(Reuters) – Philanthropists should get “uncomfortable” and acknowledge the benefits some of them have reaped from a system of social and economic inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic if philanthropy is to focus on justice rather than charity, Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation said on Wednesday.
“The work of philanthropy should be to pursue justice and dignity, which requires the philanthropists to get uncomfortable because it requires the philanthropists to acknowledge his or her culpability in the conditions that bring about injustice,” Walker, who has been at the helm of one of the largest private foundations in the United States since 2013, said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
Walker, who grew up in poverty in a small Texas town in the 1960s before ascending to the upper echelons of society, advocated for greater transparency from philanthropic organizations to ensure accountability on how tax-exempt dollars are spent.
He also said philanthropies should provide more unrestricted support to projects.
“I think what we have too much of are investors, philanthropists, who say, ‘I know what you need to do so’ rather than treating you like the leader of an organization.”
Last year forced a reckoning, spurred by the pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality, over the deep-rooted, historic inequalities experienced by historically marginalized groups, including Black and brown Americans.
Walker said he wants to focus on strengthening democracy.
“We have to talk about the reality that we have a system of white supremacy,” Walker said. “The ultimate answer to the question of reparations is democracy because when we are a more democratic America, we won’t need reparations. We will have an empowered citizenry where Blacks, whites, brown Americans all participate in the bounty of this country.”
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(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Shumaker)