Panel + Q&A (*Maximum 4 Panelists)

Shifting Power: How to Bring Grassroots Voices into Funding Decisions

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What would it mean to actually bring communities into funding decisions?


Impact investing and philanthropy are filled with blind spots and systemic bias: current practices often place decision-making power into the hands of a small number of “experts” from backgrounds of wealth and privilege. These experts can, often unintentionally, help to maintain the status quo, or fund solutions to symptoms rather than social movements. 


But a growing number of thinkers in philanthropy and impact investing are moving past “community surveys” or “feedback”, and adopting the transformative practice of participatory decision-making: new models that invite community members to substantively weigh in and vote on funding decisions. These new models acknowledge the value of “expertise by experience” alongside traditional academic or financial expertise.


The session will explore the fascinating history of participatory funding models and why, in 2020, participatory decision-making is making a comeback — spurred by an unprecedented concentration of power in the innovation economy, and driven by a rising generation of millennial funders who are embracing humility. We will discuss emerging models including participatory grantmaking, Village Capital’s peer-selected investment process, and the Boston Ujima Fund’s democratic investment model – new ways to devolve decisions from wealthy people to the wisdom of the crowd.


We’ll draw on insights from leading practitioners to discuss how those in positions of power can transform the way we allocate resources to be more inclusive, democratic, transparent and ultimately accountable.

Confirmed Panelists

Meg Massey, Senior Writer at Karma Impact (moderator)

Note: Meg is the author, with Ben Wrobel, of a forthcoming book on participatory funding models. The book is scheduled for a September 2020 release. 

Allie Burns, CEO at Village Capital

Unconfirmed Panelists

  • Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director of Disability Rights Fund
  • Nia Evans, Director of Boston Ujima Project
  • Erika Seth Davies, Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact

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