Episode 24: Disrupting colonial legacies through reparations and community healing. Edgar Villanueva interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Edgar Villanueva tells us about his book Decolonising Wealth, which was written in an effort to disrupt the flow of capital and to liberate resources for marginalised communities. Edgar tells us about how indigenous worldviews can contribute to community healing and to repairing the harms caused by the philanthropic sector. We also talk about a framework called Repair to Philanthropy, where money reparations work to re-dress the harms inflicted on communities. Edgar links the indigenous and Black struggles for racial and economic justice, and includes them in his approach to healing and reparations.
Episode 24: Full Transcript

​​The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 24

Disrupting colonial legacies through reparations and community healing. Edgar Villanueva interviewed.

Edgar: [00:00:00] For historically, we have been the two most oppressed, most marginalised communities in this country. And I feel that our struggle is very interrelated, very interconnected, and if I, as an indigenous person can use my platform, my resources to support reparations for Black people, I am sending a very strong message that other people should be supporting reparations for Black people, right?

White people should be supporting reparations and then in return, I believe in reciprocity. I know that my Black brothers and sisters are going to stand with me and my community. As we are demanding what we want and need in order to heal and repair.

Kate: Hello, I’m Professor Kate Bird, and I’d like to talk to you today about our episode of the PowerShift Decolonising Development. In today’s episode, we talk to Edgar Villanueva, who’s written an award winning book on Decolonising Wealth. We talk to him about his efforts to disrupt the flow of capital and liberate resources for marginalised communities.

Edgar tells us how the indigenous worldview can contribute to community healing and to repairing the harms caused by the [00:01:00] philanthropic sector. We also talk about a framework called Repair to Philanthropy where money reparations work to redress the harms inflicted on communities by colonialism.

Edgar links indigenous and Black struggles for racial and economic justice and includes them in this approach to healing and reparations. Listen on for more.

Hello, welcome to the Power Shift Decolonising Development, the podcast series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners, and activists to share ideas, inspire change, and identify tools for practical action. I’m Professor Kate Bird, a socio economist and director of the Development Hub. Today’s co host is Dr. Nompilo Ndlovu. Over to you, Nompilo. 

Nompilo: Greetings, I am Dr. Nompilo Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean living and working in South Africa. I’m an oral historian who applies gender frameworks to my work with communities in Africa. Recent work has included my involvement in mixed method studies on poverty dynamics in Zimbabwe, where I led the work on gender and marginalisation.

My PhD focuses on [00:02:00] mass violence, memory, and local transitional justice in post colonial Zimbabwe. Back to you, Kate.

Kate: Thanks, Nompilo. So, today we’re very excited to be talking to Edgar Villanueva ( Lumbee). Edgar is the CEO at Decolonising Wealth Project and Liberated Capital. He’s an award winning author, activist, and expert on issues of race, wealth, and philanthropy, and the author of the best selling book Decolonising Wealth, which was published both in 2018 and again in 2021.

He’s contributed to the Washington Post, the Advocate, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and more. He shares his thoughts on racial justice, decolonisation, and healing on his social media platforms. Publications have been used to give higher profile to his work, and he’s an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe and lives currently in New York City.

For more on Edgar and the Decolonising Wealth Project, click on the show notes below this episode. So welcome again, Edgar. Thank you for joining us [00:03:00] today. I wonder if we can start by exploring what first brought you to work on Decolonising Wealth. 

Edgar: Yeah, thank you. It’s an honor to be speaking with you today. What first brought me to work on the book Decolonising Wealth and the broader work that we do in my organisation is really my personal experience.

Growing up as an indigenous person in the United States and from a family that had very little resources and wealth, I found myself at a pretty young age of 28 working in the philanthropic industry. I got a job at a foundation where I oversaw a portfolio of about $25 million. And I immediately went from a background of not having any affiliation with wealth and power to all of a sudden having access and proximity to a lot of wealth and a lot of power.

And so after 20 years of working in the industry in various roles, I had a lot of stories to tell, a lot of experiences, some very positive stories around how I saw wealth moving in ways that were [00:04:00] really facilitating change and communities and resourcing vibrant movements and providing much needed capital to organisations doing fantastic work to support people.

But I also saw a lot of barriers to receiving these resources, especially from folks from historically marginalised communities and racialised communities. And so, as a person who sat in the intersection of all of these identities, it was really overwhelming. And I was led to write Decolonising Wealth that was published in 2018, really out of what I felt like was a passion and a act of obedience to my ancestors.

I had to share publicly what I had seen and experienced in these hallways of power and in these ivory towers in an effort to really disrupt the flow of capital and to liberate resources because our communities need and deserve these resources to do the work that we all need to do to ensure that we can live and thrive in our communities and in our cultures.

So it was really from a lot of personal experiences and stories that I held inside for a long time[00:05:00] that at a certain point in time, I decided to put pen to paper and to share those experiences and not just mine, but the experiences of a lot of people that I knew and had come in contact with over my years of working in this industry.

Kate: It’s fascinating, Edgar. Thank you for explaining to me how you moved into this sector. And I think it’s really interesting that you have that personal experience of working in the sector and that exposure to wealth and the movement of capital, but also your lived experience as an indigenous person, which I think brings a particularly, for me unusual as a British person, and unique perspective.

And I see that in some of the language on your website, which we’re going to definitely return to later, because it struck me as being quite unusual language. So I’d like to pass back to Nonpilo now for question number two. Nonpilo, can you take the chair?

Nompilo: Absolutely. To follow up on Kate’s earlier question, could you explain to our listeners what role you’re involved membership of the Lumbee tribe? Am I saying it correctly? 

Edgar: Lumbee.

Nompilo: Lumbee tribe has played in your drive to engage in this work?

Edgar: You know, I think it’s played a major role. I think our [00:06:00] identities, where we come from, who are people are is probably the most significant influence on our lives and our worldview and how we move through life and how we perceive and see things.

For me, it’s a really interesting story because as an indigenous person in the United States, we are largely invisible and particularly because I am from the U. S. South where a lot of folks, even in this country don’t know that we have tribes and native folks that still occupy these territories.

And so I grew up in a place where my community was largely invisible, folks had little knowledge about indigenous peoples. When I was a young boy at the age of five, my family moved away from our tribal community to the city. So I was even more isolated and detached from a community, although we were about an hour and a half away.

I was the only Native American in all of my schooling until I got to university. And so, I think that experience of feeling other and also being detached from my own community.[00:07:00] Really ignited within me a desire to journey back and to remember, to figure out who I was in all of this. And what has been the biggest gift in my life was actually writing my book, Decolonising Wealth, because when I first set out to write the book, I was a little frustrated, a little angry. I wanted to just write all these things and critique and complain about what was broken about the philanthropic industry. Where I had to dig deep and really come to an understanding was around, okay, well, what is my unique perspective or solution to repair all of this? And I began that journey and that exploration by going back home and talking to elders in my community and to really reconnect with what we call our original instructions. And that is who we are and how we are to be and what we believe that has been passed down in our DNA from our ancestors’ generations. It’s in our bodies. Although I wasn’t in the community, I didn’t grow up there necessarily, it was in my body. And so writing the book allowed me in so many ways to [00:08:00] reconnect and remember who I was and what our ways of being were. And simple conversations with elders like, tell me, how do we take care of each other?

Outside of philanthropy as this industry, this transactional exchange of money, what do we believe as indigenous people in terms of taking care of our children, taking care of each other, loving our neighbors, those kinds of questions. And it really, for me, was a healing journey of reconnecting to my culture and remembering who I am and that indigenous worldview, that outlook on life was actually the solution to so much that is broken in our communities.

And so I brought that indigenous lens to the work of philanthropy and in conversations about wealth and power, because we have solutions that can really inform and move us forward from some of the brokenness that is left behind because of colonisation.

Nompilo: I enjoy that you drew attention to your book. Can we at least give you a platform to tell us a little more about it? You highlighted that writing it meant you went back home to get in on the original [00:09:00] instructions. Could you elaborate a bit more about the book? 

Edgar: Sure. Happy to. The book Decolonising Wealth is in many ways, a story about my experiences as a young indigenous person coming into the industry of philanthropy.

Philanthropy is a 1 trillion dollar industry that in many ways exists to support the nonprofit sector, the charitable sector but there are so many loopholes and things that happen behind the curtain that a lot of folks aren’t aware of. And in many ways, although philanthropy is doing some good, there’s a lot of harm that philanthropy has caused and is causing by the way that it accumulates wealth and invest its money and protects its money. A lot of folks can step back and look at it and say, what is the net value of philanthropy actually, when we see some good happening, and that good that is happening has really strong PR behind it, public relations.

And we tout our accomplishments of philanthropy, but the vast majority of the resources in this charitable industry are actually tied up in private markets, [00:10:00] Wall Street and in different portfolios that are actually harming communities. So it’s a truth telling book that is pulling the curtain back around what is actually happening with capital and money within the philanthropic and social impact industries.

And it offers a way to repair that harm. In a lot of ways, it’s actually a history lesson. It’s a story about how wealth came to be, particularly in the United States, naming facts, such as the taking of land from indigenous folks, how our economic system here was built off of the back of enslaved Africans.

And all of these historical things that happened that led to this significant accumulation of wealth in the United States, which therefore enables the philanthropic industry to exist, has been really harmful. And there’s a lot of healing that needs to be done, a lot of truth, a lot of repair and reparations that need to be paid, and money has a significant role in all of that because we all use money. We exchange resources every single day. And so it brings a historical light to [00:11:00] how wealth came to be, how money has been operating to harm, and offers a hopeful alternative for us to use money and resources in a way that can help facilitate healing. And I call this using money as medicine.

Nompilo: Okay. You’ve already started to touch on key things that I’m passionate about. Firstly, history, the use of the word healing which we will hopefully interrogate as we get into it, and money as medicine. I haven’t heard that term, so that sounds really great. It leads on to the next question, your Decolonising Wealth Project.

It seeks to disrupt existing systems of moving and controlling capital and building a Black-led philanthropic infrastructure. You also state the aim of offering truth, reconciliation and healing from the ails of colonisation through education, reparative giving, decolonising people’s relationship with money and narrative change.

I know you’ve already started this conversation, but could you tell us more about these goals and how you seek to achieve them?

Edgar: Absolutely. So, yes, our organisation Decolonising Wealth [00:12:00] Project, we just celebrated our 5 year anniversary and writing the book Decolonising Wealth really opened up a lot of doors and opportunities to do more of this work as I traveled the world speaking about the book, I was in conversations with thousands and thousands of folks.

A lot of funders, donors, philanthropists, investors, but also folks leading movements and community and folks who are really on the front lines of social change. And I began to see opportunities to take the ideas in the book and to support people in putting those into practice. And so the way we do this work, we have a number of tools and resources and workshops that we utilise to support decision makers and foundation leaders and folks with wealth and really understanding and putting into practice the concepts in the book.

We call this Repair to Philanthropy, right? It’s a new framework to do philanthropy that is bringing the lens of repair. It’s moving way beyond the historical [00:13:00] charitable sort of mindset of “I am a person with means who is going to give to these folks over here who are poor and needy, and I’m not in any type of relationship with them.”

It’s sort of flipped the paradigm and actually understanding that as people with means and as folks who have had privilege historically, there’s actually an obligation to right the wrongs of history. And we can use privilege and power in a way that is mobilised to right those wrongs and to create a new type of relationship with each other where we are all in this thing together, and so it’s really pushing back on those historical paradigms that have been caused by colonisation that has created the Us versus Them mindset that has created the haves and the have nots, but it’s understanding that all of us have been negatively impacted by the history of colonisation, whether you are indigenous, Black, a White person, whoever you are, these centuries of violence that have been occurring and continue to occur are harming all of us.

I said to a [00:14:00] group of folks this week, we were talking about this idea of colonisation and it’s often thought of in a historical context, but it is very much at play in the dynamics of colonisation, which sometimes can be quite violent and destructive. They’re also quite subtle sometimes, these dynamics – controlling and exploiting and dominating. Those dynamics are baked into every system and to every aspect of our society from our education policy to culture and everything around us. And we have never lived in a community or society that was void of these dynamics.

So we are becoming increasingly numb to these violent dynamics and where I was speaking, I said to them, we know that children right now are being separated from their families in the United States through these horrible immigration laws and put into cages. And we see this in the news and we go to bed every night and sleep quite soundly because we feel a sense of hopelessness because the dynamics of colonisation are so at play.

[00:15:00] And so what we try to do in our work through engagement with individuals and organisations, through our workshops, through offering healing spaces, we literally hold ceremony and we get together and we grieve and we heal together. We are led by folks who are trained in ancestral healing practices.

What we’re offering in these spaces is a real acceptance of history, acceptance of the truth that has transpired. Of course, here in the U S you’ve probably seen in the news, we were facing books being banned, we’re facing policies where they’re not allowed to teach history in the classrooms anymore.

Which is so harmful because we have to delve into the darkness of the truth in order to get to the other side of that and begin some collective healing. And so that’s what we do. We engage folks in all types of opportunities to understand history, to heal from their own ancestral trauma.

And to think about giving money as this tangible thing that can be deployed in the form of energy that actually helps to [00:16:00] facilitate healing. If you come from a family, for example, who has a lot of wealth and you come to understand that that wealth that you have in your family has come about historically by harming people or harming the planet.

We talk about opportunities to repair and use that wealth by giving it away or redistributing that wealth or diverting that to people in the form of reparations, is actually truly healing and liberating, not just for the receivers, but for the donors who are engaged in those those giving journeys.

Nompilo: I mean, what can one say after that? I think you already highlighted some aspects of the next question. So this is a nice segue. You highlighted that a lot of your work is just generally addressing centuries of violence across diverse peoples. So communication between African American and Indigenous communities in the US can be fraught at times.

Your activism bridges divides. You’ve said this quite clearly, including through your work to build support for reparations for the harms of slavery. Could you tell us a little more about this and the extent to which your work [00:17:00] can heal the rifts caused by colorism?

Edgar: Absolutely. Yeah. I am Native American and I grew up in North Carolina in the South, where we have a large population of Black Americans.

And I come from a tribe that has a long history of being in solidarity with the Black community in the fight for civil rights, and there were battles like the Battle of Hayes Pond where there was a lot of solidarity and support between the two communities to push out the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacists who were entering our community and threatening our lives and wanting to push us out.

And so from a very young age, I witnessed this type of solidarity and really understood that our liberation was interrelated and interdependent on each other. And I think one of the byproducts of colonisation is fear, is our scarcity mindsets, and we can internalise that oppression and easily turn on each other.

Right? And so that is exactly how this system was designed is that we fight, we disagree, we have tension. [00:18:00] We come for each other. The opposition only gains more power. And so through our work, especially our work around reparations, there is a lot of solidarity building opportunities.

I think I get asked quite a bit, you’re a Native American. So why are you out here advocating for reparations for Black people? And so, for me, I’m doing a lot of work to support my community around truth and healing and reconciliation and racial and economic justice. And at the same time, I’m a major advocate for reparations for Black people, because in the United States especially, the two original sins of this country, is the taking of land from indigenous people and the near genocide of indigenous people on this land, and also the exploited unpaid labor, the enslavement of Black folks who work this land.

For historically, we have been the two most oppressed, most marginalised communities in this country. And I feel that our struggle is very interrelated, very interconnected, and if I, as an indigenous person can use my platform, my resources to [00:19:00] support reparations for Black people, I am sending a very strong message that other people should be supporting reparations for Black people, right?

White people should be supporting reparations and then in return, I believe in reciprocity. I know that my Black brothers and sisters are going to stand with me and my community. As we are demanding what we want and need in order to heal and repair.

Nompilo: Okay. I think you’ve heard quite a bit from me. Perhaps Kate would like to take over.

Kate: Thank you, Nompilo. I find the narrative around healing very refreshing and very interesting, actually. When I was looking at your website in preparation for this podcast interview, I noticed that your website has a lot on it about healing, the healing power of money, but also the healing journey that you were talking about around healing ceremonies and so on.

And I suppose I perceive that as being quite deeply rooted in your indigenous culture and it’s coming from that kind of spiritual history that your culture has, but you know, that’s ignorant and ill informed. Anyway I noticed what you’ve said about reparations and that you feel that [00:20:00] reparations can be healing for both the giver and the recipient and I think that’s very interesting that you feel that it has a healing role to play for the giver and that is part of what’s driving your approach to reparations and the way that you can communicate reparations. So I think that’s just an interesting context and an interesting observation.

Another observation that I have as a White privileged British person with a colonial background, my family has a colonial background, is that the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are actually settler economies. They’re very rarely talked about in that sense, but they are actually settler economies.

My experience is that the White populations of those countries would rarely think about them in those terms. Although the indigenous communities almost definitely would. So your activism focuses very largely on decolonising in the USA, in the United States, but you link with activists globally. I know that you have linked with activists involved in the Shift the Power movement, who are meeting in [00:21:00] Bogota in December.

I’ve seen your name mentioned in regard to that. So I suppose my question is, do you think White Americans are ready to embrace the idea of the U. S. as a colonial entity, and do you think they’re ready to heal, and ready to provide reparative justice, or engage in a reparative justice process?

Edgar: Yeah, thank you for that. It’s really interesting as we’ve been doing more work in the U. K. just comparing how our work shows up and how these issues manifest in the U. S. versus the U. K. In the U. K., a lot of the colonisation happened so far away that it seems like it’s invisible and it’s something that happened over there, versus the U. S. where it happened right here. And there’s evidence all around still of the legacy of colonisation and its lingering impacts. What I would say in response to your question is yes I remain hopeful. I have to in order to do this work, but I remain hopeful for a couple of reasons.

One is I really [00:22:00] believe that we’re on to something when I think about this movement for truth and repair and reparations. In fact, I think that the backlash around books and history and curriculum and folks who are really pushing to sweep all of this under a carpet and never touch it again, is in response to that readiness.

I think there’s a fear that the mass majority of folks here want to understand our history, want to be informed and want to take action to do something about it. And if that weren’t so, then no one would be concerned with banning books and trying to not teach children. That fearful response is coming out of a fear of the movement and what’s happening.

I also am witnessing right now what I think of as an era of truth and healing in the United States that really motivates me. Just in the philanthropic sector if we’re looking there narrowly, we have worked with many institutions who are coming forward in saying “We want to be honest about our history. We want to tell the [00:23:00] truth about where our money came from. We want to apologise and make amends and pay reparations.” We’re talking about major philanthropic institutions that I never thought in my lifetime would ever even have these kinds of conversations. We’re also seeing this more broadly in the corporate sector with all types of major institutions, such as the American Library Association, Nurses Associations, there is this wave of truth telling that is happening across the U. S. And also across the world, right? We’ve even seen from the royal family statements coming out in the U. K. around acknowledging the role of historical slavery and its connection to British history and to the royal family even.

So, I am really excited right now by all of this truth telling that is coming forward. And so witnessing that is really amazing. Even here in the U. S. there are more than 90 universities right now who are going through processes to explore their histories and to come forward with the truth and are [00:24:00] creating commissions to discuss what to do about it and take action to take repair there.

So, it is really beautiful for me to witness on the federal level and the U. S. government, we have two bodies of legislation moving right now. One that is looking at reparations for Black people to create a commission. There’s been movement on that policy for the first time in decades where there’s actually traction happening to organise around passing a bill.

We have legislation being introduced at the federal level to create a TRC, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Native Americans in this country. So, although it feels like in this very moment, there’s more division than there’s ever been. I also think that this is driving us to think about healing.

And the only way to get there is to document the truth, understand the grievances, feel that in our bodies, and commit to some type of collective healing process. So I am really inspired. I saw a documentary last night here in New [00:25:00] York, it wa s like a documentary film festival that was about reparations and I’m seeing reparations in film. I’m seeing it and hearing about it in music. It’s everywhere. And it’s really coming from a place that’s not just about give me my money. You owe me. But it’s really more there, there’s a lot of conversation about the healing and the spirit of reparations, and I think honestly, a lot of White people are beginning to support reparations because they have felt that healing.

They have felt that connection. A lot of folks have been hiding in shame and keeping secrets within their family. And we all know at some level the history and the truth of what has happened in this country. We know what has happened within our families at some level, whether we benefited from this history or we were harmed from this history.

And I think that people just really want to, you know, not everyone. I don’t want to be naive, but I think a lot of folks really want to get to a place where we feel connected to each other. We are human beings with body, soul, mind, spirit, and even [00:26:00] biologically, we want to be in community and in relationship with each other, and it’s not sustainable for us to continue to build societies with walls around us that are separating us from each other, hoarding resources while others suffer. That is not intrinsically who we are designed to be as human beings. So I am very hopeful and very excited about all of the healing that I see happening, all the truth telling. And if you ask any organisation who has come forward with a statement and made the acknowledgements of harm that has happened, put that out there, what you will find that it was really hard to go through the process to do that, but on the other side, there’s so much joy. People are so happy to be able to be authentic and not have to pretend. And there’s so much opportunity to be in relationship with each other in a very different way. It’s very similar to just interpersonal relationships between friends, right? If you hurt someone, you acknowledge it, you say, I’m sorry.

And on the other side of that, there’s [00:27:00] often you’re even closer because you had that struggle and you had that honesty and truth telling moment. And so I hope that society at large, we can do so much more of that because I see it happening and I’m seeing so much joy and liberation on the other side of those opportunities.

Kate: Thank you so much. I think it’s quite unusual to talk about healing in the same conversation as talking about money. So I do think this is quite an unusual angle on the whole thing and I think the way that you’re bringing in a conversation about healing and community and bodies and embodied trauma and embodied damage and how working together to forgive historical harms can bring us closer together in community.

And highlighting the fact that we all actually want to be in community. And my goodness, didn’t we learn that during the pandemic? I certainly did. If anything, I’ve learned how important people are to me and how much I want to be in connection with people. You talk about we know the history, [00:28:00] but I certainly think that in the UK and Britain, we don’t know the history because it hasn’t been in the curriculum.

I mean, in the US, you’ve got politicians and communities very actively blocking the teaching of history. It’s never been taught here. I have never been taught about colonial history. What I know is through having conversations with colleagues like Nompilo, and colleagues in Kenya.

And other colleagues around the world who have enlightened me and corrected me in my ignorance. So there’s a long way that people in the UK need to travel before they have an accurate understanding of our role as a colonial nation. And as slave owners and slave runners. And part of the triangular trade involving human bodies and sugar and other commodities, treating people as commodities.

So I do think we’ve got a long way to go. But certainly what you said about a global movement and this feeling of energy and excitement and change and the arc of history moving towards justice. I certainly feel that there is that movement.[00:29:00] And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about whether you feel the lessons from your work in the United States and whether you feel those lessons can be extracted, adapted and applied internationally.

Edgar: Absolutely. I feel that way. We have, over the last couple of years, done quite a bit of work in other places. I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, Canada, Mexico, Brazil having conversations and really understanding how our work could support, or be translated or adapted to support, work happening in other countries. What’s interesting every single time I go to a new place, they’re like, you have to understand it’s different here. It’s nuance and true. This is very true. And at the same time, there’s so much that is the same. White supremacy is operating very similarly in many places, human nature and our response around fear and scarcity mindsets and power hoarding, all of that seems to be operating the propaganda around race [00:30:00] in terms of not understanding or being taught about race or buying into different ideologies that uphold White supremacy are very, but the tenants of that are quite similar.

So it’s been really exciting for me actually to work abroad and to understand how we can support work that’s happening. Most of our work has been with the philanthropic communities in these countries. America has the largest philanthropic industry.

A lot of countries look to the United States for wanting to model the development of their philanthropic industries after America. And so my thoughts there, my work there is like, hey, don’t take exactly how we do it here. There’s some good things, but there’s an opportunity for you to invent philanthropy and do philanthropy in a very different way.

We’re also having those conversations of course, with a lot of folks working in the global international aid community to really understand when we talk about decolonisation, what could it look like, or should it look like in terms of international aid? [00:31:00] And for when people talk about localism, is that the same thing as decolonisation?

And what does it really look like? At the end of the day, what is one consistent thing I will say globally around a lot of this is that we have to make space for the leadership with the people who are most impacted by problems in our communities, right? We have to drive resources to people on the ground who come from these communities who have the most intelligence and wisdom and perspective on how to fix problems in their own communities. This is a very common denominator in every country in every sector around the use of resources and power is that there is a tendency to hoard resources, to want to control, to want to dominate, to call the decisions and to make decisions on behalf of others.

And our work is largely about liberating the resources and power to get to the people who are most impacted by these issues. And so that is a need and an [00:32:00] opportunity that we see around the globe. But it’s really exciting to see how our work is impacting. My book was translated to Spanish last year.

It’s currently in the process of getting translated to Portuguese. And so we think that we need to decolonise wealth around the whole world. And so we’re really excited to be a part of supporting that. 

Kate: Yeah, that’s great, thank you, Edgar. I’m really pleased that you’ve been able to join us today to share your ideas and to finish up, I wonder if you could identify a practical first step that our listeners and viewers can take in supporting shifting power, anti racism and decolonisation, including the decolonisation of wealth and money, whether they’re members of the engaged general public or work in the development sector. So practical first step.

Edgar: Sure. I think a very practical first step is to learn the history of your place, right? As you were saying Kate, that history wasn’t even taught, right? And so there’s so many resources, historians, books, learn the history of your place, right? When we think about any [00:33:00] problem in our neighborhood, any problem in our communities, any challenge, there’s a history behind all of this that led to these problems, right? These things just didn’t happen. It’s so important to first, understand the history of your place. And then second, I will say, understand the history of your family. Who are your people? Where did you come from? Find out who you came where you came from and who your people are.

Some people know, some of us had to do research early to understand that. And then the opportunity is to overlay that personal history with a history of your place. What is the intersection of that? Were you given advantage, advantages and boosts because of who you are and who your family was? Or did you experience disadvantages because of that?

There is something that is so powerful about understanding who you are. And where you’re from and how that connects to the history of the place that brings an enlightenment of who you are in this world and then what you have to offer. And understanding that history of place and the history of yourself gives you the superpower to [00:34:00] understand how you can show up and be a part of the change because we all have different lived experiences and sometimes advantages and privileges that we can bring into this fight for collective healing. So you cannot be a healer if you haven’t done the healing work yourself. And the healing starts with understanding what’s broken through history and how you and your family show up in that continuum. So that’s my invitation to everyone today.

Kate: That’s a lovely invitation. Thank you so much. And for people who’ve been inspired by Edgar and his work, I would encourage you to look at the show notes and they will guide you to the various ways in which you can learn more about Edgar’s work and the work of his organisation. So thank you once again, Edgar, for joining us today.

And thank you Nompilo.

Edgar: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Nompilo: Greetings. I was so inspired by the podcast that Kate and I had with Edgar and it’s given me quite a bit of opportunity to reflect. And so I decided to do a little post podcast [00:35:00] something just to share my ideas, especially because I started to see how much I could relate to his context. So Edgar spoke so beautifully about his native community in the Northern Hemisphere geography, i. e. the Lumbee tribe and here I am in the Southern Hemisphere, living out the same realities that he spoke about especially in relation to development and funding development.

He discussed the necessities of funding development for restorative justice, particularly as a way of addressing centuries of violence, which include colonisation and poor governance, capitalism, and highlighted the need to focus on healing as developmental. And where I come from in this part of the world, we are in a place where decolonising and speaking or redoing life outside of outside of so many social and economic harms which have been recycled over centuries is something I can definitely relate to. The interview’s key phrases that stood out for me would show that the [00:36:00] socioeconomic and political or historical are often aligned. He referred to funding development as opportunities to repair, healing spaces, and this one was particularly dear to me, he spoke about holding ceremony as an integral part of development through traditional ways of doing.

So I live in a country, South Africa, where the mantra Ubuntu exists as daily life. It derives from a phrase, ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’; a person is a being because they belong to community and are ultimately intrinsically intertwined in community. Another phrase commonly used, this is Southern African Nguni phrase is ‘izandla ziyagezana’ just as ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’. Southern Africans will often refer to this to mean that you do good deeds for each other’s survival. I’m aware of a phrase and actually a practice of life that’s derived from Swahili terminology and used in East Africa, so that all my examples are not Southern African, which is called Harambee, or [00:37:00] Harambee, which means all pull together. I mean, what a solid statement. Notably, ‘languaging’ intrinsically tells you that these are not individualistic societies or communities, but rather persons who rely on each other for life and who understand development as a cohesive thing. So healing and holding ceremony, which Edgar spoke about, can be easily related to Mato Oput ongoings mostly associated with Uganda, in East Africa where you heal the dead, or actually where there’s been a serious injustice in the community, and this is a ceremony that is performed by elders so that the community is restored and people can survive and live together in the aftermath.

They did this a lot, especially around genocide, but not solely so. We have Gacaca Courts in Rwanda as well, which is a way of also community healing. It’s actually a legal way of doing legal courts, a legal way of doing development, which is an intrinsical part, or truth telling, or healing a society so that victims and survivors can live with those that have perpetrated against them.

You also often have in [00:38:00] Southern Africa, ideas of ‘umbuyiso’, where you heal the dead and where you bring back a person’s spirit in a beautiful way so that people can survive in the aftermath, not always, but of gross injustice, and then you want to heal the society after they’ve been fractured, or where they’ve had a loss. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that through such a lens, funding development itself is understood from a traditional way. And it’s ultimately always about the greater good of society and towards fostering wellness. So I want to share about some synergistic ongoings in Africa as examples of how community philanthropy and traditional safety networks exist as the norm. So this is done as a means of taking care of each other. And it’s a lot bigger than financial means, which is what Edgar was speaking about. Development is not about finance, although it can use finance as a vehicle.

So, ‘stockvels’ can be financially motivated. We get this a lot in South Africa and in Southern Africa, where people share or pay each other money at the end of every month so that they can grow in the absence of their ability to use [00:39:00] banking systems. And now, ‘stokvels’ have become such a common way of doing, that even the banking systems in South Africa will recognise it because that’s how communities grow money together and even are offering interest on community funds. People plough each other’s fields. I remember Kate and I actually did some poverty dynamic study in Zimbabwe recently and people went from community to community to plough each other’s fields, house to house, neighbors, to make sure that they each harvest the same and therefore that they’re all each financially in the same space.

Lastly, community burial societies are a way in which communities bury each other, where they bring in cash inkind and make sure that all are given respect and laid to rest. So, I do like to highlight a lot of what Edgar said to say that development is about financial codependency and that the resources can come from a variety of places.

In this case, I’ve used local examples, but it can be national government, local national NGOs, philanthropists, a whole lot of other ways, but ultimately understanding development traditionally and through [00:40:00] community can offer us amazing lessons. Thank you.

This weeks guest:

Edgar Villanueva (Lumbee) is an award-winning author, activist, and expert on issues of race, wealth, and philanthropy.

Villanueva is the CEO of Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital and author of the bestselling book Decolonizing Wealth (2018, 2021). He advises a range of organizations including national and global philanthropies, Fortune 500 companies, and entertainment groups on social impact strategies to advance racial equity from within and through their investment strategies.

Villanueva holds a BSPH and MHA from the Gillings Global School of Public Health at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe and resides in New York City. Publications including the New York Times, NPR, Teen Vogue, Vox, and Forbes magazine have featured Edgar and his work. Edgar has contributed to the Washington Post, the Advocate, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and more!; he also shares more thoughts on racial justice, decolonization, and healing on his Medium page.

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