154 posts categorized "Public Affairs"

Review: The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream

October 25, 2021

Book_cover_david_m_rubenstein_the_american_experimentAt seventy-two years old, David M. Rubenstein remains curious and keeps asking questions. The billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, the world's third largest private equity firm, is curious about American history and how that history helps define what being an American actually means. As an investor and philanthropist, Rubenstein is keenly interested in what motivates people and society to do hard things. And while he demurs from calling himself a journalist, on the David Rubenstein Show on Bloomberg News and History with David Rubenstein on PBS, Rubenstein has in recent years pursued a reporter-like thread through conversations exploring the myriad facets of American identity and how they are reflected in our business practices, the arts, our communities, and above all our civic life — that is, how we understand and exercise our rights and obligations as citizens.

The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream is Rubenstein's third collection of ideas and interviews exploring the nature of America. While many of these conversations occurred as early as 2017, several took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, some as recently as this summer, giving an existential sharpness and immediacy to Rubenstein's narrative. Rubenstein has been described as a patriotic philanthropist, notably footing the bill for improvements to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, among many other gifts. And in a very real sense, The American Experiment is an extension of that philanthropy; sharing his idea of America — his received wisdom — with an America fraught with immense challenges, but gifted with extraordinary opportunity....

Read the full review by Daniel X Matz, foundation web development manager at Candid.

As COVID persists, New York's youth need nonprofits now more than ever

October 22, 2021

Boys_and_girls_town_nycThis was not the "return-to-normal" back-to-school season many of us had hoped for. Remote learning and isolation for more than a year have left many students, especially the most vulnerable, behind. On average, K-12 students are now an estimated five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. And there is a mental health crisis among teenagers hit hard by loneliness. While schools, families, and government agencies continue to provide substantial support for youth, it is simply not enough. Nonprofits are playing a vital role in supporting our youth through this pandemic and its fallout.

As executive director of A Chance In Life, a New York City-based nonprofit that supports at-risk teens through positive youth development, I've seen how essential such organizations have been over the past eighteen months. We operate all over the world and recently opened a center for youth on Staten Island, our first U.S. program. The demand for our services, which include paid internships, food distributions, and afterschool programs, has been high.

As schools, government agencies, and the private sector come together to improve the lives of youth and their families, nonprofits must have a seat at the table. They can help mitigate COVID-related learning loss, provide supportive social reintegration settings, and use their local connections to provide support where other entities fall short.

The negative repercussions of the pandemic on youth and their education are staggering. The effects are even more pronounced for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students and those from high-poverty districts. Educators are doing everything they can, and I am deeply thankful for their work. But volatile conditions and insufficient funding have put them in an impossible position. Moreover, budget and time constraints limit teaching to core subjects, leaving little room for the additional support many students need.

Nonprofits are perfectly positioned to provide extra support to supplement students' classroom education with free tutoring, afterschool enrichment programs, and distribution of school supplies. They can also broaden students' education to include topics that don't always make it into school curricula, like financial literacy education.

Just as essential are the spaces for social development nonprofits provide — away from the pressures of exams and grades. Teens have been particularly negatively impacted by the social isolation of COVID-19, with 61 percent of young adults surveyed in a recent study reporting feeling lonely. Detachment puts young people at risk for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Nonprofits offer safe, enriching spaces that foster peer-to-peer connections. Whether it is for group tutoring, an internship or a music lesson, it is important to carve out room for teens to be themselves and form bonds away from outside stressors.

In addition, the close community ties many nonprofits forge through their work help them recognize problems sooner. And they can respond with solutions more efficiently because they're less constrained by red tape than government agencies.

As COVID-related budget cuts stretched social services to their limits, nonprofits have been stepping up. A Chance In Life chose Staten Island as the site of our first U.S. program in part because it had fewer social programs than other New York City boroughs. Nonprofits across the country have done the same by setting up shop in neighborhoods that have been most neglected — whether the problem is a lack of public transportation, crowded schools, or food deserts.

For-profit businesses that care about giving back should also work with nonprofits to achieve a meaningful and sustainable impact — for nonprofits are the link to the community. Community-based organizations, their leaders, and staff have built local relationships and know where resources are needed. Nonprofits use their trusted voices to let residents know how to access donations from businesses. They also know where to go in a community to reach the people who need those resources the most.

For example, this past August, we partnered with another community-based organization, Staten Island Community Partnership, and ShopRite to distribute food donated by the supermarket chain. Without the corporate donation, we would have had no food to share with our neighbors, but without our connections with local residents and physical presence in the borough, ShopRite would not have known where to distribute that food.

We may not yet have returned to "normal." But nonprofits are willing, ready, and able to ensure that the nation's youth are supported, no matter the state of the city. I urge those in influential positions — leaders in government, business, and philanthropy — to actively support and include nonprofits as we all work towards solutions to this crisis.

(Photo credit: Boys' and Girls' Town of New York City)

Headshot_Gabriele_Delmonaco_PhilanTopicGabriele Delmonaco is executive director of A Chance In Life, a nonprofit dedicated to providing shelter, education, and development for at-risk youth.

'Building political power at a grassroots level': A Q&A with Romilda Avila, CEO, Tides Advocacy

September 22, 2021

Headshot_Romilda_Avila_Tides_croppedRomilda Avila is CEO of Tides Advocacy (formerly the Advocacy Fund), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization working with a network of fiscally sponsored 501(c)(4) projects and funds to strengthen political infrastructure and support power building and policy reform led by those most impacted by injustice. To that end, the organization provides capacity-building support, grantmaking support, and advising services to incubate advocacy initiatives. Avila served as Tides Advocacy's deputy director from 2017 to 2019 and as interim CEO before being appointed CEO in April 2020; she previously worked as a social impact consultant advising national foundations on grantmaking strategies for advancing social justice and equity.

PND asked Avila about Tides Advocacy's commitment to and process of becoming a pro-Black organization, the Political Movement Infrastructure Project, and the role of grassroots organizations in power building. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: You were officially appointed CEO not long after the COVID-19 crisis began in the United States. How did your priorities for the organization shift as a result of the pandemic and its economic fallout?

Romilda Avila: Last year, when the pandemic hit, movement folks had to restructure in the moment; in the middle of organizing in the field, they had to transition to lockdown and figure out technology and community engagement. We rallied and were able to give $150,000 through our internal Resilience Fund to highly impacted partners to make sure that they were able to sustain themselves and their salaries and support healing justice and programming while facing an uncertain future. It was the first time that Tides Advocacy has done this type of grantmaking.

We're also supporting more organizations in terms of (c)(4) funding and inspiring folks to do more political work in the off-season. Through our Healthy Democracy Action Fund, during an important election year, we had an opportunity to work with a great donor who allowed us to support almost fifty organizations through nearly $6 million in grants. Almost $2.1 million went to Black-led organizations organizing in the South and the Midwest, and the rest went to Native, Latinx, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities. We're also looking to go deeper with leaders and organizations working on LGBTQ rights — particularly trans issues — and immigrant rights, disability rights, and more, so we can support all people directly impacted by injustice in organizing and building political power at a grassroots level....

Read the full Q&A with Romilda Avila.

The sustainable nonprofit: The community a nonprofit builds

September 20, 2021

Hands_in_pileNurturing a community for the greatest impact

Whenever I ask a nonprofit fundraiser or board member about their organization's impact, I know what kind of response I'm going to get. I'll hear about how many people they've served or the number of participants in last year's programs. With good reason, the fundraiser or board member is focused on the programmatic inputs and outcomes of their work, the efforts that are having a positive effect on the people their mission statement says they seek to benefit.

While there's nothing wrong with these answers to my questions about impact, they aren't comprehensive enough. Those measures don't take into account the full spectrum of the ways in which the organization is making an impact on the issue. And the most significant of those impacts come through the community a nonprofit builds....

Read the full column article by Derrick Feldmann, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

'We have to infuse equity into every part of the system': A Q&A with Priti Krishtel

September 02, 2021

Headshot_Priti Krishtel_I-MAKlPriti Krishtel is a health justice lawyer who has spent nearly two decades exposing structural inequities that limit access to medicines and vaccines across the Global South and the United States. She is the co-founder and co-executive director of I-MAK (Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge), a nonprofit organization building a more just and equitable medicines system. An Echoing Green Global Fellow, TED speaker, Presidential Leadership Scholar, and Ashoka Fellow, she is a frequent contributor to leading international and national news outlets on issues of domestic and global health equity.

PND asked Krishtel about inequity across the globe as it relates to COVID-19 vaccines, challenges in the United States of ensuring an equitable medicines system, the drug pricing crisis, and what funders can do to bring about change. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: I-MAK states that a global pandemic, economic and racial awakening, and skyrocketing costs of medicine have created a crucial mandate for equity in the drug development system, especially with growing inequity across the globe as it relates to COVID-19 vaccines. What action do you believe leaders of national governments should be engaged in to mitigate those disparities? And what are the most significant barriers to improving vaccine access worldwide?                       

Priti Krishtel: I cannot stress this point enough: In a pandemic, no country is safe until every country is safe. Today, vaccinations are readily available in wealthy countries like the U.S. However, it's a completely different situation for most of the world's population: so far, less than 2 percent of residents in low-income countries have been vaccinated. Until we employ an equitable system to make sure that vaccines are available everywhere, that all countries have access to the vaccine, and that everyone who is willing and able is vaccinated, variants will not stop. Governments — and wealthy nations in particular — have to stop taking a country-by-country, nationalistic approach to pandemic responses and instead start looking at the system holistically. With every passing day, the risk of a mutated COVID-19 variant that is resistant to vaccines grows.

The Delta variant teaches us that we have to radically and rapidly rethink our approach to recover from this pandemic and adequately prepare for the next. We can't do this by relying on market incentives alone. Right now, pharmaceutical companies are incentivized to lock up knowledge to maximize profits to serve shareholder interests rather than share that knowledge and bring this pandemic to an end.

Philanthropy can play a catalytic role in this moment. Philanthropy is the only sector with the resources, capacity, and global connections to resource organizations and individuals leading the fight for a globally more just and equitable medicines system. It can and must play a connective and transformative role in stemming the gap in places where countries, communities, and individuals are being left behind....

Read the full Q&A with Priti Krishtel.

[Review] Philanthropic Foundations in International Development: Rockefeller, Ford and Gates

August 24, 2021

Book_cover_Philanthropic_Foundations_in_International_Development_centeredAmerican foundations have shaped the world we live in. It's an extraordinary feat considering that the combined giving of all U.S. foundations in 2020 was only about $75 billion — a drop in the bucket compared with the U.S. economy's $22 trillion GDP. But over the past century, those unfettered billions have served to create and reinforce systems, norms, and behaviors that are so pervasive that at times we don't even realize there was a time they didn't exist. The hand of large-scale philanthropy can be felt from the cradle to the grave, from hospitals and schools to libraries and universities, museums, theaters, public spaces, even the food we eat. And it is not just in the United States; American foundations have purposefully gone abroad — as Americans do — to help establish some of the very institutions that underpin the global system. Today roughly one in ten foundation dollars goes overseas.

In Philanthropic Foundations in International Development: Rockefeller, Ford and Gates, Patrick Kilby reveals American philanthropy's travels abroad as a generations-long, if informal, project to preserve the status quo of the capitalist system on which American wealth — and philanthropy — are grounded. Whether a conscious pursuit of American Greatness or an inevitable outgrowth of the near-unrivaled dominance of U.S. economic power, the breadth and depth of American philanthropy's influence in setting the agenda of international development is truly astounding....

Read the full book review by Daniel X Matz, foundation web development manager at Candid.

'We have to rise up and do better': A commentary by Donita Volkwijn

August 02, 2021

Black_lives_matter_james-eades_unsplashContinuing the conversation: How philanthropy is changing how it talks about race

In June 2020, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors responded to questions in the sector about how to begin difficult conversations in the workplace. Our response was meant to provide guidance on how to talk about a reality that had left many of us in the philanthropic sector and beyond speechless. One in which the dual crises of the pandemic and racial injustice were shifting how we lived, thought, and yes, even breathed.

A little more than a year later, we are exploring how, if at all, these workplace conversations have evolved. As we enter yet another new reality, the most obvious shift in direction is to the talk of reopening (if we were privileged enough to work remotely). A friend recently shared a statement that captures what many of us are feeling: "Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn't working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better."...

Read the full commentary by Donita Volkwijn, outgoing manager of knowledge management at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

'We understood what it meant to be silenced, afraid, and vulnerable': A Q&A with Mónica Ramírez

July 26, 2021

Headshot_Monica Ramirez_Justice_for_Migrant_WomenMónica Ramírez is an organizer, attorney, social entrepreneur, and founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, whose work includes policy advocacy, civic and political engagement, public awareness and education campaigns, narrative shift initiatives, and multi-sector and multi-ethnic power-building collaborations. For two decades she has worked to protect the civil and human rights of women, children, workers, Latinos/as, and immigrants and to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity, launching Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Legal Initiative at the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2003. Ramírez also is co-founder of the Latinx House and Alianza Nacional de Campesinos, where she served as board president until 2018.

In our latest '5 Questions for...' feature, PND spoke with Ramírez about the intersectionality of women's, farmworkers', and immigrants' rights; the impact of COVID-19 on farmworkers; and the Healing Voices program. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: You're credited with helping to galvanize the TIME'S UP movement against sexual harassment by publishing the "Dear Sisters" letter on behalf of farmworker women, addressed to women in the entertainment industry. What factors put migrant farmworkers at particularly high risk of sexual harassment, in both similar and disparate ways from women in Hollywood?

Mónica Ramírez: Women of color have historically been left out of the narratives featured in TV shows or movies, much less given the opportunities to feel safe and comfortable enough to bring to light their traumas and seek justice — and the same can be said for farmworker and migrant women. Most people don't realize that migrant women suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace at the hands of supervisors, recruiters, co-workers, and others. They are more vulnerable, as they're employed in small workplaces like private homes and small farms, sometimes with fewer than fifteen workers. And as these women are not covered by existing federal anti-sexual harassment law, they're particularly vulnerable to harm without any recourse to seek justice. To make matters worse, many are afraid to speak out about any incidents of sexual harassment that take place due to fear of deportation, being fired, or having their hard-earned wages taken away....We understood what it meant to be silenced, afraid, and vulnerable....

Read the full Q&A with Mónica Ramírez.

[Review] 'Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future'

July 19, 2021

Book_cover_elizabethkolbert_under_a_white_skyIn her sobering yet captivating book, Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Elizabeth Kolbert examines the ongoing human attempt to control nature, a vicious cycle that often results in the creation of more problems. A staff writer at the New Yorker since 1999, where her work has been focused mainly on environmentalism, Kolbert is the best-selling author of The Sixth Extinction, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. In that book, she curated a powerfully moving collection of first-hand accounts detailing the disappearance of multiple species. She brings that methodology to her new book, again using personal experience to drive her narrative — the narrative that "a future is coming where nature is no longer fully natural."

As in her previous work, Kolbert skillfully shows us how our actions are negatively affecting the planet, rather than just telling us that they are. She travels across continents to witness those human-made changes for herself and describes the devastation, sparing no details. Again and again, she shows humans attempting to create solutions to ecological problems created by solutions to earlier problems. We see this clearly in the first section of the book, "Down the River," which she opens by recounting her time visiting the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The problem began years ago, when the river was rerouted to better dispose of human waste — talk about living in the "Anthropocene" epoch. Then arose the problem of aquatic weeds in the river basin, so plant-eating Asian Carp were introduced, only to become a notorious invasive species capable of outpopulating the ecosystem's native organisms across the Great Lakes. The Asian Carp became such a threat only because the earlier alterations to the river and its sediment allowed for easy admission into these waters. And the solution has been to electrify the waterway, another example of our relentless need to "fix," at any cost and with no awareness of our surroundings.

Kolbert offers another example of a well-intentioned "solution" that has only made matters worse. In the Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, which she describes as one of "the fastest-disappearing places on earth," the cause is once again human intervention, as our need to control the flooding of the Mississippi River has prevented coastal lands from being able to renew themselves. And, of course, the solution is more intervention — to the point where "the Louisiana delta is often referred to by hydrologists as a 'coupled human and natural system.'"

This theme — the merging of nature and the unnatural — is emphasized further in the next section of the book, "Into The Wild."Here, we see a range of attempts to save species and ecosystems from invasive human impacts. A group of scientists in Death Valley work around the clock to preserve the Devils Hole pupfish, possibly the rarest fish on the planet, by maintaining an exact, but entirely unnatural, replica of their habitat. Pupfish are now a "conservation-reliant" species, meaning we've sent them to the brink of extinction but are now trying to bring them back. Kolbert then brings us along on her travels to the east coast of Australia, where the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached, to witness the creation of "super-corals," those that can — or scientists hope they can — withstand warmer temperatures and more acidic waters. This has been coined "assisted evolution," another term that accurately describes the era in which we are living. Kolbert's first-hand accounts show how we have forced our way into natural processes — those that were doing perfectly fine without us but are now reliant on our assistance.

The seeming absurdity of our solutions is apparent yet again in the concept of "geoengineering," the large-scale interventions in Earth's natural systems that we are pursuing to combat climate change. It is to this phenomenon that Kolbert dedicates the final section of her book, "Up in the Air." She acknowledges how frightening geoengineering is: It might not work, and it will most likely be implemented when it is so late that it is the only hope. However, such "negative emissions technologies" just might save us. We may soon be relying on companies that inject carbon dioxide underground so that it eventually turns to rock. Or we may be spraying light-reflective particles into the atmosphere to manage some of the incoming solar radiation, a process which would turn the sky from blue to white — and where Kolbert gets her title. But again, Kolbert admits her fear: this is all an unknown.

Kolbert also sheds light on how the environment is faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. She calls the immediate lockdown "a vast, unsupervised experiment," one where our energy usage changed almost instantaneously. It is assumed by many that this was a positive change; with everyone at home, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide should be down. However, "in May 2020, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere set a record of 417.1 parts per million." Even with declining emissions, it is clear that once CO2 has been emitted, it lingers in the atmosphere. This adds a frightening piece to the puzzle, because even if we were to completely halt all greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric concentrations will continue to rise — for who knows how long.

Through this series of experiences and forewarnings, Kolbert points out how deeply we have embedded ourselves in every natural process. Species are now dependent on us to survive, islands will soon be inundated, and we are not far from bleaching the sky white. Clearly, we are well beyond the point of being able to preserve a "natural" nature. However, what Kolbert also suggests is that while there is no scenario in which our involvement in nature completely stops, learning how to live in a way that doesn't drive species to extinction or reroute rivers would be a good starting point. Perhaps there is no world in which humankind's will to control nature to suit its needs changes, the book seems to suggest, but we must collectively become aware that all species have a contributive impact — impacts that we also rely on.

For now we are stuck at this midpoint, where problems are being generated by the second. Still, Kolbert points out, "people are ingenious. They come up with crazy, big ideas, and sometimes these actually work." While it is this "ingenuity" that got us here in the first place, maybe all it will take is one great idea to get us on the path to this peaceful coexistence. Of course, this reviewer is left with slivers of skepticism, as anyone pondering the vastness of these problems might be. I like to remain optimistic, however; I believe that the mindset with which we move forward is just as important as the capabilities we bring with us. If we truly believe that we can overcome the problems that we created, I am hopeful that we will succeed.

Izzy Nesci, an intern in the Insights department at Candid, is an environmental studies and sustainability major at Barnard College.

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.

5 Questions For…Linda Goler Blount, President and CEO, Black Women's Health Imperative

July 08, 2021

Linda Goler Blount joined the Black Women's Health Imperative, the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls, as president and CEO in February 2014.

Since then, Goler Blount has overseen investments totaling more than $20 million in Black women's health and research. She is responsible for moving the organization forward in its mission to achieve health equity and reproductive justice for Black women. BWHI recently announced that it received a $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to improve vaccination rates among Black women and communities of color. The grant, part of the foundation's $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative, supports hyper-local, community-led programs working to improve vaccine access and support educational outreach in five cities. BWHI will convene a Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force to provide high-impact advocacy recommendations to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake. The task force will include the leaders of National Caucus & Center on Black Aging and National Coalition of 100 Black Women, policymakers, disparities experts, and community organizations.

Before joining the Black Women's Health Imperative, Goler Blount served as the vice president of programmatic impact for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, where she led the effort to eliminate inequalities in health, income, education, and housing through place- and population-based work. She was also the first national vice president of health disparities at the American Cancer Society, in which role she provided strategic vision and leadership for reducing cancer incidence and mortality among underserved populations and developed a nationwide health equity policy.

PND asked Goler Blount about the ways in which Black women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force, and how to address the racial disparity in maternal mortality rates.

Headshot_Linda Goler Blount_Black Womens Health ImperativePhilanthropy News Digest: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black Americans are 2.9 times as likely as white Americans to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 1.9 times as likely to die. In what ways have Black women in particular been disproportionately impacted since the pandemic began and what needs to be done to address this disparity?

Linda Goler Blount: The heavy toll of COVID-19 on Black America is sharpened for Black women, who live at the intersection of gendered and racialized oppression and are experiencing disastrous impacts on their health, economic stability, and social well-being. Black women are impacted disproportionately by underlying health conditions linked to severe COVID-19 cases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, the high incidence of which serves as a consequence of America's long history of structural racism and gender oppression. The confluence of the gender pay gap and the racial wealth gap have made economic instability a harsh reality for Black women.

In addition, the physical health impacts of COVID-19 are clear, and the psychological stress of the pandemic is certain to have long-term effects on Black women's mental health as well. Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the same structural racism that produces disease in Black communities is also creating barriers to treatment, care, and comfort — and worsening existing health crises. To address the physical health impacts on Black women, we need policy makers to ensure access to adequate and affordable health insurance, invest in initiatives that address systemic racism within health care; and expand Medicaid coverage in all states.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 extends beyond what many of us could have ever imagined, with 60 percent of Black households reporting severe financial problems and Black women maintaining the second-highest rate of unemployment during the pandemic. Policy makers should implement universal paid sick leave and expand eligibility for family and medical leave, raise the federal minimum wage, establish an independent equity committee to review and revise the eligibility criteria for economic relief programs, and develop a long-term funding strategy to support and increase businesses owned and operated by Black women. It is apparent that the social impacts of COVID-19 and racial injustice are wide-reaching and closely intertwined with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic and racial crisis — all of which affect Black women's quality of life. We believe lawmakers should address those impacts by extending the federal eviction moratorium and canceling debts, increasing the availability of affordable housing, and expanding quality broadband access across the country, with investments in low-income and rural communities to provide resources for quality distance learning and training.

PND: Black Americans report lower levels of trust in the healthcare system as a result of outright abuses like the Tuskegee study and day-to-day discrimination experienced when visiting healthcare facilities. What are some approaches you believe can work to restore trust in the healthcare system?

LGB: Vaccines save lives, but too many Black Americans have vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy is well placed and often rooted in mistrust of the medical establishment and doubts about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. But I would tell those reluctant to be vaccinated that millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in history. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective. If too many Black Americans put off vaccinations, achieving widespread immunity in this country will be increasingly challenging.

A reassuring aspect the public should be educated about is the vaccine was developed by a Black doctor, vetted by Black physicians, and clinically tested on Black trial participants during the research and development phase. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett stands at the heart of Moderna's vaccine development, and her research was applied to the development of a coronavirus vaccine now distributed around the world.

One thing needed to make this happen is trust — for predominantly white institutions to trust Black physicians and Black researchers to implement the cultural approaches they know will work with Black communities. That is going to mean giving time and resources to those Black institutions and doctors and healthcare providers, so they can go into Black communities and engage in strategies that are going to be really effective. There is also a need for strategic messaging tailored to Black Americans. Because Black communities must seek COVID-19 vaccinations, there is a need to double down on healthcare providers' critical role as trusted messengers in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

PND: The goal of the Rockefeller Foundation's $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative is to ensure that at least seventy million people of color are vaccinated by July. How will BWHI's Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force's work assist in reaching that goal?

LGB: Raising awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine in communities of color and advocating for its equitable distribution is a key 2021 priority for BWHI. Accurate, culturally sensitive information provides Black women with the background and knowledge to advocate for equitable and affordable access to this critical lifesaving vaccine during these uniquely challenging times. To that end, the BWHI Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force will provide high-impact advocacy recommendations for community-based tools, resources, and grassroots implementation activities for COVID-19 vaccine education and uptake. This will include CEO leadership of its strategic project partners, as well as a diverse group of leaders, policy makers, disparities experts, and community advocates who will coordinate and consult on COVID-19 community engagements, strategic initiatives, and resources. To close gaps, BWHI will form strategic partnerships with National Caucus & Center on Black Aging, Inc. (NCBA) and National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW) to deploy COVID-19 vaccine and equity initiatives among Black women in five U.S. cities: Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Oakland, CA; and Newark, NJ.  BWHI will also collaborate with several community organizations to encourage vaccinations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Global Policy Initiative (SCL GPI), R.E.A.C.H. Beyond Solutions, New Jersey Department of Health, and the Women's National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA). Now more than ever, it is critical to arm Black women, who are the vital arbiters of healthcare decisions for their families and communities, with culturally relevant and accurate information that they can act upon to reduce the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

PND: BWHI is the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls. After thirty-eight years, are the challenges today the same as when the organization began? What's changed?

LGB: Ironically, the biggest challenge today is the same as when the organization began thirty-eight years ago. Black women's most significant health issue is the system, as it was four decades ago. Deep-seated structural and systematic racism are not just obstacles to addressing Black women's health issues — they are the health issue. What underlies Black women's disproportionate myriad health issues and disparities is the country's long history of structural and systemic racism within social, commercial, and government systems that disadvantage Black Americans. They can be seen through inequities in socioeconomic status, segregated communities, and even how Black women's pain and conditions are disbelieved and dismissed by the medical community. Standard medical practice continues to fail to consider the unique challenges Black women face.

Today, however, there is greater recognition. The CDC declared racism a public health emergency by observing structural inequities that have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable. More than twenty cities and counties and at least three states — Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin — have also declared racism a public health crisis. There is a greater understanding among the medical establishment that Black women are made less healthy by medical racism and biases held by healthcare workers against people of color in their care. Even though the principal challenge remains the same, with the right tools, resilience is possible. BWHI will continue to advocate for advances in health equity and social justice for Black women, across their lifespan, through policy, advocacy, education, research, and leadership development. Since our founding, we have strived to identify the most pressing health issues that affect the nation's twenty-two million Black women and girls and invested in the best strategies and organizations that accomplish these goals and will continue to do so in the future.

PND: Since a maternal mortality checkbox was added to death certificates in all fifty states, the U.S. has better maternal mortality data and we now know that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and to suffer from severe disability resulting from childbirth than white women. What are some of the policies lawmakers should enact that would improve maternal health outcomes for Black women?

LGB: To address maternal health outcomes in Black women, BWHI calls for policy solutions to help us understand why this occurs, through the data and further conversation with Black women, and then fight for change. Our goal is to understand more clearly how racism, bias, and disrespectful care contribute to this tragedy and create a call to action to transform clinical practice and improve healthcare outcomes.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is legislation pending in Congress designed to improve maternal health, especially for Black women most impacted by pregnancy complications. It comprises twelve individual bills that will address issues such as maternal mental health, social determinants of health, and COVID-19 risks for pregnant and postpartum women. It is an important first step toward addressing disparities in maternal mental health care and ensuring that all pregnant, birthing, and postpartum Black women have access to the health care they need. BWHI is also calling for policies that emphasize data collection, including a deeper analysis of data on the lived experiences of pregnant Black women. That data would inform a strategy to examine the underlying causes of poor maternal outcomes among Black women and to develop and implement strategies for policy, practice, and delivery systems to move the needle.

— Lauren Brathwaite

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.

 

It's time to build a better behavioral health system

June 10, 2021

Mental_healthOur nation's collective mental health has been severely challenged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as we begin to envision our post-pandemic future, it's important to take a step back and recognize that our behavioral health system needed improvements even before COVID-19, and that it's time for philanthropy to consider taking new approaches to funding and advocating in this area.

For more than a year, the isolation caused by the social and physical distancing necessitated by the pandemic and the ongoing stress created by the disruptions to our daily routines have impacted all of us — and those conditions have led to a massive spike in mental health issues. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an astonishing 41.1 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder in a January 2021 survey, nearly four times the average seen between January and June of 2019.

The toll has been especially heavy for our most vulnerable neighbors. Isolation has had a tremendous negative impact on the elderly and the young, while the daily stress of living through the pandemic has been especially intense for people of color, families living below the poverty line, the precariously housed, individuals with pre-existing physical or behavioral health problems, and single parents.

Foundations nationwide have recognized these risks and rallied to provide emergency funding to help support many of the urgent mental health needs created by COVID-19. The New York Community Trust (NYCT) — the community foundation where I oversee grantmaking in the areas of health, behavioral health, and biomedical research — has funded efforts to provide mental health counseling to frontline workers and technology to enable mental healthcare providers to connect with patients virtually and ensure that hard-to-reach populations receive the services they need.

These rapid-response efforts were, and remain, critical as we attempt to address the mental health crisis created by COVID-19. But we must now recognize that our system, as currently designed, is not built to accommodate the great need that already existed before the pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, our systems for delivering mental health care were failing to help the majority of those in need of such support. In 2019, an estimated 51.5 million U.S. adults experienced a mental illness — roughly one in five people over the age of 18 — yet only 44.8 percent received mental health services.

This massive gap is largely the result of our healthcare system's lack of capacity to serve those who need help. Compounding the problem is the fact that even if there were enough trained providers to meet the need, many Americans do not have the means to afford it.

The human and economic cost of this failure is substantial. Each person with an untreated mental illness is a person who struggles to maintain steady employment and help support their family. Our criminal justice system is stretched beyond its limits, in large part because of the extraordinary number of incidents involving individuals who are experiencing behavioral health crises — the very challenges that also prevent millions of Americans from taking care of their physical health.

Imagine if we could rebuild our behavioral health system so it provided the ongoing care that's so clearly needed. Not only would we help those 51.5 million Americans with their mental health, we would create a better workforce, strengthen families, lessen the strain on our police departments and courts, incarcerate fewer people, reduce the number of people experiencing chronic physical health conditions, and increase lifespans. In other words, by putting a focus on mental health, we would be taking a critical step in addressing myriad social issues — and equipping our nation for a healthier and more prosperous future.

Yet for decades, despite our support for well-meaning interventions, both philanthropy and government have fallen short in addressing America's mental health crisis. Instead of improving mental healthcare systems, we've mostly invested in programs that address urgent needs and those in crisis — certainly an important aspect of care, but not the only one.

It's time to take a new approach. Philanthropy and government have an opportunity to join forces to make meaningful structural changes that will help millions of Americans who are not receiving the treatment they need to lead healthy, productive lives. And these changes are not as difficult, or as costly, as you might think.

For example, NYCT, along with Well Being Trust and the Sunflower Foundation, commissioned the Bipartisan Policy Center to study how to better integrate primary health care and behavioral health care. By taking steps to diagnose and treat behavioral and physical health in tandem, rather than separately, the center estimates that we can help improve outcomes for as many as a million Americans over the next ten years.

When I joined NYCT more than two decades ago, a mentor shared the adage “form follows finance.” A twist on the early twentieth-century architecture and industrial design principle of “form follows function,” it is perhaps more relevant than ever to the provision of behavioral health services.

The center's take on better coordination of care between behavioral and physical health is a clarion call for philanthropy to push for better coordination of delivery and financing systems. The federal government and several states have begun to advance models of care that prioritize outcomes over volume and pay for care that is delivered with this in mind.

This is a good start. But philanthropy must do more to ensure that its resources — modest as they are, compared with the country's healthcare spending, which by some estimates is almost 20 percent of our pre-pandemic GDP — ensure that financing aligns with a priority focus on coordinated care across all delivery systems, whether they be hospital- or clinic-based, or in community settings.

It behooves philanthropy to continue to pay attention to many of the root causes of mental and emotional distress that is so prevalent in communities across our country, often referred to as the social determinants of health — the conditions under which people live, work, and learn. Because historical inequities across the board — but especially within the context of race — have hampered such an approach, it is important that our funding address the complex challenges of inadequate insurance coverage, a stressed workforce, and the critical role of non-clinical providers in the delivery of services.

Finally, if America is to achieve a behavioral healthcare system that cares for those in crisis and enables them to manage chronic conditions, philanthropy has a critical role to play in advocating to ensure that financing actually supports such a system.

And for those of my colleagues who work at a community foundation or a grantmaking public charity that can legally engage in lobbying efforts, I entreat you to use that option. Let us imagine and work toward a healthcare system that covers the entire person — mind and body — and makes a healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable America possible.

Irfan_Hasan_NY_community_trust_PhilanTopicIrfan Hasan is deputy vice president for grants at the New York Community Trust, where he oversees health, behavioral health, and biomedical research grants.

5 Questions for...Marisa Franco, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Mijente

May 31, 2021

Marisa Franco is co-founder and executive director of Mijente and the Mijente Support Committee, a Latinx and Chicanx advocacy organization and digital and grassroots organizing hub. Founded in 2015, Mijente's campaigns have resulted in a number of electoral victories, including the defeat of Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016 and the mobilization of record numbers of Latinx voters in Georgia and other battleground states in the 2020 presidential election.

Prior to founding Mijente, Franco served as national campaign organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and as lead organizer for the Right to the City Alliance. Earlier this month, Franco was elected to the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

PND spoke with Franco about the politics of immigration enforcement, police violence against people of color, and philanthropy's role in supporting social movements.

Headshot_marisa_franco_mijentePhilanthropy News Digest: Given the growth of the Latinx population in the United States over the last few decades, it's no surprise that Latinx voters are going to the polls in record numbers. From your perspective, what are the factors driving greater voter participation in the Latinx community? And what are some of the obstacles to even higher levels of participation?

Marisa Franco: So much attention was given to the 2020 elections, and Latinx people, across the political spectrum, were definitely impacted. Like many communities, Latinx folks were witness to both the actions of those in elected office during the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, and many turned out to vote as a result. It was also the year Latinx people became the largest "majority-minority" group in the United States and came into its own politically. That said, last year was a sort of snapshot of the good, bad, and ugly of where our community stands with respect to realizing its own political power, and there is still much work to be done to nurture and grow our voter engagement. The challenge, in my opinion, is that if Latinos and Latinas don't see real change in their own lives, they will not feel the need to vote.

PND: Earlier this year, Mijente and the We Are Home campaign launched Eyes on ICE: Truth & Accountability Forums, an initiative to collect testimonies that shed light on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's current practices and policies, spotlight the stories of those who have organized to protest those practices and policies, and share solutions designed to address the worst abuses. How do you hope those testimonies will shape the Biden administration's immigration policies going forward?

MF: There is no question that immigrants were a primary target of the Trump administration. Biden campaigned to restore the soul of America — and immigrants undeniably should be included in that effort. With the Eyes on ICE campaign, we wanted to provide an outlet for people directly affected to register their experience with immigration officials. This information will be critical as the current administration reviews the scope and conduct of officials in the Department of Homeland Security. And, going forward, the participation and engagement of immigrant communities will be critical to undoing the harms of the past several years.

PND: The Mijente Support Committee's #NoTechForICE campaign calls "on every tech company that works with ICE to immediately halt its support for the agency." Are you seeing results from the campaign?

MF: Yes, we are seeing greater organizing efforts among tech workers, students, and shareholders. And it wouldn't have been possible if not for the research, advocacy, and campaigning we and our allies have done to bring public awareness to issues of surveillance. There is growing pressure across the globe to hold technology companies accountable for their actions, including companies that are positioning themselves inside the immigrant and criminal justice system; that is a key addition to the conversation around transparency and accountability.

PND: You've said the Marguerite Casey Foundation can help "seed the next iteration of social movement and organizing ecosystems" and lead the way forward for the philanthropic sector with respect to both supporting and operating with the same nimbleness as social movements. What would that look like? And what steps should foundations be taking to better align their strategies with the social movements they support?

MF: To me it looks like having a practice of being in dialogue and relationship with local leaders and organizations and developing a sense of emerging strategies and an organic network to local leaders. It is finding people doing good work and supporting them to do it better or at a larger scale.

PND: In your view, what should philanthropy be focused on with respect to Latinx communities? And what issues in the broader Latinx community are underfunded?

MF: Philanthropy has a lot of options it can choose from. One of our challenges at Mijente has been that at times it has felt like there are too many opportunities on the table. Youth are key, especially given that the average age of a Latinx person in the U.S. is approximately twenty-seven, making us one of the youngest demographic cohorts in the country. Because of what happened in the last election cycle, I also believe it's important to look at how we can counter mis- and disinformation directed at Latinx Spanish-speaking communities.

—Kyoko Uchida

To save lives, fund syringes

March 15, 2021

SyringesWhen COVID-19 struck, the United States was already facing a number of public health crises, with national rates of overdose, HIV, and viral hepatitis rising due to increases in substance use linked with a surge in prescription opioids.

The pandemic has converged with these crises, worsening health outcomes for people who use drugs — a crisis that is likely to persist unless we change our approach to drug use.

Take overdose deaths, which increased some 20 percent in the United States between June 2019 and June 2020, to more than 81,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the most fatal overdoses ever recorded in a single year.

And while national figures for new HIV and viral hepatitis cases are not yet available, it's likely they are growing, too, given reported spikes in injection-drug use. (Both diseases can be transmitted via the sharing of injection supplies.) From 2014 to 2018, HIV diagnoses increased 9 percent among Americans who use drugs overall, while some 2.4 million Americans had been diagnosed with hepatitis C as of 2016.

Such grim statistics underscore the need for the U.S. to adopt evidence-based drug policies that can save lives and improve outcomes for people who use drugs. The willingness of the Biden administration to think differently about national drug policy and the changing views of Americans present a critical opportunity to do that.

For decades, policy makers and medical professionals have addressed substance use in two main ways: demand reduction and supply reduction. Both approaches treat substance use as an immoral behavior to be eschewed, instead of as a personal response to social factors or difficult life circumstances.

Neither strategy has significantly reduced substance use or its associated harms. Even though drug arrests jumped 171 percent between 1980 and 2016, the price of most illicit drugs fell, while attempts to dismantle the international drug trade have resulted in extreme violence.

Indeed, America's War on Drugs has tyrannized countless numbers of Black and brown families with racialized policies like mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Such policies have resulted in the overcriminalization of minor drug offenses, the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, and fractured communities across the nation.

Meanwhile, Americans are still using drugs.

It is long past time for the U.S. to embrace the principle of harm reduction, which has proven to lower rates of substance use around the world. Harm reduction recognizes the humanity of people who use drugs, acknowledging that people's relationships with substances usually change over time, and aims to minimize the negative consequences of substance use by fostering the inclusion of those who use drugs in an ecosystem of interventions and services.

The most effective harm-reduction interventions are syringe-services programs (SSPs), which were introduced in the 1980s and '90s as a community-based response to injection-drug use amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Today, they provide syringes, overdose-prevention education, syringe-litter cleanup, infectious-disease testing, and — crucially — naloxone, the lifesaving overdose antidote. SSPs also connect their clients to treatment for substance-use disorder, as well as primary care and social services.

Despite this vital work, U.S. laws have long constrained service providers. In 1988, bipartisan opponents of syringe services prohibited providers from receiving federal funds until the government determined they were safe and effective. The ban remains partially in effect, even as reams of research have shown the benefits of syringe services, from reducing emergency medical costs to lowering rates of HIV and hepatitis C. SSPs still cannot use federal funds to purchase syringes, which help prevent infectious disease among people who inject drugs.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've seen a dramatic spike in people receiving syringe services through my work managing AIDS United's Syringe Access Fund, which disburses about $1 million in philanthropic funds to SSPs annually. And it is happening at a time when public and private funding for harm-reduction services was already inadequate.

Although Congress has allocated billions of dollars to combat the opioid crisis, many of those programs stop short of addressing the complex health, psychosocial, and socioeconomic factors underlying chronic substance use. For instance, half of all State Opioid Response (SOR) grants — a major federal initiative designed to help states expand their opioid addiction treatment services over the course of two years — went unspent, a federal watchdog has found, by the time the program was wound down. At the same time, our Syringe Access Fund grantees are struggling to meet their clients' needs and pay their bills. This not only imperils lives and public health but strains local resources.

It is time Americans recognize that the best way to reduce the staggering number of lives lost to overdose each year is to invest in services that support people while they are using drugs. To do that, we need to reach people who use drugs where they are. Syringe services programs are a cost-effective way to serve communities that many see as hard to reach, but which actually are hardly reached, as well as an opportunity to invest in a more holistic and inclusive public health infrastructure.

Without greater investment in that infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to slip through the cracks and die from overdose in the years to come. We have the tools to prevent these deaths, so long as we invest in the lives of people who use drugs.

Zachary_Ford_AIDS_United_philantopicZachary Ford is a senior program manager at AIDS United, where he oversees the Syringe Access Fund, a grantmaking initiative focused on improving health outcomes for people who use drugs.

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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