Society of Solidarity: A New Vision Beyond Our Spend Down

JANUARY 10, 2024

“When ‘I’ replaced with ‘We,’ even the illness becomes wellness.” —Malcom X

Claire Callahan, MPA
Director of Communications
Claire Callahan, MPA Director of Communications

Over the past several years, we’ve changed—as individuals, as a foundation, and as a society.

We started our spend down with a commitment to invest all our assets over 10 years, focusing on large-scale systems improvements that we hoped would create lasting impact. At that time, we took a top-down approach from our foundation perch, strategizing and tracking metrics we hypothesized would result in the widespread change we wanted to see. After several years of this work and the challenges and changes we collectively experienced, we realized we had it backward. 

For the past several years, the word “unprecedented” has been widely overused but with good reason. We witnessed and felt the impacts of a catastrophic pandemic; a centuries-overdue racial reckoning thrust the ongoing injustices of systemic racism into the spotlight; violent attacks on democracy and human rights sent shockwaves worldwide; and the tragic destruction of beloved communities exposed our insufficient steps to address climate change. Yet, through so many unprecedented challenges, the resilience, spirit, and power of the communities we proudly call home in Hawaiʻi and the San Francisco Bay Area inspired us. Their leadership propelled us to change our approach and reshape our vision. 

Our mission to spend down in the communities we call home by 2029 remains unchanged. Likewise, our commitments to our partners working in health, food justice, and postsecondary success remain firm. But our shared vision has evolved, informed by the events of recent years and inspired by community leaders and our peers at foundations like the Kataly Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, the Chorus Foundation, the Libra Foundation, The Whitman Institute, Marguerite Casey Foundation, and many others who have fertilized the ground for philanthropy to take a radically different community-rooted, ground-up approach over our top-down approach. 

We have been working toward the day when our health, food, and postsecondary systems collectively promote well-being and abundance for everyone. A few years into our spend down journey, we’ve realized that the lasting change we’ve dreamed of will only emerge if we work hand in hand with communities and understand that our future is inextricably bound. Our new vision is an expression of our renewed purpose and reflects our shared values and commitment to our community partners.

We believe in a society of solidarity, centered in justice and equity, that holds itself accountable for ensuring everyone in our communities can flourish. 

As a foundation, we must hold ourselves accountable for realizing this reality. We cannot expect communities that already carry untenable burdens to solve society’s problems alone. These problems affect us too. 

Put plainly, we believe our philanthropy’s purpose should be solidarity over charity. 

We are working toward our vision in three key ways.

1.   We are returning dollars and decisions to communities.

To date, we have returned over $300,000,000 in grants to communities, approximately 60% of our total endowment. Looking ahead, we are on track to return the majority of our remaining grantmaking resources to communities by 2025. We prioritize funding community-led organizations and organizations led by people of color who can best determine where funds can make lasting change. We see this as the first and most essential step to supporting a society of solidarity where wealth can circulate within communities instead of sitting in our endowment. 

2.   We are shifting and sharing power and challenging self-imposed rules that hold us back.

Our philanthropy must go beyond the dollars we give. Our goal is to be a foundation that communities, grantees, and other partners trust. That is why we commit to engaging communities in the decisions we make through trust-based philanthropic practices; working with staff, board members, and interns who are connected to our communities; shifting decision-making power; and breaking philanthropy’s self-imposed rules. This year, we are focusing on questioning rules we’ve followed that burden our partners and working with our foundation peers to promote equitable philanthropic practices that seek to share power with communities. 

3.   We are investing in social change leaders’ collective wellness.

Our communities have maintained their core strength and integrity in the face of tragedy, violence, loss, and dramatic change. But they cannot sustain the weight of this work alone. Through the end of our spend down, we pledge to invest in community leaders’ wellness and capacity. To do this, we leverage our connections and skill-building resources and invest in efforts to promote our community partners’ health, imagination, and strength. We believe this is essential to realizing a society of solidarity because we have seen how resilient our communities have been throughout history, especially over the past four years. We desire to be in this work with them and invest in their wellness, not only to help absorb the shocks of these challenging moments but to move forward together. 

What comes next

Often, philanthropy is celebrated for what it does for communities, but philanthropy is not expected to deeply engage with communities. Consequentially, foundations have fallen short of providing the support communities actually seek. We’ve been guilty of this practice in the past, asking our partners to deliver on our strategies and metrics instead of listening to what they know works best. We are pushing against that norm by acting in solidarity with the communities we call home in the aforementioned ways. We believe these practices will lead to deeper trusting relationships and enduring social change. 

As we look back at all that has changed and commit to a new way forward, we also look ahead at the new year. Awaiting us in 2024 is a national election that will shape our policies, systems, culture, and climate through our closing date. Pivotal legislation and legal cases will determine our access to health care, the future of our food and farming ecosystems, and the education of the next generation of leaders who will inherit the decisions we make today. With all that is at stake this year, we must unite with communities, resource them fully, and invest in their leadership and wellness. From now through 2029, we seek to contribute in every way possible to make a society of solidarity a reality for us all.