Justice Funders Are Ethical Leaders

By Bidisha BanerjeePosted under What is a Justice Funder?

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


As the field of philanthropy moves to a more network-oriented and inclusive approach to social justice, one that actively increases resources for those most impacted by inequity, I invite the philanthropic community to deepen their practice of ethical leadership, characterized by a discerning and reflective understanding of how to best deploy our powers and privileges in solidarity with others to co-create a world with no throwaway people or places. Ethical leadership is not always easy, which is why a network with a deep capacity for ethical reflection can amplify an individual or group’s ability to take enduring steps towards greater equity.


Dalai Lama Fellows, a global program personally authorized by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, envisions and works towards a world that tends to the good of the whole as well as of the individual. We do this by building a global network of young social innovators working at the intersections of peace, justice and ecology. Fellows receive a grant of up to $10,000. In addition, we guide Fellows to deepen their effectiveness by immersing them in our Ethical Leadership curriculum, which develops skills in self-mastery, working across differences, and designing ethical systems. We encourage our Fellows to explore an ethic of compassion, restraint, and discernment. Through a series of reflective prompts and exercises and immersion in a global learning community, we try to build Fellows’ capacity for approaching their grant money through the lens of love, courage, and compassion. We encourage our Fellows to move away from “command and control” to make space for other perspectives, engage in deep (and often difficult) conversations characterized by generative listening, and then try out co-created responses from a place of humility.  Adopting and embodying similar reflective practices might allow justice funders to deepen their capacity as ethical leaders.


We would love to see more individuals in the field of philanthropy evaluate their own capacities as justice funders and better understand themselves as critical actors working across power differentials.  We need grantmakers who can identify where there is room for strengthening and deepening their capacity for introducing courage and compassion into the sometimes difficult, but always necessary steps needed to ensure greater equity and inclusivity.


Our curriculum, grounded in transforming the self in order to transform how we show up in the world as agents of positive social change, has been greatly impacted by the Bay Area Justice Funders Network (BAJFN). Our collaboration with BAJFN has been invaluable because it has helped us realize how we can deepen our Fellows’ definitions of justice and engage in dialogue about philanthropy’s role in ensuring greater equality.  In coming months and years, we are excited to witness and participate in the ways that the “What is a Justice Funder?” conversation promises to transform philanthropy-as-usual.



Bidisha Banerjee is a Program & Curriculum Director at Dalai Lama Fellows. She is passionate about helping others connect more deeply with themselves so that they can connect more ethically and compassionately with others.