Women-Led Firm Dismantles Racial Inequity in the Philanthropic Sector

Sandra Nomoto

KHA Prioritizes the Ceding and Sharing of Power with Leaders of Color

This article is one in a series about business leaders in the Level program, now in its third year. Through the Level program, B Lab U.S. & Canada aims to support and partner with business leaders who identify as women of color to amplify their economic reach and community impact.

In1999, Keecha Harris founded Keecha Harris and Associates Inc. (KHA) to create more access to the brilliance, tenacity, and compassion of leaders who are People of Color. KHA curates multi-year leadership development initiatives with foundations, governmental organizations, and corporations to explore the challenges and responsibilities of operationalizing racial equity. KHA has engaged foundations representing over $300 billion of the total $1 trillion in U.S.-based philanthropy assets. The consulting firm has also been a prime contractor for USAID, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan State Budget Office, and corporations such as the North Face and Alabama Power.

KHA serves as a steward of the change process, helping organizations close the gap between their intentions and impact to mobilize money toward organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. As a result, their clients accelerate their impact, increase their profitability, and deepen their mission fulfillment.

Keecha Harris, top left, with members of the Orchid Capital Collective advisory board.

Race Work as Interactive

Harris was always drawn to work about race, but the academic world did not view it as serious. When she followed her passion for institutional philanthropy, she found the same message from academia was reflected implicitly and explicitly. “The data was clear. Those who were trusted to make decisions, and the nonprofits most generously funded, look like the majority white foundation leadership and staff,” Harris says.

Championing race work became a calling. “The meaning of philanthropy is the love of humanity,” she says. “So it follows that we must lift up racial equity, justice, and liberation, even though institutional philanthropy seems like a difficult space to do race work.”

It can be challenging for KHA’s clients to see the intersection of racial equity and philanthropy, but they are willing to work on the issue. “We are only interested in partnering when there is sincere investment and power shifting that comes from strategically prioritizing Black and Brown leadership,” Harris says. “We co-create the conditions for this to happen in organizations where people are ready and willing to connect with untouched aspects of their humanity.”

She has a tenet she speaks of often: relationship before task. Other consulting firms are often more concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list. KHA’s emphasis on relationships makes them different. During a two-day retreat with a foundation client, for example, the team spent the entire first day on deep relationship building. Some might call that excessive, but on the second day, the foundation was able to make a difficult decision that challenged inherent inequitable practices quickly.

“Building trust and connective tissue — especially in relationships tilted in power — create the alchemy required to soar into a just future.”

The KHA team during their team gathering in Philadelphia in 2023.

With the help of organizational development professionals, KHA facilitates gatherings. By bringing people together in thoughtful spaces with thoughtful activities, KHA co-creates conditions that encourage them to change their hearts and minds around deeply rooted biases and beliefs about racism.

A gathering for environmental funders at the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, is another example of KHA’s interactive approach with clients and community. The event was part of KHA’s InDEEP initiative to build inclusion, diversity, and equity in environmental philanthropy. Attendees were passionate about protecting the Earth but were predominantly white. KHA guided the group through an exploration of white dominant culture within philanthropic institutions that perpetuates the exclusion, erasure, and invisibility of People of Color.

When the group came across a periodic table of Black leaders, a Black foundation leader said it was humbling to see famous pictures from the civil rights movement. He remembered the shoulders he stood on and the legacy he was striving to uphold. He said, “While Keecha couldn’t have planned that exact moment, she also knew our ancestors were right there with us.”

Full-time staff gathered in Philadelphia in 2023 for KHA’s semi-annual retreat.

The first time Harris discovered Certified B Corporations was through Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a fellow social impact consultant who certified her company, Global Policy Solutions. “I looked up the certification and realized that it aligned with my belief that businesses must also be good citizens. The brand sticks,” Harris says. “You can do good and be good. The certification will help others take notice of our intentions and know that we’ve made a societal impact as a good corporate citizen.”

Ingredients for Transformative Change

Harris is a proud Southerner and a Black woman; both pieces of her identity contribute to her superpowers. Her lived experiences, combined with deep credibility in the philanthropic space, allow her to move through rooms where decisions are made to facilitate power-sharing, opportunity, and sincere investment, all while holding the experience of bigotry. “When folks think of Alabama, they think of the Deep South as a place where racism and bigotry really abound,” she says. “But racism and bigotry are simply different in other spaces. People might present and show up very nicely, but the reality is, in every pocket of America, our work is necessary.”

Harris advises People of Color to have a matrix of networks: a personal board of directors or executive council to anchor, challenge, and propel leaders and their businesses. “Don’t be afraid to drop the names of the individuals on your executive council or in your larger ecosystem. That’s often how we start our pitch because it gets people listening,” she says. “It’s important to deepen relationships with those past clients over time. They will become your best ambassadors and cheerleaders as they embody the work in the world.”

Harris’s legacy includes raising her daughter while living her personal mission of being in service to humanity. KHA seeds, shares, and cedes power to leaders of color. It helps them operationalize racial equity work by socializing each other’s humanity. It practices its racial equity curriculum and “relationship before task” in-house with its internal team. This creates a ripple effect with its clients and others the team interacts with.

“We wouldn’t be able to build rapport, trust, and relationships with the philanthropic clients we work with without creating a team that practices this work internally,” Harris says.

For over 25 years, Harris and KHA have created massive change, especially in the environmental and reproductive justice sectors and institutional leadership (read more about the InDEEP initiative or the Race, Healing, and Joy project). Listen to The R.A.C.E. Podcast, which Harris hosts, connect with her on LinkedIn, and learn more about KHA’s initiatives at KHandAssociates.com.

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

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