Ria Pugeda, Senior Program Officer, if, A Foundation for Radical Possibility
“The philanthropic sector has power. We control and allocate resources. That is the dominant thread in our work relationships. How we address this has been part of if’s community centered transformation journey.”
What is the mission of your foundation and how does addressing economic equity and opportunity fit in?
Economic equity and opportunity constitutes a core part of the work that we do and is one of our five pillars, so I want to begin by sharing our vision and mission:
Our vision is: “Black people and people of the global majority live powerfully, abundantly and beautifully in healthy, self-determined communities free of social, economic and ideological violence.”
This is the reason for our name change from the Consumer Health Foundation to if, A Foundation for Radical Possibility, as it signifies our evolution from a single issue—health—to now advocating for racial justice. We believe that without racial justice, health inequities will continue to persist.
Our mission is to center the leadership and expertise of Black people and people of the global majority living in the Washington, DC region who live at the sharpest intersection of systems of oppression— in particular race, class and gender identity. We have 5 key pillars which form the basis for the work we do: Community Power, Culture, Institutions & Structures, Reparations & Economic Justice, and Healing Justice.
As it relates to economic opportunity, this means we are intentional about building trustworthy relationships to transform how philanthropic, nonprofit and government resources are deployed. We are doing something quite radical for a philanthropic foundation, and that is sharing power and decision-making with community members. We are willing to take risks that others are not willing to take and we are comfortable seeding bold ideas and sparking innovation. In terms of our grantmaking, we support organizations that build the people’s power to demand and achieve justice. We believe that there is value in speaking truth about the lived experience of being a racialized person living in America. We lead and support initiatives that bridge community voices with those of local government officials and policy leaders to disrupt the institutions that perpetuate anti-Black racism and other forms of discriminatory harm.
Additionally, we are committed to the recovery of wealth stolen from Black people and communities.
How has COVID-19 and the current public outcry for racial justice and structural racism reforms impacted your grantmaking? How are you shifting your strategies to meet this moment?
The foundation has always focused on racial equity. It’s been operationalized and embodied in all our work. Our grantmaking program has evolved from funding direct services to funding racial equity, community organizing and engagement, and advocacy regardless of issue area.
The shutdown last year brought unique challenges and demanded a rapid response from community organizations. Our work also pivoted in response to support mutual aid organizing— where organizations provided direct services, expanded their outreach, and engaged communities as part of their organizing strategy.
We also honed our support for non-profits who had to pivot in so many different ways—telecommuting, revising HR policies and using Zoom. As technology removed certain barriers to engagement—with more people able to participate—new challenges arose, such as access to computers, laptops, Wi-Fi, and Zoom know-how. The impact of COVID went far beyond grantmaking, and we were called to listen and support partners through that.
What do you see as the big barriers you’re trying to overcome in your work?
Power. Ceding and redistributing power. We are committed to elevating and responding to community voice.
The philanthropic sector has power. We control and allocate resources. That is the dominant thread in our work relationships. How we address this has been part of our community-centered transformation journey.
In 2019, we started our journey in participatory grantmaking—or as we define it: ceding decision-making power about funding to the communities we seek to serve.
And it’s not just grant-making. It’s those intangibles we often forget. When community members exercise power through participatory grantmaking we ask people to participate in ways they’ve not been asked before. We also provide support including honoraria, transportation, childcare assistance, and translation and interpretation as part of our commitment to language justice. We create an environment that recognizes the value of their work and through this we have built relationships and trust.
As you think through your portfolio/foundation’s work, what has been some of the work that you have been most proud of? What excites you?
Our participatory grant-making is truly exciting—the way it addresses power.
In parallel, we’ve also implemented trust-based philanthropy. In 2014, we started using a racial equity impact assessment tool as part of the proposal process—to explore how the proposed work might perpetuate or mitigate racial inequity. This year we went even further, radically simplifying the proposal process so it’s truly trust-based (using a one-page narrative and a diversity matrix). It’s targeted at changing the dynamic of the foundation-to-non-profit relationship. There’s no final report, that’s handled by a phone call instead.
And as much as we have held this work and moved it forward, it just wouldn’t be possible without the engagement of community members. We’ve listened to them and elevated their ideas, passions, and interests—what they support rises to the surface and takes hold.
How does being a member of Economic Opportunity Funders help you achieve your goals?
EOF has helped us stay abreast of economic issues, so it’s the value of all the information shared—from state, local and federal policies, to finding out what peers working at different levels are doing, to the national trends and ideas we can take and adapt to our region. It’s all integral to the daily lives of communities of color and to the vision and mission of the foundation.
Do you have any questions/issues on which you’d like to engage your funder colleagues? What keeps you up at night?
We are committed to racial equity and justice. My question is, how do we operationalize it in our respective foundations and continue going deeper?
How do we move further towards ceding power to the communities we serve? How do we bring our boards along on that journey? Make progress as program staff, even if we can’t do a full foundation overhaul? How do we stretch ourselves?
What’s something we didn’t think to ask, but you’d really like to share?
Our healing justice work. This needs to be recognized in the U.S. as it acknowledges the impact of trauma and racism on whole bodies, and the fact that as foundations, we have the resources to address it.
We’ve invited community members to join in at retreats, hosted healing justice sessions, and are exploring new ways of embedding the concept of healing justice into organizations and life.
Any useful resources to share with funder colleagues?
- Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources through Participatory Grantmaking
- Trust Based Philanthropy
- if (formerly CHF), A Foundation for Radical Possibility – Strategic Plan
Thank you so much Ria for your time and support of our network! If you’d like to reach out to Ria directly to learn more, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview was completed by Sarah Griffiths, consultant to Economic Opportunity Funders.