As a Funder Takes on Structural Racism in Oakland, Where Are Grants Going?

  Zhee-Shee/shutterstock

 Zhee-Shee/shutterstock

There's a reason we like to keep a close eye on the Akonadi Foundation, and it's not just because its president, Lateefah Simon, has emerged as an important voice in social justice philanthropy lately. What's striking about this funder is how unusual it is. There just aren't a lot of foundations that are dedicated to eliminating structural racism and have a local focus—in this case, Oakland, California. Akonadi has been ahead of the curve in drilling down on race, launching a highly targeted racial justice fund back in 2013, a year before the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  

Another distinguishing characteristic of the Akonadi Foundation, one that sets it apart from many mainstream grantmakers, is its embrace of movement building. Rather than just supporting individual work, Akonadi funds collective strategies that bring various organizations together to build power and shape policy. It talks about "ecosystem grantmaking" and has described what it means by that term in an extended report. This is a long-term strategy that’s been working out well for the funder and picking up some serious steam recently.

Last month, Akonadi announced nearly $1.4 million in new grants to 15 organizations engaged in racial justice movement building across a number of different—but related—issue areas. Recent grants are going to groups working in on juvenile justice, the school-to-prison pipeline, barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people, and more. 

These have all been steady areas of support for Akonadi, but something a bit different for 2017 is the funder’s commitments for multi-year support. In the past, racial justice grants have typically been funding for a single year to test new ideas and get involved with new groups. But this time around, Akonadi awarded multi-year support grants to nine organizations ranging in size between $50,000 to $150,000.

This signals to us that Akonadi is becoming more experienced and confident in its approach. After a period of growth and testing, it seems that Akonadi is settling into its role as a local racial justice leader and transitioning into a phase of stability rather than experimentation. To further drive home this point, Akonadi is taking a break from new grantees for the year ahead. Due to this recent expansion of grantees and long-term commitments, the funder isn’t accepting new applications for the Arc Toward Justice Fund for 2018.

But never fear, Akonadi does expect to reopen the fund again in the future. At this time, the fund is solely focused on youth and young adults of color between the ages of 14 and 24. So, we’ll be interested to see if this remains the funder’s sole focus going forward and for the long-term.

The most recent batch of new Arc Toward Justice Fund grantees includes the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Black Organizing Project, and the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network. Since its founding in 2000, Akonadi has awarded over 1,600 grants totaling $35 million to nonprofit organizations, primarily in the Bay Area and exclusively to benefit Oakland since 2012.

Lateefah Simon is not one to mince words in describing what Akonadi's work is all about right now: “We are proud to support organizations in Oakland that are committed to advancing racial justice by challenging power structures that dehumanize and demean communities of color."

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