What's Next for the Decolonizing Wealth Project?

We spoke with Amber Banks about DWP’s participatory funding model and their work in the Global South
A woman wearing a green top and glasses with braids in her hair smiles against a transparent backdrop of two speakers at a conference.

This article is reposted from Proximate, our independent media partner.

The team at the Decolonizing Wealth Project has been busy.

When Edgar Villanueva first published Decolonizing Wealth in 2018, it became a surprise international hit, arriving at a time when a critique of philanthropy was welcome, and Villanueva’s message of “money as medicine” was well-received.

Villanueva launched the Decolonizing Wealth Project to operationalize the ideas in his book. The goal of the project is to shift best practice in philanthropy toward wealth redistribution, and to build the Indigenous and Black-led philanthropic infrastructure – as well as to build a broader donor community to support that movement.

They’ve done that through a few mechanisms, including the collective giving platform Liberated Capital, which now has 600 donor members and several funds, and the Case4Reparations Fund, a $20 million commitment to reparative justice that hosted the Alight Align Arise conference in 2023.

Amber Banks joined the Decolonizing Wealth Project in October 2023 as the inaugural Vice President of Programs. We spoke with her about Liberated Capital’s participatory grantmaking model; the project’s growing interest in sharing its message with audiences outside the United States; and some thoughts on the recent debates around trust-based philanthropy.


Liberated Capital has built a network of more than 600 donors who are committed to using “money as medicine”. How does the grantmaking model work?

Amber Banks:

Liberated Capital is designed to move untethered dollars through a reparative model. Our donors understand that by sharing their resources they are trusting  us to determine how best to redistribute those resources to Black and Indigenous-led movements for truth, healing, and repair.

At the core, this is our reparative philanthropy model. As our donors relinquish control of money, they are brought into a space of relationship and healing. We are all better when we can recognize where we hoard power and offer it to those from whom power and resources have been (and continue to be) extracted.

Our grantmaking mirrors this reparative model. For each of our funds – including the Indigenous Earth Fund, the #Case4Reparations Fund, and the California Truth and Healing Fund, our team does not make any final grant decisions. Rather, we cede decision-making power to an advisory council made up of people with lived experience in the issue-area of the fund.

Advisory councils are not unusual, but a lot of the time, these councils are made up of leaders of big organizations – they’re not necessarily centering people in movements, or intentionally bringing in different perspectives from across movements. Many folks on our Advisory Councils have never engaged in grantmaking – they’re not the people who have had regular access to resources and power. We’re opening the doors to people who really know the movements we support because they are best positioned to make funding decisions.

Beyond our councils, we have a streamlined application process designed to increase inclusivity and accessibility to our funding opportunities. We decided early on our grant process will not require hours of preparation. We use a platform that leverages a common application to reduce the labor burden of applying to grants, while also opening the door to additional funding from other organizations using the same common application. This process increases the visibility of all applicants, whether or not they are funded by DWP.

When it comes to measurement and learning – we know there are not always “movement metrics”. We provide unrestricted general operating support, and do not require burdensome reporting. We prefer a relational approach. We have calls and conversations in lieu of reports, and we’re careful not to define success for our partners but instead to define success in partnership.

Finally, our Liberated Capital donor community offers an additional lever of investment – in 2023, they directly donated more than $500,000 to our grantee partners.


I was interested to learn that DWP is expanding your work beyond the US, particularly in the Global South – you’ve built relationships and held conversations in the United Kingdom, but you’ve also  met with philanthropy leaders in Brazil at the Congreso GIFE, and held a reparative philanthropy session in Mexico City. What spurred that?

Amber Banks:

Decolonizing Wealth as a book certainly has always had a global audience. The book was translated into Spanish, and it’s in the process of being translated into Portuguese. So our global work has happened pretty organically.

We’ve been thrilled to be able to share our reparative approach to philanthropy in other countries. The global wealth movement space is complex – there’s international development, there’s philanthropy; there are a lot of different aspects to how wealth moves. We have been traditionally focused on philanthropy, and our engagement in each country varies.

We have done a fair amount of work in the UK, because if you look at how philanthropic funding is concentrated, there’s a large majority focused in the United States, the UK, and Europe. Because of DWP’s success in impacting the U.S. philanthropic sector over the last five years, we recognize we bring a certain amount of influence, or at least curiosity, when speaking to global funders about their practices. We are often in relationship with people who are organizing funders, and supporting them to redistribute power.

Ultimately, we are interested in shifting the paradigm globally, from division, control and exploitation to connection, relation and belonging. A lot of our global work is really focused on relationships and convenings. We are not trying to replicate or replace anything that’s already happening.

A man wearing a black suit and patterned shirt stands at a podium and prepares to give a speech.
Edgar Villanueva speaks at the 2023 GIFE Congress in São Paulo, Brazil.


Shifting topics – there have been a few high-profile articles lately critiquing trust-based philanthropy, in outlets like City Journal and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. What have you seen from your perspective?

Amber Banks:

We are fans of trust-based philanthropy, and we wholeheartedly support and are grateful for [The Trust-Based Philanthropy Project’s] work, to put relationships front and center in the work of philanthropy.

I will say – just this morning, we hosted a webinar around philanthropy doubling down on racial justice efforts. We had almost 300 people join us for the call. Ultimately, backlash is a sign of progress.

In our reparative philanthropy work – centering truth, healing, and repair – there are folks that see that solidarity as a threat. But the moral imperative is to stand by what we believe to be true. And to continue funding in a way that gives power and agency  to the people who are closest to the work.

We can’t for a moment back down from doing what we know is right. I think it’s helpful to say the quiet part out loud and say “Hey, you’re not alone in this. We have your back.” Because everyone doing this work may not be coming at it from the same angle, but we’re holding the same values.


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