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On What Matters: Social justice leaders share their big plans for a more just world

From disability rights activists calling for fair economic reform to sustainability experts pushing for protection of natural resources, social justice leaders around the globe play a pivotal role in making the world a better place for all who live in it.

Ford Foundation executive vice president of program Hilary Pennington speaks to a range of grantmakers about the fields they operate in—from reproductive justice to ethical technology, civil society to climate change to immigration—and finds out more about the biggest challenges facing our society today.

In these conversations, you’ll learn how Detroit Disability Power’s Dessa Cosma is working to lift people with disabilities from poverty, how the Sustainable Districts Association’s Gita Syahrani is saving forests in Indonesia while empowering Indigenous communities, how the Guttmacher Institute’s Herminia Palacio is uniting community leaders and doctors to advance reproductive justice around the world, and much more.

This series is about how prominent social justice leaders, along with their ideas and their actions, are changing the world for good.

  • 32:15

    Saliem Fakir, the founder and executive director of the African Climate Foundation, the first grantmaking foundation in Africa focused on furthering solutions for sustainable climate development, joins Hilary Pennington to discuss the urgent need to address climate change and South Africa’s promising Just Energy Transition Partnership.

  • 26:46

    Dr. Timnit Gebru, founder and executive director of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), joins Hilary Pennington to discuss how an inclusive and collaborative approach to creating AI systems can address the uneven benefits and harmful impacts of technology on society.

  • 22:48

    Fernanda Hopenhaym is the co-executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), a nonprofit in Latin America that pushes for corporate accountability for human rights and environmental abuses. Fernanda and Hilary discuss how to keep businesses ethical and transparent by using feminist and human rights organizing strategies.

  • 25:23

    Hilary Pennington talks with Gita Syahrani about how engaging Indigenous and local communities in sustainability efforts can lead to greater economic mobility for them. Her work shows how civic engagement at the district level can have global impact.

  • 24:20

    Hilary Pennington and Dr. Herminia Palacio discuss this moment in the reproductive justice movement, how different communities are impacted, and what the United States can learn from countries that have won gender and reproductive health victories.

  • 27:36

    Hilary Pennington talks to Dessa Cosma about disability justice and inclusion. They discuss the importance of using intersectional approaches to activism and how to restructure the economy to be more just for disabled people.

  • 11:06

    Geetanjali Misra has bore witness to the evolution of feminism both on the ground in the U.S. and India and in her work as an activist. Seeing patterns change and movements shift, she speaks about the importance of intersectionality in building a more inclusive feminist future.

  • 11:47

    Civic space is essential for democracy. It allows people to participate in society and communicate freely and without discrimination. But, according to Poonam Joshi, director of Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society director, there are threats that need to be addressed before we solidify the civil society we want in the future.

  • 11:44

    Black feminist movements are advancing social justice globally. Tynesha Harris, one of the founders of the Black Feminist Fund, aims to channel more support to movement leaders and create a model of true solidarity. Racial, gender, and class injustice need an intersectional approach that acknowledges the inherent value of Black women.

  • 12:55

    When it comes to climate change, time is running out. But communities all over the world are working on solutions, and philanthropy needs to center their ideas and perspectives to win this fight. Laura Garcia, CEO of GlobalGreen Grants Fund, shares how funding grassroots movements can address challenges at the intersection of social and environmental justice.

  • 11:47

    The internet is a force for good, but it must be guided by fundamental human and privacy rights and offer social protection, said InternetLab director Mariana Valente. In this way, technology can advance equality and, with the right policies in place, be used as a tool for advocates to organize.

  • 11:33

    For too long, Africa has been defined in the media by stereotypes and oversimplified narratives. With Ford’s support, Africa No Filter is disrupting these narratives by empowering storytellers helping to create a nuanced, balanced view of the continent and an equitable, inclusive way of how to partner with it.

  • 9:53

    Disasters present the opportunity to bring us together and give us the chance to reevaluate our priorities and ask what’s really important. Labor organizer Saket Soni sees COVID-19 as a prologue to other threats, like climate change. He says disaster responses need to focus on strengthening essential workers.

  • 10:48

    Social justice organizations led by women of color often receive less funding. Teresa C. Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation, explains why philanthropy needs to center women of color to address systemic racism and uplift women and girls of color for a more just future.

  • 9:49

    COVID-19 has impacted the way we work, but it also exacerbated gender inequality in the workplace. Hakima Abbas, of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, believes we can prevent any further damage by including feminist leaders across the board in devising solutions.

  • Over one million nonprofits exist in the United States, but Tim Delaney, the CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, has an idea to make them even more impactful. To him, bringing social justice groups together can transform philanthropy for the benefit of all.

  • 8:25

    Immigration has been used as a weapon to divide the United States. The National Immigration Law Center aims to help the country understand that immigrants are not only important members of our communities and essential workers, but they are also valuable political constituencies needed to make American democracy work.

  • 11:16

    Pop culture plays an important role in advancing social justice. Bridgit Evans of Pop Culture Collaborative produces cultural strategies that build on points of connection to ensure policy changes are not just symbolic. By finding commonalities through culture, she believes we can create a world where everyone feels they belong.

  • 10:23

    While the labor movement has worked to improve the lives of garment factory workers globally, activist Anannya Bhattacharjee advocates that solutions need to start locally and come from the ground up to have a significant impact on workers’ lives.

  • 10:24

    The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we as a world work. As we face this inflection point, Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice, believes people—especially essential workers—need to have the right to come together collectively to organize and negotiate their conditions to build a global economy that works for all.

  • 7:40

    We need to dismantle racism to make inclusive democracy truly possible. Eric Ward of Western States Center believes smaller movements can help support bigger waves of change. From creating cohorts of emerging leaders to encouraging small group interactions can help protect democracy and put an end to white supremacy.