After over 60 years of operating as a charitable grant-making foundation, Lankelly Chase has decided to redistribute all its assets and close within a five-year timeframe.
A major UK charitable foundation, with an endowment fortune of £130m, has announced it is to abolish itself after concluding that traditional philanthropy is a “function of colonial capitalism” and that it had itself become part of the problem.
Lankelly Chase, which gives out about £13m a year in grants to hundreds of charities operating in areas such as social, racial and climate justice, said it wanted to find bold new alternatives to what it called philanthropy’s “cult of benevolence”.
The 60-year-old institution said it would spend the next five years giving away its assets to organisations and networks which are doing “life-affirming social justice work” in communities around the UK.
It is understood Lankelly Chase’s trustee board had become increasingly unable to reconcile its charitable mission to tackle racism, injustice and inequality with its position as a major investor in global capital markets it considers to be rooted in racial and colonial exploitation.
“We have recognised the gravity of the interlocking social, climate and economic global crises we are experiencing today. At the same time, we view the traditional philanthropy model as so entangled with colonial capitalism that it inevitably continues the harms of the past into the present,” it said in a statement.
It added: “We will relinquish control of our assets, including the endowment and all resources, so that money can flow freely to those doing life-affirming social justice work. We will make space to reimagine how wealth, capital and social justice can co-exist in the service of all life, now and for future generations.”
Although rare in the UK, the kind of radical re-imagining of charitable funding announced by Lankelly Chase is more common in the US where, experts say, “decolonising the endowment” is a much more active debate in philanthropic and community circles.
“We know not everyone will agree with this decision, and we are not saying every endowed foundation should follow our direction. However, we believe that the case for profound change is now impossible to ignore, and each of us must find our answer. This is ours,” Lankelly Chase said.
In a foretaste of how it might begin to redistribute its assets, it announced it is to give £8m – around 6% of its total endowment fund – to the Baobab Foundation, a funding body created in 2021 by black funders to grow resources for under-resourced grassroots UK black and African community organisations.
The Lankelly Chase chief executive, Julian Corner, said: “Philanthropy is a function of colonial capitalism, it has been shaped by it, is being driven by it, and yet philosophically it tries to position itself as somehow a cure for the ills of colonial capitalism, and that contradiction needs to stop.”
He said that having taken the decision to redistribute, they would spend the next five years working out how this would work in practice. “It’s going to create a space for a more honest debate in philanthropy about our relevance, and ambitious conversations about whether we [as foundations] are set up right,” he said.
Corner acknowledged there was a risk that simply shifting the capital to a new set of funding gatekeepers and intermediaries could replicate existing power imbalances. He said it would work with future asset holders to explore alternative investment philosophies.
Fellow trustee Marai Larasi said it was “time to compost” Lankelly Chase as an institution and allow new organisations to emerge in its stead. The aim was not to “hold the cult of benevolence in place but to actually dismantle that”, she added.
Lankelly Chase was created from the charitable bequests of entrepreneurs Alfred Allnatt and Ron Diggens, who made millions from north London property development in the middle of the last century. Allnatt was known as an eccentric with a love of race horses, fine art and diamonds.
The foundation said that while its endowment might not appear to have originated in overtly harmful colonising practices, it believed “capital accumulation occurs through ongoing processes of colonial appropriation and exploitation. Our endowment is embedded within the system of what scholars such as Cedric J Robinson have called ‘racial capitalism’.”
Lankelly Chase was the 79th biggest charitable foundation in the UK in 2021, according to the Association of Charitable Foundations, supporting hundreds of charities and community organisations a year. Between them the UK’s top 300 charitable foundations gave out £3.7bn in 2021.