The Flow of Excellence

By Tara BrownPosted under What is a Justice Funder?

“May what I do flow from me like a river–no forcing, no holding back.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke


What if justice funders were committed to empowering the river of good people working for justice by supporting them to find that place within of “no forcing, no holding back,” allowing a full flow of excellence to move our society toward justice? 


For 25 years my family’s foundation, Hidden Leaf, has been exploring this commitment by promoting what we and others call a “transformative approach to change.” Now we find ourselves in a transitional moment. My father, Hidden Leaf’s founder, passed away last fall. And our next generation is moving into young adulthood, soon to join Hidden Leaf’s board. The Next Gen is asking provocative and pointed questions about how our funding actually moves us toward our desire for a more just, ecologically healthy, and compassionate society. Hidden Leaf’s mission is to expand inner awareness within social change organizations in order to enhance the effectiveness of progressive movements. Our Next Gen is asking, “How does this work?”


As I review the thoughtful posts on the “What is a Justice Funder?” blog, I realize that my response to the question, “What is a Justice Funder?” is deeply entwined with my response to Hidden Leaf’s Next Gen. I notice that many of the blog comments already emphasize the internal aspects of movement and organization-building the “how” of justice funding–suggesting that justice funders should: promote personal excellence, nurture relationships, invite diverse perspectives, support those moving toward purpose and vision, address power dynamics, challenge assumptions, promote authentic communication, stay open to learning, and cultivate humility. This is a beautiful list! I am heartened to see these concerns noted and hope we can go further and be more explicit. Core to a transformative approach to change is transforming the way we show up and engage with others–to transform society, we must transform ourselves.


Unfortunately, few funders commit serious resources to changing the very nature of the way we work for justice.


So, in addition to all the good suggestions of my colleagues, I want to propose explicitly that justice funders support the internal as well as the external needs and desires of communities working for justice and change. Let’s put our money behind this belief! Let’s support leaders and organizations to transform from the inside out! The ideas alone are not enough. I am a firm believer that in order to transform, we must rigorously practice new ways of being. This demands training and guidance. This demands a commitment of time and energy. This demands a tenacious assessment of how our values are aligned with our actions (and how they are not!). This costs money.


Fortunately many justice organizations are embracing a transformative approach. They are (among many other things) bringing mindful reflection into their personnel meetings; learning how to stay centered and grounded during tense engagements; aligning their values and actions through deep collaborations; and conducting bold assessments of personal and organizational approaches. Now it’s our turn as funders to step up and support this internal work–it’s a direct investment in developing movements of excellence and wisdom!



Tara Brown is the Director of Hidden Leaf Foundation, a family foundation seeking to advance a more just, ecologically healthy, and compassionate world by promoting inner awareness within social change organizations.