This is the third in a series of collaboration stories featuring JEI fellows and alumni who have worked together to shift the flow of capital and power. This post features JEI alumni Kim Hardy and Carolynn Beaty and community organizer Jess H̓áust̓i of the Right Relations Collaborative–a shared space for Indigenous leaders and funder partners who recognize the inequities, harms, and volatile future that is manifesting from our current disconnected and extractive financial system.
One of the many connective threads that unites the Just Economy Institute community is the desire to untangle and reweave the power dynamics at the heart of so many relationships between funders and communities. Traditional philanthropy requires organizations to force complex work into prescriptive funder strategies, rather than working in deeper partnership to ensure that resources are invested directly in what a community most needs. JEI fellows are committed to developing models that build trust and support reciprocity, and Right Relations Collaborative offers a powerful, promising framework.
“In the past I had tried to invite Indigenous community partners to be the advisors on funds and it was always met with hesitation — asking indigenous leaders to hold that labor wasn’t right, we needed to flip the power dynamic and invite reciprocity, responsibility and relationship from funder partners” shared JEI Fellow and Right Relations Collaborative (RRC) co-lead, Kim Hardy. RRC funder Carolynn Beaty, executive director of the Sitka Foundation, participated in the JEI fellowship alongside Hardy. They were both eager to build on some of the positive learnings that emerged from emergency response funding during the pandemic and integrate an indigenous-led governance structure. Hardy went on, “Being part of the Just Economy Institute, and coming out of the early days of COVID — where funding began to flow more quickly, through trusted relationships and with more community control — was a potent combination. I was able to build on what I had learned in spaces for money holders who wanted to make sure their wealth wasn’t doing harm, while doing the deeper work of uncovering where the money came from, in order to repair the harm caused along the way.”
The Collaborative is governed by a Council of Indigenous Aunties — including Hardy’s RRC co-lead, Jess H̓áust̓i and three other Indigenous women — and serves communities whose homelands are now colonially known as British Columbia. The Aunties not only determine where dollars flow, they invite funders to apply to be considered as contributors to the fund. During this application process, funders are required to share their money story (how they earned their wealth), name the harms that were created through the amassing of their wealth, and how they’re addressing those harms.
“During the JEI fellowship, Kim and I were able to build a relationship,” Beaty shared. “We were able to ask hard questions and analyze some of the sticky elements of philanthropy.” Thanks to H̓áust̓i’s co-leadership and the governing Council of Aunties, they had access to the wisdom and vision required to answer those sticky questions.
H̓áust̓i experienced some trepidation when Hardy approached her about co-creating the design of the Collaborative. “I had some fear that funders wouldn’t want to engage with the hard work that we were asking them to do. Funders ostensibly benefit from being in the position of power; why would they want to challenge that or cede power? I worried that people weren’t going to embrace the opportunity to do things differently. And it has been beautiful to see the whole hearts that our funders show up with, both when they’re filling out the engagement frameworks, and also on an ongoing basis with the Aunties Council and with the Collaborative.”
The kind of introspection and evolution required for funders to participate in right relationship is challenging and critical to the future of community-centered, trust-based philanthropy. “It is an honor to have been invited to fund the RRC,” Beaty shared. “I have no doubt that I’ve made mistakes and caused harm with how I show up as a funder in other spaces, and I am continuously learning.”
After years of fundraising in the conventional philanthropic system of scarcity and competition, it can be challenging for community leaders to adopt a perspective of abundance. “It was hard for me to realize how deeply embedded a scarcity mentality had become in my brain,” shared H̓áust̓i. “I spent 20 years raising money for community programs, and it is so ingrained in me that I am in competition with my relatives from other communities for limited funds to offer basic services that my community desperately needs. At the RRC we are really intentional about embracing an abundance mentality, and I still find it really hard to undo that sense of scarcity that has driven so much of the work that we do.”
The RRC released its first Reciprocity Report in 2023, sharing details about its unique approach to philanthropy that features indigenous leaders and funders in right relationship to one another, and the resources they seek to flow into communities. The fund grew quickly to $1.2 million CAD in unrestricted grants and continues to consider new funders to support its growth.
Hardy shared, “Because we’ve decolonized the way the funding arrives in communities, the work itself is decolonized. When you change how funding arrives, it frees up the work. We hear from our funder partners the relief that they feel in our approach. Many of our funder partners don’t otherwise have a space to grapple with important questions. That alone has created shifts in institutions; we’ve seen funders actually use the practice of the money story in their own presentations and reporting, sharing more openly about the way their resources came to be, and how they are addressing harm in their work.”
Hardy and H̓áust̓i had been focused on bringing a more balanced and thoughtful approach to philanthropy for decades; the fellowship helped to bring together different threads and intentions into this powerful new model for decolonized, trust-based funding.
“When I reflect on what JEI has done for me, and what I’ve seen it provide for others — the word that comes to mind is magic,” Hardy said. “They somehow take this otherwise terrifying and often boring subject of financial service systems and bring magic to it, so that we can see our responsibility and role in the system and support each other through the transition towards a just economy.”
Beaty shared, “At my family’s foundation, my work is to identify where power is concentrated and redistribute it accordingly. I also think my job is to listen and reflect–as simple as those words may sound, they’re hard to do. JEI helped me listen, reflect, and act more generatively and effectively.”
“We still feel like an integral part of this beloved community — such a unique, powerful thing.”