founder of Black Benefactors as well as the stalwart volunteers of Reunity, we have been able to keep BPM going. Reunite volunteers involved from 2003 and still leading are Elsa Vega-Perez, Independent Cultural Worker; Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, Professor of Political Science, African and Women’s Studies Brooklyn College, CUNY and Bring Back Our Girls NYC Leader; Antonia Apolonario-Wilcoxon, Founder of Equity Partners and Midwest Center for Brazilian Culture; and Jean Fountain of Via Fountain Associates. Our biggest struggle has been keeping Reunity™ going for now almost 17 years and BPM for 10 years.

Like everyone else, we have jobs and great demands on our time as family and community leaders. Volunteerism will always be vital for us but now we are also organising for sustainability so that we can continue to support our communities and grow the Movement across Africa and its Diaspora.

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted organisations globally, Is this in any way impacting operations of your company, The WISE Fund, and what measures have been put in place to overcome these challenges?

The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund works on two fronts and has taken measures to help our communities survive and recover from COVID-19. First, I founded The WISE Fund just in February 2020 as an extension of my personal philanthropy and commitment to keep Black Philanthropy Month going and to support our new social action Summit series, Black Giving and Beyond.

The Summit is creating New Black Funding Principles for Equity and COVID-19 Recovery that we will help execute to help our communities weather the coronavirus and come out of this crisis stronger. Second, The WISE Fund will do its first funding round this September supporting Black and Indigenous-led women’s organisations with novel solutions to environmental challenges, such as Covid-19, that heal people, provide economic opportunity and address global warming that disproportionately impacts lower-income African and other women.

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As part of this commitment, we have taken the Council on Foundations to pledge to do COVID-19 relief and recovery funding to help promising community organizations survive the crisis and continue their most needed innovation and services.

Increasingly, technology is narrowing the space for professional practices across all sectors with its disruptive impact. How true is this? How prepared are you as a chief executive officer of a company for this new normal going forward?

I have had the good fortune of studying the use of technology as a tool throughout human history as an anthropologist and deliberately using it as a tool of social change in my career as an activist. It is a double-edged sword; just like any aspect of material culture, it can be used for good or evil. As a serial social justice innovator, digital technology has been a powerful tool, allowing me to work with people across the world doing giving, creating virtual communities, creating new social impact applications, using AI for evaluations, and more with collaborators at times when we did not have much money and/or, in the case of COVID-19 now, could not serve together in-person. On the other hand, it is increasingly becoming clear that sometimes technology can undermine human rights as well as destroy our natural environment and economy.

Technology is shaping everyone’s future at an increasingly rapid rate. We must ensure that we and our children are technology literate; understand how it should be used responsibly, and demand true social and environmental justice from technology companies and leaders.

The WISE Fund will continue using technology but also emphasize the need to create ethical technologies to develop Black communities everywhere; supporting grassroots technologists who solve our communities;’ challenges; and partner with allied technology and other companies that share our values to empower African-descent people.

What are your projections for Black Philanthropy Month programs in the next 5 years?

If our past success is any indication of our future, I anticipate that our Movement will grow to at least 40 million participants and we will become a key player in empowering Black and allied donors and investors to use our giving to leapfrog the development of Africa and its global Diaspora. Together, we are the change we seek.

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