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This second edition expands the provocative analysis of the racist colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy and finance into other sectors and offers practical advice on how anyone can be a healer.
The world is out of balance. With increasing frequency, we are presented with the inescapable truth that systemic racism and colonial structures are foundational principles to our economies. The $1 trillion philanthropic industry is one example of a system that mirrors oppressive colonial behavior. It’s an industry whose name means “the love for humankind,” yet it does more harm than good.
In Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva looks past philanthropy’s glamorous, altruistic façade and into its shadows: white supremacy, savior complexes, and internalized oppression. Across history and to the present day, the accumulation of wealth is steeped in trauma. How can we shift philanthropy toward social reconciliation and healing if the cornerstones are exploitation, extraction, and control?
Drawing from Native traditions, Villanueva empowers individuals and institutions to begin to repair the damage through his Seven Steps to Healing. In this second edition, Villanueva adds inspiring examples of people using their resources to decolonize entertainment, museums, libraries, land ownership, and much more.
Everyone can be a healer and a leader in restoring balance—and we need everyone to do their part. As Villanueva writes, “All our suffering is mutual. All our healing is mutual. All our thriving is mutual.” Are you ready?
About the Author
Edgar Villanueva is an award-winning author, activist, and expert on race, wealth, and philanthropy issues. He is the founder and principal of Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital, which use education, radical reparative giving, and narrative change to disrupt the existing systems of moving and controlling capital. Villanueva also advises a range of organizations, including national and global philanthropies, Fortune 500 companies, and entertainment and media firms on social impact strategies to advance racial equity from within and through their investments.
“Only a truthful reckoning of our history of colonization can inform the transformation of our extractive economic systems. Recognition, repair, and transformation are not only moral imperatives—but they will also finally and truly benefit us all. Edgar Villanueva knows this deeply and is leading the way.” —Kat Taylor, philanthropist and cofounder of Beneficial State Bank
“If we are to escape the insidious hold racism has on our society, we must be intentional about truth and reconciliation. In Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar lays a foundation that not only explains the history of wealth and racism but also provides a pathway to healing that we all need.” —Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist
“Decolonizing Wealth is a call to action for all who seek real, meaningful progress. If we want to see the kinds of change, unity, and radical generosity that we know are possible, we must reckon with the systems that continue to perpetuate the racial wealth gap and change them from the root up. We need healing, we need hope, we need solidarity, and in this book, Edgar has provided the blueprint.” —Asha Curran, CEO of GivingTuesday
“Due to years of detrimental federal Indian policy and discriminatory economic systems, Native American communities have been marginalized and left out of the economic opportunity experienced by other Americans. Edgar Villanueva offers a new vision and an Indigenous perspective that can put us on a better path. Everyone should read Decolonizing Wealth, especially those who control the flow of resources in government, philanthropy, and finance.” —LaDonna Harris (Comanche), politician, activist, and founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity
“Edgar is an incredible thinker and activist. His work is fueling efforts across the globe to face necessary truths about history and to take reparative actions. Everyone should read this book to understand mutual liberation and the powerful and necessary ways that we can heal ourselves, our communities, and our world.” —Matt McGorry, actor, activist, and cofounder of Inspire Justice
“Decolonizing Wealth offers an arrow to pierce the status quo. It outlines a Native-generated constellation of insights and pathways toward being in right relationship with each other through exploring and amplifying the inherent power and resilience of Native Peoples and ways that the philanthropic sector can heal, learn, and grow—and ultimately can serve individual and collective liberation from centuries of oppression. While the heart of the revolution for justice is not dependent on philanthropic support, there can be a powerfully effective role for mindful philanthropy to respectfully contribute to the reimagining and actualization of a more just world for future generations.” —Tia Oros Peters (Shiwi), CEO, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
“Decolonizing Wealth is a transformative love letter to humanity. As Edgar says, all of our suffering is mutual and all of our healing is mutual. If we are to have true belonging and justice in our lives and public spaces, then we all must heal—and this book provides a wisdom-led guide on how that can be achieved.” —Dawn-Lyen Gardner, actor, activist, and founder of Belong
“Villanueva has challenged the status quo and held a mirror up to the white supremacist philanthropic structures and constructs that perpetuate inequity in society today while offering a hand of healing and justice. This book and Villanueva’s leadership are very important for this nation as we head into an era of repair that has the potential to build a pathway forward for true transformation and equity.” —Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), President and CEO, NDN Collective
“By anchoring the solutions to America’s ills in the wisdom and knowledge of its original people, Edgar challenges all of us working in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors to analyze how our nation’s history of racism and disenfranchisement has infected its financial and giving institutions. I strongly recommend this book as a key resource for funders and advocates to ensure their investments are truly equitable and benefiting the lives of people and communities of color.” —Heather McGhee, author, political commentator, and former President, Demos
“Edgar’s book is essential reading toward deeply rethinking the role of wealth and philanthropy in our polarized times. Decolonizing Wealth is both profoundly personal and powerfully practical in how to reweave a broken system and begin to repair the deep wounds from extracted wealth, disconnection, and concentrated power. This book points the way toward how we should rewire philanthropy as part of building a humane and connected society of vulnerability, resilience, and genuine abundance.” —Chuck Collins, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies, and author of The Wealth Hoarders
“Edgar Villanueva has broken through the tired jargon of philanthropy-speak and written a fresh, honest, painful, and hopeful book, grounded in his own truths and Native traditions, about his experiences in foundations, a powerful sector with too many vestiges of colonialism and white supremacy. He offers some radical thinking about what it would take to bring about a world where power and accountability shifted and communities controlled the resources vital to their strength and futures.” —Gara LaMarche, former President, Democracy Alliance; former President, Atlantic Philanthropies; and former Vice President and Director of US Programs, Open Society Foundations
“Villanueva takes us on a powerful journey of both personal and historical reflection regarding how to understand not only the source of our wealth but the importance of considering that source as we develop our approaches to addressing the central challenges of our age. A solid offering with important insights for us all!” —Jed Emerson, author of The Purpose of Capital
“Edgar’s work illuminates significant flaws in the stories of how philanthropy and finance have been used in this country not to build us all up—as the stories are told—but to actually build more privilege for a select few. From my perspective, looking at money through a faith lens, his work makes the case clear for why we must change the way money flows so that all of God’s children have an equal seat at the table.” —Rosa Lee Harden, cofounder of SOCAP and cofounder and Executive Producer, Faith+Finance
“It’s important for straight white men who want to have a positive impact in the world through investing to understand the history of the damage that their unconscious privilege and supremacy has done to Indigenous people and other people of color before they propose solutions. And once they realize that, they should learn to help what those communities are already doing succeed rather than proposing their own solutions. Edgar Villanueva’s book is an important means of coming to that realization.” —Kevin D. Jones, cofounder of SOCAP and cofounder of Faith+Finance
“We are all on a journey of self-reckoning—every CEO, every executive, everyone. With his vital and timely book, Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva provides a means of having those necessary conversations, including with yourself. We all have the opportunity to progress, and this book provides an important pathway for that.” —David Linde, CEO, Participant
“This book is groundbreaking and life-altering. Read it and find a new way of seeing the world and your place in it. Edgar Villanueva has done a spectacular job of addressing the most challenging and heart-wrenching challenges we face as a human community. He brilliantly brings new distinctions to light, reveals unconscious historical patterns, and brings the power of Indigenous wisdom and insight into his examination of the very heart of our culture of wealth. This is an extraordinary message and an absolutely vital book.” —Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money and cofounder of Pachamama Alliance
“Edgar Villanueva captures the critical intersection of the racist legacy of concentrated wealth and its continued impact on people of color. The path to reconciliation he proposes is one that can advance racial and economic justice across structures of power, including the investment industry. Edgar offers an inspiring perspective on not only our past and present but the path to a better future.” —Rachel J. Robasciotti, founder and CEO, Adasina Social Capital
“At this critical moment in history, when justice and racial equity are in the forefront of the minds of so many, Decolonizing Wealth serves as a guide to broker authentic, experiential conversations about the importance of lifting the voices of those philanthropy seeks to serve through creating community-based inventions and solutions with grassroots leaders, community organizers, and activists, along with donors and policymakers. Courageous, frank, and astute, Edgar confronts the power and privilege dynamics of 21st-century philanthropy with a warmth and a confidence that assures those perpetuating bad practices that they can change their ways for the betterment of all.” —Elaine A. Martyn, Senior Vice President, Private Donor Group, Fidelity Charitable
“Edgar has one of the clearest voices and impactful platforms not only in philanthropy but well beyond. He speaks truth and highlights the importance for our entire society to do the same. This brilliant book highlights the fact that truth needs a reconciliation, and vice versa. And our nation must demonstrate the courage to demand both.” —Wes Moore, bestselling author and social entrepreneur
“During my first day on the job in philanthropy, I listened to Edgar Villanueva speak to a packed Skoll World Forum theater about how wealth has inflicted trauma and can be used as medicine, urging those with power and resources to direct assets with a healing mission. Edgar challenged us that day, as he does in this new edition of his book, to lean into the discomfort of exploring and altering our philanthropic practices. This book ought to be required reading for funders and for any leader in the private sector or in government who is committed to equitably redistributing opportunity.” —Donald H. Gips, CEO, Skoll Foundation
“What could possibly be wrong with being a philanthropist and giving money away? A lot, it turns out, and Edgar Villanueva’s pathbreaking book awakens us from the dangers of moral sleepwalking. Philanthropy is all too often an extension, dressed up in the form of benevolence, of colonial power and white supremacy. Decolonizing Wealth shows that the essential path forward is to repair and redress the wrongs of the past.” —Rob Reich, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, and author of Just Giving
Edgar has always been called to be of service, and after years working in philanthropy, he collected the stories of people who passed down cultural legacy and were trying to change the world but struggling inside oppressive white institutions. His work reaches across the globe through the Decolonizing Wealth Project, and he is embodying the spirit of Sankofa, in his case reaching back to long-standing Indigenous traditions of cultural legacy and bringing them into the present to create healing and liberation. How rich we are for having him gift us this work.” —Gina Belafonte, Executive Director, Sankofa.org, civil rights activist, actor, producer, and director
“Decolonizing Wealth is a must-read for anyone involved in philanthropy and the charitable sector. Villanueva not only challenges us to confront the grim reality of privilege and racism but also offers a compelling and tangible call to action. He is an inspiring and approachable visionary.” —Robert Rosen, Director, Philanthropic Partnerships, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“With few exceptions, investments by foundations—even many that purport to invest in ethical or progressive ways—veer between the colonial and the downright colonizing. This book shines a light and holds up a mirror so that we can no longer ignore the ways that wealth perpetuates harm and can start healing toward a true transformation.” —Andrea Armeni, cofounder and Executive Director, Transform Finance
“Charity and philanthropy rarely offer meaningful challenges to systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Decolonizing Wealth is an important contribution to the grassroots struggles to transform society and shift the way we think about our relationship with money.” —Jordan Flaherty, award-winning journalist, producer, and author
“Decolonizing Wealth offers a refreshing and inspired look at how wealth can better serve the needs of communities of color and atone for the ways in which it has traditionally been used to inflict harm and division. Using a solutions-oriented framing, Edgar makes a solid case for how Indigenous wisdom can be used as a guiding light to achieve greater equity in the funding and philanthropic world.” —Kevin Jennings, CEO, Lambda Legal
“Edgar Villanueva has gone out on a limb to help lead us, those of us in philanthropy and in the nonprofit sector, to a place of healing. He bravely calls out the power dynamics within the entire sector, particularly the white supremacy institutionally embedded into the system of nonprofit supplicant and philanthropic largesse. Change will happen only if we all learn to decolonize wealth through our own leadership.” —Kathy Ko Chin, former President and CEO, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
“Through Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva reinserts purpose and humanity into a philanthropic industry that has too often been driven by wealth accumulation, grant cycles, portfolios, and metrics. Inspired by an Indigenous worldview, the book pushes philanthropy back toward its original meaning, ‘love for humanity.’ A must-read for those new and old in philanthropy as well as those seeking to use their resources to create loving systems.” —John H. Jackson, President and CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education
“Liberal philanthropy works tirelessly in its support of a society that is people centered, transparent, and accountable, but will it ultimately practice what it preaches? If you want to know how funders can redeem our souls, this book is a critical step in the right direction. Edgar Villanueva is a courageous voice shaping a new era of activist grantmaking, one centered on achieving, not just studying opportunity and racial equity.” —Erik K. Ward, Executive Director, Western States Center
“Finally! A book that tackles a topic previously discussed only in the hallways and lobbies of conference spaces where Native people and people of color gather to talk about the issues that really matter to us but aren’t on the official agenda. While there are smart, dedicated, and compassionate people working in the field of philanthropy and finance, we still collectively find it difficult to reconcile our nation’s history of colonization and stolen wealth with the removal of Native people from their lands and resources. Until we acknowledge that the wealth of this country is built on this legacy, we can’t be deliberate in our efforts to decolonize and heal our communities.” —Dana Arviso (Diné), philanthropist and former Executive Director, Potlatch Fund
“Edgar Villanueva’s raw examination of the funder world acknowledges the imbalanced power dynamics that exist but puts forward innovative thinking to challenge the status quo and identify solutions that benefit us all. In doing so, he makes the case for a better way for philanthropy and a better path forward for all of us interested in creating a more just world. Through uplifting the power and influence of Indigenous wisdom, Decolonizing Wealth is a book that will leave you hopeful and inspired for the future.” —Mayra Alvarez, President, The Children’s Partnership
“Decolonizing Wealth takes a searing and soulful look at the orthodoxies and paradoxes of modern philanthropy. It is a vital read for those of us who are in this work to bring forth structural change and reverse the toxic inequalities that threaten our common humanity. In short, it’s a must-read.” —Pia Infante, Co–Executive Director, The Whitman Institute
“America’s First Peoples had highly sophisticated wealth distribution systems that were very different from the colonial mindset of exploitation and accumulation still very much ingrained in today’s philanthropic and finance culture. With Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar offers a much-needed and timely gift to help funders listen, learn, and act in a different and better way by thinking and giving indigenously.” —Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President and CEO, First Nations Development Institute
“Edgar Villanueva’s sojourn into the soul and depths of philanthropy is equal parts thoughtful, discomforting, and illuminating. . . . It challenges the reader to confront matters of race, oppression, privilege, and arrogance in the pursuit of humanity and social justice. Thank you, Edgar, for holding the mirror up to institutional philanthropy and daring us to act on what we see.” —Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment
“Edgar Villanueva’s prescription for what ails the philanthropy world is both startlingly fresh and rooted in ancient wisdom. Villanueva uses his perspective as a Native American to show how generations of ‘colonialist’ thinking have distorted the fields of philanthropy and finance, so the very institutions that purport to help communities end up perpetuating inequalities. For charities and donors trying to shift the giving paradigm and channel resources in ways that are truly equitable, his ideas for solutions—based on Indigenous culture and traditions—couldn’t come at a better time.” —Nan Aron, former President, Alliance for Justice
“According to the National Urban League’s most recent State of Black America report, median household wealth for whites is nearly twenty-four times greater than Black household wealth and nearly eleven times greater than for Hispanic households. The racial wealth gap in America is stunning yet seldom discussed. That’s why Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth is such an important work. I’m pleased to recommend Decolonizing Wealth for anyone seeking to understand how the distribution of resources, from generation to generation, works to keep people divided and how we can work toward change.” —Marc Morial, political and civic leader; President, National Urban League; and former mayor of New Orleans
“Having been both grantseeker and grantmaker, I welcome any wisdom that can release us from a relationship of paternalism and enable true partnership. Nothing is more important to decolonize than money—without it, change is slower and harder and comes too late for too many people. Edgar Villanueva is a fresh voice in the money scene, one we should all heed.” —Rinku Sen, author and Executive Director, Narrative Initiative
“Edgar has been a leading voice in philanthropy, advocating for more funding for people of color and challenging white philanthropists to interrogate and change their practices. The second edition of Decolonizing Wealth beautifully explores the pathway to healing and reconciliation, prompting wealth holders to recognize how they have benefitted from systems of inequality and how they can take actionable steps toward wealth redistribution and reparations. Decolonizing Wealth is a must-read for all, especially funders who seek to use their privilege in service of racial healing and equity.” —Nick Tedesco, President and CEO, National Center for Family Philanthropy
“Edgar Villanueva outlines with compassion and clarity thoughtful and practical steps toward aligning our money with our values. There are important lessons here for anyone working in finance or philanthropy.” —Keith Mestrich, former President and CEO, Amalgamated Bank
“Edgar Villanueva’s work is an invitation to all of us to lean into the transformative power of healing. This is deep healing through acknowledgment and repair, not a superficial call for unity. We are at a critical moment in this country and there is work we need to do. This book helps us do it.” —Regan Pritzker, Board Cochair, Libra and Kataly Foundations