152 posts categorized "Civil Society"

Twenty years after 9/11, still fighting the criminalization and dehumanization of our communities

July 15, 2021

DRUM protest for excluded workers_risetogether_philantopicOn September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona, when Frank Silva Roque, a white Boeing aircraft mechanic, saw Sodhi's turban, a sign of his Sikh faith, and shot and killed him. Silva Roque then drove through town and shot two people of Middle Eastern descent, who thankfully survived. Roque was apprehended the next day and is now serving a life sentence.

Sodhi's murder was just one of an onslaught of hate crimes committed in the wake of 9/11. Nor were hate crimes committed by individuals the only threat to targeted communities. The Department of Homeland Security spearheaded the criminalization of Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) immigrant men through humiliating racial profiling programs like the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Tens of thousands of Black and Brown men were forced to line up at federal agencies to register for ongoing government surveillance based on religion, ethnicity, and national origin, targeting foreign nationals from twenty-five countries. Before the program was finally dismantled in 2016, thousands of families were torn apart and entire communities were devastated by job losses, deportations, and ongoing harassment.

Stories of interpersonal and structural violence against BAMEMSA communities after 9/11 are ubiquitous, but so are the stories of activists rising to these challenges and leading a vibrant movement to secure their rights and inclusion. Members of the Sikh community formed the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit that has won numerous court cases against workplace discrimination, school bullying, racial profiling, and hate crimes and has secured the passage of groundbreaking religious rights laws and significant policy improvements. Community-based activist organizations like Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), founded in 2000 to build the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low wage immigrant workers, youth, and families in New York City, mobilized to support the victims of state-sponsored discrimination, offering "know your rights" training, holding vigils and protests at federal agencies, documenting civil rights violations, and working in solidarity with other social justice organizations to demand policy change.

That movement includes the founding of the RISE Together Fund (RTF) in 2008, the first national donor collaborative dedicated to supporting directly impacted voices to lead policy and social change in BAMEMSA communities. Housed at Proteus Fund, the RISE Together Fund is led by an all-women team, each of whom identifies with the communities we support, connecting our personal and political commitments to build a just, multiracial, feminist democracy.

This year, as we mark two decades since 9/11, we're reflecting on the milestones of our movement, including working with grassroots organizations over four years to organize against the Muslim & Africa Bans, a series of Supreme Court-approved restrictions on travel to the United States from thirteen countries — which was finally rescinded on day one of the Biden administration. We also helped increase voter turnout among BAMEMSA communities by mobilizing significant support for civic engagement initiatives. We partnered with Dr. Tom Wong, a specialist in identifying high-potential voters of color, who worked with twelve grantees, including the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, on non-partisan voter messaging, outreach, and technical support.

Despite these many successes, BAMEMSA communities continue to be underinvested in and excluded from broader conversations and philanthropic opportunities around racial justice and immigrant justice. We also are up against a tidal wave of funding in support of efforts to demonize and criminalize our communities. According to a 2019 report authored by Abbas Barzegar and Zainab Arain, between 2014 and 2016, more than a thousand organizations funded thirty-nine groups with a total revenue capacity of $1.5 billion that foment hate toward BAMEMSA communities. While RTF and our philanthropic partners are making great strides in supporting BAMEMSA communities, we have a long way to go to fully address their continued criminalization and dehumanization.

Since 2009, RTF has worked with longtime field partner ReThink Media to ensure that BAMEMSA movement leaders speak for themselves and build media savvy. ReThink offers fieldwide spokesperson training, messaging research and guidance, op-ed writing support, and direct connections to journalists. The overarching goal of RTF is to direct grants toward building a long-term, sustainable movement and work alongside grantees and the wider BAMEMSA field to develop and amplify a collective voice — a voice that is particularly critical this year in countering nationalistic sloganeering and offering more critical perspectives that address the ongoing harms of the 9/11 era.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, RTF is offering a variety of opportunities for funders to learn more about our communities and support their efforts to build a stronger democracy — through funder briefings, panel discussions, and blog posts. In June we co-hosted a funder briefing with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) about supporting impacted communities; in October we will hold a panel discussion on "The 20th Anniversary of 9/11: BAMEMSA Women Activists Leading Resistance and Resilience" at the CHANGE Philanthropy UNITY Summit; and in collaboration with Democracy Fund and Mission Partners, we are working to publish a series of blog posts to educate philanthropy about the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA movement. We are speaking with funders about opportunities to support the urgent needs of grantees in their efforts to mobilize around the 9/11 anniversary, such as locally focused arts and culture programming to share the experiences of BAMEMSA communities over the past two decades. There are opportunities for partners to support BAMEMSA field leaders with long-term cultural strategy training and coaching to help them communicate their work more effectively to wider audiences and coherently connect post-9/11 harms to broader conversations on surveillance, policing, and racial justice.

While the anniversary is an important moment for us to reflect on the successes and challenges of the BAMEMSA field, our work is ongoing. Policy advocacy is needed to address the ongoing criminalization of our communities, such as efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and defund Homeland Security grants used to support spying and psychological warfare in BAMEMSA communities. We must fund ongoing nonpartisan voter engagement efforts outside of federal election years, and we need to protect field leaders who face doxxing and threats online with robust digital security support. Given that 80 percent of our grantee organizations are led by women of color, we need to support their leadership with resiliency training and capacity building efforts to empower their work well into the future.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, we at RTF reaffirm our commitment to support communities who have been on the front lines of creating a just society and we invite fellow funders to support BAMEMSA communities in this important year.

(Photo credit: Desis Rising Up & Moving)

SheilaBapat_ClaireDowning_AlisonKysia_DeborahMkari_RTF_philantopicSheila Bapat, is senior program officer, Claire Downing is program officer, Alison Kysia is grant writer, and Deborah Makari is program assistant for the RISE Together Fund at Proteus Fund.

Funding criminal justice reform in Latin America: Investing in affected communities

June 15, 2021

Casa de las Muñecas_PhilanTopicThere is always a glass-half-full aspect to grantmaking: While we are proud of what our grants have helped accomplish, we recognize that we can always do better. Looking back on the past decade of grantmaking by the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative in support of criminal justice reform, we can draw critical lessons from both our successes and our failures.

We would like to share some lessons learned from our work funding communities affected by over-policing, mass incarceration, and state violence in Latin America.

A bedrock principle for us is that affected communities are the most capable drivers of long-term, sustainable change, and funders need to prioritize providing them with direct support.

There are four fundamental reasons why donors funding criminal justice reform should support leaders of the movement who are directly impacted by the system:

1. Investing in collective organizing and leadership provides affected communities with resources to build their power. It enables them to shape a narrative on public safety that highlights the stories of the victims and exposes the root causes of violence and harm such as social, economic, and racial injustices — and the way the criminal justice system is designed to criminalize and discriminate against marginalized communities. Funding their leaders also empowers affected communities to develop solutions to problems that directly impact them, and funding is critical to effectively challenging structural inequality and injustice through a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach.

2. Investing in affected communities contributes to a more representative, diverse, and inclusive criminal justice movement that nurtures new and emerging leaders. In Brazil, for example, white — and often elite — legal and policy advocacy groups tend to dominate the criminal justice field — but this is changing. More Black activists and Black-led organizations such as the newly formed Black Coalition for Rights, are leading advocacy on criminal justice reform and placing racial justice squarely on the agenda of the broader movement, and more donors are funding racial justice work in the country. In Mexico, the trans-led NGO Casa de las Muñecas is introducing new perspectives in the criminal justice debate regarding discrimination against trans women, which other organizations in this space have not prioritized. Building the leadership of affected communities has a knock-on effect on mainstream organizations as well, motivating them to recruit staff and board members from these communities, diversifying their membership.

3. The strong connection between directly impacted people and their families, neighbors, and/or people with similar experiences gives those leaders and organizations legitimacy in the eyes of their communities and the public. They therefore have a greater capacity to mobilize and galvanize people around their demands. In the United States, as a result of the shift in the profile of its leadership to include more people from impacted communities, the criminal justice movement has pushed new and more radical ideas to the fore, such as "prison abolition" and "defunding the police," and is placing greater emphasis on initiatives dealing with violence prevention, community reinvestments, and reentry. In Latin America, a nascent network of formerly incarcerated women (including Red de Acciones por la Justicia in Mexico, Mujeres Libres in Colombia, and Amparar in Brazil), is developing an advocacy platform to promote transformative justice across the region, a topic that traditional criminal justice organizations, which have been more focused on technical legislative reforms, have not prioritized.

4. While directly impacted individuals are arguably the most capable and effective leaders of the criminal justice movement, they are also the most in need of and the least able to access resources. Groups and movements led by affected communities are typically under-funded and conduct most of their work on a volunteer basis. They lack the vital resources required for organizational and professional development (e.g., fundraising, advocacy) and end up giving their time and energy free of charge, despite precarious living conditions, such as insecure housing, lack of access to basic services (health care, education, etc.), and the stigma that comes with having spent time behind bars or the trauma of having lost a family member to state violence.

Donors have an important role to play in supporting affected communities' efforts to organize, strategize, and develop their own solutions to problems of which they have an intimate knowledge.

Here are four lessons we'd like to share from our experience in Latin America:

1. Funding affected communities requires grantmaking that is flexible, long-term, and premised on trust. Keep in mind that while grantees will choose the path that works best for them, it may take time to figure this out, and results may not be immediately tangible. There may be an advocacy win down the road, but the organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing necessary to make it happen could take years. Results need to be measured against movement-building milestones such as agenda setting, increased visibility of advocates and positions, stronger networks/development of new organizations, and law and policy reform).  

2. Affected communities should make their own decisions, but they need allies and assistance from well-established organizations that can offer respectful accompaniment and technical support. Allies (including donors) must perform a delicate balancing act: committing to nurturing the leadership of affected communities while knowing when to step back to let them make their own decisions.

3. We need to navigate movement dynamics carefully. Funding one set of affected leaders or organizations but not another may pit groups against each other. Donors need to understand alliances and rivalries and asses how best to support the movement as a whole. It is also important to recognize the tensions between movements. For instance, in Colombia, we cannot assume that solidarity is automatic between female coca growers in rural areas and women who use or sell drugs in urban settings, but they could rally around common goals such as the need for economic opportunities.

4. Some communities self-organize to defend their rights and interests but do not focus on criminal justice reform. For instance, while associations of sex workers, people who use drugs, or LGBTQI communities are victims of violence and criminalization, they tend not to operate in the criminal justice field. They could, however, be allies and help break silos between movements.

It's too early to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the impact of this strategic shift on policy and practice and people's lives. Yet, after a few years of funding affected communities in Latin America, we already see changes in the types of organizations and activists present in the criminal justice field across the region: They are more diverse, they have brought new voices and perspectives to the table, and they have given a sense of empowerment to disenfranchised communities. We hope the donor community embraces this approach and understands that systemic change requires a sustained and collaborative effort and a commitment to invest in building the infrastructure for movements that have historically lacked access to resources.

(Photo credit: Casa de las Muñecas)

Soheila Comninos_Nina_Madsen_PhilanTopic Soheila Comninos and Nina Madsen are program officers in the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative.

 

Business must do more to restore our democracy — and philanthropy must help

February 12, 2021

News_capitol_building_from_mallOn January 6, we witnessed an unprecedented attack on American democracy — the culmination of a sustained campaign to undermine the integrity of the November 2020 election and, ultimately, overturn the will of the people. While our democracy withstood the assault, the insurrection revealed its underlying vulnerability.

Now more than ever, we need to defend democracy. The business community bears some responsibility for our current predicament and has an especially important role to play in upholding democratic norms. Philanthropy can help by holding corporate America to account for its role in degrading those norms, and by encouraging reforms that ensure that corporate political activity works for, not against, the public interest.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many CEOs, companies, and trade associations responded by condemning the assault and calling for consequences for those responsible. A number of major corporations, including Marriott International, American Express, Dow Chemical, and AT&T, ended their political contributions to members of Congress who voted against the certification of the Electoral College votes. Dozens of other companies temporarily suspended all political contributions.

These statements and actions have been important. Amidst a broader, troubling trend of declining trust, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows business to be the most trusted of our major institutions — and the only one seen by a majority of Americans as both ethical and competent. The same survey revealed that 86 percent of Americans expect CEOs to speak out on social issues and highlighted the expectation among respondents that corporations should work with government to solve problems. Given Americans' generally favorable view of business, business leaders' unambiguous condemnation of the attack was a necessary affirmation of the election's legitimacy.

And yet it is deeply troubling that it took such a profound crisis for a critical mass of business leaders to express their concern about our broken politics and to condemn racist, anti-democratic actions. Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and current chair of the B Team, said in the Harvard Business Review that CEOs "chose tax breaks and a booming stock market over ethical leadership," and concluded that "this silence — in the face of repeated assaults on common decency, respect and rule of law — helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the recent insurrection to occur."

This abdication of responsibility by business leaders is remarkable given the formidable political power corporations wield. And as large corporations in almost every industry have consolidated their market power, they have also assembled a formidable political advocacy infrastructure to protect and advance their commercial interests.

This power is overwhelmingly deployed to advance specific policies that advance individual companies' commercial interests, but often directly contradict companies' public commitments and stated aims on important social issues.

For example, with respect to racial justice, companies have contributed to state-level 527 organizations that are at the forefront of rolling back voting rights for people of color.

On climate change, many of the companies publicizing the steps they are taking to achieve net zero carbon emissions are contributing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the strongest lobbies opposing major climate reform.

Even during the COVID pandemic, companies have been supporting organizations behind the scenes working to advance litigation designed to weaken unions, or have been engaged in outright union busting.

Such hypocrisy has to stop.

Investors increasingly are demanding greater transparency and accountability from corporations, as evidenced by demands from asset owners for companies to immediately stop funding treason, and by the growing number of shareholder resolutions concerning political spending and lobbying disclosure.

The American public is also demanding greater accountability from corporations with respect to their political activity. According to recent polling from JUST Capital, 78 percent of Americans favor requiring companies to publicly disclose all political donations, while a majority believe corporate political spending is harmful to democracy.

Collectively, these trends are changing the risk-reward calculus for corporations engaged in political activity. Indeed, this could be a moment when norms and standards of corporate political accountability actually shift. But for that to happen, philanthropy needs to be more strategically, deliberately, and forcefully involved in catalyzing the change we need.

First, foundations and family offices that have direct relationships with corporations should explore opportunities for direct engagement and dialogue with respect to corporate political accountability. Through their board members, endowment investments, and/or philanthropic partnerships, foundations can signal how important it is that the positive impact of corporate philanthropic engagement is not offset, undone, or undermined by corporate political activity working at cross-purposes to the public good.

Second, philanthropies can do more to support the advocacy organizations fighting for accountability in corporate political spending and lobbying. These organizations are often small and lightly funded but punch well above their weight and have been highly influential. Look at the impact that data from the Center for Responsive Politics has in the media, or the influence that Wharton and the Center for Political Accountability's Zicklin Index has had on incentivizing companies to voluntarily disclose their political spending.

Third, philanthropies can strengthen their focus on corporate political accountability in their programmatic work and across their influence strategies, from federal and state policy advocacy to grassroots power building. For example, the Action Center for Race in the Economy works with organizations leading local campaigns for racial, economic, and environmental justice. They use their in-depth research capabilities to investigate sources of corporate political influence and dark money in key policy fights and help those campaigns connect the dots between their issues and corporate and Wall Street actors who often operate out of sight.

Finally, the philanthropic community collectively needs to build stronger coalitions to address corporate political influence — coalitions that span different issue areas and deliberately ignore funding silos. Funders approach corporate political influence through multiple frames, including democracy reform, getting money out of politics, climate change, and racial and economic justice, among others.

Now is the time for funders to come together to explore how we can complement and reinforce each other's work and leverage this moment to drive real change in the relationship between big business and democracy.

Chris_Jurgens_Omidyar_Network_PhilanTopicChris Jurgens is a director on Omidyar Network's Reimagining Capitalism team and leads a portfolio focused on how corporations and capital markets can contribute to a more inclusive capitalism.

[Review] 'It's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York'

February 11, 2021

Cover Its a Helluva TownIt's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York by Roberta Brandes Gratz tells the story of how one person and a small family foundation were able to create outsize impact in the nation's largest city and make it a more vibrant, equitable, and sustainable place to live and work. As cities across the country wrestle with unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gratz' "case study" on the power, and limits, of philanthropy could not be more timely.

Founded in 1945 by Jacob "Jack" Merrill Kaplan, the J.M. Kaplan Fund today distributes more than $6 million in grants annually and has approximately $140 million in assets, a legacy of the sale of the Welch Grape Juice Company, which Kaplan headed for many years, to a grape growers' cooperative in the 1950s. In 1977, Kaplan's oldest child, Joan Davidson, was named president of the foundation he had created. As Gratz details in the book, Davidson took the responsibility seriously and, with the relatively modest resources of the J.M. Kaplan Fund at her disposal, played an outsized role in transforming New York during the latter half of the twentieth century. 

For Gratz, Davidson and the Kaplan Fund embody an important philanthropic principle: solutions to some of our most urgent social problems do not necessarily have to come with a big price tag.  Indeed, because foundations and philanthropists tend to be risk-averse, moving early and decisively to address a problem can yield impressive results. By way of example, Gratz quotes Aryeh Neier, a co-founder of Human Rights Watch, who credits the Kaplan Fund as  "the first significant funder of Human Rights Watch at $200,000 a year before [the] Ford Foundation came in" and goes on to say "[the fund] was crucial in launching us." To put that in perspective, HRW today has a budget of $75 million, a staff of four hundred and fifty people, and is widely considered to be one of the most effective human rights organizations in the world.

In an entirely different arena and on a smaller scale, the fund awarded a $1,500 grant in 1992 to the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association in Far Rockaway, Queens, to plant thirty trees and other site-appropriate vegetation as protection against potentially devastating storm surges. Twenty years later, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, the area's bungalows and their residents were largely spared.

One of Davidson's most remarkable accomplishments as leader of the fund was her willingness to support institutions and social movements unafraid to question the paradigms and narratives that others took for granted. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance, the fund supported the efforts to landmark and save the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters in Manhattan's Theater District from demolition. Legal action seemed to be the only way to save the theaters, and for help Davidson turned to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a young environmental organization and an unlikely ally. Davidson had been a board member of NRDC, however, and understood how it could be useful in this particular fight. Though getting NRDC to take up the cause was a "hard sell," it eventually agreed. Ultimately, the theaters fell to the wrecking ball, but the case was pivotal in defining the strategies employed by the organization as it grew to become a leading player in the environmental advocacy movement — and, as Gratz writes, expanded the boundaries of that work so that "[e]nvironmental issues would never again be limited to the natural; the built and the natural were seen as symbiotic and forever joined." Today, cities and the urban ecosystems that grow up around them are widely regarded as critical components of the "environment," and NRDC has gone on to build an important and impactful urban program focused on putting resilient, sustainable cities at the center of the climate change conversation.

The success of an initiative often is judged by the extent to which it prevents harm. By empowering grassroots activism, philanthropy can play a critical role in stopping projects that pose threats to the environment, communities, and/or the very fabric of society — an idea that has significantly shaped both the historic preservation and environmental movements. As Gratz writes, "Preservation is never about historic buildings alone; it is about urbanism — preserving the whole city — which is simply the sum of its diverse and very interconnected parts." In the 1970s, she adds, "intelligent people had good reason to think that New York was doomed, and that making it more accessible to suburbia (and cars) and easier and safer as a venue for nighttime entertainment (via Lincoln Center) was the way to save it."

One of the linchpins of that vision was Westway, a proposed twelve-lane highway to be built from 42nd Street to Battery Park on land partly reclaimed from the Hudson River. The project, if completed, would have ceded primacy to the automobile in Manhattan — at the expense of mass transit and the ecologically important Hudson River estuary. Thanks to successful litigation supported by Davidson and the Kaplan Fund, however, the project was defeated, and the federal funding that had been allocated to it was used instead to support the city's public transit infrastructure, a critical building block of New York City's comeback in the 1980s and '90s. The book details several such fights against pernicious projects and proposals, some of them more successful than others. But the common thread in all is the emerging power of grassroots activism, which Davidson and the fund were critical in nurturing and sustaining.

More recently, the economic model that propelled New York City to new heights in the opening decades of the twenty-first century has been overturned by COVID-19. Every day during this seemingly endless pandemic, New Yorkers have been challenged to re-conceptualize how they work and live. At the same time, the virus has highlighted the unequal, unjust, and often-racist systems that marginalize communities.  The lesson is clear: now is the time to develop new models and paradigms for cities that give all people who call them home a chance to flourish. It's A Helluva Town reminds us that this isn't the first time New York has found itself at such a crossroads. But, as in the 1970s, headlines like "Is New York City Over?" and "400,000 people flee from the city" obscure the fact that major urban centers like New York are hard to keep down as long as visionaries like Joan Davidson call them home. She, and the people who supported her at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, are proof, as Margaret Meade famously said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Nick Opinsky is a senior development officer for institutional giving at American Jewish World Service.

The Audacity of Joe Biden

February 01, 2021



Civic_cultureIn her victory speech on November 7, 2020, then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spoke of Joe Biden’s audacity in selecting a woman — a Black and Asian-American woman, no less — as his running mate.

The turn of phrase brought to mind the title of former president Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, forming a bridge to the administration in which Biden served so successfully.

Using the word “audacity” to describe a politician with a reputation for “reaching across the aisle” was, in itself, a little audacious.

And it was perfect.

For me personally, Kamala Harris’s words reminded me of a brief conversation I once had with then-Senator Joe Biden.

In 2002, I attended a social gathering in Washington, D.C., at which two senior senators were present: John McCain of Arizona, a Republican, and Joe Biden of Delaware, a Democrat. I spoke briefly and cordially with both. My conversation with Sen. McCain focused on service-disabled veterans and the steps we could take as a nation to honor their sacrifices by creating more opportunities for them. During my conversation with Sen. Biden, I asked, “Am I shaking the hand of the next president of the United States?” His response took me by surprise. He smiled and gestured affectionately toward McCain. “No, that’s him.”

Even as a complete outsider, I could sense the deep and abiding respect between these men from different ends of the political spectrum. They were rivals, yes, but also friends and fellow statesmen engaged in the effort of maintaining and strengthening democracy.

My interaction with Joe Biden engraved forever on my heart the importance of friendship and decency in politics. It also cemented for me the integral role of courage in democracy.

John McCain had served in Vietnam, enduring years of torture as a prisoner of war. He became the symbol of a certain kind of courage.

Together with McCain, Joe Biden has been emblematic of another kind of courage: the courage to consider other viewpoints, to stay open to compromise and conciliation, to trust in the good faith of one’s adversaries based on a common set of values and traditions. Indeed, in his inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol, President Joe Biden spoke openly of the courage he expects of all Americans, of the need to “listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another.”

This kind of courage — civil courage — is truly what we need today. We need the courage to end systemic racism, to fight poverty, to address climate change, to ensure that every child has a loving home, to tackle unemployment, to unite our divided nation.

From the moment I arrived in the United States as a young man, I have cherished and admired the decency and generosity of “ordinary” Americans, from the Carolinas to the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, in small towns and big cities alike. Certainly, among these diverse multitudes you can find less charitable individuals and groups. But I’ve found that for every zealot espousing a close-minded ideology, there are tens of thousands of Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — whose open minds and open hearts provide a critical mass of kindness and understanding each and every day.

After decades of residing in the U.S. and participating in American life, I have come to value the courage that underlies all that kindness and understanding.

It is not unique to America, certainly.

It is a quality I recognize from my travels across six continents and in my conversations with dairy farmers in Kenya, schoolchildren in Bolivia, youth in Morocco, entrepreneurs in India, a restauranteur in South Sudan, community leaders in Ghana, a registered nurse (and SOS Children’s Villages alumna) in Jamaica.

That same courage was evident in my meetings with other, more celebrated individuals, from astronaut and U.S. senator John Glenn to Mother Teresa, from the Dalai Lama to President Bill Clinton.

After each of these interactions, I came away deeply impressed with the tremendous courage of individuals to make transformational change, regardless of the circumstances or the difficulty involved.

The United States is a country where this kind of courage is critical to our economic and social progress, our national security, and our global leadership.

In an open letter I wrote to President Biden and Vice President Harris, I urged them to focus on vulnerable children and youth in this country and ensure that they have the safety, care, and opportunities they need to thrive.

No other country has civic courage woven into its fiber the way America does. No other country needs it as much we do right now.

Headshot_Neil_GhoshNeil Ghosh (@neilghosh4 / ceo@sos-usa.org), chief executive officer of SOS Children's Villages USA and founder of the Global Youth Initiative, is an advocate of vulnerable children and youth; he focuses on advancing nimble and agile cross-sector collaboration systems to foster sustainable development.

How Social Issues Influenced Voting by Young Americans

November 24, 2020

VotingsizedThe research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence tracks the behaviors and motivations of young Americans (ages 18-30) with respect to social issues and movements. And while plenty of issues have drawn the attention of young Americans in 2020 — not least COVID-19 — our latest research finds that one issue In particular drove young Americans to vote in the recent U.S. presidential election: racial equity for Black Americans and people of color.

We surveyed young Americans in October and then again on November 4, the day after the election. Our results — published in two waves, Influencing Young Americans to Act — 2020 Election Research Reports, Wave 1 and Wave 2 — reveal that a consistent, overriding concern about racial inequality, discrimination, and social justice, particularly though not exclusively as it impacts Black Americans, was a key factor in young Americans’ decision to vote and choice of presidential candidate.

Based on our sample, here are a couple of things we learned about young Americans' participation in the 2020 presidential election:

1. Young Americans voted for a candidate, not against one. In our first wave of election research in October, the vast majority of survey respondents had already settled on their candidate, with 64 percent saying they planned to vote for Joe Biden and 28 percent planning to vote for Donald Trump. When asked to give a reason for their choice, 58 percent said they liked and supported their chosen candidate’s stance on issues important to them, while 25 percent said they neither liked nor supported the other candidate’s stance on issues important to them. In other words, a majority of young Americans responding to our survey said that support for, rather than opposition to, a candidate and his positions was a key motivating factor in their choice of candidate.

By the time Election Day (November 3) rolled around, nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of young Americans had already voted or planned to vote for Biden for president, while about a quarter (28 percent) had already voted or planned to vote for Donald Trump.

2. Racial equity was a key factor in the way young Americans voted. When asked in October to name the specific issues or causes driving their choice of candidate, 60 percent of respondents said Black Lives Matter (i.e., racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 39 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

Respondents' reasons for supporting a candidate remained more or less unchanged for those who voted on November 3, with our second wave survey finding that nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of all respondents said the biggest factor in their choice of candidate was Black Lives Matter (racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 42 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

The other top issues cited as reasons to back a certain candidate were COVID-19 (44 percent), the budget and economy (43 percent), and healthcare reform (38 percent).

3. Young Americans trust social movements and local government the most. Given the proliferation of false and misleading information in the months leading up to the 2020 election — New York Times' reporters tracked 1.1 million election-related "falsehoods" in September and October alone — we asked young Americans how much they trusted specific individuals and entities to do what was right to ensure a fair election. Social movements (65 percent) and local government (65 percent) scored highest, followed by Joe Biden (58 percent) and nonprofit organizations (5 percent).

The list of "I do not trust them at all" responses among our sample was topped by Donald Trump (42 percent), followed by Republican members of Congress (30 percent), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (27 percent), corporations (26 percent), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (25 percent).

Bright Spots

During what surely was one of the most divisive elections in my lifetime, one response stood out for me and actually made me hopeful. About half of our sample said their voting experience was good because, "I had a voice in the 2020 presidential election. I think my vote matters this year." Another hopeful response: 64 percent said the results of the election won’t affect their charitable giving plans.

Our research underscores the importance of social issues to young Americans — something we will talk more about in the coming weeks. At the same time, the high levels of activity and engagement surrounding the election speak directly to the opportunity nonprofits and for-profit companies have to promote greater civic engagement and participation among young Americans through the causes they themselves support. If anyone is looking for reasons to be hopeful as we try to get a handle on the coronavirus and keep ourselves and our families safe over the next few months, that seems like a good place to start.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Mexican president targets U.S. philanthropy, but it’s Mexican civil society that could take the hit

September 22, 2020

Tren-Maya-Map-07On Friday August 28, 2020, four days before I officially became the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy at the Johnson Center, I knew what the topic of my inaugural blog for this platform would be.

That day, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, as he is known, shared the results of what he termed an "investigation" into the funding of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who have opposed his principal infrastructure project, the Mayan Train (Tren Maya) (Presidency of the Republic, 2020a). AMLO claimed that the organizations had clandestinely received almost $14 million in grants specifically to oppose this project from five U.S. foundations, including Ford, Rockefeller, the National Endowment for Democracy, ClimateWorks, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It is important to state upfront that all the recipient organizations vehemently deny the allegations.

Given that my chair was endowed jointly by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kellogg Company 25-Year Employees' Fund, and that I have worked over the last two decades to both research and strengthen international and domestic philanthropy in Mexico, I feel a special obligation to address the accusations and innuendos made by the Mexican president.

Another motivating factor for me is that this attack is not an isolated incident. It occurs against a backdrop of increasingly hostile rhetoric and policy actions directed against Mexican civil society from the Mexican government, as well as increasing violence against environmental and human rights activists in that country, as captured by Mexico's declining score in the Freedom House Index (Freedom House, 2020). Tragically, this trend is global — in many countries, civil society is under attack (International Center for Not-for-Profit Law [ICNL], 2016).

AMLO and Tren Maya

To understand the significance of the Mayan Train and AMLO's frustration with its opponents' success, we need to go back to his election in 2018 and his campaign slogan, "For the good of all, first the poor" (Por el bien de todos, primero los pobres). He promised to lead Mexico through what he calls the Fourth Transformation, upending the corrupt, neo-liberal political and economic system that for decades has favored the rich and powerful — the "cabals of the powerful" — at the expense of the poor.

Tren Maya was to be his signature infrastructure project. The plan was to lay a thousand miles of rail around the perimeter of the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting key destinations and igniting economic prosperity by facilitating tourism and transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. The government of Mexico estimates the cost at $6.5 billion USD and predicts it will create half a million jobs during construction and have a multiplier effect on the region's economy (Government of Mexico, 2020).

Opposition to the Mayan Train

From the start, the project has met with stiff resistance from an assortment of local, national, and international groups that believe the mega-project will bring disruption and environmental degradation. The rail line will pass through five states that hold some of the nation's most important archaeological sites and biodiverse habitats.

Soon after AMLO announced a plan for public consultation, hundreds of Mexican environmentalists, scientists, and human rights advocates published an appeal to postpone it, arguing, "High biodiversity sites must be preserved according to the most stringent international standards, taking into account the indigenous peoples who have been the guarantors of their territories and custodians of the natural and cultural wealth of our country" (Lichtinger & Aridjis 2018). Nevertheless, the consultation proceeded.

During the month-long consultation at the end of 2019, the government claimed high levels of participation and approval in both a popular referendum and assemblies aimed at indigenous groups. Local organizations cried foul. After observing the process, the Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement that said in part, "The information presented to indigenous communities only outlined the potential benefits of the project and not the negative impacts it may cause" (United Nations, 2019). It also found that the process did not comply with "culturally appropriate" standards designed to encourage free participation and that the participation of indigenous women was especially inadequate.

Local organizations began to collaborate with larger NGOs based in Mexico City with expertise in environmental law and public policy, and it is these nine NGOs that AMLO identified in his August statement. Together, the groups launched successful court challenges and public protests, calling into question the legality of the consultation process, as well as the project's forecasted benefits and compliance with environmental regulations. At present, two of the seven sections of the project have been halted by court orders, while construction proceeds on others (Vanguardia 2020), raising the question of how the train can function if its circuit is left incomplete.

Benefactores y Opositores (Benefactors and Opponents)

AMLO claimed that these NGOs had hidden their sources of funding because they were acting on behalf of foreign interests, including multinational corporations and the U.S. State Department. He declared his role was to expose the fact that organizations were "disguised" as advocates for the environment and human rights when in fact they were acting on behalf of what he termed "cabals of the powerful" (Presidency of the Republic, 2020). He put his case succinctly on September 4:

What was wrong is that they worked in anonymity, clandestinely, without transparency, supposedly as independent non-governmental associations, so maybe they are independent, but from the people, not from the cabals of the powerful....

Thus, his criticism of the NGOs has two prongs:

  1. that their work and their funding was clandestine and opaque; and
  2. that these groups are not accountable to the Mexican people, but rather to the corporate and political interests behind their donors and therefore are illegitimate.

Let's examine each claim.

Transparency Defended

The investigation shared by the president states that the organizations' activities include filing lawsuits to stop construction of sections of the Mayan Train or the project as a whole, filing a complaint before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, investigating and documenting irregularities of the project, and disseminating the findings of such research (Cuevas, 2020). Given that these acts are essentially public, or need to be made public in order to have an impact, it is difficult to understand how they can be conducted clandestinely.

In a series of individual and collective statements, the named organizations have defended their work, contending that the funding they received from U.S. philanthropy was both legal under Mexican and international law and transparent, and that the grants identified were not made to them for the purpose of opposing the project (Animal Politico, 2020).

The organizations pointed out that in the table provided by the president, seven of the nine grants started well before his election in 2018, contradicting his claim that the funds were intended to defeat the project. Similarly, more than once AMLO and his spokesperson stated that some of this information was public. AMLO's administration also said the investigation was conducted by a "private foundation," but they did not identify the researcher nor the source of their information. Using publicly available data from the tax authority's transparency portal for nonprofits, a Mexican think tank called Alternativas y Capacidades found that five of the NGOs listed were charitable organizations, and of those three received the bulk of their resources from sources within Mexico (Alternativas y Capacidades, 2020).

Legitimacy Defended

This leaves the second prong of the critique: does the receipt of foreign grants delegitimize the work of an NGO?

While AMLO has leveled a rhetorical attack, many other governments have placed regulatory restrictions or outright bans on organizations receiving foreign funds (ICNL, 2016). Such restrictions often represent a government's attempt to assert its sovereignty against both foreign governments and domestic actors, denying resources to groups they perceive as "political rivals" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 618-619). The assumptions underlying such restrictions are that "internationally funded NGOs are not well rooted in the local community," and that they "are more responsive to donors' concerns than those of the communities they serve" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 621).

This argument does not do justice to the mechanisms for community accountability that NGOs practice and that international donors typically look for as part of their due diligence (Brechenmacher & Carothers, 2018). These mechanisms include board composition, consultation and representation, and compliance with governmental regulations and ethical standards. While there are cases of heavy-handed international funders seeking to influence and even dictate outcomes for communities and public policy, most — and particularly those foundations named by AMLO — make it their policy to respect local autonomy and support community-led development. Still, funding from foreign donors opens a potential line of attack for critics.

Why accept cross-border philanthropy?

Given that cross-border donations can present a point of vulnerability for NGOs, why do they accept them?

NGOs turn to foreign funders because local sources of funding are often quite scarce, especially for issues that risk the ire of the government — like the defense of human rights and environmental justice. Additionally, outside of the world's wealthiest nations, there are few philanthropic foundations (Johnson, 2018). While all nations have their unique expressions of generosity and vibrant traditions of mutual self-help, few exhibit a strong propensity to support formal nonprofit organizations.

Mexico's formal nonprofit sector is relatively under-developed and is heavily reliant on earned income (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017). Foreign donors do not play a large role in supporting the sector as a whole, with about 10 percent of donations coming from abroad (Layton et al., 2017). This challenging context has been further complicated by actions taken by AMLO's administration:

  • It has moved to eliminate Mexican federal funding of nonprofit organizations (Technical Advisory Council 2020), which was already low compared to other nations (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017).
  • The tax authority has stepped up its audits of charitable organizations and its revocations of their charitable status: in the three years prior to AMLO's presidency, there was one revocation a month. Now there is one every other working day (Tax Administration Service, 2020). One high-profile case involved the revocation of the charitable status of Mexico's largest community foundation, the Foundation of Chihuahuan Businesspersons (FECHAC), widely respected for its professionalism (González Sierra, 2020).
  • The tax authority has also imposed an income tax on earned revenue (unrelated to mission) that exceeds 10 percent of total organizational income (Council on Foundations, 2019).

These policies weaken the three major sources of domestic funding: government support, private grants, and earned revenue. With his attacks on foreign grants, AMLO and his administration are undermining all avenues of financial sustainability for Mexico's nonprofit sector.

Why cultivate domestic — especially community — philanthropy?

These actions on the part of the current Mexican administration present an important challenge to Mexican civil society. There is a growing consensus among civic leaders and international donors that the long-term sustainability and credibility of NGOs depends on a more favorable enabling environment for civil society, especially the growth of domestic philanthropy.

Many donors have sought to encourage the emergence of domestic philanthropy in developing nations (C.S. Mott Foundation, 2013; Regelbrugge, 2006). My own research has sought to provide empirical data to better understand the nature of this challenge, and my consulting work has supported efforts to encourage the development of Mexican civil society and its philanthropic sector, particularly the institutions of community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy in Mexico has shown great promise in addressing the key challenge of cultivating a culture of giving and promoting the use of institutional channels for generosity (Olvera et al., 2020). At their best, community foundations work with a broad range of stakeholders at the intersection of donors, nonprofits, business, and government, and they enjoy a unique ability to support community-led development. Their work demonstrates that, far from being independent of a community's people, they are directly engaged with and accountable to them.

(Image credit: Mayan Train Route image from Dialogo Chino.)

Headshot_Michael_LaytonMichael Layton, PhD, joined the Johnson Center in September 2020 as the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair, the nation's first endowed chair focused on community philanthropy. This post originally was created for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy's blog and was published there on September 16, 2020.

 

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References

Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C. 2020. Analysis of Data from Fondos a la Vista. Data retrieved from https://fondosalavista.mx/

Animal Politico. 2020. Gobierno de AMLO acusa a Animal Político y a OSC de recibir recursos para atacar al Tren Maya. Animal Politico. Retrieved from https://www.animalpolitico.com/2020/08/gobierno-amlo-animal-politico-recursos-atacar-tren-maya/

Brechenmacher, S. & Carothers, T. (2018). The legitimacy menu.Examine Civil Society Legitimacy. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/05/02/examining-civil-society-legitimacy-pub-76211

C.S. Mott Foundation. (2013). 2012 Annual Report, Community foundations: Rooted locally, Growing globally. Retrieved from https://www.mott.org/news/publications/2012-annual-report-community-foundations-rooted-locally-growing-globally/

Council on Foundations. (2019). Nonprofit Law in Mexico. Global Grantmaking Country Notes. Retrieved from https://www.cof.org/content/nonprofit-law-mexico

Cuevas J. R. [JesusRCuevas]. (2020, August 28). Hoy se dio a conocer una investigación sobre el financiamiento de fundaciones extranjeras a organizaciones no gubernamentales y a un medio que se oponen a la construcción del Tren Maya. [Tweet]. Retrieved from
https://twitter.com/JesusRCuevas/status/1299368891525804032

Dupuy, K. & Prakash, A. (2020). Global backlash against foreign funding to domestic non-governmental organizations. In Powell, W. W., & Bromley, P. (Eds.). (2020). The Nonprofit sector: A research handbook. Stanford University Press.

Freedom House. (2020). Freedom in the World: Mexico. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/country/mexico/freedom-world/2020

González Sierra, E. (2020, January 22). FECHAC’s Charitable Status Revoked. El Heraldo de Chihuahua. Retrieved from https://www.elheraldodechihuahua.com.mx/local/desautorizan-a-la-fechac-para-recibir-donativos-noticias-de-chihuahua-4732080.html

Government of Mexico. (2020). Mayan Train: Multiplier Effect. Retrieved from https://www.trenmaya.gob.mx/efecto-multiplicador/

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. (2016). Survey of Trends Affecting Civic Space: 2015-16. Global trends in NGO law 7(4). Retrieved from https://mk0rofifiqa2w3u89nud.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/global-ngo-law_trends7-4.pdf?_ga=2.245940356.162911111.1599646423-2060145790.1598725786

Johnson, P. D. (2018). Global philanthropy report: Perspectives on the global foundation sector. Harvard Kennedy School, the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Center for Public Leadership. Retrieved from https://cpl.hks.harvard.edu/files/cpl/files/global_philanthropy_report_final_april_2018.pdf

Layton, M. D. (2017). Regulation and self-regulation in the Mexican nonprofit sector. Chapter in Dunn, A., Breen,O., & Sidel, M. (Eds.). Regulatory waves: Comparative perspectives on state regulation and self-regulation policies in the nonprofit sector. London: Cambridge University Press.

Layton, M.D., Rosales, M.A. (2017). Financiamiento de las donatarias autorizadas. Chapter in Butcher García-Colín, J. (Ed.), Generosidad en México II: Fuentes, cauces y destinos. Mexico City: Editorial Porrúa, Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.

Layton, M. D., & Mossel, V. (2015). Giving in Mexico: Generosity, Distrust and Informality. Chapter in Wiepking, P. & Handy, F. (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy (pp. 64–87). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Lichtinger, V. & Aridjis, H. 2020. The Mayan trainwreck. Opinion. Washington Post. Dec. 4, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/12/04/amlo/

Mexican Center for Environmental Law. (2020). The defense of human rights and the environment strengthens democracy and should not be criminalized. Retrieved from https://www.cemda.org.mx/la-defensa-de-los-derechos-humanos-y-de-la-naturaleza-fortalece-la-democracia-y-no-debe-criminalizarse/

Olvera Ortega, M., Layton, M., Graterol Acevedo, G. & Bolaños Martínez, L. (2020). Community Foundations in Mexico: A Comprehensive Profile 2009–2016 – Report Summary. Mexico City: Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C., Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and Inter-American Foundation. https://alternativasycapacidades.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FundComunitarias_ENG.pdf

Presidency of the Republic. (2020a). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on August 28, 2020, Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/es/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-28-de-agosto-del-2020?idiom=es

Presidency of the Republic. (2020b). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on September 4, 2020, Mexico City, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-4-de-septiembre-de-2020?idiom=es

Regelbrugge, L. (2006). Funding Foundations: Report on Ford Foundation support of grantmaking institutions, 1975 to 2001. Ford Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.fordfoundation.org/work/learning/research-reports/funding-foundations-report-on-ford-foundation-support-of-grantmaking-institutions-1975-to-2001/

Salamon, L. M., Sokolowski, S. W., & Haddock, M. A. (2017). Explaining civil society development: A social origins approach. JHU Press.

Tax Administration Service. (2020). Charitable Organizations Published in the DOF (Diario Oficial Federal). Retrieved from https://www.sat.gob.mx/consultas/27717/conoce-el-directorio-de-donatarias-autorizadas

Technical Advisory Council. (2020, September 02). Pronouncement of the technical advisory council of the federal law on promotion of the activities of the civil society organizations (CSOs), regarding the declarations of the President of the Republic Lic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador on CSOs. Retrieved from https://consejotecnicoconsultivo.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CARTA-DEL-CTC-CON-RELACION-A-LOS-PRONUNCIAMIENTOS-DEL-PRESIDENTE-AMLO.pdf

United Nations. (2019). The indigenous consultation process on the Mayan Train has not complied with all international human rights standards on the matter: UN-DH. Retrieved from https://www.onu.org.mx/el-proceso-de-consulta-indigena-sobre-el-tren-maya-no-ha-cumplido-con-todos-los-estandares-internacionales-de-derechos- humans-in-matter-onu-dh/

5 Questions for...EunSook Lee, Director, AAPI Civic Engagement Fund

June 25, 2020

Launched in 2014 with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New YorkEvelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Ford Foundationand Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund works to foster a culture of civic participation among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Since its inception, the fund has provided funding to strengthen the capacity of twenty-five AAPI organizations in seventeen states working to inform, organize, and engage AAPI communities and advance policy and systems change. 

EunSook Lee, who has served as director of the fund since its inception, coordinated the 2012 National AAPI Civic Engagement Project for the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and, prior to that, served as senior deputy for Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), as executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and as executive director of Korean American Women In Need.

PND spoke with Lee earlier this month about xenophobia and racism in the time of COVID-19, the importance of civic engagement in an election year, and her vision for fostering a greater sense of belonging among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

EunSook Lee_AAPI CEFPND: The AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was created by a group of funders who saw a need to expand and deepen community and civic engagement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who historically have been both a community of color and a predominantly immigrant and refugee population. After more than a hundred and sixty years of immigration from Asia, why, in 2013, midway through Barack Obama's second term, did the AAPI community become a focus for funders?

EunSook Lee: While we launched the fund in 2013, it was conceived as an idea after the 2012 elections, a season that was emblematic of how funding had flowed in the past to AAPI communities: episodically and chaotically. Just months before the presidential election, a burst of investment came in from civic participation funders and political campaigns in support of efforts to get out the vote in AAPI communities. As part of that influx, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation pledged $1 million for a national project focused on civic engagement and identified National CAPACD as the organization to host the effort.

In a very short period of time, we made grants to dozens of groups, connected them to State Voices and other civic engagement entities for the first time, and provided support where we could to help them execute their plans for the election. With a few exceptions, most AAPI groups had not been sufficiently resourced or supported to develop their infrastructure. We couldn't sit back and hope they would succeed, so we did a bit of everything to help them build the capacity they needed to get the word out in their communities.

We also decided it was important to show how AAPI communities had voted, so we partnered with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education FundLatino Decision, and others to hold a first-of-its-kind multiracial election eve poll that polled Asian Americans in their own languages. The resulting data enabled us to shift the narrative on Asian-American civic engagement, demonstrating that the Asian-American community had turned out in record numbers and that its views on most issues were in alignment with the views of other voters of color.

Following the 2012 elections, a number of funders became interested in pursuing a longer-term effort to build year-round capacity for AAPI groups and put an end to the cycle of episodic funding tied to election cycles. And that's how the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was born.

PND: The coronavirus pandemic and some of the political rhetoric it has engendered have heightened the visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ways that have not always been positive or welcome. What are you hearing from grantees about the kinds of challenges they are facing as a result of the public health crisis, and how is the fund responding?

EL:  The challenges resulting from coronavirus are layered. At the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, we acknowledge how difficult the work is for AAPI groups that may not have the resources or capacity to meet current needs but know they cannot turn their backs on the communities they serve.

Language barriers are a primary obstacle for our partners right now. Local and federal agencies are setting up new programs, processes, and rules as they go, and that basic information is not reaching non-English speakers. Whether it is about applying for unemployment or getting information about small business loans or helping your child with online learning, monolingual AAPIs are navigating a maze with little to no language support. At the same time, physical offices are closed, so those who are not familiar with Zoom or struggle with Internet connectivity are unable to get the information through other means.

After the three Vietnamese papers serving the tri-county Philadelphia area had to shut down due to the coronavirus, Philadelphia-based VietLead and other grassroots groups started making wellness calls to community members. Others are translating support materials and posting them online, holding in-language webinars on Zoom, and posting information on YouTube and Facebook, which are easier for many people to access. Some have also distributed information directly to homes along with drop-offs of basic food supplies. And because those who are undocumented have been unable to access the majority of relief programs, a number of AAPI groups have set up their own cash-relief programs for those who have been left out.

The anti-China rhetoric that began with the Trump administration has exacerbated and exposed longstanding bigotry against Asian Americans in this country. A number of our grantee partners are working with their communities to track incidents of racism, and all have heard from community members who have been subjected to verbal abuse and bullying, denial of service, vandalism, graffiti, and even physical assaults. Some of the cases of discrimination are occurring in the workplace and may be considered civil rights violations. Others rise to the level of a hate crime.

NativeHawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) have been especially impacted on account of existing inequities. One-fifth of NHPIs are uninsured, and in general they suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Partly because of those factors, the latest figures for California show that NHPIs are nine times more likely to contract COVID-19 and are dying at a disproportionately higher rate than any other group in the state.

We are working to support and amplify the various ways AAPI groups that are responding to this health crisis. We established the Anti-Racism Response Network Fund, which to date has made emergency grants totaling over $1.5 million to an estimated forty groups in twenty states. We are also working with sister funds to direct some of their COVID relief funds to AAPI groups. We also plan to support the online convenings of these groups as they do what they can to support each other, learn about each other's programs, and find ways to collaborate and amplify the voices of progressive AAPIs.

PND: Voter registration and turnout rates among AAPIs, despite being historically lower than those of other populations, have risen in recent years. As highlighted in a 2019 report from the fund and the Groundswell Fund, 76 percent of AAPI women said that they had encouraged friends and family to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. How do you see that trend playing out among the AAPI population in the 2020 elections? And what kind of role do you think AAPI women might play?

EL: The Wisconsin primary was disastrous in terms of protecting the health of voters and running the election efficiently. AAPI groups focused on civic engagement and the empowerment of their communities are vital to advocating for safe, efficient alternatives such as vote by mail, ensuring language access, and getting the vote out. We have heard about a range of systems failures that COVID-19 has exacerbated, especially cases of incompetent leadership at various levels of government. Because our groups are connected to their members, they are best positioned to galvanize them to vote.

More specifically, AAPI women are being recognized as critical organizers and community leaders. Our 2018 Asian American Election Eve Poll talked about how they not only were more active in protests and at the polls but also effectively mobilized others. In fact, twenty of our twenty-two core civic engagement grantees are led or co-led by women. There is no question that AAPI women will continue to power this movement through the 2020 elections and beyond, driving voter turnout and raising awareness about the issues most important to their communities.

PND: AAPIs Connect: Harnessing Strategic Communications to Advance Civic Engagement, a report recently published by the fund, notes that "[t]echnology offers the potential for AAPIs to be more connected with one another and to [the] larger society, but...it also has the potential to exacerbate divisions and create a more disconnected America." How is technology exacerbating division and disconnection within the AAPI community? And what are the biggest challenges AAPI groups face in building capacit — not just in the area of communications, but overall?

EL: At one time, there were a few mainstream media outlets that most Americans relied on for their news. For those who were bilingual or monolingual, in-language media supplemented that access to information. While there is now an explosion of platforms where information and news is being disseminated, some of the critical in-language news outlets are financially unstable or shutting down. Our national conversation has suffered as a result. At the same time, AAPI communities are being left out of many conversations. Not only is there a greater likelihood of our being isolated from the mainstream or from other communities in terms of the information we consume, there's also a greater possibility that we may end up being uninformed or misinformed.

AAPI groups have an opportunity to play a greater role in addressing this disconnect by looking at ways to build their communications infrastructure. But they need support and funding to deepen that work and make an impact on the local, bi-multi-lingual/biliterate, harder-to-reach populations.

As in other areas, AAPI communities and community-based organizations are often playing catch-up. According to our grantee partners, the biggest barrier they face in building communications capacity is a lack of resources. That includes funding to support dedicated staffing, skills building, and tools that equip them to communicate the critical work they are doing in their communities.

That has become a focus for our fund, to support the training and building up of the strategic communications capacity of AAPI groups. Funders can help by dedicating more resources in terms of grants and other learning opportunities so that AAPI groups can establish their media and communications muscle and infrastructure. They can also look at ways to strengthen movement-wide tools and overall creating funding strategies with a racial equity and intersectional justice lens.

PND: Over the course of your career, you've led grassroots nonprofits, served as a congressional staffer, and worked as a consultant to funders. Having observed the process of social change from all those perspectives, what is your number-one recommendation, in this moment of uncertainty, for groups that are looking to bring about social change?

EL: It is essential in this moment that AAPI organizations be seen — and see themselves — as part of this larger movement-moment in an authentic, non-performative way. We cannot be used as a wedge to divide or undermine the focus on systemic racism. We must commit to genuine and radical solidarity over the long term based on an understanding of how freedom for our respective communities is intertwined. We must push forward pro-Blackness in our communities and share analysis on the root causes of anti-Blackness, which is keeping us from true systemic change.

Many AAPI organizing groups are centering Black lives and framing anti-Blackness through the lens of our lived experience. Civil rights and organizing groups are including AAPIs in their efforts to tackle poverty, health inequities, and barriers to reentry for individuals emerging from incarceration. But there is an opportunity in this moment to dig deeper, to acknowledge that your organization may not have done as much as it could have to follow Black leadership and work with organizations that have deep ties to the Black community and have been doing this work for many years.

It is important that AAPI organizations examine our practices and past policy decisions to better align our future actions with our words. We must think more deeply about what it means for organizations to be anti-racist, to tackle systemic inequities, and to embrace an agenda that goes beyond our immediate self-interest. To achieve this, we need more AAPI organizers and social justice organizations, not fewer, better infrastructure and increased capacity, and more financial support for that infrastructure and capacity.  

— Kyoko Uchida

The power of diverse boards: an argument for change

June 04, 2020

Diversity_board_PhilanTopic_GettyImagesWe have a lot of work to do. Most of us have known this for some time, but the events of the last few weeks highlight just how much work remains to be done. The fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion never ends, and a clear and ongoing commitment to all three is needed if we are to create positive change. That commitment must start at the top.

Boards of directors operate at the highest level of organizational leadership, with each director expected to play a role in the development of the organization's strategic vision, operations, and overall culture. Numerous studies have shown that diversity positively impacts a company's financial performance. Indeed, a McKinsey & Company study found that firms in the top quartile for ethnic diversity in management and board composition are 35 percent more likely to earn financial returns above their respective national industry median.

Is the same true for the social sector? Is it important for nonprofit boards to embrace and model diversity, equity, and inclusion? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, and here's why:

Diversity drives organizational performance

Diversity inspires innovation. A board that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and skill sets is more likely to generate innovation and push all its members to be more creative and open-minded. Today more than ever, social sector organizations need to develop multiple revenue streams, and leading-edge expertise in areas ranging from strategy to financial planning to operations is critical to a board's ability to conduct effective oversight.

Diversity catalyzes creativity. Diverse boards tend to be better at creative problem solving. Those who have had to adapt to physical disabilities encounter challenges on a daily, if not hourly, basis, while those subjected to systematic racism have had to adapt their entire lives. The ability to overcome challenges often translates to adaptive leadership, opening a world of possibilities in terms of program execution and organizational management.

Diversity fosters network breadth. Current or past clients who serve as board members add an element of authenticity and credibility to board deliberations and can serve as a "voice of experience" that informs and improves program planning. A greater awareness of who is actually being served gives boards information they need to develop strategies grounded in real-world facts. Such an understanding also provides context for proper resource allocation and effective strategic action, while helping to deepen an organization's relevance and impact.

Inclusion drives action

Let's try a thought experiment: take away all the benefits created by more diverse boards and imagine what the sector would look like :

  • too many nonprofits relying on a single, precarious revenue stream;
  • approaches to problem solving that are never improved on because "it has always been done that way";
  • clients who are viewed as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners in collective change efforts;
  • recruitment of staff and donors from among those who look and think like us; and
  • logic models and outcomes metrics informed by a single point of view.

Something magical and important happens when differences not only are not dismissed but are valued. But the benefits that diversity brings to a board are unlikely to be realized without an equal focus on inclusion. The perspective of all board members must be continuously sought and heard, and differences of opinion should always be welcomed.

Equity is the result

Equity and systems change are the outcomes of leaders fully embracing diversity and inclusion. In the absence of inclusion, it is too easy to become comfortable in our silence. Without diversity of thought and perspective, our value systems are compromised and systemic injustice goes unchallenged.

It is clear that board diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for all organizations, and especially so for nonprofits. To truly maximize a nonprofit's effectiveness, as well as its financial success, nonprofit boards must work diligently to ensure that different viewpoints are heard and incorporated. Change doesn't happen automatically or overnight. Boards must actively seek out those who can bring new perspectives to the table and challenge the status quo.

For those who currently serve on a nonprofit board, now is the time to act. Speak to your colleagues about steps the board can take to develop internal policies aimed at strengthening its diversity and begin to build a foundation for organizational leadership that supports change.

Similarly, if you've ever considered lending your time and talent to a nonprofit, now is the time to connect with one that is aligned with your passion and expertise. In these challenging, uncertain times, nonprofits are looking for all the expertise they can get their hands on.

The success of any organization starts at the top. Boards that want to maximize their effectiveness and performance must include socially and professionally diverse individuals who are committed to doing the work and are prepared to speak up and act for change. Good luck!

Pam Cannell_for_PhilanTopicPam Cannell is CEO of BoardBuild and has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance.

Nonprofits and COVID-19: No Money – No Mission

April 09, 2020

Foodbank_feeding_americaWith more than 12.5 million employees and over 1.3 million organizations, the nonprofit sector is the third largest private-sector employer in the United States, after retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits touch the lives of one in five Americans, helping to feed, heal, shelter, educate, nurture, and inspire them. 

Over the last month or so, however, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality of the nonprofit mantra "No Money – No Mission." In our current volatile environment, some nonprofits will thrive, some will be forced to close, and some — with the help of smart, speedy planning — will survive.  

Nonprofits on the front lines of the coronavirus response, including nonprofit hospitals, social service providers, and food banks, need immediate funds to scale their operations. The good news is that many of these nonprofits will come out of the crisis stronger than ever. 

Other nonprofits are at real risk. Smaller, local nonprofits that have meager or nonexistent reserves are already feeling the strain — especially museums, performing arts groups, botanical gardens, and other cultural organizations that depend on ticket sales and walk-in donations for revenue. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on galas, special dinners, and events such as walkathons, bikeathons, "mudfests," and other large-scale gatherings are in trouble. 

Even before the emergence and spread of COVID-19, the situation for most nonprofits was fairly dire. In 2019, the vast majority (92 percent) of nonprofits in the U.S. had revenues of less than $1 million, while approximately half (50 percent) had operating reserves of less than a month. These small and often local nonprofits are especially vulnerable to the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that have been imposed by governors and mayors across the country — and the deep recession  likely headed our way.

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Five Strategies for Advancing Your Mission in 2020

March 04, 2020

Social_media_icons_for_PhilanTopicThe months leading up to the presidential election in November are a critical period for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interested in shaping public discourse around a range of issues. It promises to be a period when Americans weigh everything from plans to make health care and college more affordable to new ideas for addressing the opioid crisis, climate change, national security, and economic growth. It's also likely to be a period when philanthropy is called on to highlight important issues, contribute to and inform the national dialogue, and advocate for the public interest.

In the coming weeks, leaders at private and corporate foundations, NGOs, and nonprofits will have an opportunity to leverage the presidential election cycle to raise awareness of — and drive engagement with — their issues. From the debates and primaries still to come to the party conventions and the election itself, the moment is ripe for action.

For social-sector leaders inclined to act, there are five key elements to effective issues advocacy:

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2020)

February 09, 2020

1203880819.jpg.0Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

The stock market is up and inflation is muted. It's the story of the last ten years. Or is it? In The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey reports on the affordability crisis breaking the back of America's middle class.

Global Health

The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, dominated headlines for much of the last week, leading to a spate of all-too-predictable scare stories and conspiracy theories. For a solid statistical breakdown of what is actually happening, in Wuhan and the twenty-seven other countries and territories in which the virus has been detected, check out this useful site created by the folks at World-o-Meter.

Grantwriting

On the Candid blog, Susan Schaefer, founding partner of Resource Partners LLC, looks at three of the core skills needed by a grant writing professional in 2020.

Health

More than fifty years after the civil rights movement changed the way Americans think about race, there is still much to do to reduce discrimination and increase health equity. On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Dwayne Proctor, a senior advisor to the foundation's president, reflects on the role of stories in the search for solutions.

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Nostalgia and Social Change

January 29, 2020

Time-machineRecently, I put my finger on a social sector trend that's been lodged in my brain but that I was having a hard time articulating: call it nostalgia.

Let me give you an example.

In many of the conversations I've had over the last year or two, people usually express a clear interest in changing how we engage with social issues and causes. They want to see Americans give more, volunteer more, vote more, or otherwise be more civically engaged, and they have certain expectations about what that looks like and how it should happen.

In many of these conversations, the person I’m speaking with often "benchmarks" the change they'd like to see, and that benchmark often references the past, as in "Derrick, Americans used to give more," or "Derrick, Americans used to know more about the way our political system works." They often cite statistics to back up their point and then will say, in so many words, "We need to return to…" and will launch into a narrative about a time when "we were less polarized as a country," when "people were more willing to help a stranger in need," when there was no "us and them, only we."

Now, it's not my job to argue with people and point out where they might need to rethink some of their ways of looking at things, and I'm not going to do that here.

Instead, I'll share what I often say at this point in those conversations:

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Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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