The Funding Behind a Group That's Taking on Structural Racial Inequity

The conversation over race in the United States has long been dominated by the language of rights. But arguably, the concept of social inclusionwhich is favored in many other countriesis more comprehensive and useful. It better gets at the challenges of ensuring opportunity for allespecially in light of how civil rights victories have often done little to topple deeper structures of racial exclusion in the United States. 

Enter the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), a New York-based policy group started in 2002 with a $75,000 seed grant from the Open Society Institute. It's explicitly working to dismantle "structural racial inequity," and its two biggest funders are Kellogg and Ford. 

We've written a lot, lately, about how a number of funders have sowed the seeds in recent years for a new, more robust debate over race in Americaand how those investments have paid off since Ferguson, as advocates have seized an opening to put forth various solutions to racial inequity, particularly in regard to policing and criminal justice. 

Funder support for the Center for Social Inclusion, though, goes back further than much of the more recent grantmaking we've covered, like efforts to boost young men and boys of color. 

Related: The Money Behind a Push to Bolster Black Male Leaders Across the U.S.

So how does a nonprofit take on structural racial inequity? In a bunch of ways. As CSI describes it, the group works with a wide variety of partners to create and apply new research, conduct advocacy, educate the public, convene stakeholders, and nurture multiracial alliances.

One thing that's interesting is that CSI thinks about inequity in areas of society that might not naturally spring to mind, like energy and broadband access. Or food, which is the focus of one of its programs. A paper published last year, "Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System," diagnoses what is wrong with our current food system and why it is particularly broken for people of color. CSI says it is working with "food justice leaders and grassroots groups to generate policy strategies and solutions that will create a more equitable food system, from seed to community." On the agenda? Solutions such as investing in better land-use policies that support urban agriculture, improving access, affordability and transit to healthy food sources, implementing the Affordable Care Act's community benefit requirement mandating hospitals to conduct a community health needs assessment every three years and include marginalized populations in that process, and shifting agricultural investments away from unhealthy foods and toward local farmers producing healthy foods.

Meanwhile, in addition to its work in specific issues, CSI is working on the bigger-picture challenge of changing the narrative around race in America.

Where is the money coming from to develop and carry out these strategies? Since 2006, the Ford Foundation has provided seven large grants in support of the Center for Social Inclusion, totaling $2.35 million. Funding started with $1.2 million between 2006 and 2009 to the Tides Center to launch initial programs for the Center for Social Inclusion in the Gulf Coast and  the Southeast and to develop the infrastructure for the new organization. Since 2011, Ford has granted another $1.15 million for general support and new programs, including a 2015 grant for "to lift up Muslim, Arab and South Asian American voices on racial justice through media placement and the launch of an American Muslim online social media organizing project."

Kellogg has also taken a strong interest in supporting the Center for Social Inclusion, which is well aligned with its focus on racial equity. Kellogg recently granted CSI $953,000 for a three-year effort to "support grassroots leaders to foster systemic change needed to mainstream racial/ethnic equity as key values in first food and food system transformation efforts in low-income communities of color in the American South." An additional $200,000 from Kellogg in 2014 and 2015 came in the form of general support for the center. 

Kellogg also fortified the foundation of the Center for Social Inclusion with early grants to the Tides Center between 2005 and 2010. The initial grant in 2005 was to "increase the relevance of socially responsible business practices in communities of color by building partnerships between business leaders and social entrepreneurs of color." Another $1.45 million was granted between 2012 and 2014 from Kellogg helped to "advance a set of national advocacy strategies and create a groundbreaking data visualization tool to ensure that vulnerable communities of color benefit from federal and state programs and investments" and "develop the racial equity lens as it relates to national food systems policy."

Other funders to CSI over the years have included the California Endowment, Public Welfare, Surdna, Kresge, OSF, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. 

Still, there's plenty of room for other funders. A look at the broad agenda of CSI is a reminder that the challenges on racial inclusion go far beyond familiar inequities related to criminal justice and segregation in housing and education. These challenges, in fact, have been baked into many parts of U.S. society.