Connecting Philanthropy with the Frontlines of Social Justice

Proteus Fund’s October 2021 Newsletter

Connecting Philanthropy with the Frontlines of Social Justice: Proteus Newsletter — October 2021 - Proteus Fund

Connecting Philanthropy with the Frontlines of Social Justice

It’s amazing to think that we are nine months into yet another “year without end,” while appreciating the daunting reality that 2022 is rapidly approaching. We continue to live in a dangerous and precarious period in history. Just as the nation seems unable to rid itself of COVID, so too do we seem incapable of tackling the most significant moral, social and political dilemmas of the day. Time is truly running out.

In these difficult times, the need to refocus and recommit to the many ways in which we can all affect positive change is paramount. At Proteus Fund, we recognized these times called for a reimagining of our organization for the future, including greater clarity around our theory of change, our role in movements, and our strategies to help advance social justice. The result is Proteus Fund’s new strategic plan, which went into effect at the start of the year. Our model is built on an integrated theory of change which we rely on to carefully select and manage our donor collaboratives and fiscally sponsored projects. And, in doing this critical work, we deploy a creative array of strategies and tactics that further the goals of our funders while also advancing Proteus Fund’s vision of racial, gender, queer, and disability justice within a representative democracy.

While most visible in our rapidly expanding and evolving work, there are other elements to this reimagining of Proteus Fund as well. You may notice that, starting with this newsletter and our newly launched website, Proteus Fund has a new look and feel that embodies the vitality of our team and the urgency and boldness of the social justice movements we are part of. Our new logo, a brightly colored spark, is intended to represent how we fully embrace our catalytic role in expanding the definition of and transforming social justice philanthropy for the better.

An essential part of that role is serving as a proactive organizer, advocate, and connector in mobilizing funders and other philanthropic partners to resource movements in respectful, creative, and meaningful ways. One example of this is our recent call to action and the work we are doing around it focused on creating and sustaining significantly more support of Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) leaders, organizations, and communities including their role in the positive change we seek. Similarly, led by our vision of justice, equity, and an inclusive and representative democracy, we have recently pledged to taking substantive action – in both our work and operations – to become a partner in the disability justice movement, addressing the needs and advancing the interests of the millions of Americans living with disabilities, especially those living at the intersection of racial, gender, and queer justice.

I invite funders and other philanthropic organizations and networks to learn more about these important efforts in this newsletter and consider ways you might engage in them in partnership with us. 

— Paul

A Call for Solidarity and Joint Investment in BAMEMSA Communities

On the recent anniversary of 9/11, marking twenty years since that terrible day, we joined the nation in remembering the devastating loss of life that occurred. We also reflected on the resulting unjustified bigotry and violence that Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) communities have experienced since then. A just, multiracial democracy cannot exist without the inclusion of these communities, which are still underinvested in and excluded from broader conversations and philanthropic opportunities. RTF and our philanthropic partners are committed to helping raise $50 million over the next five years to support BAMEMSA communities and are urging others to pledge their participation.

Read More


Open Society Foundations (OSF) has played a pivotal role in this call to action on behalf of BAMEMSA communities. We spoke to Laleh Ispahani, Co-Director, Open Society-US, about the significance of this joint investment by philanthropy.

OSF has supported the building of agency and power in Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities for over ten years now, longer, and more consistently than any other larger funder. Why? What motivates OSF to do so?

In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government began sustained efforts against people of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian descent. We saw the rise of Islamophobia, government spying, detention, and other restrictions. Unfortunately, everyday Americans picked up on the tacit, and sometimes explicit, call by the government to be suspicious of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and anyone seen as “other”.

In response, the Open Society Foundations established a National Security and Human Rights campaign to combat human rights violations that flowed from U.S. policy decisions. We began funding existing groups serving MASA communities, as well as new organizations that began to prop up in response to the crisis. While Open Society Foundations supported several traditional human rights and civil liberties groups, we realized that it was important to fund those most directly affected and bolster their voice and engagement. This commitment reflects our conviction that real progress requires sustained support over many years, and that impacted communities should have the agency to shape their own path forward. 

This sustained commitment has paid off. After the initial urgent response to the crisis, these community groups eventually began to be more proactive, winning policy reforms that limited the overreach of the state into their lives. They also led efforts to build bridges with other civil rights organizations, and to join their quest for racial justice, away from a fear-based approach to threats. Today, 20 years after 9/11, Open Society continues to support these organizations, as they build their power, and work to increase civic and civil participation within their communities. The full inclusion of these groups in the United States is a measure of how truly open our society is, and we will strive with them to reach that benchmark.

Read More


In the days since this call to action was first issued, RTF has been gratified to see the list of philanthropic partners adding their names to this effort continue to grow. Will you commit to supporting BAMEMSA communities?

Read More

Philanthropy’s Responsibility in Advancing Disability Justice

As grantmakers have (albeit very unevenly) begun to bolster resources and other support for inclusion and equity on a broader scale in American society, one of the largest communities and movements in need of such support and partnership has too often been overlooked – people living with disabilities. This exclusion and the accompanying forced invisibility it produces have been a decades-long pattern around disability rights and justice. Ignorance around this community, and disability issues, including even the most basic understandings of the barriers and prejudice that people with disabilities face, is a major contributing factor to this problem.  Such ignorance around these issues, especially among individuals, institutions, and other social justice movements committed to creating a better world, must end.

  • It is estimated one in five Americans – 56 million people – live with an evident or non-evident disability.
  • Thirty percent of families in this society have one or more members living with a disability.
  • An astonishing 75% of people with disabilities are unemployed with 25% living in poverty. Only about 20% of Americans with disabilities have gone to college.*
  • Research indicates that disabled individuals earn less than their non-disabled counterparts, are significantly more likely to develop chronic disease and lack private health insurance due to unemployment, and continue to struggle with accessibility issues in many public spaces across the country.

The passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in jobs, schools, and all areas of public life, was a monumental moment in the disability rights movement. As is the case with so many other social justice advances of recent decades, the true intent and application of this landmark legislation have been weakened in the 30 years since its signing by restrictive interpretations in the federal courts. And, even at its best, the civil rights model of framing disability is two-dimensional. What is needed is a “justice” frame anchored in an intersectional approach which centers communities marginalized by our society.

It is impossible to achieve a fully representative democracy without disability justice. And the ongoing effort to advance disability justice requires a genuine commitment to disability inclusion in philanthropy. In signing the pledge put forth by the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy, Proteus Fund, and other initial signatories from philanthropy are committing to taking real action to center disability justice. We hope others will join in the journey. 

*Data from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and President’s Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy

Proteus Fund is proud to be a sponsor of the CHANGE Philanthropy 2021 Unity Summit. The virtual convening will bring together over 2000 philanthropic thought leaders and changemakers for learning, sharing, and networking. If you are registered for the Unity Summit, we would invite you to attend one or more of the following sessions the Proteus Fund team will be leading at the event. In line with the virtual format, sessions have been pre-recorded. Let us know you attended our sessions by commenting on the conference discussion board and tagging Proteus Fund and our donor collaboratives on social media with the hashtag #UnitySummit2021.