In a groundbreaking move that has sent ripples throughout the world of philanthropy, the UK's Lankelly Chase, with its substantial endowment fortune of £130 million, has made the unprecedented decision to abolish itself. The charity, founded with the noble intention of addressing social, racial, and climate justice issues, has come to the stark realisation that traditional philanthropy is deeply entwined with colonial capitalism and may, unwittingly, perpetuate the very injustices it seeks to combat.
Lankelly Chase, a venerable institution with a 60-year history, distributed approximately £13 million annually to a multitude of charities dedicated to social justice causes. However, the charity's trustee board found itself grappling with an ethical quandary – how could they reconcile their mission to tackle racism, inequality, and injustice with their role as major investors in global capital markets, which they viewed as rooted in racial and colonial exploitation?
In a bold and unprecedented move, Lankelly Chase announced its intention to spend the next five years liquidating its assets, including its substantial endowment, and redirecting these resources to organisations and networks actively engaged in what they term ‘life-affirming social justice work’ in communities across the UK. This radical shift aims to challenge the conventional philanthropic approach, characterised by what they refer to as the ‘cult of benevolence’.
The decision made by Lankelly Chase is undoubtedly an outlier in the UK's philanthropic landscape, but it resonates with a growing global debate about the need to ‘decolonise the endowment’. In the United States, this discussion has gained significant traction in both philanthropic and community circles. While Lankelly Chase acknowledges that not all endowed foundations will adopt their approach, they firmly believe that profound change is now an imperative.
Julian Corner, the CEO of Lankelly Chase, articulated their perspective succinctly: ‘Philanthropy is a function of colonial capitalism, it has been shaped by it, is being driven by it, and yet philosophically it tries to position itself as somehow a cure for the ills of colonial capitalism, and that contradiction needs to stop.’
This decision to redistribute their resources is not taken lightly. Lankelly Chase recognises that simply shifting capital to new funding gatekeepers could inadvertently perpetuate existing power imbalances. Therefore, they intend to collaborate with future asset holders to explore alternative investment philosophies, ensuring that the redistribution of wealth aligns with their vision of social justice.
Marai Larasi, a fellow trustee, emphasised that it's time to ‘compost’ Lankelly Chase as an institution and pave the way for new organisations to emerge. The goal is not to uphold the status quo of benevolence but to actively dismantle it, opening the door for fresh perspectives and approaches to philanthropy.
While Lankelly Chase's decision may appear sudden, it is rooted in a deeper understanding of the systemic issues that plague traditional philanthropy. They assert that capital accumulation, even when not overtly tied to harmful colonising practices, is intrinsically linked to ongoing processes of colonial appropriation and exploitation, a concept scholars like Cedric J. Robinson have termed ‘racial capitalism’.
The closure of Lankelly Chase raises critical questions about the future of the third sector and the potential ramifications if other funders were to follow suit. The third sector, comprising charitable organisations and non-profits, plays a vital role in addressing societal challenges and filling gaps left by government initiatives. The sector relies heavily on the financial support of philanthropic foundations like Lankelly Chase to fund essential programmes and initiatives.
If more foundations were to take a cue from Lankelly Chase and shift their focus from maintaining endowments to actively redistributing wealth to grassroots organisations, it could usher in a new era of philanthropy. However, this transition would not come without challenges and potential drawbacks.
One immediate concern is the possibility of certain causes or organisations losing out on funding. Established charities that have relied on consistent support from traditional philanthropic entities may find themselves in jeopardy. This underscores the need for careful planning and collaboration during the redistribution process to ensure a smooth transition and minimise disruptions to essential services.
Moreover, there's the question of how new funding gatekeepers will be chosen and whether they will truly represent the interests of marginalised communities. Transparency, accountability, and a commitment to the principles of social justice will be paramount in this process.
Lankelly Chase's decision to wind up its fund is a watershed moment in the world of philanthropy. It challenges the status quo and invites a long-overdue conversation about the role of wealth and power in perpetuating societal injustices. As other foundations contemplate their own paths forward, they too will need to grapple with these complex issues and consider whether they can, in good conscience, continue business as usual in a world that demands radical change.