The Frontline Impact Digest

Q&A with Joanna Jackson at The Weingart Foundation

Featuring Joanna Jackson, Interim President & CEO of The Weingart Foundation

Hill

What has inspired your deep dedication to philanthropy? What excites you about this work?

The root of the word “philanthropy” essentially means “love of humanity,” and at the core, it is love that drives my passion and commitment to this work. Love for people, freedom, and justice. I come from a family of courageous and trailblazing social activists, and I always knew part of my life’s work would be carrying their struggle forward towards a more equitable and just world. I believe in the positive role philanthropy can play to advance racial and social justice. Like Liberty Hill, I believe philanthropy at its best can be transformative and help drive real change, not just charity.

What excites me is the opportunity to approach this work with a lens towards transformation in both what we do with our resources to advance our mission and how we do it in a way that fully aligns with our commitment to racial justice. That means resourcing groups with the flexible multi-year funding they need, and centering our values of trust, respect, and partnership with frontline communities that have historically been locked out of access to this kind of capital. That includes our grantmaking, how we use our voice, and our commitment to impact investing aligning all our assets with our mission.

While there are significant challenges ahead for those of us committed to racial and social justice work, I am excited by the growing movement I see in the philanthropic field toward more equitable and trust-based practices and longer-term systems change work that is grounded in the wisdom of those closest to the injustice we are working to change.

What’s the mission of the Weingart Foundation and what vision is the foundation unrelentingly working toward over the long term?

The Weingart Foundation partners with communities across Southern California to advance racial, social, and economic justice for all. We want opportunity, inclusion, and belonging in a Southern California where people who have been excluded due to their race/ethnicity (particularly Black, Native American, Latinx, Asian, South West Asian/North African, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander), income level, gender, religion, immigration status, disability, age, sexual orientation, or zip code have the power and resources to thrive in their full humanity and society’s systems and structures operate equitably, and benefit all communities. Our vision is joy, love, compassion and healing among all communities and cultures; where we all have financial security, quality education, good healthcare, a safe and affordable home, clean water, nourishing food, and a healthy environment. Where everyone has self-determination, a voice to shape our society, freedom of expression, and where everyone’s story is valued.

What is the current funding focus at the Weingart Foundation?

Our work to advance racial, social, and economic justice centers around three strategic priorities:

  • Strengthening communities, including efforts that: increase access to essential services; develop leadership among Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; support collective healing, care, and safety; and supporting the equitable distribution of capital.
  • Building Power in communities most harmed by inequities including support for: community organizing and civic engagement; culture, self-expression, and narrative change; and movement infrastructure and solidarity building; and
  • Equitable and just systems, including efforts that advance: bold philanthropy; public/private partnerships; policy change and advocacy; and impact investing.

In addition to these priorities, we focus resources on our areas of special interest: Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Housing Justice, Strengthening Nonprofit Effectiveness, and the geographic regions of South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles County.

Within all areas of funding, we lead with principles of trust and respect for our partners, prioritize multi-year unrestricted funding, and look to minimize burden on our partners wherever possible.

How does the Weingart Foundation uniquely contribute to the achievement of racial, social, and economic justice?

For the Weingart Foundation, our commitment to racial, social, and economic justice is not just about our grantmaking, it is about everything we do. It includes how we show up as partners, what our policies and practices are, and how we invest our entire portfolio. We are working to align all our capital to achieve both social and financial returns through impact and mission related investments. Last fiscal year the Foundation’s combined impact in both areas was over $88M ($38M in grants and $50M in mission aligned impact investments). We are also looking at the origins of the Foundation’s wealth in the context of Southern California’s history of racial exclusion and asking what an honest accounting of our history means for our work today. We hope to not only directly contribute to equity and justice work but to also show up as an example of an anti-racist organization willing to grapple with the truth of our collective history and the hard work of justice and healing so we can collectively build the future we all want for our children and the generations to come.

The Foundation invests deeply in people of color-led power building and movement organizations throughout Southern California with flexible, multi-year funding to support their long-term strategy as our biggest lever in advancing systemic change. We also convene and work in collaboration with partners and across sectors to help drive the system change our communities are asking for. We are also committed to strengthening the pipeline of Black, Indigenous, and people of color movement leaders for social change. Since 2019, 26 movement leaders in Southern California have participated in our John W. Mack Movement Building Fellows program.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing LA, and how is Weingart working to address those?

Among the biggest challenges facing LA are issues of racial justice, housing justice, and immigrant justice - all issues of priority for this foundation.

Housing justice is a critical issue area and an example of how the foundation uses all its resources to drive change. There is a crisis in the lack of safe and truly affordable housing for all and a crisis in the growing number of unhoused Angelenos, as Los Angeles County continues to have the largest unsheltered population in the country. From grantmaking in support of tenant organizing to community land trusts, to investing our endowment assets in affordable housing development and funds that provides capital to affordable housing developers of color, we are helping to retain housing and increase affordable housing opportunities for those most impacted. The foundation is also investing in efforts to increase cross-sector collaboration and bold systems change efforts to advance greater coordination, accountability, and transparency at the City and County level to solve the issue of homelessness in LA.

At the core of all these issues is our history of structural and systemic racism, particularly anti-Black racism, which the foundation made a commitment to addressing to achieve equity and justice for all.

The Weingart Foundation engages in a number of practices that help strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector, including trust-based philanthropy. Why is trust-based philanthropy so important in achieving and advancing justice?

Trust-based philanthropy is how we begin to operationalize justice and equity within our own practices. Trust-based values are critical because it’s about getting to the core of what we say we want to achieve; it’s how you begin to shift power and build the relationships and knowledge necessary to achieve the transformational change we seek. Traditional philanthropic practices often create more barriers between funders and community and can signal a lack of trust and consideration for our community partners. Do these historic practices that lack trust and transparency actually result in better outcomes for our partners or the community? What we hear most often are the challenges power-laden, burdensome processes can create to effective work and outcomes. On the other side, as we remove barriers and focus on trust-based relationships, both partners and staff share an increased ability to problem solve, plan, and more effectively address the challenging work ahead.

We believe that our nonprofit partners are the experts when it comes to bringing solutions to the communities they serve. Multi-year unrestricted operating support has been our primary grantmaking strategy for years and it demonstrates our trust in our partners and their ability to manage their work. More recent changes like reducing our application to just a few questions is another example of how we are creating space for greater trust that has resulted in deeper and more authentic relationships with our partners. Getting to a more just and equitable world means shifting power, reimagining, taking risks, co-creating, and working in right relationship with our partners. That requires intentional work on our part to create the conditions for trust.