“We are all related, all connected. The Native way is to bring the oppressor into our circle of healing. Healing cannot occur unless everyone is part of the process. Let it begin.” (p.181)
In my first job after graduate school, I coordinated a fundraising campaign supporting social priorities in the Greater Vancouver area that raised over a million dollars over two campaign cycles. After that role, I moved to Toronto, and worked at United Way Toronto supporting community projects in a donor engagement capacity. Because of these experiences, over the past few years I’ve been a part of reviewing grants within different organizational environments. The more I am involved in gathering and disseminating money, the more interested I become in how to do philanthropy well.
So I was thrilled when I came across Edgar Villanueva’s book “Decolonizing Wealth”, a book that is a clarion call to rethink the way foundations and philanthropic organizations operate, relate to others and seek to create change in the world. The subtitle of the book: “Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance” is a theme throughout, and Villanueva’s thoughtful, generous reflections on how we need everyone in order to create a decolonized world left me with softer perspectives, a wider heart and a desire to live my life in deep relationship with others.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section, titled “Where it Hurts”, outlines problems with the philanthropic sector, and evokes slavery with each chapter title to powerfully remind us that wealth in North America is more likely than not created through systems of oppression, and acts of theft and violence. In this section, Villanueva describes how philanthropy itself is based on colonial notions of separation and scarcity, notes that philanthropic organizations typically mirror colonial principles, outlines how funding largely does not reach people of colour, details how philanthropic organizations often do not share power meaningfully with those more marginalized, and critiques the sector for generally not addressing intersectionality well and creating unnecessary barriers to funding through the way applications are administered.
Reading about the pain and problems in the sector, it seems an impossible task to reform philanthropic spaces. But this is a book of hope, and in the second part of the book titled “How to Heal”, Villaneuva outlines seven steps (grieve, apologize, listen, relate, invest, repair) on how to heal and decolonize our relationship with wealth in order to use money for social good. Villanueva’s arguments are compelling, and are supported by the deeply personal stories he shares, his interviews with numerous practitioners in the field, and the scores of articles, books and scholars he references. This book invites readers to read more and there is so much this book offers for its reader to look up and continue learning.
Though this is not an exhaustive list, here are some of my take-aways from the read.