Before the global pandemic, intergenerational poverty and entrenched patterns of inequality dampened the future livelihoods of millions of children and their families across the globe. The COVID-19 health emergency and the ensuing global crises only continue to exacerbate these inequities and drive colossal disruptions in the provision of education across the world — highlighting massive challenges that serve as wake-up calls for the social sector and catalysts for transformational change.
In the face of such daunting challenges, the global community must remain committed to tackling an ambitious Sustainable Development Goal — ending poverty in all its forms. This requires the global community to center the voices of people directly impacted by poverty in its approach and support solutions that empower children and their families. For funders, nonprofits, and institutions across industries to effectively participate in the global movement to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, they must first transform internal organizational culture and capacity to advance access, equity, and justice.
Comic Relief US (CRUS) is an example of an organization taking bold steps to align its mission, vision, and culture to effectively tackle poverty in all its forms. Established in 2015, CRUS is an independent global grantmaking sister organization to UK-based Comic Relief, which was founded in 1985. Together, these organizations have raised $2 billion for their shared mission to leverage the power of entertainment to generate social change and enable a just world, free from poverty.
Guided by an understanding that good listening is a first step towards authentic and meaningful participatory grantmaking, in 2019 CRUS began an intentional process to review its strategy and approach to grantmaking. CRUS transformed its internal culture and developed a theory of change to address both the root causes and consequences of poverty — zealously aiming to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty as its social impact goal. In a joint effort with Salesforce, CRUS documented its cultural shift, outlining the process and key findings in the report titled Organizational Transformation to Break Cycles of Intergenerational Poverty: Leveraging the Capabilities of Comic Relief US to Advance Global Education, prepared by Dr. Aleesha Taylor, Principal, Herald Advisors.
Here are four actions from the report that CRUS leveraged to transform its internal organizational culture to advance access, equity, and justice in its grantmaking strategy.
Addressing rooted disparities requires awareness of the ways in which power imbalances and social norms perpetuate inequality for generations, as well as philanthropic strategies that explicitly advance equity and justice. Such shifts require attention to the root causes of inequality, a process that should ideally take place in parallel with organizational efforts to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion. Strategies that advance equity and justice seek to address the full reality of communities rather than narrow solutions to solve social problems. Within the report, explore the five principles these strategies follow.
Implement Grantmaking Approaches That Democratize Power
Grantmakers should provide tools to guide philanthropic organizations in their transitions from extractive models that perpetuate power dynamics toward transformative approaches that seek to redistribute wealth and democratize power. Such approaches can look like acknowledging grantees’ expertise and lived experiences; enabling grantees to design their own solutions; supporting communities to effectively steward philanthropic resources; adopting engagement frameworks like participatory grantmaking which prioritize shared decision-making and the agency of nonprofit organizations; and empowering frontline organizations through unrestricted funding and general operating grants.
An example of this emerging philanthropic approach to redistribute wealth and democratize power can be seen in CRUS’ partnership with We-Care Foundation, a Liberian nonprofit organization, and support of its First Literacy Initiative (FLI) a holistic, home-based program that empowers parents and caregivers as their children’s first teachers. We-Care’s leadership asserts that the program’s success is the result of a responsive design and continuous improvement that is best managed by small organizations that are rooted in the communities they serve.
Center People Directly Impacted by Poverty
In its journey, CRUS committed itself to the intersecting principles of gender and racial equity, centering the voices of those directly impacted by poverty in its grantmaking strategy and supporting interventions that strengthen the capacity of children and their families to build more resilient communities. Furthermore, it pledged to increase its investments in organizations led by people of color in the United States and local leaders in low and middle-income countries. By investing in BIPOC-led and serving organizations such as Southern Black Girls & Women’s Consortium, West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE), and Manos Visibles, CRUS embodies its commitment to advancing access, equity, and justice in its grantmaking strategy.
Mobilize Funders and Partner Organizations
As a global grantmaking organization, CRUS is creating opportunities for individual donors, foundations, and corporations to channel investments and participate in the global movement to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. As evidenced by the success of the annual Red Nose Day campaign, CRUS continues to galvanize a range of diverse partners to generate investments that help create pathways out of poverty.
Furthermore, CRUS’ inclusive range of grantees reflects the organization’s intentional focus on racial and gender equity, youth development, and economic empowerment. CRUS’ Innovation and Growth Fund, launched in 2021, will contribute significantly to the global movement to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. The Fund intends to mobilize an additional $1 billion over the next ten years, serve as an incubator for growth, enable support for new programs, and deepen existing work.
The cycle of intergenerational poverty is enormously complicated and extends across so many different facets of a family’s experience. But every inroad we, as a global community, make toward breaking that cycle, gives children a better chance of being safe, healthy, educated, and empowered — what we believe are the key pillars of child success. We encourage organizations, institutions, and individuals across industries to learn from and explore the insights found in our report. Together, we can galvanize a global movement to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty once and for all.
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Ayo Roach is the VP, Grant Programs at Comic Relief US where she leads a high-impact grantmaking and social impact portfolio that operates globally in more than 40 countries. She started her career in philanthropy in 2005 with the David Rockefeller Family Office and worked closely with three generations of the family as a senior advisor and program officer from 2005 – 2016. In 2017, she launched her company GROW Philanthropies, a donor advisory and consulting firm where she advised UHNWIs, NPOs and NGOs on philanthropy and impact strategies, corporate and foundation engagement, board and leadership development and was focused on developing solutions via a diversity/equity/inclusion lens.
She is a trustee at the New York Women’s Foundation, the largest public women’s foundation in the US and serves on the executive committee and as chair of the program committee. She is a trustee and treasurer at Moore Impact, the exempt entity under Moore Philanthropy, a Black owned, women of color-led philanthropic advisory firm.
Emerson Soto is a New York-based fundraising, marketing, and communications strategist, executive advisor, and creative. In 2014, he founded Emerson Soto Consulting, a full-stack creative marketing, communications, and fundraising agency that engineers impactful storytelling and design for nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Previously, he served in leadership roles at The Bronx Defenders and The Fortune Society.