113 posts categorized "Public Affairs"

Texas Border Families Fuel a Network to Build Power and Equity

October 11, 2019

Rio-grande-valleyIf you're familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and listen to the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., you know it has nothing to do with the reality lived by most families in the region.

Even as the national spotlight continues to cast its glare on the border, a collective yearning for human dignity, civil rights, and community progress is building in the valley, which is home to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, the aspirations of the people who live there — and the region's vibrancy — are easy to overlook.

What you won't learn from listening to the president and his supporters is that the region is home to a grassroots movement driven largely by Latinx families comprised of both U.S. citizens and immigrants that for years has been advocating for solutions to problems created by decades of structural poverty and a lack of equitable access to financial resources.

Families in the region know better than anyone how public policies create progress and economic opportunity — or fail to. Poverty and intolerance, they will tell you, are blocking human potential — and creating costs for all of us. At the same time, dignity and compassion continue to be core values of the region's residents as they organize for social change and better lives.

"This is a moment where people can see beyond themselves," says Martha Sanchez, organizing coordinator for farmworker and civil rights organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). "Hate is not healthy for anybody. We need to look more deeply."

A Philanthropic Network Amplifies the Voices of Families

Central to this movement-building work, community and family leaders say, is the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a multi-issue coalition of Marguerite Casey Foundation grantees and allies. It is among fifteen regional networks the foundation and its grantees started. (The foundation, which has invested more than $7 million in the Equal Voice Network model, also supports the Native Voice Network and a youth-led network).

 

The network is an incubator of sorts where low-income families can meet, voice ideas, and focus collectively on bottom-up, community-led policy solutions.

Grassroots leaders in the region will also tell you that the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has been investing in community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley since 2003, is one of the few philanthropic funders to issue sizable, multiyear general support grants to nonprofits in support of family-led movement building. Those dollars are used by grantees as they see fit in their efforts to alleviate poverty and promote equity in the valley. As we like to think, that support represents both philanthropic trust and movement building in action.

"We try to be a regular presence, to see how we can connect organizations with other ones. It's about being a bridge," says Christina Patiño Houle, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network weaver, a role akin to a coordinator or facilitator. "What we provide is convening space. The network provides the focus of pulling people in so they're in conversation."

The network is comprised of eight foundation grantees in the valley and approximately twenty allied nonprofit organizations, many of them also based in the region.

Because network members are in regular contact with Rio Grande Valley residents and the focus is on grassroots movement building, local, state and U.S. government officials — including elected ones — make it a point to stay in frequent communication with the organizations and their leaders.

"It's a testament to the network's ability to mobilize people," says Patiño Houle.

Network members meet regularly to discuss the well-being of families in the region, which boasts more than forty-five cities and hundreds of unincorporated neighborhoods known as colonias.

While the issue of immigration touches all network members in some way, families say there is more to life in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties than what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border: families are fighting to secure healthy, stable, and safe communities, quality education for their children, and peace and prosperity. So when network members meet in working groups, they also focus on jobs, housing, civic engagement, education, and health.

Out of that collective focus comes passion-inspired efforts aimed at creating positive social change. Families are at the vanguard of these efforts.

The work often starts at one nonprofit organization, which then spreads the word to other network members. Or it can emanate from weeks or months of brainstorming after a group of network members have heard from families about the steps needed to go forward. The network also amplifies the work of its partner organizations.

Families Honor Asylum Seekers — by Dancing

The morning before Mother's Day is muggy and overcast near Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city about twenty-five miles from the border. At Sunflower Memorial Park, in the flatlands off state Route 107, the inviting rhythm of Mexican-Caribbean music blares from loudspeakers.

Under a metal shelter, about ninety people — nearly all women — are wearing workout clothing, shuffling left then right, hips twisting freely and arms waving to the beat of cumbia and reggaeton. It looks like a normal exercise class at a local gym, but nearby are Maria Campos, her daughters, and about fifteen cardboard boxes full of goods.

Before participants start dancing, they hand Campos and her children toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, pasta, canned food, blankets and clothing.

The donated items will go to asylum seekers and others who were recently released from federal immigration facilities and are now waiting at shelters to be united with relatives or sponsors. The event is organized by LUPE, the grassroots nonprofit started by activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989. Campos and her daughters are LUPE members. They and the participants at the park are continuing the work of serving humanity.

"This is the closest that many community members will get to what's happening at the border," says John-Michael Torres, LUPE's communications coordinator, as the music continues in the background. "We want to lift up treating people the way we want to be treated."

Campos, who lives in a colonia near Edinburg, has visited shelters with other LUPE members — some of whom have read books to migrant children there — to offer support to asylum seekers released from U.S. detention facilities.

"I put my hand on their shoulder," she says in Spanish. "I tell them, 'You are not alone.'"

Families Lend a Hand to Asylum Seekers

Mother's Day, and the air is still thick and humid in Brownsville, which sits about sixty miles southeast of Edinburg. At the city's bus station — minutes from a U.S. Mexico-border crossing — Sergio Cordova has arrived with food and supplies for immigrants and asylum seekers following their release from U.S. detention.

He is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, a humanitarian organization that provides food and emergency supplies to asylum seekers and migrants on both sides of the border. The network supports Team Brownsville by amplifying its needs and supporting its communication efforts.

As asylum seekers have arrived at the border in recent months, nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, have dispatched staff members to talk with them about the conditions there and their treatment by U.S. authorities. U.S. border guards are stationed at the midpoint of the bridge that crosses the river to Brownsville, and these days they turn away asylum seekers looking to be processed at the border and instruct them to wait in Mexico. Advocates say the old protocol of allowing asylum seekers to start the process after they had crossed onto U.S. soil was safer and more compassionate for families fleeing strife, turmoil, and violence.

Inside the Brownsville bus station, passengers are waiting to board buses to distant points. At first, it's hard to determine who might have been released from federal immigration detention or how long a person or family might have been at the bus station. Some newly-released migrants spend days there, patiently waiting to be reunited with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.

Cordova, a local school district employee who grew up in an immigrant family, scans the room looking for people without shoelaces and belts. Immigrants and asylum seekers who were just released from federal detention aren't likely to have either, as U.S. authorities, citing safety reasons, require that they be turned over.

Cordova gives food to an immigrant family who hasn't eaten in days, and then an older woman approaches, saying in Spanish that people nearby need help. A younger woman quickly follows, keeping an eye on Cordova.

The younger woman, who appears to be in her twenties, looks distraught. Her brown hair is frazzled, and a small towel is draped over her shoulder. When she moves again, it's clear she's not alone. An infant, a girl, is sleeping on a metal bench in the waiting area. Cordova rips open a pack of diapers and hands the mother a stack along with a toothbrush. Soon, a bowl of cereal is placed next to the girl, who is covered by a blanket.

The mother pauses and smiles slightly. She tells Cordova she is from Honduras and that it's taken a month for her and her daughter to make their way to the border. Asylum seekers often make the journey by walking. It is Mother's Day.

"Any baby who comes through, we make sure they have formula," Cordova says. "All we give them is all that they'll have."

The stories that Team Brownsville volunteers and city staff hear at the bus station are harrowing and almost always involve tales of the instability, turmoil, and violence that people are fleeing, especially if they are from a Central American country. But people arrive from other countries, too, including Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Later in the day, Cordova and Team Brownsville volunteers walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with food and supplies for families and individuals waiting to apply for asylum. On the Mexican side of the border, as people eat the donated food, one man talks about the persecution he faced in Cuba because he is gay. He says he is looking forward to living in the United States.

Families Meet to Boost Education

Each week, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network gather at a different community-based organization to chart a path to progress in other areas, including housing, jobs, and health.

The day after Mother's Day, the network's education working group is meeting at ARISE Support Center, located in a yellow two-story house in the city of Alamo. The house, which serves as the nonprofit's headquarters, is now a place for community organizing. Rooms are filled with chatter in English and Spanish.

It's fitting the meeting is at ARISE. The organization works with many nearby colonia residents, especially mothers. After getting tired of the conditions in their colonias — bumpy, potholed roads, a lack of streetlights — they became grassroots community leaders with the goal of creating positive change for their families and neighbors.

In minutes, the seats around the table in ARISE's lime green meeting room have been filled. Parents and community leaders are there to discuss ways to improve communication between families and school district officials.

School district board meetings, network members say, are held only in English — but parents in this heavily Latinx region mostly speak Spanish. Many say an English-to-Spanish translation policy at school board meetings would help support all families in their pursuit of a quality education for their children.

Also on the working group's agenda for the day: a discussion of how Mexican-American studies can be introduced into the school curriculum. Butcher paper goes up on the walls. Participants write down and discuss ideas.

"It's democracy because we are not working only for the best of one person," says Ramona Casas, a community organizer who helped start ARISE in 1987. "We're looking out for the best of community members."

A $190 Million Policy Win to Address Flooding in Colonias

Rain has just swept through the Indian Hills colonia, near the city of Mercedes, leaving the unincorporated area moist and muggy.

Near the intersection of Apache Drive and Campacuas Drive stands a sprawling tree. When neighborhood families need to discuss community issues and concerns — say, better roads or water drainage or their kids' safety — this is where they gather.

Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer with Proyecto Azteca, which works on affordable housing in the region's colonias, is standing under the tree with a few mothers. She lives in this colonia.

The women are talking about a major victory scored by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network in November 2018: a $190 million bond measure to fund nearly forty drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias.

The county has hundreds of colonias — some community leaders put the number at between eight hundred and a thousand. Tens of thousands of families live in those colonias because they're affordable. But colonias are located on former agricultural land that was developed with an eye to retaining water for crops, says Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca.

When it rains here, homes and streets flood. Families talk of water rising as high as their waists. The water not only damages houses, including bedrooms and appliances such as washing machines, but can block streets leading into and out of colonias. Families are unable to leave their homes to buy groceries. Mothers talk of holding young children in their arms to keep them out of the water. Sometimes they slip and fall. Kids tell their parents that even the sound of rain frightens them. Sanitation systems fail during the flooding, contaminating neighborhoods.

In June 2018, the flooding reached worse-than-normal levels. Some have dubbed the event the "Great June Flood."

After that, families affiliated with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network pressed their calls for better drainage. They went door-to-door and talked with neighbors, documented cases of flooding, attended government meetings, and studied flood maps and data. They then succeeded in putting a November 2018 bond measure on the ballot and spoke with Rio Grande Valley residents, explaining that the slightly higher taxes would benefit everyone.

Responsibility for the bond measure passing is shared by many families and community organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, and Proyecto Azteca, which all work in various colonias — places where their own families members live.

Sarai Montelongo, a mother in the Indian Hills colonia who started an influential Facebook page, used her platform to call attention to bumpy roads and the safety of neighborhood children and raise awareness about the drainage bond.

"We used to be a colonia that people forgot," she says in Spanish, standing under the large sprawling tree and near streets that have been the site of community meetings with elected officials.

While $190 million will not solve all the drainage issues in Hidalgo County, community leaders say it is a policy step in the right direction and that they will continue to work for more improvements.

"It will be a big change," says Salinas.

Rio Grande Valley, USA

Motorists looking to head north from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio take State Route 281. The drive takes about four hours and can be monotonous, save for the scrubby flatland greenery and what looks like a large gas station in the middle of the highway.

It's actually a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Many people have questioned the need for these checkpoints so far from the border. According to the ACLU, however, the federal government can operate the checkpoints if they're within a hundred miles of the United States' "external boundary."

The ACLU also notes that U.S. border authorities are only permitted "a brief and limited inquiry into [the] residency status" of people who travel through the checkpoints. Cass of Proyecto Azteca says the federal checkpoints exist in every direction heading out of the Rio Grande Valley and are also found at airports.

A few days after Mother's Day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents dressed in olive green uniforms stand at a checkpoint lane and wait for motorists. One holds the leash of a K-9 dog.

As two visitors — a white American male and an Asian American male — pull up in an automobile, an agent wearing reflective sunglasses waves the vehicle through. No need to stop and answer a few questions; no need to show identification.

Beyond the checkpoint, however, a man with dark hair is standing in the grass just off the highway. In a matter of minutes, a U.S. Border Patrol van with flashing emergency lights arrives. Soon, two more government vans show up.

Weeks later, news breaks of crowded, unsanitary conditions at federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, of asylum seekers and migrants confined behind chain-link fencing, of migrant children remaining separated from their parents.

Sanchez, the LUPE organizing coordinator, says these types of stories and experiences underscore how important it is for communities to work together for human rights, equity, justice, and the alleviation of poverty.

"All of this reminds us of our humanity," she says. "We bring things in our heart to keep us human. For people here, it's not an option to give up."

Brad Wong is communications manager for the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

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.

Overcoming the Risk of a Rural Census Undercount

September 18, 2019

062319NorwoodColo_008The 2020 Census is the single most important event for rural America in recent history. Its impact will be felt for decades to come. And while most of the focus of the public discussion around the census has been on the prospective citizenship question (rightfully so), there also are fundamental changes in census methodology hidden in the weeds of the process that have the potential to diminish federal and state investment in rural America by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Below we address some key engagement factors: community trust and online versus in-person census data collection, and examples of private foundations working on a complete count.

Hundreds of billions of dollars reflect the enormous importance of the census for apportionment of everything from congressional seats, to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocations, to Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) payments.

As an example, just six modestly sized federal programs under HUD and USDA that currently represent $25 billion in federal investment might change dramatically based on 2020 Census counts. A rural undercount will also reduce funding for foster care, Title 1 grants, and free or reduced lunches for high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, energy assistance for low-income households, and much more.

There are roughly sixty million Americans living in rural regions of the country, and it is not a homogenous group: the total includes thirteen million people of color, two million immigrants, and three million members of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the country's tribal members live in rural regions. And while many urban-centric thinkers and policies tend to overlook rural places, the vast majority of our nation's food, water, and energy is produced there. The investments we make in rural people and places are investments in equity, diversity, and economic stability for the entire nation.

Rural advocates and rural policy watchers are deeply concerned about two important dimensions of rural life that are currently being overlooked by census planners and may therefore negatively affect an accurate rural census count.

First, a new emphasis on online census completion ignores the fact that rural America suffers from significant broadband deficits. One-quarter (25 percent) of rural Americans have no access to broadband services whatsoever. Many others have access but can't afford the hookup. And one-third of tribal members have no access to broadband (per the recent annual Federal Communications Report on broadband penetration). These rural deficits are particularly profound in the South and West, where significant numbers of rural people of color reside. Without online access, many rural residents simply will not be able to complete the census.

Second, funding for door-to-door census workers — often people who working in their local communities and calling on their neighbors — has been cut dramatically. This surfaces a deep-running absence of trust between rural places and the federal government.

Whereas rural residents may be willing to share their personal information with a trusted community member in a face-to-face conversation, these same residents may be reluctant to provide personal information to the federal government through an impersonal online or paper form. If a process doesn't feel trustworthy, what reasonable person would participate? As a result, that absence of trust may very well translate into an undercount and associated reductions in future funding and representation.

How Can We Combat a Rural Census Undercount?

Efforts are under way in some states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico to fund an enhanced ground game to get out word about the importance of participating in the census, with a focus on rural areas. Much of this work is being funded by private foundations that recognize the inherent benefit to their own missions if federal and state funding are maximized for the rural communities they serve:

  • In New Mexico, the state most vulnerable to undercount, more than a dozen funders have joined ranks with the New Mexico Civic Engagement Table and a tribal coalition to create NM Counts! 2020, a collaborative effort to ensure that all New Mexicans — particularly those in hard-to-count communities — are included in the census count.
  • In Georgia, the Sapelo Foundation has made an accurate rural count a key priority and has partnered with other funders to spread the word and solicit the active engagement of locals. (The top photo shows a small store in rural New Mexico with a broadband-linked computer system on the rear counter.)
  • In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is leading the conversation and offering resources through its website, while its CEO, Kathy Annette, co-chairs the state's Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind in the nation). Another funder group under the umbrella of Funders for Civic Participation is leading the push to secure additional foundation support across the country.

Like the federal government, however, state governments and private funders can be disconnected from rural communities and fail to see how the true return on rural investment is often obscured by questions of scale, political partisanship, and  inaccurate myths about rural America.

To these funders, we'd like to point out that even a modest investment to help ensure an accurate rural census count can deliver enormous return in the form of federal dollars to address the very issues and challenges that are core to their work. The public dollars that will flow into rural communities to support food security, education, health care, and community development will enable both public and private funders to move from triage to transformation. For those who profess to focus on "upstream" causes rather than "downstream" symptoms, an investment in an accurate census count is about as "upstream" as you can get.

The question, then, is are you willing to invest the time and effort to ensure it happens?

Allen Smart (@allensmart6) is a veteran philanthropist and principal of consulting firm RuralwoRx. After being a funder for almost twenty-five years, he now focuses on writing, presenting, and provoking thinking about rural philanthropy.

Betsey Russell (@BetseyPR) is a philanthropy writer and researcher who works with foundations, philanthropic affinity groups, and philanthropy consultancies. She recently developed a series of case studies about successful rural funding approaches. This post originally appeared on the University of North Carolina School of Government blog and is republished here with the permission of the authors.

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.

PND: Has the current political climate in America changed the fund's priorities or the way it approaches its work?

KS: My co-founders and I established Pillars Fund because we observed that American Muslim communities were underresourced while being disproportionately targeted by harmful policies and widespread stereotyping that was feeding and reinforcing  bigotry and enabling those very policies to take hold in America. Particularly in the years since September 11, our community has been in a constant state of emergency, reacting to and mobilizing against new hate crimes, discriminatory policies, irresponsible news reporting, and biased cultural programming on a daily basis.

All of this work  has been essential to the health of our communities, but we've always known we needed to think beyond to the next twenty to thirty years. How will our communities function then? Are we cultivating the next generation of leaders and cultural producers? This is our focus, and we’ve tried to maintain that focus in the decade since our inception.

That said, the current political climate has changed the reality we're facing. As a young, evolving organization, we've tried to maintain our ability to respond to shifting dynamics. Under the current administration, we've had to contend with family separation and other humanitarian crises caused by the Muslim ban. But we're also looking at ways to support the many Latinx immigrants being rounded up by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their children, and people whose families have been torn apart by other forms of mass incarceration. Family separation is a grotesque policy that we would stand against no matter who was being impacted, but it’s important to recognize that the U.S. Muslim population includes a vibrant and growing Latinx community. No person is defined by their faith alone, and it's important to recognize how the multiple identities each of us carries impacts our concerns and livelihoods.

PND: In 2018, the fund awarded  $800,000 in grants, most of which were less than $50,000. What's the theory of change behind your focus on awarding relatively modest grants to small and midsize nonprofits?

KS: There are hundreds of organizations working in or alongside Muslim communities in the U.S. Part of what makes Pillars Fund effective is our ability to assess the national landscape and identify where investments can accelerate progress toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. We want to give a boost to  organizations we see as doing pivotal work around the country, and this has required us to spread our resources over a relatively wide field.

Many of the nonprofits we work with are very small, and a grant of $50,000, $25,000, or even $10,000 is incredibly meaningful for organizations that are used to working with one full-time employee, an army of volunteers, or a budget of less than $100,000. A lot of our partner organizations are in the earliest stages of their development, and we can support them as they grow. In many cases, they are the people directly impacted by the issues they're working on. This isn't long-distance charity. In many cases we’re simply supporting them in doing the work they’d already be doing anyway.

In addition to awarding grant dollars, we’re always looking for ways to support our grantees' development through capacity building, which has included technical assistance with digital security, workshops and consultations on how to build their board and how to fundraise, communications support, and so on. This kind of wraparound support is something we’re committed to investing in even further in the years to come.

Pillars is building a community of Muslim grantee-partners, storytellers, and investors who share a broad vision, but each bring unique and important perspectives to our collective work. While I always see us contributing to a wide network of groups, I anticipate that the size of each grant will increase as our fund grows.

PND: Before helping to launch Pillars, you were a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and were tasked with helping Chicago nonprofits scale their work at the intersection of racial justice, poverty, and education. As the executive director of an organization that partners with much larger national foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, and Open Society foundations — what is the most important lesson you have learned about collaboration?

KS: That's a great question. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is paramount. Everyone has their own interests and priorities, and it's important that you bring your individual mandates to the table when collaborating. This helps you avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses, and ensures that each organization is better positioned to accomplish its goals. Be transparent and communicate regularly to keep your collaboration on track.

I'll add this: the best advice I ever got about marriage is that it’s not really a 50/50 collaboration. Some days it's 90/10, and on others it's 40/60, and so on. Each organization brings its own value to a collaboration, and it doesn't always appear equal. What’s essential is to recognize what each of you brings, and to leverage and honor that contribution.

Kyoko Uchida

'College Means Hope': A Path Forward for the Justice-Involved

July 12, 2019

Michelson_20MM_smart_justice"Former gang members make incredible students. The same skills that made me a good drug-dealer — resiliency, hustle, determination — I now use on campus to succeed in school," Jesse Fernandez tells the audience attending our panel discussion at this year's Gang Prevention and Intervention Conference in Long Beach.

I was on stage with Jesse as co-moderator for the first education-focused panel in the conference's history. (The Michelson 20MM Foundation convened the panel, tapping Jesse, Taffany Lim of California State University, Los Angeles, and Brittany Morton of Homeboy Industries to share their experiences.) Only 25, he has come a long way from the gang life he once knew. Today, he interns for Homeboy Industries, helping other students on their path to college; has finished an associate's program in Los Angeles; and has studied abroad at Oxford University. He may not look like a typical college student, but he speaks with the certainty and eloquence of someone who has been in school for years.

"College means hope. It means understanding your identity. For me, it was learning about my indigenous heritage, what it means to be Chicano, and how my community has been affected by violence and loss."

I first met Jesse over a lunch of chilaquiles (with salsa verde) and agua fresca (Angela's Green Potion is a "do not miss") at Homegirl Café, an L.A. staple since the 1990s. The café is run by former gang members and offers a safe space for people coming out of prison, providing many of them with their first job and creating a pipeline to sustainable employment. It's so popular that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and other politicians on the national stage have stopped in for a bite while in town.

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A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

For Massachusetts folks of a certain age, the name Filene's Basement evokes memories of a crowded emporium where the hunt for bargains, especially on weekends, often resembled competitive sport. The basement was the brainchild of Edward A. Filene, whose father, William, founded Filene's in 1908. It was Edward, however, who recognized that growing numbers of American factory workers represented a new market and persuaded his father to start selling surplus, overstock, and closeout merchandise in the basement of his flagship Downtown Crossing store.

The experiment was a huge success, and the Filenes soon joined the ranks of America’s wealthiest families. In 1919, Ed Filene, already recognized as a progressive business leader, founded the Co-operative League — later renamed the Twentieth Century Fund — one of the first public policy research institutes in the country.

Mark Zuckerman joined TCF — which changed its name to the Century Foundation in the early 2000s — as president in 2015. A veteran of the Obama administration, where he served as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, leading teams on initiatives to reduce student debt, increase accountability at for-profit educational institutions, reduce workplace discrimination, and expand access to job training, and Capitol Hill, where he served as staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee, Zuckerman has worked over the last four years to bring the organization’s research efforts and policy work into the twenty-first century.

PND spoke with Zuckerman recently about some of those changes, the meaning of the 2018 midterm elections, and TCF’s efforts to advance a progressive policy agenda.

Headshot_mark_zuckermanPhilanthropy News Digest: The Century Foundation is marking its hundredth anniversary in 2019. Tell us a bit about Edward Filene, the man who created it back in 1919.

Mark Zuckerman: Ed Filene was a prominent businessman but also somebody who was deeply engaged in public policy, a rare combination in those days. The era in which he was working was a time when there wasn't strong governmental involvement in the economy, and where it was involved, it was too weak to effectively address the economic chal­lenges of the day. Things like workers' wages and benefits, anti-trust enforcement, and a lack of transparency with respect to Wall Street, something that eventually led to passage of the Securities and Exchange Act.

Ed Filene very much believed in more robust engagement by local, state, and the federal government in people's lives. And he felt that research was a linchpin of good public policy. At the time, there were very few think tanks — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had been started a year earlier and Brookings had been started two years before that. 

So, the idea of a private entity taking on challenges that, in the past, only government had had sufficient resources to address was something new. Today, of course, there are think tanks all over the world focused on many different subjects, but Ed Filene really was in on the beginning of the think tank movement and on think tanks as places where social policy, progressive social policy in Mr. Filene's case, would be discussed and developed.

Like Henry Ford, he believed that paying a decent wage to your employees was good for the overall economy, and in his writings he expressed support for a mandatory minimum wage. He also gave speeches about the importance of supporting the Roosevelt admin­istration in its attempt to get Congress to pass something that looked a lot like Medicare and urged people to call in their support for initiatives Roosevelt and his brain trust were proposing.

One of the public policy innovations he was most interested in was the credit union movement, and for a specific reason. At the time, the nineteen-thirties, financial institutions mostly were there to lend and cater to businesses and wealthy individuals. There simply was no infra­structure in the United States to provide the middle class — never mind lower-income folks — with capital to buy their first home or even to invest in a small business. Ed Filene viewed credit unions as a critical tool for providing Americans with capital that could help them thrive and grow the middle class. And so he embarked on a major effort, not only at the national level but at the state level, including his own state, Massachusetts, to authorize the creation of credit unions, which sort of makes him the father of the credit union movement.

PND: Let's jump ahead a bit. How does the Century Foundation's work support a progressive policy agenda in 2019? And how has the organization's model evolved over the last hundred years to support that work?

MZ: Well, one of the big changes the Century Foundation went through — and I would say it was in keeping with changes in the way policy was made over the decades — is that it evolved over the years from being essentially a book publisher, which was what it was for decades. Back then, it would engage influential thinkers about specific social policy ideas they wanted to promote in book form. Many of those titles were, of course, written for policy elites, with the idea that these ideas would be circulated and eventually find their way into the halls of Con­gress or onto the floor of state legislatures. It was a common sort of model for academic institutions and emerging think tanks during the mid-twentieth century. But over time, and especially as the Internet became more widely used, the model changed. Today, having influence in or impact on public policy requires a lot more than just having a good idea, and too many of these books end up sitting on shelves, unread. Maybe they're filled with great ideas, but there are fewer and fewer people willing to pull those ideas out of those volumes and turn them into policy.

So, the Century Foundation today is very differ­ent than it was seventy or fifty or even twenty years ago, in that we are taking more responsibility — not only for coming up with creative solutions to today's challenges, but for figuring out how to use the resources we have beyond research and the development of policy ideas to create impact.

That's the big shift — the leveraging of intellectual and advocacy resources and institutional relationships to drive policy change. When I joined TCF as president four years ago, I hired a number of people who had recent experience in the White House or in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill, because I wanted people who understood how best to approach those institutions, and how they could have an impact on those institutions. They were also people with a high level of expertise in their particular subject matter. That's been my focus as president — finding people who know who the policy players in Washington are, who have deep expertise in their subject matter and the ability to do good research, and who have wide, influential networks in the advocacy, policy, and academic communities.

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5 Questions for...Jane Wales, Co-Founder/CEO, Global Philanthropy Forum

April 25, 2019

As she was nearing the end of her fourth five-year term heading up the World Affairs Councils, Jane Wales decided it was time to let someone else run the show — an effort that includes organizing the annual Global Philanthropy Forum, which she co-founded in 2001 and which has evolved into a platform where philanthropic practitioners can share their knowledge and learnings with social investors, donors, and funders in other sectors.

PND caught up with Wales, who continues to serve as vice president and executive director of the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation at the Aspen Institute, during the recently concluded eighteenth annual Global Philanthropy Forum conference and spoke with her about the challenges confronting liberal democracy in an era of rising populism, the alarming decline in the public's trust of institutions, and her hopes for the philanthropic sector going forward.

Headshot_jane_walesPhilanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues chose to organize this year's Global Philanthropy Forum conference around the theme "Reclaiming Democracy." Why?

Jane Wales: We're seeing a concerning trend of liberal democracies around the world shifting to illiberalism. These are places in which the vote remains sacrosanct — where citizens have the right to vote — but the protection of individual civil liberties is not. We see this is happening in the Philippines, in Turkey, in Poland and Hungary, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil, and the United States. And you can't say it's all due to a cultural shift or particular event. Clearly, there are underlying trends affecting us all. The question then becomes: How do you push back on those trends? What is the role of philanthropy in building social capital and citizen agency? And what are the most important ingredients of a successful democracy? The theme of the conference is about identifying a big problem, but it’s a problem for which civil society has solutions.

PND: What are those solutions?

JW: The underlying trends being discussed here have to do with the confluence of the information revolution and globalization, as well as the major demographic changes we're seeing in many countries. Conference attendees are looking at each of these powerful trends and trying to figure out what are the upsides, what are the downsides, and how can we mitigate the danger they pose?

When it comes to the information revolution, we're looking at the role of digital media and social media in sowing division. When it comes to globalization, the upside is that it has lifted millions of people out of poverty and created great wealth — and a considerable amount of that wealth has been directed to the public good. But globalization has also created a situation in which the standard of living for the middle class in many countries is declining, and that has contributed to divisions — not just along political and economic lines, but also along educational lines, because the opportunities and outcomes for college graduates and high school graduates are significantly different. Inequity results.

In terms of demographic change, the most powerful concerns are mass migration in the face of deadly conflict or natural disasters on the one hand and normal immigration flows on the other. That begs the question not only of what needs to be done to prevent crises but also what is needed to forge a comprehensive immigration policy that the majority of Americans and other publics will support. We also need to think through what can and should be done to help newly arrived people integrate into the society that will be their new home. Nonprofits are already doing exceptional work in this area.

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5 Questions for...James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures

March 27, 2019

Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) has been a leading supporter of criminal justice reform since 2011. Under the leadership of James Cadogan, vice president of criminal justice, the organization recently launched the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, a community of practice involving more than two dozen Arnold Ventures grantees working to eliminate unnecessary and unjust detention practices, with new investments totaling $39 million.

Cadogan joined the organization after serving as the inaugural director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and as a counselor to the attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped design comprehensive federal reentry reforms; served as a lead staffer on an initiative to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the Federal Bureau of Prisons; developed national community policing initiatives; and supported access to justice programs.

PND asked Cadogan about the initiative's goals, the emerging field of pretrial justice reform, and the role of pretrial justice reform in advancing racial equity.

James Cadogan_PhilanTopic_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: Your organization is on record as saying "money bail obscures legally required risk analyses, traps people in jail, and contributes to unconscionable racial and economic disparities in our justice system." How does the cash bail system exacerbate the mass incarceration of people of color? And how central to the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is the goal of advancing racial and economic equity?

James Cadogan: A fundamental principle of our justice system is the presumption of innocence: the idea that, when accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But across the country — right now — there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in jail who haven't been convicted of any crime, nearly half a million at any given moment. They haven't even been tried. That's because of our current system of money bail.

Generally, after an individual is arrested they go before a judge who reads the charges and sets bail — an amount of money that the arrestee must pay in order to be set free. If you can pay that money, you go free; if you can't afford it, you go to jail. In other words, the size of your bank account determines your freedom. Simply put: that is unjust.

To avoid jail, those who can't afford to pay the bail amount directly might turn to a bail bondsman who can post the amount with the court while charging the individual a fee, often 10 percent of the bail amount. But if bail is set at $2,000, many people are equally unable to afford the $200 fee a bondsman would charge as the $2,000 bail imposed by the court. The money bail system discriminates against the poor — and people of color are disproportionately poor. Research has also shown that people of color are treated more harshly within the money bail system: for example, African-American men on average receive 35 percent higher bail amounts than white men who are arrested for the exact same crime.

PND: Arnold Ventures, formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has supported pretrial justice reform since 2011 — support that has included efforts to increase transparency around and the use of validated, evidence-based risk assessments in judges' decisions to release or detain defendants. Beyond strengthening implementation of the Public Safety Assessment— which was created from a database of more than 1.5 million cases in over three hundred jurisdictions — what is the partnership planning to do to reduce "unnecessary and unjust detention"?

JC: Pretrial detention rates are driven by a number of decisions and processes under the control of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administrators, and other system actors and stakeholders. The National Partnership intentionally connects and elevates partners with different types of expertise — for example, research, policy development, or litigation — and supports them in taking on projects that span a range of pretrial justice challenges such as evaluating the impact of bail practices, working to expand the use of prosecutorial diversion that moves people out of the criminal just system, or undertaking advocacy related to the impossible caseloads many public defenders face.

Pretrial justice practices and operations vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so the breadth of the work we support to reduce unjust pretrial detention is important: National Partnership initiatives span four hundred counties across thirty-five states. At this pivotal time in the pretrial justice reform movement, it's important to understand that even though experts nationwide may have different approaches and don't agree on everything, they're all committed to the same end goal: reducing our unconscionable rates of pretrial detention. By supporting a diversity of efforts, we can help harness that momentum in a variety of places and spaces across the country and give ourselves the best chance of bringing about lasting policy change in pretrial justice. That's where see the biggest value of the partnership.

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How Philanthropy Can Catalyze Private Investment in Opportunity Zones

March 13, 2019

Oppzones_792x800The U.S. Department of the Treasury expects Opportunity Zones to unlock well over $100 billion in private investment in low-wealth communities across the United States. The tax incentive, which became law as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, seeks to encourage patient capital investments in more than eighty-seven hundred designated census tracts across the country by permitting investors to reinvest capital gains in designated census tracts in exchange for tax benefits.

Opportunity Zones represent the first time federal tax policy has sought to tap unrealized capital gains to advance economic and community development. Proponents believe the incentive will help transform low-wealth communities, while skeptics have doubts that funds will flow to the people and places most in need — and, even if they do, that the ensuing transformation will have a positive impact on longtime residents and small businesses.

Against this backdrop, philanthropy should step up and help shape the Opportunity Zone landscape so that benefits of the legislation also accrue to longtime residents and businesses.

Here are six ways philanthropy can help:

1. Shape the rules of the game. Philanthropy can influence IRS guidelines for Opportunity Zones — and, if necessary, follow-on legislation — to ensure that the incentive is implemented in a manner that reflects the interests of communities and the intent of the program. For some foundations, this may include support for developing and tracking metrics, stakeholder interviews to uncover opportunities and issues, and/or deep-dive case studies of specific transactions. The data from these activities can then be used to generate valuable tweaks to the design of the program. As always, data-driven insights will be critical to making the case for modifying, fine-tuning, or extending the incentive.

2. Level the playing field. Foundations are well suited to ensure that communities are poised to attract investor interest and have a seat at the table as Opportunity Zone transactions are negotiated. Organizations such as Accelerator for America are already working with cities across the country to create investment prospectuses, while others such as the Governance Project are working with municipal leadership to develop business cases and strategies for priority projects in communities such as Louisville and San Jose. There is far more that can and should be done, however, and the unique features of rural Opportunity Zones must also be accounted for so that those communities are not left behind.

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Caring for the City’s Caregivers

January 08, 2019

Housing_affordabilityThat wise woman Rosalyn Carter once said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver." We all have a stake, one way or another, in caregiving and in what happens to the individuals who provide that valuable service. And here in New York City, caregivers, quite simply, deserve better care from all of us.

A City in Need of Assistance

New York City turns to its not-for-profit human services sector for essential caregiving for people without homes, parents, or job prospects and, of course, for caregiving services that enable older New Yorkers to age in their communities, living independently with the assistance they need to stay connected to friends and meaningful activity. According to the city's Department for the Aging (DFTA), there are approximately 1.64 million older adults currently residing in the city's five boroughs. As these individuals age, their need for a range of services will grow, and the role that not-for-profits like JASA play in providing those services will become ever more critical.

The continued health of not-for-profit human service organizations relies heavily on employees who interact directly with their clients. Navigating the complexities of the legal, social services, and healthcare systems, not to mention simple life activities, can be challenging at times for any senior, but for those struggling with health, housing, and other issues, it can be overwhelming. There is a real need for the work my organization does, and that need continues to grow.

At the heart of our work are the relationships we build. The key to providing quality services hinges on being able to recruit and retain individuals who genuinely care and are able to establish a connection to the client that fosters trust. Finding skilled individuals is the first challenge. It is not uncommon in 2019 to hear not-for-profit employers say there are more jobs out there than qualified applicants to fill them.

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Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

January 02, 2019

BP+LCF+Siren+Rally059852Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) - Bay Area has spent the last several years building the political power of immigrant and youth voters with the aim of shifting the political landscape in the region and across the state. In 2018, we doubled down on our commitment to building this political muscle by registering more than fifteen thousand new immigrant and youth voters, contacting a hundred and sixty thousand already-registered voters, and mobilizing more than two hundred volunteers. In the 2018 midterm elections, our efforts helped generate one of the highest turnouts in state history for a midterm and resulted in the passage of critical local and state ballot measures, as well as the defeat of House members opposed to immigrant rights. 

One of SIREN's youth leaders, Miguel, participated in phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of Spanish-speaking voters. Although Miguel and his family cannot vote because of their immigration status, the day after the election he told us: "The community was my voice at the polls yesterday. Immigrants and youth came out and demonstrated our power in Northern California and the Central Valley. Through our voting power, we are passing policies in our state and region that are impacting our families, and we will carry our momentum into 2019 to fight for immigrant rights and protections for immigrant youth."

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Don’t Wait Until 2020 to Invest in Youth Leaders

December 13, 2018

Youth_engagementFor anyone interested in increasing youth civic engagement, the midterm elections are a cause for celebration. In the election,
31 percent of youth (ages 18-29) voted — according to at least one source, the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter-century.

Traditionally, support for youth civic engagement declines at the end of an election cycle and resumes as the next cycle starts to heat up — along with thought pieces about why young people don’t vote. To break this pattern, I offer a suggestion: increase investment in youth organizing groups now; don't wait until 2020.

The country is in the middle of a massive demographic shift, with young people of color the fastest-growing segment of the population. The key to developing a robust and inclusive democracy that reflects this shift is to support the active civic participation and leadership of this group. And the best way to do that is not to wait until the start of the next election cycle to pour millions of dollars into advertising to reach young voters.

Instead, we should support organizations led by young people of color that are engaged in year-round organizing around both voter engagement campaigns and efforts to address issues in their local communities. Issue campaigns focused on quality schools, immigrants' rights, ending mass incarceration, and preserving reproductive rights are what motivate young people to become engaged in the world around them and, by extension, the electoral process.

Take the Power U Center for Social Change and Dream Defenders, youth organizing groups in Florida that have been organizing to end mass incarceration and the school-to-prison-pipeline. In the lead up to the midterms, both groups worked tirelessly in support of a ballot measure to restore voting eligibility to formerly convicted persons, and as a result 1.4 million people in Florida have had their voting rights restored. If those ex-offenders are organized effectively, most of them will vote — and in ways, hopefully, that strengthen their communities.

From where I sit, there are three reasons to double down on investments in youth organizing groups:

Youth organizers are good at engaging voters of all ages. Some youth organizing groups have focused on engaging young voters; others are organizing whole communities. Power California, a statewide alliance of more than twenty-five organizations, works to harness the power of young voters of color and their families. Between September and November, the organization and its partners worked in forty counties to get young Californians to head to the polls and make their voices heard on issues that affect them. Through phone calls, texting, and targeted social media, the organization talked to more than a hundred and fifteen thousand young voters and registered and pre-registered more than twenty-five thousand young people of color. Other organizations such as Poder in Action in Phoenix, Arizona, engaged young people in their communities because these young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the issues in play and serve as highly effective messengers. Our takeaway: investing in youth leaders generates results, now and for decades to come.

Engaging the pre-electorate now increases civic participation in the future. Many of the young people organizing and canvassing with grantees of the Funders' Collaborative for Youth Organizing were ineligible to vote because they hadn't turned 18. But while they weren't old enough to cast a ballot, many of them were active in knocking on doors and making calls to encourage others to vote. Today's 16- and 17-year-olds will be voting in 2020, and we should be supporting organizations working to engage them. These organizations are a vital resource for developing the next generation of civic leaders.

Youth organizers play a vital role in connecting issues and voting. Over the last several years, we've seen the emergence of a number of organizations that are organizing young people of color around issues in their communities and helping them engage electorally as part of a broader goal of creating a just and equitable society. These groups are developing the next generation of young leaders, organizing campaigns aimed at improving quality of life in their communities, and encouraging people, young and old, to get out and vote. Recent research shows that this kind of organizing is one of the best ways to support the academic growth, social and emotional development, and civic engagement of young people, and these groups are our best hope for actively engaging young people today, as well as developing a pipeline of leaders equipped to solve future challenges.

Unfortunately, funding for this work has been sporadic, often showing up — in insufficient amounts — just before elections and then disappearing as soon as the last vote has been counted. To build a just and inclusive society, we must make a significant, long-term investment in the leadership of young people of color willing to organize around issues and engage voters, both young and old.

The 2018 election cycle has come to an end. Our investment in youth organizing shouldn't. It is time to get serious about supporting the next generation of leaders.

By 2020, it'll be too late.

Headshot_Eric BraxtonEric Braxton is executive director of the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners that works to advance youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change.

Labor Trafficking — an Immigration Issue

December 12, 2018

Hotel_cleaningConversations about immigration typically center around undocumented immigration, family sponsorship, and refugees. Very little attention is paid to the link between immigration and human trafficking — and that's unfortunate, because it is an urgent problem across the United States. 

While sex trafficking is the most familiar form of human trafficking, labor trafficking is another form of exploitation enabled by glaring defects in our immigration system. A 2004 report from the U.S. State Department estimated that upwards of 17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year, while a more recent report from Polaris, an anti-human-trafficking organization, identified six temporary visas most commonly associated with labor trafficking. These visas tie individuals to their employers or agency sponsors, making it nearly impossible for workers to break free from employers, even when working in conditions that are exploitative or abusive. 

At Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), we work with survivors of labor trafficking who are brought to the U.S. and forced to become modern-day slaves by fraudulent employers. As a member of the California United Fund, a coalition of eight immigrants rights organizations dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants in the state and beyond, we are working to help victims of labor trafficking live dignified, independent lives in the U.S. 

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Philanthropy's Under-Investment in Holding High Finance Accountable: A Gamble We Can’t Afford

October 17, 2018

Monopoly_top_hatTen years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, authorizing $700 billion in federal funding to buy troubled assets from banks deemed to be in danger of failing as a result of the subprime foreclosure crisis.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained the same: progressive philanthropy continues to under-prioritize efforts to hold the financial industry accountable.

It's a choice that risks undermining the headway progressive foundations are making on issues of inequality and wealth building. Placing big bets on policies designed to lift up low- and moderate-income communities while failing to address the accountability of financial institutions is a gamble we cannot afford to take — not least because it puts at risk the very people we are trying to serve.

American households lost $16 trillion in wealth in the years after the 2007-08 financial crisis. And while some experts estimate that Americans have regained $14.6 trillion, or 91 percent, of those losses in the decade since, the collapse affected different segments of society unequally, with the gains just as unequally distributed. In other words, both the crash and the recovery increased inequality in America.

The impact on African Americans was especially profound. Nearly 8 percent of African-American homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in the years after the crisis, compared with only 4.5 percent of white homeowners, and between 2007 and 2010 African Americans saw their retirement accounts lose 35 percent of their value. Indeed, according to the National Association of Realtors, African Americans lost fully half their wealth as a result of the financial crisis.

It's not just the likelihood of future financial crises that should give philanthropic leaders pause; it's also the fact that an under-regulated and unaccountable financial industry will continue to target communities of color and low-income communities with sketchy products and put vulnerable households at risk.

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Philanthropy Delivers an Outcome — and Its Name Is Brett Kavanaugh

October 07, 2018

Kavanaugh_swearing_inWhen the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it was a significant victory for the Federalist Society, and for the foundations that support the organization. It also represented something — an outcome and real impact — that philanthropists of all persuasions crave, and it was achieved through, that’s right, general support grants.

Widely credited for writing the playbook that has guided the Trump administration's judicial nominations strategy, the Federalist Society, by any measure, has been wildly successful. Since Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, the U.S. Senate has approved two of his picks for the Supreme Court and some fifty lower court judges. With an additional hundred and fifty appellate and district court seats to be filled, the administration, with the help of the Federalist Society, is on track to have put in place nearly a quarter of all active judges by the end of 2019.

The organization describes itself as a

group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. [The Society] is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be….This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community....

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the society receives tax-deductible donations from individuals, but foundations contribute roughly one-quarter of its annual funding. Since 2006, 127 foundations have made $39 million in grants to the organization, 53 percent of which has come from five foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley, Templeton, Mercer Family, and Sarah Scaife foundations, in addition to the Searle Freedom Trust. Nearly half of those grants have provided general operating support to the organization, giving it the freedom to use those resources to further its goals without donor-imposed restrictions.

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