Philanthropy in times of despair – transforming unjust systems of intersecting oppressions won’t happen unless we start with ourselves first

12 Jul 2023

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde


Magda Pocheć is a feminist and resource justice activist. She initiated and co-founded the Feminist Fund in Poland.

As we’re building the momentum for the #ShiftThePower transformation it’s also a prerequisite to explore the context of progressive social movements and to recognize multiple urgencies this context generates. Among the numerous atrocities we’re currently facing is climate catastrophe, constant political turmoil across all regions, glaring injustice, over-consumption, unauthorized rule of transnational corporations, along with massive exploitation of animals, beings and the planet. As Joanna Macy puts it, indeed we’re living in times of despair. The unjust system of intersecting oppressions (namely patriarchy, racism, ableism, heteronormativity etc.) is utterly flawed and most probably can’t be mended anymore, especially if we continue with business as usual. The need to transform relates to the philanthropic sector too.

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Audre Lorde

In these dark times of despair it’s key not only to collectively envision a transformed and renewed system that will centre holistic well-being of humans, animals and the planet, but also to shift strategies and rethink our mode of operations. Relying on the concept of hope to generate much needed energy and resilience might be vital too.

First and foremost, we need to fully embrace the recognition that what is driving the meaningful change for communities in every corner of the world be it access to abortion in Poland, support for LGBTQ persons in Uganda, the first wave of humanitarian response in Ukraine or protection of the natural environment in Honduras is the courageous and bold activism amplified by transnational solidarity. The most powerful and impactful resource that facilitates progressive transformation is in fact activists’ energy. Grassroots activists and organizers are initiating the change from the bottom-up, transforming the communities and their closest contexts through everyday interpersonal interactions. This is an enormous tool and when multiplied in every locality, it has the potential to swell the wave of lasting transformation. Millions of stories of local change is something we probably need more today than one unified and centralized narrative constructed by the most privileged.

However, in the realm of philanthropy we are sometimes trapped in a distorted logic. Many funders continue to assume that it’s the grassroots movements that need their financial support, whereas this interdependence is much more complex. It’s activism that brings about change, not money per se. Without human rights defenders, philanthropy’s funding is rendered useless. That’s why we need community-led, trust-based, power-shifting and participatory grantmaking actors, while at the same time priortizing the well-being and holistic security of change makers. We need funders to be more open to risk-taking and, to provide ongoing agile support for emergent strategies. Playing it safe is precisely what doesn’t bring about desired change. If we want deep transformation to be delivered we have to embrace that it will be a constant learning process for all of us that necessitates our vulnerability and imperfection.

We also need to redirect our attention and draw it to the edges of the mainstream movements. Those who are the most oppressed are simultaneously best positioned to expose the flaws of the system, as well as its injustices. The collective leadership of the most oppressed communities is in fact the most entitled to guide us towards more just futures.


By: Magda Pocheć, a feminist and resource justice activist. She initiated and co-founded the Feminist Fund in Poland.

This blog was written following the #ShiftThePower regional meeting in Bucharest in May 2023 (organized by the Bucharest Community Foundation, Federation of Romanian Community Foundations, Global Fund for Community Foundations and National Network of Local Philanthropy Development in Ukraine).

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