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Funder Highlight: Borealis Philanthropy

Disability Lead
December 19, 2022
“We see Disability Lead as unique in the Chicago region because it is one of the key organizations that has an on-ramp to civic engagement in place. Through its programs, Disability Lead is lifting up disability voice to build power.”  — Sandy Ho, Disability Inclusion Fund Director

The Disability Inclusion Fund (DIF) is a donor collaborative fund housed at Borealis Philanthropy to support U.S. groups run by and for people with disabilities to lead transformational change. Launched in 2019, the DIF is a first-of-its-kind fund and one of the largest philanthropic funds investing in disability inclusion. DIF is supported by the President’s Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy, which comprises foundation presidents committed to disability inclusion as part of improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among the President’s Council members are two additional Disability Lead project funders, the Chicago Community Trust and the MacArthur Foundation. DIF first granted Disability Lead $100,000 in general operating support in 2020 and renewed this support with a $90,000 grant in 2021.  DIF has a participatory grantmaking process, aligning itself with disability justice values including leadership by those most impacted.

DIF’s grant review committee embodies these values by prioritizing the inclusion of disabled leaders of color in service on its grantmaking committee. Disability Lead Members who have served (but recused themselves from Disability Lead application review) include Risa Jaz Rifkind in 2020 and Keidra Chaney and Alex Perez-Garcia in 2021. The Disability Inclusion Fund makes general operating fund grants, prioritizing emerging Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), queer and gender non-conforming, and women disability-led organizations. This approach represents a dramatic shift in the disability funding model, which has historically not prioritized or included disabled-led groups in decision-making.

Borealis Philanthropy’s overarching mission to resource grassroots leaders and social justice movements for transformative change has benefited Disability Lead as we seek to transform tables of power in our region, not just by providing funding, but by connecting us with other organizations in the DIF funding cohort. Convening with leaders of organizations such as Detroit Disability Power and San Francisco Senior and Disability Action has helped Disability Lead to grow our capacity by facilitating a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, strategies, and tools.

“As a disability-led grantmaker itself, DIF stands out among our funding partners. We don’t have to explain the value and importance of disability leadership to them — they practice it.” — Emily Blum, Executive Director

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