Shifting some strategies can help us put racial equity first
Racial Justice and Equity

Shifting some strategies can help us put racial equity first

Two Black, male students confer.

When we launched our strategic plan, Lumina Foundation recommitted to doing all it can to reach the goal of at least 60 percent of Americans having a degree or some other high-quality credential beyond the high school diploma.

The plan, released last fall, points out, however, that “while within striking distance of the 60 percent goal, we must do our part to rethink and reform education and training systems that have granted exceptional opportunities to some while leaving many Black, Hispanic, and Native American adults behind.  Stark failures in leadership, combined with unfair practices, actions, beliefs, and assumptions over hundreds of years specifically designed to disadvantage people of color, keep many Black, Hispanic, and Native American people from the education and skills they need and desire.  A commitment to racial justice deeply rooted in quality learning must continue to be the bedrock of all we do at Lumina.”

To keep this commitment, we are examining how we work and are making some shifts in policies, practices, and strategies.  We still award grants to nonprofit partners who share our mission and commitment to equity and racial justice. We still share expertise and thought leadership. We still communicate to raise awareness about policies and practices that can increase student success.

But we’re also exploring new approaches to fulfilling our mission to ensure that we advance racial equity and justice in our pursuit of increased attainment.  To that end, earlier this year, Lumina Foundation announced some changes in the way we work—deploying an “equity-first” approach. That approach—which involves all roles, departments, and staff members at Lumina—begins with our working definitions of equity and justice:

  • Equity is achieved when outcomes cannot be predicted by a person’s race or ethnicity.
  • Justice is achieved when policies, practices, and root causes of inequitable outcomes are eliminated.

Our new charge then, as we continue our educational mission, is to make sure we work in ways that can help fully realize those definitions—to achieve true social justice and equity.

One step we took in that effort was to look closely at current grantmaking practices—in philanthropy as a whole and in our own processes here at Lumina. Overall, research shows glaring disparities in philanthropic support for organizations led by people of color.

A recent study by Echoing Green and Bridgespan found that Black-led organizations have revenues 24 percent lower than those of their white-led counterparts, with unrestricted net assets that are 76 percent lower. The study points to many factors that drive these inequities, including: inequitable access and connections to philanthropy, interpersonal bias, and a lack of culturally relevant approaches among philanthropies. Research has also shown that only about 10 percent of the nation’s total philanthropic support is invested in communities of color.

Here at Lumina, to ensure that our own grantmaking practices have equity at their core, we’ve taken an immediate step: We’re expanding our approach to grantmaking to extend beyond funding projects largely by invitation.  We are increasing our use of open solicitations. We’re convinced that this step can help address the barriers that often hamper grant-seeking organizations led by people of color or those that serve communities of color.

We know that solutions to challenges often rest with those who are closest to the problems. For that reason, we seek to approach the field to make three different types of direct requests:

  • Requests for Qualifications will help us identify a broader network of organizations, those who share our mission and our commitment to justice and equity.
  • Requests for Information will help us understand how potential partners would approach a problem.
  • Requests for Proposals—sometimes open, sometimes targeted—will allow us to solicit proposals from a variety of partners, rather than inviting those with whom we might already be familiar.

The groundwork for several such requests has been laid, and one is already underway: a Request for Information issued to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in North Carolina. In our HBCU Adult Learner Initiative, we’re looking for opportunities to support institutional capacity-building and student success, particularly among Black adult students.

More direct requests are planned for this summer and will be unveiled on August 12.  As we implement these public requests, we will make sure that our processes procure the information we need without overly taxing the responding organizations.

It’s our hope that this change will help us identify organizations that will become valued partners in our efforts to build a more racially just system of education beyond high school.

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