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  • May 10, 2021
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  • A Conversation With Towalame Austin, Sony Music Group’s Executive Vice President of Philanthropy and Social Impact

Discussing Sony Music Group’s Third Round of Disbursements from its Global Social Justice Fund

On June 5, 2020, Sony Music Group (SMG) announced the launch of a $100 million fund to build multi-year programs in support of social justice and anti-racist initiatives around the world.

“Racial injustice is a global issue that affects our artists, songwriters, our people and of course society at large,” said Rob Stringer, Chairman, Sony Music Group upon the announcement of the fund. “We stand against discrimination everywhere and we will take action accordingly with our community fully involved in effectively using these funds.”

The Global Social Justice Fund is distributing its third round of funding to a new cohort of local and national community organizations in countries around the world.

Sony Music Group’s Towalame Austin, Executive Vice President of Philanthropy and Social Impact, has been a driving force behind the Fund and took a beat for a quick conversation to share more about the Fund’s activities and what it means to SMG’s philanthropic mission.

Q: Before talking about this third round of disbursements, could you give a little background on what the Global Social Justice Fund is and what it means to Sony Music Group? 
The fund was launched in June 2020 and gave me, as a new member of SMG’s senior executive team, insight into the heart and soul of Sony Music. I was thrilled to see Sony become one of the first corporations to respond with such enormity to the social injustices that were happening and have been happening for years. The development of the fund also aligns with Sony’s overall commitment to contributing to people, society and the planet through all of the Company’s operations and social support programs.

For me, the Global Social Justice Fund is one way Sony Music shows hope and a strong commitment to fighting systemic racism. I’ve seen firsthand the way the Company has taken a firm stance on driving support through philanthropic efforts, both monetarily and by taking action through authentic partnerships and community involvement. Allocating the $100 million dollars was just the first step in saying enough is enough! When you’re a company like Sony Music, and your artists, songwriters and employees are living in communities facing injustices around the globe, there’s an obligation to take a stance to show that you are committed to this work for the long haul. This is a long term commitment.

Q: What kind of work goes into establishing a fund like this?
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of this fund which means that we need be intentional and careful about how the fund is utilized. One hundred million dollars is a significant amount of money; you need to develop a strategic plan that will help you reach your goals and objectives. At the same time, we knew we wanted to begin making an impact in communities around the world immediately. So, we have really taken a grassroots approach. Each of our record labels and business divisions across the globe have created task forces that are fully engaged and have been instrumental as we aim to identify organizations that are proficiently serving their communities. You then must be diligent when executing and driving this strategy to reach your overall goals and objectives. 

Q: Are SMG’s donations truly global? 
Yes, this is a global fund in every sense of the word. Sony is a global company, and we understand that racism is a challenge everywhere. With this third round of giving, the Company will help impact local communities across Africa, Australia, Canada, Latin America, New Zealand, U.K. and the U.S. 

This expanded global reach furthers SMG’s vision to address social injustices around the world, in underserved and overlooked communities. We understand that racism may appear a little differently within various countries, and often the notion of racial inequities might challenge prevailing beliefs. For these reasons and more, our global teams are focused on supporting organizations that advocate for fairness across civil rights, gender and racial equality as well as poverty and economic injustice, education, voting rights and more. 

Q: When you announced the fund in 2020, you mentioned that it was launched with the full support of other Sony companies. What does that mean? Is the fund shared among Sony’s operating companies?
Absolutely. We work with our sister Sony companies to identify target organizations and partners to donate to also. We are aligned in our goals and objectives and are all working diligently to support community efforts that support our respective companies’ mission and values.

Q: How do you determine which organizations to donate to?
Our Sony Music Group Task Force Committees, across the entire company, are charged with identifying global organizations that are working on solutions around civic engagement, criminal justice reform, and education. While each one must be legally identified as a charitable organization in their country, the majority of organizations selected connect Sony Music Group to meaningful programming and allows the Company to make a real impact beyond the financial commitment we make. Whether it’s a grassroots organization in a local community or a global initiative spanning continents, we are committed and dedicated to supporting this work.

It’s important to note that support to these organizations are very different. Sony Music Group carefully evaluates the need each charity group is serving and considers the best way to partner with them. For those that can accept financial donations, we do that in every case. However, it can also mean in-kind donations for programs or lending our services, time and expertise to the organization.

For example, in the U.K., one of our grantees, Key 4 Life, partnered with us to develop a rehabilitation program to support young ex-offenders to build resilience and fast track their employment, through a powerful blend of music, football, equine therapy and mentorship.

In Brazil, our monetary donation to Fondo Guadalupe Musalem enabled them to award 158 high school scholarships and 51 university scholarships to young women from rural, indigenous and/or Afro-Mexican communities.

(Click here to read more about different ways organizations have put the Fund to use.)

Q: What factors go into deciding an organization’s eligibility?
As part of our rigorous submission process, each potential organization is thoroughly vetted with our internal legal and public policy teams to determine funding eligibility. This includes evaluating the financial health of the respective organization and determining the percentage the organization is spending directly on their programs and services as opposed to administrative costs. We confirm evidence of the charity’s commitment to accountability and transparency, as well as investigate the charity’s measurable results and impact over time. This particular step is crucial as it determines the charity’s ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the lives of people and their communities.

While the above guidelines and review process are important, it’s also equally important that the organizations align with our Company’s mission and values and operate programs around our three core pillars for their communities: Civic Engagement, Criminal Justice Reform and Education. 

Additionally, we often collaborate with our current community partners on effective strategies, approaches, and additional organizations to be considered for support. These collaborations and partnership allow us to effectively service communities globally.

Q: How many charities will be funded in this latest, Round three, of the Fund’s donations?
This round of more than 90 organizations follows the Company’s previous two rounds of funding to community-based partners globally. In total, the SMG Global Social Justice Fund has contributed to more than 300 organizations worldwide.

Q: How is round three different than the two previous rounds of funding?
This round of funding is our most diverse and expansive yet. From the organizations selected, to the countries and regions that will be impacted, our Task Forces have done an incredible job sourcing organizations that are committed to addressing key issues and supporting developmental programs for vulnerable local communities.

More specifically, this round of funding will support charities focused on education, civic and community engagement programs, civil rights and social justice reform, youth advocacy, LGBTQ+ initiatives, cultural and historical institution preservation as well as mental health and wellness programs. Sony Music Group has a presence in more than 60 countries and this latest round gets us closer to serving all of those communities.

A Conversation With Towalame Austin, Sony Music Group’s Executive Vice President of Philanthropy and Social Impact

You can read more about Sony Music Group’s overall philanthropic efforts here.

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