Young people look out at the Boston skyline from a boat.

Developing Principles for Racial Equity in Grantmaking

Barr's Vice President shares new principles to guide the Foundation's racial equity grantmaking and program strategies.

When Barr committed to deepening its focus on racial equity, we made a point of emphasizing the critical need to go beyond public statements to focus on action and long-term commitment: what are we actually doing to make a difference on racial equity? How are we changing or refocusing how we work?

Since that time we have been sharing updates on what we have been learning and doing, including the importance of board leadership, the work of staff teams to evolve our organizational policies and practices such as our employee review process (with an upcoming blog post on another set of policies), and how our Climate and Arts teams are striving to understand and address racial equity in their strategies (with more to come from our Education team).

It has been important for our program teams to explore racial equity in the specific context of their fields and program goals. But we’ve also felt there would be value to outlining a set of principles that both reflect and guide our program teams across the foundation. We have now drafted an initial set of principles to inform both what we do and how we work, and we wanted to share these high-level principles in the spirit of transparency and the hope of contributing to our collective work on racial equity.

What We Do – Our Program Strategies

Barr’s Arts & Creativity, Climate, and Education programs remain committed to their respective goals: to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond. However, each of our programs has been re-examining its strategies and initiatives with an eagerness to understand and explore new ways of advancing these goals:

  1. Seek to support systemic and long-term change, not just new programs and projects – examining and striving to understand root causes of racial inequity in our fields of work.

  2. Invest in power building, with a focus on the long-term capacity and leadership of BIPOC communities, equity-centered organizations, and ecosystems.

  3. Attend to the infrastructure and capacity of grantee organizations, including administration and infrastructure for healthy organizations and staff.

How We Work – Our Approach

We are collectively also reflecting on the ways we work – who we partner with; how we engage, partner, and communicate; and what we value, support, and measure – in order to:

  1. Center communities most affected by racism and inequality

  2. Prioritize trust and relationships

  3. Be transparent and accountable to grantees and the public

  4. Provide leadership with humility

We are discussing examples of what these principles mean concretely in our work, to build our shared understanding and advance our practice, and we intend to use them to help guide how we design, implement, assess, learn from, and evolve our grantmaking.

In sharing this current draft, we also want to be clear about a few points about how we view these principles overall. This is a working draft that we expect to update as we work and learn. The principles are aspirational, reflecting what we are striving toward, not a claim that we are making progress on all of these goals now or even know right now the best ways to do so. How the principles are applied will vary based on each program area due to the significant variations in many dimensions across the fields in which we work. And we understand the limits to our influence, with systems and structures of inequity that are deep-seated, complex, and interconnected.

It’s also important to reiterate the nature of this work as a journey, as others have often articulated, with tensions inherent in any path we pursue. We will continue to explore questions, for instance, about how to ensure that we are setting ambitious-enough goals while acknowledging that it will take considerable time and work to change practice and behavior in concrete and enduring ways. Similarly, we will be navigating the balance between some measure of consistency and accountability across Barr’s programs on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the flexibility for teams to understand and implement the principles in varied ways, appropriate to the specific context of their work. We are striving to create an environment where staff can raise, discuss, and work through these kinds of questions.

We have much fertile ground for learning – and, importantly, we do not seek to learn in isolation. Aligned with these principles, we are eager to learn from and with our grantees and partners as well as others seeking to advance racial equity more broadly.

We look forward to sharing our reflections and lessons as we proceed, and welcome your insights and guidance.

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Roger Nozaki

Vice President for Strategy and Programs Barr Foundation