ProInspire, a nonprofit that works with leaders and organizations to advance racial equity, has launched a new program, HERE to Listen, to help foundation staff build and deepen their equitable listening and feedback practices. During a two-day virtual workshop, HERE to Listen participants learn how to apply a racial equity and power analysis to their work and to explore inclusive leadership practices. ProInspire developed the program while participating in Fund for Shared Insight’s Funder Listening Community of Practice, a group of 12 philanthropy support organizations around the country that meet regularly for learning and collaboration.
High-quality listening practices are a critical component in the collective pursuit of racial equity and systems change. At ProInspire, we firmly believe that high-quality listening is an essential practice necessary to deepen one’s power and racial analysis to create and sustain racially-equitable experiences and outcomes within the social sector and society at large. While all leaders within the social sector must develop this analysis, we believe those working in foundations and philanthropic organizations are uniquely positioned to create transformative impact by harnessing their power through effective listening.
The truth is, for decades, philanthropy has been “here” to solve; “here” to set priorities for communities; “here” to define success or evaluate impact. But we know that these approaches have not led to equitable outcomes within the social sector, and at times, have even perpetuated the very same issues they purported to support. So what needs to change? We invite foundation staff to consider an alternative — “here” to listen — using the acronym HERE, standing for:
Honor lived experience
To support embodying this HERE approach to high-quality listening throughout the field, ProInspire recently launched a new program designed specifically for foundation professionals: HERE to Listen: Listening for Racial Equity Impact in Philanthropy. By interrogating and disrupting biases and mental models, and committing to centering relationships in their work, participants explore inclusive leadership practices and apply a racial equity and power analysis to their listening, feedback, decision-making, and communication styles.
The theory of change behind our program is that if individuals understand and wholeheartedly commit to practices that center racial equity values and prioritize relationships, they will begin to cultivate transformative relationships with those they manage and the grantees they work with. By intentionally applying a power analysis rooted in racial equity to their listening, feedback, and management styles, individuals with situational power can demonstrate self-awareness, self-compassion, and a commitment to building trust. This, in turn, will shift power and support creating lasting change within foundations and the sector.
We believe embracing this approach can ultimately transform the way philanthropy operates. Here’s why:
Honor Lived Experience:
Listening lays the foundation for building trust and acknowledging that constituents, colleagues, partners, and community members are the true experts of their own lives. By genuinely listening, we recognize the value of lived experiences, perspectives, and insights. This approach leads to better-informed decisions that are rooted in a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those most impacted.
Listening empowers those who are most impacted by decisions to become active participants, designers, decision makers, agents, and owners of the processes that affect their lives. When philanthropic organizations listen effectively, they create space for individuals and communities to influence and shape the decisions that impact them directly. By centering diverse voices and perspectives, foundations can ensure that their actions are intentional, responsive, and aligned with the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve.
Embracing listening as a core practice shifts the power dynamics within philanthropy. It provides space for constituents to define the measures of effectiveness, progress, and success based on their unique circumstances and aspirations. Moving away from a paradigm of “power over,” listening enables a transition to “power with,” where philanthropic organizations are responsive, and share decision making and resource allocation authority with those who are most affected by their actions. By centering the voices of constituents, philanthropy can hold itself accountable to the communities it aims to serve and create lasting, equitable change.
By embracing a listening-centered approach, philanthropic organizations can transform their role from mere funders to true partners in the pursuit of racial equity. Listening allows philanthropy to authentically engage in many ways — in their communication and with communities — to understand needs and co-create solutions. It ensures that the power held by philanthropy is used to amplify and uplift the voices and aspirations of marginalized communities, rather than perpetuating existing power imbalances.
Ultimately, HERE to Listen is grounded in the belief that by fostering transformative relationships and shifting power dynamics, individuals can work towards creating lasting change within their foundations and the broader philanthropic sector. Through the program, we invite foundation professionals to join us in embracing racial equity values, centering relationships, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery and collective impact.
About the author: Rachel Leonidas is director of communications and engagement for ProInspire. She co-created the HERE to Listen program with her ProInspire colleagues, Bianca Anderson, co-CEO, and Rosie Aquila, strategist.