In the third episode of Arabella Advisors’ new podcast series, Bruce Boyd spoke to Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth and expert on social justice philanthropy, about his journey to date and where he’s looking to go next. Here are some soundbites from their conversation:
- “Some see me as a critic, and I do have a lot of critiques, but this work has afforded me an awesome journey. When I first got into philanthropy, 16 years ago … [the sector was] a lot less diverse than you see now; we had very few Native Americans working in the field and I was quite young then … I was at a health foundation that worked across the state of North Carolina, and I fell in love with the craft of grant making, and the magic you can see when you move the right resources to the right people at the right time. To be able to be a part of that and orchestrate it became addictive to me.”
- “What I increasingly saw though, as I did this work, was that the resources were not frequently going to people from my community and to communities of color. I worked at a foundation that had a mission of prioritizing low-income communities, and many of our grantees absolutely focused on those communities. But there were a lot of folks and institutions [as grantees] that I would not think of as low–wealth institutions … I think for me, there was a moment in time where I realized this was a sensitive issue.”
- “I remember I was in a situation where I was advocating for a certain decision and for funding to go to a certain place, and I wasn’t this super radical person […], I was effectively managing up, I thought. […] I remember in that space being asked by leadership, ‘who’s side are you on? Are you on their side, or do you work for us?’ I was perplexed by that. I wondered why I had to choose a side. I am from the community and of the community; and we should be, [too], as a foundation.”
- “[I had a conversation with] an elder, and she said to me, ‘Edgar, the medicine that has chosen you is money’. That sent me on a wild goose chase to try and figure out what that meant … I grew up in the South and in the Church [where] there is this negative connotation often about money. That is it something dirty and evil. I had to explore and reconcile that. And that brought about the idea that is at the heart of the work that I do—which is the understanding that it’s really not about the money, it’s about us. It’s about us as human beings and the ways we have historically used money to harm each other and the planet.”
- “I feel very optimistic. In this past year, if there is any silver lining, which feels wrong to say, I think it pushed all of us to lean into our collective humanity in some way. Not everyone was impacted but most people were regardless of their privilege … In these times of crises it did bring an awareness of our interdependency on each other … We need each other in order to get out of this mess … We saw in the past six months foundations putting aside [a lot of processes] in order to get money quickly to respond to the pandemic. We saw people stepping up in new ways to support the movement for Black lives and Native communities. I think we are in a new place.”
To learn more, listen in on Edgar’s full conversation with Bruce here.