Originally shared on The Chronicle of Philanthrophy by Sara Herschander on Oct. 11 2022, click here to read.

For decades, the Indian Law Resource Center has been brainstorming how it could do more to advocate for Indigenous peoples across the Americas. What would transform lives, the center realized, is to undertake a global effort to ensure Indigenous people have property rights over their land — a move that advocates say is a crucial first step to securing greater economic and political power.

Now the center has $20 million to work toward the dream, as part of a sweeping new $90 million racial-equity effort by the Kellogg Foundation, announced Tuesday.

In addition to the Indian Law Resource Center, four other organizations around the world will receive grants of $10 million to $20 million for the next eight years with the aim of laying the groundwork for transformative change by 2030.

They include:

  • A coalition of Brazilian nonprofits called the SETA Project, which will work to transform the country’s school network into the first anti-racist public education system in the world. The coalition plans to use the funding to train 740,000 teachers and education professionals at 49,000 public schools and reach 50 million Brazilians of all ages through three national anti-racist education campaigns.
  • The nonprofit Namati, whose work so far has focused on the United States, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. It will deploy its network of more than 11,000 paralegals to help communities battle harmful policies that perpetuate environmental racism. Namati aims to use the funding to support 12,500 community leaders in areas on the front lines of environmental harm and seek remedies that would ultimately impact 1.7 million people by 2030.
  • Communities United, a youth leadership and advocacy group in Chicago, which will expand its work to combatthe teenage mental-health crisis with a focus on the lasting impact of systemic racism on young people of color. The group will work with its partners, including a local children’s hospital, to launch a Youth Leadership Institute, aimed at engaging 4,000 young leaders in communitywide healing and advocacy.
  • The Partners in Development Foundation, in Hawaii, which will seek to curb youth incarceration by working with local partners to replace the state’s juvenile-justice system with a model of community support grounded in Native Hawaiian practices. The group will use the funding to establish a residential mental-health treatment center, while doubling the number of young people participating in its existing youth and family wellness center.

Creating Long-Term Solution

While Kellogg announced the program shortly after anti-racism protests erupted over George Floyd’s murder by police, its roots began toward the beginning of the Covid pandemic, which put a spotlight on longstanding racial inequities. It joined a number of foundations that committed tens of millions to fighting for racial justice.

But the foundation said it also wanted to take a different approach to grant making in the hopes that doing so would lead to more substantive change than foundations have typically been able to bring about, says Carla Thompson Payton, vice president for program strategy at Kellogg.

The grant announcement received enormous interest. Soon after Kellogg announced that grants were available in October 2020, it received over 1,400 submissions from 72 countries. Last year, it winnowed those down to 10 and awarded each $1 million planning grant to use over nine months, enough money to allow groups to hire staff members and consultants and take other steps to refine their ideas without straining their current operations.

Grantees say the money and time for planning enabled plenty of back and forth among the foundation, consultants, and those competing for funds.

“This was one of the best pieces of philanthropic work I’ve ever seen,” says Robert Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center. He says he has previously declined grants that he felt got in the way of the organization accomplishing its goals — but this was an exception.

Communities United, for instance, used its planning money to get young people involved in crafting its program. During a “graduation ceremony” for the planning group this month, several young participants burst into tears when they found out the nonprofit had been awarded a grant that would allow them to expand their ideas, says Raul Botello, co-executive manager of Communities United.

Botello said the process helped strengthen his organization. Even if the nonprofit had not received the final grant, the planning grant was very helpful, he said.

“Normally, in the relationship between grantees and foundations, there’s a power dynamic where the foundations direct the strategy around funding, but this felt very different,” says Botello. “We are in a much better position organizationally even without the award, because of the investment in our infrastructure.”

As Shawn Kana’iaupuni, president of the Partners in Development Foundation, underwent the application process for grant, she especially appreciated the emphasis on long-term transformative solutions.

“It takes generations to unravel that downward spiral that creates inequity,” says Kana’iaupuni, who described a feeling of “immense joy” and resolve after learning that her group’s effort won a grant. “To know that somebody in philanthropy sees and understands what that looks like was, I think, unprecedented.”

The Partners in Development Foundation will combine its grant with government and local support to develop a center aimed at replacing youth incarceration with a system of justice grounded in Native Hawaiian practices.

“We believe as a community that we can turn these things around by uplifting our Indigenous practices and cultural tool kits,” says Kana’iaupuni. “They become sources of healing and restoration.”

Thompson Payton says that even though Kellogg was eager to get the money distributed quickly so organizations could go right to work, it realized the outcomes would be stronger if applicants had a chance to first refine their work and develop sustainable proposals.

“That’s been a huge lesson for us, including people like myself who want solutions right away,” says Thompson Payton. “We’re recognizing that it took generations to get here. Hopefully it won’t take generations to get out of it, but you do need space for reflection in order to have long-term sustainable solutions.”