I believe that allies are the single most important measure of progress in most social change movements.
This is not so much a statement of political philosophy, rather one of simple logic. If the ultimate goal of a social movement is to achieve mainstream acceptance, it is almost definitional that such acceptance is obtained at the point at which the movement has sufficient allies that it becomes mainstream. This is a painful truth to accept if you are someone in the vanguard of social change. If you are an agitator, an early rabble rouser, a freedom fighter who has dedicated their energy and taken personal risk to demand the rights and privileges you have been denied it is a bitter pill to swallow to acknowledge that you win not when you take those rights by force, but when they are given to you freely by the very people who once denied them to you.
That in no way suggests there is no need to fight, for every victory for a more just and fair society begins with a fight. It just doesn’t end with a fight. Anger ignites the fight, and the fight creates visibility. Visibility creates dialogue which in turn creates understanding and understanding creates allies. Allies are the antidote to hate. It is much harder to hate what you know, because when you know someone, you see first that which makes us the same, and it seems so much larger than that which makes us different. And it goes deeper than that. If I see you, I start to know you. As I come to know you, I treat you differently, with more understanding. As I treat you differently you treat me differently. And as we treat each other differently we start to think of ourselves differently. Allyship improves all of our lives by improving us all as people.
I remember well my first encounters with allyship. I was at college and newly out of the closet. I had a number of new friends, straight men, who took it upon themselves to demonstrate in word and deed their “approval”. Whether that approval was delivered deftly or in the most awkward, even backhanded way (“I know you’re gay but I don’t mind”) I didn’t care, I was grateful that I was welcome. I could not for the life of me understand why they took the stance they did. Later, after I had left college, corporations started touting their allyship in attempts to court the “pink pound”, as it was known, and imbue their brands with a certain trendiness. The old-timers resented this. I did not. I was grateful they wanted my business. Over the years the fights changed, but the process remained the same. Want marriage equality? You need allies on the supreme court. Want children? Better have allies just about everywhere!
As a “Founding Limited Partner” of the Neythri Futures Fund, I find myself on the other side of the equation as an ally. The Neythri Futures Fund is a venture capital investment fund that targets investments led by South Asian women and investors who are predominantly South Asian women. South Asian women are woefully underrepresented in the venture investing community, both as investors and as recipients of venture capital. This anomaly, this “market inefficiency” if you will, represents an enormous investment opportunity, and one that Neythri is perfectly positioned to capture. By seeing the overlooked founders and their nascent businesses, the fund has found an untapped source of investment return (“alpha” in the arcane language of the professional investor). In addition, the fund has done something I have not seen before, which is to turn its community of limited partners into a valuable asset beyond being its source of capital. This community, many of them first time investors, brings a wealth of experience that we hope our founders will be able to tap to the benefit of their businesses. It is my fervent hope that we grow the number of allies who invest in Neythri, so that they may come to know, firsthand, the potential and contribution of the women in our network, and in turn the women in our network may come to know that they have a place to lead in the wider venture community, and that they deserve that place.
What I offer here is my own perspective; a perspective that comes in part from privilege as a middle-aged middle-class white cis-gender married male with two children, and in part from “otherness” as a gay middle-aged middle-class white cis-gender married male with two children. When it comes to allyship I go both ways, and I like it like that.
About the Author
Owain Morgan is a serial entrepreneur, board member and advisor who has built and led businesses in the financial services and technology spaces for almost three decades. He is an angel investor and a recent founding limited partner of the Neythri Futures Fund, a mission driven investment fund that aims to put South Asian women front and center in the venture capital world.