TIME 100 Talks
June 4, 2020 8:28 PM EDT

There’s a difference between philanthropy and social justice philanthropy, says Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

Philanthropy, Walker says in conversation Thursday with reporter Justin Worland for the TIME100 Talks series, is most notably codified by Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller in their writings about charity and generosity. But, he adds, social justice philanthropy is rooted in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Philanthropy is commendable, but it should not allow the philanthropist to overlook the economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary.”

Walker discussed the role of social justice philanthropy in this moment as protests continue across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd on May 25, and how it can support calls for reforms to law enforcement and racial inequality.

“This is a tragedy, an American tragedy,” he says. “Hopefully this time we won’t do what we’ve done in the past, and we will take seriously, and fully engage in the work of building a more just America.”

The Ford Foundation and other philanthropic endeavors have a “responsibility” to fund frontline protesters, those who are litigating cases against police brutality and other forms of racial injustice, and should advocate for change. Philanthropy can also fund research, he adds, noting that there is not one single repository of data on deaths at the hands of police officers.

“A fundamental challenge here is that capitalism in its current form is not working for too many of us,” Walker says. “Our privilege in this economy has been compounded, while those who don’t have assets, those who are trying and striving, are feeling that they are left farther and farther behind—because they are…We have seen this pulling apart of our society economically and that intersects with race and our historic realities of racial discrimination.”

One issue, highlighted by Worland, is that many philanthropists, as well as partners of the Ford Foundation, benefit from the economic system that Walker is calling to change. “Are you having these difficult conversations?” asks Worland.

“Absolutely,” says Walker. “There are many partners, and other foundations, who may not agree and are reluctant [to change]…If we’re to really take this seriously, we are going to have to recognize that equity demands that we prioritize the needs and aspirations of those communities who have historically been left out.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com.

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