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How Philanthropy Can Follow the Lead of Girls of Color

Oct 8, 2022

By Kyndall Osibodu

My family has always been philanthropic—from my grandparents hosting everyone on holidays, to volunteering with our church for back-to-school fairs and holiday drives, to the ways we show up for each other in both celebration and crisis. But it wasn’t until I became a youth organizer that I first learned about institutional philanthropy. I worked with a girls’ rights group on an education justice campaign, and we applied for and secured a grant from a youth intermediary fund. It was the first time I started to grasp how philanthropy can both honor and resource girls’ activism, and how adults can share power with young people.

So as we prepare to celebrate International Day of the Girl on Monday, a global campaign to advance girls’ rights, let’s lift up girls of color as leaders rather than just as beneficiaries. Those of us in philanthropy can better engage girls and gender-expansive young people of color. We can start by acknowledging the powerful breadth and history of girls’ activism, examining the current funding landscape, and reflecting on how we as funders can be more responsive and accountable to young people by resourcing their work and following their lead.

Girls and gender-expansive youth of color are visionaries and strategists. They mobilize movements across intersections and communities. We know girls of color have always worked to hold healing spaces, organize their communities and preserve their ancestral practices as storytellers. And over the last few years, we’ve witnessed young people working on the frontlines of the climate justice and immigrant justice movements, and using art to call out racist behavior.

Despite their efforts and impact, their leadership is not recognized. Girls, femmes and gender-expansive young people of color have been on the forefront of social, cultural, narrative and legislative change and transformation, and yet philanthropy has not responded by fully funding their leadership.

In Start From The Ground Up, a report from Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC), researchers shared that while girls and philanthropists identify some of the same key issues, philanthropy often fails to fund what girls say is needed due to the lack of a shared political analysis. Girls of color stress the importance of dismantling structural inequities, but philanthropy often funds work that focuses on individual mobility rather than systemic transformation.

Girls of color are, at best, under-resourced, and at worst, expected to wait for trickle-down funding or support that doesn’t address the structural issues they are facing. According to the Ms. Foundation’s Pocket Change Report, the resources girls of color receive are miniscule compared to the total philanthropic dollars available. Less than one-half of 1% of the roughly $66.9 billion that foundations contributed in 2018 was specified as benefiting women of color overall, not distinguishing what amount went to girls of color, according to the report.

A world where girls of color are abundantly resourced is possible. As funders, we can honor girls’ leadership by co-constructing with them a philanthropic practice that centers them, their families and their wisdom. What would it look like for philanthropy to follow the leadership of girls of color and invest in their dreams and sustainability?

At Grantmakers for Girls of Color, I lead a youth engagement strategy that is co-constructed with girls and gender-expansive young people of color, and is anchored in their wisdom. Alongside young people, we are learning how we can be better partners in resourcing their work. From grantmaking, to operations, to communications, to culture, we are using participatory methods to ensure young people are centered as designers and leaders.

Participatory grantmaking

As a relatively new organization, we continue to learn from women’s funds, like New York Women’s Foundation, which has been practicing participatory philanthropy for decades. Earlier this year, Black Girl Freedom Fund designed a grantmaking process in which Black girls and gender-expansive youth defined the priority areas and made final decisions on which proposals would be funded. I witnessed the young people engaging with the proposals and assessing for inclusion and belonging in both organizational messaging and programming. This prompted me to revisit how I hold evaluation and learning in my own work. How might your institution’s grantmaking strategy and process engage the community as leaders?


We are aligning giving practices with internal operations by centering young people. We work with groups of young people of color who shape and inform our communications strategy and policies. They are steering G4GC’s adoption of social media platforms that engage younger audiences. I continue to learn from them about how to lean into creativity and prioritize accessibility. In a similar way, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota launched #ShareTheMicMN, an initiative to elevate girls and their visions of policy change in the state. What role do your partners play in setting your communications and narrative change agenda?


Finally, shifting power and sharing leadership with young people boils down to co-creating the culture. Historically, philanthropy has tended to be an older, whiter, wealthier sector. In Dissonance and Disconnects, a survey report by Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy, researchers found that many entry- and mid-level staff, and people-of-color staff, often feel discouraged about their future in the sector. In order for girls of color to see themselves in philanthropy, we in the sector must work with them to co-create a culture that welcomes them. If we want to engage them, we can and should ask young people what they need to show up authentically as themselves. And then we must respond to those needs, whether they ask for technology stipends or access to wellness practitioners.

For me, this means being mindful to not infantilize or adultify girls of color. I’m learning that I can both encourage intergenerational community-building that decenters adults, and prioritize and help organize youth-only spaces. How does the culture of your institution counteract the intersecting manifestations of ageism, sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia and class differences? What culture-building activities might you consider with your partners?


Girls, femmes and gender-expansive young people of color are some of our sharpest and boldest leaders in the fight for social justice. On this Day of the Girl, let us choose to resource them abundantly, make space for them as strategists, and follow their lead and wisdom as they imagine and build new worlds of love, community, healing and self-determination.


This commentary was originally published in Inside Philanthropy.