African Diaspora Network broadens support for entrepreneurs thanks to California Black Freedom Fund

African Diaspora Network broadens support for entrepreneurs thanks to California Black Freedom Fund
The Builders of Africa's Future 2020 recipients are honored with an award and a platform to showcase their businesses at the fifth annual African Diaspora Investment Symposium on January 24, 2020.

Funders often talk about collaborating — with each other and with the nonprofits they fund —  but it’s not always easy to make it happen.

The California Black Freedom Fund (CBFF) is changing that paradigm by encouraging its more than two dozen funders to work together and engage closely with grantees. The CBFF is a five-year, $100 million initiative to create a statewide ecosystem of Black-led organizations confronting racism.

“This is a great example of funders committed to a cause and wanting to stay connected,” said Stuart C. Burden, vice president of corporate and foundation relations at Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which provides fiscal and administrative management for the fund and, with the Akonadi Foundation, is a lead partner.

The CBFF recently awarded its second round of grants, choosing 74 grantees from a pool of 172 applicants. This round focused on smaller organizations: Black-led nonprofits with operating budgets of less than $1 million. Applications were reviewed by funders as well as an advisory committee of community and foundation leaders; SVCF had the final approval.

Attendees of African Diaspora Investment Symposium 2019 network at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

“It was a very participatory process involving lots of groups that are active in providing guidance about how the fund operates, from funders to community organizations,” Burden said.

One grantee from the second round was African Diaspora Network (ADN), founded in 2010 to engage the intellectual, financial, and philanthropic capacity of Africans and friends of Africa to support economic and social development in Africa and in local communities in the U.S.

“We have been part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem for many years,” said Almaz Negash, ADN’s founder and executive director. “We started it because we wanted to be represented when people started talking about Africans and Africa.”

A Longstanding Partnership

ADN is a longtime SVCF partner. In addition to administering the group’s grant from the CBFF, SVCF provided seed funding for ADN’s Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ABLE) program. It also gave the group a $10,000 grant from its  COVID-19 Nonprofit Emergency Fund last year.

With help from funders such as CBFF and SVCF, ADN has been able to expand its offerings to include several programs:

  • ADN started by creating the African Diaspora Investment Symposium, an annual conference in Silicon Valley that fosters the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of Africans in the diaspora and friends of Africa. The conference has drawn almost 3,500 participants from across the globe over the last six years.
  • Builders of Africa’s Future, a program that takes places during the African Diaspora Investment Symposium, celebrates innovation and impact in early-stage African enterprise, showcasing and awarding Africa-based entrepreneurs that are addressing unique needs across the contintent. The program has recognized 42 African startups so far.
  • ADN also sponsors Impact and Innovation Forums, a year-round speaker series across Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., New York City, and virtually with thought-provoking conversations about Africa’s future. About 600 attendees from more than 55 countries have participated in the 2021 forums.
  • The most recent addition to ADN’s offerings, Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship, provides mentorship and entrepreneurial training for Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. The first class, which is being chosen now, is expected to mentor 15 to 20 entrepreneurs.

Advancing Equity and Transforming Communities

“We are proud to support the African Diaspora Network that is building power within the Black community, with a focus on entrepreneurs. Their work aligns with the California Black Freedom Fund’s efforts to invest in organizations that are transforming our communities and advancing equity for Black communities throughout the state,” said Anne Im, director of community investment at SVCF.

“SVCF’s work with the CBFF builds on the foundation’s goal of being an equity-centered organization. Providing support to those organizations that are most in need and that have been historically under-supported and under-resourced,”said Burden.

To provide that support, the CBFF is aiming to raise $100 million over the next five years from foundations, corporate donors and individual donors. In the past year, the group has raised more than $48 million and has distributed more than $15 million. The fund plans to do two or three rounds of grantmaking each year, with a different focus for each round. It provides flexible operating support to its grantees.

The CBFF, which grew out of conversations following the murder of George Floyd a year ago, is a statewide funding initiative, and its recent grant round drew applications from across the state.

“I was hoping we would hear from organizations that we didn’t know about, from places that we didn’t have a lot of information about – and that proved true,” Burden said.

The funders also heard from many types of nonprofits. “The CBFF is issue-agnostic,” Burden said. “A health care organization can examine the community’s health statistics and focus on how to improve them, and an arts organization can work to increase access to the arts. There are so many issues that we tried not to restrict them.”

Instead, the CBFF looked broadly for grantees who were working on power building, which includes community organization, issue identification, a clear strategy to affect public policy changes, and the creation of a pipeline of community members in leadership positions.

With the CBFF through its first year, funders and grantees are taking stock of its accomplishments.

“We’re taking some time to reflect on the first year, compare it to what we expected and wanted to accomplish, map out the next few years and start a conversation about what happens after five years,” Burden said.

Learn more about the California Black Freedom Fund and contribute to power-building in our state here.

Check out other current and upcoming SVCF grantmaking programs here.

Support organizations in SVCF’s Black-led Organization Giving Guide here.

Learn more about African Diaspora Network here.

Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship