New PSJP report bridges social change with the arts

In 2007 the Ford Foundation convened a small global group of philanthropic practitioners and advocates to reflect on the meaning, practice and impact of philanthropy for social justice and peace; identify, create and share tools and knowledge to strengthen its practice; and engage individuals and organizations interested in increasing philanthropic support for this kind of work. This group came to be called the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace.

The Working Group today is driven by three interrelated objectives: develop tools and practices to advance this field of work; shift the narrative in philanthropy to place social justice and peace at the centre; and support a network for practitioners across the globe.

Since its inception the Working Group has organised numerous conversations and sessions at conferences and published a number of reports and tools to advance the practice, and share its value add and lessons from the practice with the wider philanthropic community. We asked Hania Aswad, PSJP member and executive director of Naseej Foundation in Jordan, and PSJP network coordinator Chandrika Sahai to tell us more about the Working Group’s new report that bridges progressive social change work with the arts.

WINGS: The new PSJP report, Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture, is based on Moukhtar Kocache’s research and experience in philanthropy at the nexus of peace, social justice, culture and the arts. What does the relationship between progressive social change work and the arts look like?

aswad_300Hania Aswad (left) and Chandrika Sahai: Increasingly, practitioners of social justice and peace philanthropy are articulating and exploring intersections between arts & culture and social change work.

In our conversations with PSJP practitioners, we have noted the role of arts and culture in relation to shifts in the Arab world and in Africa as a medium for peaceful resistance and awareness raising, as well as in the women’s movement and environmental campaigns around the world, the Dalit movement in India and with regard to speaking against human rights violations everywhere.

While there exists a mass of practitioners of PSJP interested in exploring the use of and support for arts and culture in the their philanthropic practice, there is still little organised information and knowledge about links with social justice and peace building work and the opportunities and challenges in funding this work.

It was in an attempt to begin addressing these gaps that we undertook the project.

Since the start of this project in March 2013, through Moukhtar’s work and our interactions with artists and cultural producers we have realized that arts and culture are not just ‘tools’ for effective social justice and peace work but are essential to personal and social transformation. They are both subversive and strategic to change. For the future, we hope that philanthropy that seeks to support progressive social change will recognize the transformational power of arts and culture and ingrain it in its work as a holistic strategy. Some recommendations for doing this are included in the report ‘Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work’. We are also looking forward to more examples and perspectives in the March 2015 issue of Alliance magazine which will focus on Arts and culture with the theme question being: how do arts and culture link with social change and do they have to? The issue will be guest edited by Hania Aswad and Fiona Ellis and was proposed to Alliance by the Working Group as a result of our project to further explore and promote this conversation.

WINGS: What are a few examples of arts and culture advancing social justice and peace in the world?

sahai_300HA and CS: We have seen examples of arts and culture advancing social justice and peace around the world. If we look for examples within Philanthropy, there is the Dalit Foundation in India. The Dalits are the so-called ‘untouchables’ of India who have faced systemic oppression and discrimination for over 2000 years. The Dalit Foundation recognizes that it is important to counter a history of oppression with a positive identity and has been supporting Dalit arts and artists to support the emergence of cultural expressions that help create an identity of a proud, united and self-conscious community.

Similarly the Naseej Foundation based in Jordon aims at achieving justice for communities in the MENA region, and in doing so, supports a good number of ‘Arts & Culture’ programmes and artists. Naseej Foundation focus its efforts on the ‘process’ where actual development of human beings (in behavior, belief and attitude) take place, thus ensuring better and lasting change. For that, Naseej believes that such change cannot be achieved without considering the cultural dimensions of the ways in which people experience and filter the world. Naseej supports existing and new art spaces, tools, and work that are for collective growth and activism in many areas including but not limited to freedom of conviction and expression.
The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which advances the rights of LGBTQI communities worldwide, prioritizes arts and cultural advocacy as a fundamental strategy to achieve that goal.

There are many other examples from philanthropy that highlight the recognition in the field that arts and culture are integral to positive social change.

WINGS: The arguments made in Kocache’s report will be presented more extensively in ‘Making the Case for the Arts to Social Justice Funders’, a brief paper slated for September. How will the objectives in this and other papers reflect the mission and goals of the Working Group?

HA and CS: The paper ‘Making the Case for the Arts to Social Justice Funders’ is being written by Andrew Milner on behalf of the Working Group. The paper will also include commentary by Barry Knight (of the Working Group and CENTRIS) who is analysing data we have collected over the years to tell us more about the engagement of philanthropy with arts and culture.

Our objective through this paper and our other publications, conversations and general work is to promote the exchange of knowledge, perspectives and experiences that challenge philanthropy to be better and bolder and shift its focus to one that puts social justice and peace at the centre.

Key PSJP publications:

  • Social Justice Philanthropy: An Initial Framework for Understanding the Work (2010)
  • A piece describing the values and practices that are important for good social justice grantmaking (2010)
  • A review of available evaluation frameworks for social justice philanthropy (2008)
  • Stories about foundations practicing a social justice and peace approach to grantmaking (2012)
  • Developing a Collective Framework and Agenda to Advance Social Justice Philanthropy in Africa and the Arab Region (2013)
  • How Can we Grow the Work? Ideas from Practitioners of Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (2013)
  • Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Arts and Culture and Peace and Social justice (2014)

See the PSJP website’s ‘shared knowledge’ section for other reports and tools, some collected from social justice and peace practitioners from around the world, and others published by PSJP. More WINGS interviews here.

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