The third in our Member Q&A series, we are highlighting new EOF member Pierre Joseph, Program Officer, Solidago Foundation.
Pierre Joseph, Program Officer, Solidago Foundation
“We believe that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power, and you can’t have political power without economic power.”
What is the mission of your foundation and how does addressing economic equity and opportunity fit in?
Solidago collaborates with field and other funding partners to build inspired leadership, experiment with bold ideas, and organize with courage to realize the democracy we all deserve.
Addressing economic equity is central to this mission—we cannot realize a more just democracy without building community and economic power. This means investing in the capacity of community organizations and people in organizing for structural economic change, testing out cutting-edge ideas to restore economic equity, shifting resources to community-based organizations fighting for reform, and elevating the voices of community-based organizations in decision making. We believe that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power, and you can’t have political power without economic power.
What do you see as the big barriers you’re trying to overcome in your work?
Economic opportunity in this country, since its founding, has been predicated on a politics and economics of exclusion and subsequent inclusion for people of color, women, and immigrants.
In the Inclusive Economies Portfolio, the primary question I grapple with is how can philanthropy help build the economic power of communities that have been historically locked out of economic opportunity? The second underlying question is how can we help develop the necessary social infrastructure and financial mechanisms that are essential to building wealth, particularly in communities of color? Finally, the third underlying question is how to rewrite the rules so that systems and institutions work to the benefit of people, traditionally those of who have been denied access.
Building just economies and thriving communities is long-term work. For perspective, it’s been ten years since the financial crisis. Despite this long running economic expansion, for many people, things have got worse. This is a pivotal point, historically.
As you think through your foundation’s work, what has been some of the work that you have been most proud of?
Change isn’t a linear process. It’s messy. We are a small foundation that is willing to dive in and take risks. And we don’t pretend that we can figure the answers out alone. We collaborate. Our work has a place-based focus. We work with groups on the ground to develop models and solutions to the seemingly intractable problems.
In the Bay Area we work closely with the East Bay Community Foundation, Community Vision (a CDFI) and organizers to build a community-controlled capital fund—The Real Peoples Fund. This fund is aimed at shifting who has a say in local investment decisions. It supports East Bay enterprises (community-based organizations and businesses) that meet social justice standards. It aggregates capital to support models of business and finance that are centered in historically disadvantaged communities, promotes just workplace and environmental practices, and facilitates new forms of political and economic power. A core goal is to build an economy where capital investments benefit the entire community, not just a corporation.
Similarly, our work in New Mexico, the New Mexico Collaborative Zone Grant, leverages the grantmaking of four place-based funders and Solidago to bring resources to collaborative projects. Through this effort, Solidago has supported the Color Theory Initiative, working with seven different organizations to support entrepreneurs in rural and urban areas and connect them to resources that allow them to start or scale their businesses. Additionally, we supported the Working Organizing Collaborative, who’s efforts led to an increase in the state minimum wage—passed in January. Now they’re working together on enforcement of that law.
We get to take bold, innovative ideas that are being incubated and leverage resources to support them. To make more out of what’s already happening.
How does being a member of Economic Opportunity Funders help you achieve your goals?
EOF is a roll up your sleeves and make something happen space. It’s the funder place where I get to wonk out on tax code and safety net issues. It gives me the platform and head space to bridge policy and movement building.
Do you have any questions or issues on which you’d like to engage your funder colleagues?
The key question is how can funders support, through the full body of their resources (grant-making, investments, human and social capital), the building and alignment of the multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy? And with it a resilient people centered economy.
How do we break down the policy and economic barriers that institutions have erected to lock people out of economic opportunity?
These are tough questions. And the work is long-term (maybe a generation). We’re now finding, elevating, resourcing new ideas and new ways of engaging in this long-term project. The inspiring piece is imagining the future, 25 years from now, when these ideas are fully manifested.
What’s something we didn’t think to ask, but you’d really like to share it with your funder colleagues?
It’s the urgency. Now is not the time for philanthropy to be complacent. When Government is not functioning well or working on behalf of people, the only institution capable of stepping in and supporting communities is philanthropy. And, we need to show up boldly and courageously. We need to take risks. We may fail, but we’ll learn something along the way and do better next time. Communities can’t afford for us to wait. The work is already happening. Largely it’s a question who philanthropy wants to stand with.
Any useful resources to share?
I’d like to recommend three books that have framed my thinking:
- Storming Caesar’s Palace: How Black Mothers Fought their own War on Poverty, by Annelise Orleck. This tells the history of how a group of welfare mothers in Las Vegas built one of this country’s most successful antipoverty programs. It reminds me, as a funder, of the relationships that existed between state, local government and community organizations. It reminds us to trust communities, to test and try out these ideas. They worked in the past.
- How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, by Mehrsa Baradaran. This covers the evolution and history of the banking system and the social contract between banks, the financial sector and communities. It traces the history of exploitation, and depicts the role that banks must play in our democracy, the larger economy and within our communities. Beradaran provides an outline of how the system could be better, and something all foundations should grapple with.
- The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran. This one explores the ways in which race, from inception of this country infected the credit and banking system. and how over time racialized credit has limited the ability to expand opportunity. It challenges the myth that black communities or any community for that matter, could ever accumulate wealth in a segregated economy.
Thank you so much Pierre for your time and support of our network! If you’d like to reach out to Pierre directly to learn more, he can be reached at PierreJ@solidago.org or 413-587-0174.
This interview was completed by Sarah Griffiths, consultant to Economic Opportunity Funders, in August 2019.