“Radical Innovation is Already Happening." A Funder's Push for Bottom-Up Power

 photo:  Wade Jackman/shutterstock

photo:  Wade Jackman/shutterstock

We keep a close eye on the NoVo Foundation, both for the deep pockets of the Buffett family to which it’s connected, and for its hard-charging approach to social justice, particularly for young women and girls of color.

It’s unusual to find a funder with NoVo’s combination of radical sensibilities and major financial resources. Fueled by steady infusions of Berkshire Hathaway stock, NoVo’s annual giving has doubled in the past six or seven years—it reported $123.8 million in grants in a recent year—allowing the foundation to place ever-greater bets on grassroots-driven work that it believes can be transformative.

Which brings us to the latest news: NoVo recently announced $34 million in grants to 19 groups doing social justice work in the U.S. and around the globe. The grants, which NoVo calls the “Radical Hope Fund,” well exceed the $20 million original commitment.

The Radical Hope Fund embodies NoVo’s bottom-up approach, seeking to elevate leaders in the communities to which funding is flowing.

“While projects that center around the leadership of marginalized communities can take many different forms, they share a similar approach: ensuring that marginalized voices, and the wisdom of their lived experience, are at the center of decision making from start to finish. That’s something all of the Radical Hope Fund projects share,” NoVo Executive Director Pamela Shifman told Inside Philanthropy.

Another overall aim of the grants is increased responsiveness to community-led efforts in the U.S. and around the world at a moment when many groups feel deeply threatened. We’ve reported on a number of rapid response funds that foundations have created since the 2016 election. And we’ve also noted that one positive outcome of this moment is that it’s pushed funders to become more nimble and accelerate efforts at intersectional collaboration.

Related: Fast Forward: How the Trump Effect is Accelerating Key Trends in Philanthropy

The NoVo Foundation also has an eye on the potential upsides of the current historical moment.

“We launched the Radical Hope Fund as a radical experiment—can a time of increasing repression and darkness also serve as a springboard for deep collaboration and transformative change?” Jennifer and Peter Buffett, NoVo’s co-presidents, said in a statement. “The answer has been overwhelming: feminist grassroots advocacy, activism, and organizing are thriving across the globe, new partnerships are growing, and justice leaders everywhere are planting the seeds for a radical new world based in equity, possibility, power and dignity for all.”

NoVo launched the Radical Hope Fund in 2017, opening up with a globe-spanning call for projects founded on “new partnerships, bold experimentation, and a deep commitment to social justice.”

The newly announced grantees are a fascinating cross-section of communities responding to a range of emerging threats: a rising clamor of hate speech and accompanying violence, growing assaults on human and civil rights, increasing wealth inequality, and nativism on the march.

A sampling of the grantees includes the African Women’s Development Fund, Allied Media Projects, the Nile Forum, the People’s Action Institute, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Grassroots International, the Movement for Black Lives, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Women Cross DMZ. (You can see the full list of here.)

Most of the grants are substantial, multi-year commitments, with some going to organizations that rarely see money coming in chunks of this size. This funding underscores NoVo’s growing importance as a funder of justice groups that often struggle to capture the attention of larger foundations. As we’ve previously reported, NoVo has become an especially critical player in efforts to support young women and girls of color, an area that other funders have often overlooked.

Related: ‘Now Is Our Chance.’ Behind NoVo's New Big Bet on Girls and Women of Color

Among other things, NoVo hopes that its latest grants will encourage fellow funders to get bolder about their own grantmaking.

Shifman told Inside Philanthropy that the Radical Hope Fund aims to serve as a reminder that “radical innovation is already happening, feminist organizing is already leading our way, and the answer so many are looking for in these challenging times is already in front of us, but it needs more trust and support from across philanthropy.”