Striving toward systems change to advance racial wealth equity

Addressing the persistent racial wealth gap is perhaps one of the most important levers to advancing racial equity.

For centuries, systemic racism and oppression deliberately codified through policy and advanced in practice has prevented Black people and other people of color from realizing their full potential for wealth creation in America. At the heart of centering racial equity is a recognition that we must address systems that have limited the creation of wealth in these communities. To do this, we are expanding the Barr Foundation’s grantmaking to organizations working to advance racial wealth equity in Greater Boston.

Racial wealth equity is achieved when all people, regardless of race, have a fair shot at opportunities to build wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities. Yet, for centuries, people of certain racial groups have faced a host of barriers – from individuals, financial policies, and systems - that have limited their ability to take advantage of economic opportunities, or to deal with adversities.

Barr’s Racial Wealth Equity Initiative aims to remove such barriers, by transforming systems, policy, and narratives to build wealth in communities of color. We focus on the Greater Boston region. Yet we are also open to learning about colleagues engaged in similar efforts in Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Lowell, Brockton, and Randolph.


While there are many approaches to address aspects of wealth creation, Barr focuses where we see high potential to influence systems change:

  1. Increasing access to capital: Barr’s Racial Wealth Equity Initiative supports partners working to shift policies to make it more viable for people of color to become homeowners and entrepreneurs, and partners working to provide access to capital and mitigate financial challenges, in ways that can inform new policies and systems for individuals and community assets can be further developed within communities of color.

  2. Expanding community ownership: We support partners working to explore new economic models, purchasing property committed long-term community use and benefit, and organizing residents to advance novel approaches to community ownership.

  3. Advancing pathways to high-road jobs: “High-road” jobs are those where employees have access to higher wages, predictable annual income, opportunities for advancement, and benefits such as health insurance and retirement. Through this strategy, we aim to support the “invisible workforce”—adults in communities of color who are either in low-wage jobs and/or could benefit from opportunities like workforce development and training to gain access to high-road jobs. We seek partners who are interested in innovative, culturally-competent workforce development to increase diversity within high-road industries. Given Barr’s Climate Program, we have a particular interest in the rapidly growing clean energy industry.

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What we fund

Within the three strategies outlined above, we seek to support efforts that incorporate one or more of the following approaches:

  • Advocacy and organizing for systems change. We seek partners using grassroots power building or advocacy to advance new public policies and institutional practices that remove barriers and create opportunities for wealth building in communities of color. This includes partners already doing advocacy and organizing, capacity-building organizations that strengthen related skills (such as field development), and others who are invested in building this capability.

  • Network building. We believe that networks and coalitions are key to leveraging the strengths of individual organizations and advancing best practices and durable policy gains. We seek networks and coalitions, existing and emerging, that include partners varied perspectives and approaches, such as nonprofit organizations, research/data providers, artists, and municipalities. We acknowledge that networks and coalitions take time to coalesce and build trust – especially where there’s a history of competition for funding and influence.

  • Narrative and strategic communications. This work also requires that we work to shift mindsets, deepen understanding of root causes and potential solutions, and to inspire civic action. We seek partners who are poised to engage in strategic communications and narrative work as a key driver.

We acknowledge that the vision for racial wealth equity can only be realized through concerted and aligned efforts spanning many sectors. That is why collaboration, coalitions and networks, and collective action are fundamental to how we engage, and to the kind of work we seek to support. We also understand that one of the most important roles a funder can play is to provide flexible operating and capacity-building support, and then get out of the way – ensuring that the organizations closest to communities, challenges, and solutions can lead.

What is systems change?

The Social Justice Partners of Los Angeles offer a definition of systems change that resonates with our thinking for Barr's Racial Wealth Equity Initiative:

Systems change [is] work that tackles the root causes of pressing social problems. As distinct from direct service work, systems change initiatives:

  • acknowledge the complex, interrelated political/social/economic factors contributing to a social problem, and
  • create change in underlying inequitable structures by shifting policies, processes, resources, mental models, and power structures.


Barr has awarded over $25 million in grants through this special initiative.

To explore all Racial Wealth Initiative grantmaking, visit our grants database via the button below.

Racial Wealth Equity Initiative grantmaking

We are actively seeking to engage with new partners who share our aims and priorities. Please note that we are focused on Greater Boston. Yet, we are also open to learning about colleagues engaged in similar efforts in the Gateway City regions of Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Lowell, Brockton, and Randolph.

Submit an inquiry.

Relevant Research

Recent Racial Wealth Equity Blogs