Disrupting Philanthropy: The Intersection of Activism and Investment

By Priyanka Harania, Global Fundraising Coordinator, PSI

Giving is not a one-size fits all approach. Navigating the nuances of activism and investments supports us, collectively, to strategically invest in impact — for good.

On Wed., May 19, Maverick Collective by PSI — a community of women philanthropists making catalytic investments to elevate women and girls everywhere — hosted a dynamic conversation on the intersection of philanthropy and activism, and the role philanthropists can play in advancing social justice movements. This conversation was the first in the newly launched Disrupting Philanthropy series, bringing together industry thought leaders and the Maverick Collective community, including guests and partners, to interrogate the traditional models of philanthropy, challenge the status quo and learn how to more effectively reflect the values required to create a more equitable world through giving.

Jimmie Briggs
Kalpana Krishnamurthy
Yvonne L. Moore
Yvonne L. Moore

Jimmie Briggs, journalist, author, activist and Principal at the Skoll Foundation, led this thought-provoking conversation with Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Program Director at Forward Together, and Yvonne L. Moore, Founder and Managing Director at Moore Philanthropy.

Jimmie set the stage by acknowledging:

  • The pandemic’s disproportional effect on local and global communities
  • The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement
  • The need to continue conversations around social justice and systemic inequities as we mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.

Together the discussion explored: how can philanthropists address the individual and community work necessary to give authentically and strategically? And how can they navigate the nuances of activism and investments to be better partners to the communities we, together, are trying to support?

Below are three takeaways from the conversation we can all use to examine our philanthropic journeys.

Words matter: Intersectionality is more than a buzzword and it matters in philanthropy

Kalpana pointed out how intersectionality, the analytical framework developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw to examine how several aspects of a person’s political and social identity create systems of overlapping discrimination and disadvantages, is often used as a buzzword in mainstream media devoid of context and meaning. The problem with the persistent, and sometimes incorrect usage of the term, is it risks losing its power as a key element in finding solutions to dismantle the structures that allow discrimination and disadvantages to occur. For reference, look to the Combahee River Collective Statement as the embodiment of the intersectional framework and how understanding intersectionality in philanthropy leads to finding more inclusive, smarter and better solutions for underserved communities.

Integrating intersectionality into philanthropy requires working directly with the people in the communities we serve and inviting them to contribute to the design of solutions that have an impact on their lives. Yvonne highlighted the importance of working with communities in a way that is empowering by being mindful of the different challenges and disadvantages groups may face. Only by working alongside individuals, recognizing their lived experiences and points-of-view, can we build trust between donors and communities, which leads to more sustainable impact. Trust is critical because it often leads to greater investment by donors into organizations that are representative of the community and therefore, a more equitable distribution of resources.

Pause to question traditional strategies and models of giving

As donors, it is critically important to engage in conversations to understand the why and how behind a charitable giving strategy, the relationship we have with this strategy and the intended outcomes of the strategy. By understanding the how and why we give, we can more easily recognize the cultural biases we bring into our philanthropic decision-making, which may blind us to the needs of the communities we hope to serve. To avoid this, Kalpana invited us to ask ourselves: “are the people we are impacting part of the process to recognize the barriers they face and provide culturally appropriate solutions?”

Take action and use a social justice lens beyond this moment of heightened awareness

Yvonne reminded us that the philanthropic community has the power and passion to help others, but there is a lot of work that must be done to ensure equitable giving. Using the framework of White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun, Yvonne shared how the hollow statements, name changes and performative activism still present in philanthropy are a legacy of white supremacy and will not move the needle towards equity and justice around the world. She noted the importance of centering equity and justice in philanthropy and that we must hold each other accountable about how we use our wealth, power and influence.

To act with our financial resources, Kalpana pointed to the Divest/Invest model of supporting causes and communities we care about. This means, divesting assets from sources that discriminate against or negatively affect the communities we are trying to serve and investing in structural reforms that benefit those communities. This strategy tackles systems of oppression at the root and not just the symptoms, using money and influence towards public safety nets for vulnerable communities.

Kalpana encouraged us to follow two principles when giving with this framework from Funders for Justice:

  • Divest from models that harm or kill communities — moving resources away from these structures.
  • Invest in communities that are disproportionately harmed and direct money towards uplifting those communities with their participation.

Currently, we can see the Divest/Invest model being used by foundations and individuals in response to the unequal negative impact of COVID-19. To address the inequality exacerbated by the pandemic, many in the philanthropic community have responded by increasing their overall giving and deploying more resources to communities that have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19, such as communities of color and front-line workers.  

After a dynamic conversation with our guests, the speakers ended with this reflection: be authentic when working on yourself towards becoming more socially active and equitable, be uncomfortable because it allows for genuine relationships to be formed and seek out communities that create safe spaces to confront discomfort and encourage continuous learning among like-minded individuals.

Maverick Collective is proud to be a community that provides a space to discuss topics such as these and how we can disrupt philanthropy’s status quo. We invite you to continue the conversation with us. If you are interested in attending future Disrupting Philanthropy events or learning more about Maverick Collective, please email [email protected].


Maverick Collective is a community of women philanthropists making catalytic investments in health and reproductive rights to elevate women and girls everywhere. Members collaborate closely with experts and consumers through a unique Experiential Philanthropy model that invites hands-on-engagement in the projects they fund. Projects are dedicated to achieving rapid innovation in global healthcare for women and girls for a more gender-equitable world. Each member’s impact is tripled to transform the lives of women and girls, the world of philanthropy and the member herself. Founded in 2015 by Population Services International (PSI) in partnership with Melinda French Gates and Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Norway, Maverick Collective has mobilized over $100 million in resources and helped more than 800,000 women and girls live healthier lives.

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