4 posts categorized "Rural"

Three simple ways for funders to make their rural work authentic

August 26, 2021

Rural_wisconsin_farm_john-reed_unsplashI have been there. The visit from the big city or national funder. The awkward conversations with the visitors that want to get the best shrimp and grits or crawfish. And the never-ending sense that you are selling something that, even with the best intentions, the visitor is never going to understand. They may get enamored with your project, but never truly recognize the place and why your work is supporting a vision in ways that speaks to the rural dimensions of local people.

The 2016 presidential election saw a rise in interest in rural philanthropy — some by funders trying to understand and rethink their work. Other times by funders looking to retrench and defend their strategies. This all in the midst of the tens of thousands of family and community funders already deeply embedded in rural places and a continuing boom in the creation of healthcare conversion foundations — most with a significant rural footprint. Interest has waxed and waned since then but now more urban-based and national funders are engaged in rural conversations than have been for the past twenty years.

The blessing of the heightened interest in rural philanthropy is that it is calling into question many funder assumptions that are urban-based — emphasis on scale: big evaluations, reliance on large nonprofits and intermediaries. What it doesn't always come with, unfortunately, is a commitment to being authentic.

Here are three achievable ways for funders to be authentic in their rural work — whether they are large or small, new in the space or veterans.

1. Hire people from rural personal and/or professional backgrounds

It's inconceivable that a funder would have someone not of the disability community lead their disability work, or someone not personally immersed in Latinx culture lead that portfolio, or LGBTQ grantmaking by folks not of that community. It just shouldn't happen. Why, then, is it acceptable for funders to assign rural responsibility to those without a rural background? Understanding that the multiplicity of rural cultures in the United States doesn't make anyone an expert on a particular place, rural experience brings with it a core understanding of how people interact — the leadership models and the avenues of change. Why a funder would expect someone who has barely left any big urban or suburban community to understand what they see in front of them is perplexing. Is it more difficult to recruit talent for these roles? Sure. But not impossible. Start by looking at people who went to public and land-grant universities for one. Consider working with search firms that not only have a successful track record of recruiting for placement in rural communities but have search professionals that have personal and professional experience living and working in rural places. Market these opportunities throughout rural regions. Individuals already working in rural communities are those most likely to become culturally competent rural funders.

2. Work with intermediaries and contractors that have rural personal and professional experience

Much of the on-the-ground work of grantmaking and program implementation is carried out by national/regional intermediaries and contractors—not by funder staff. The choice of which organizations are selected to do this work is absolutely critical. I have had lots of interactions over the past decade with these folks. Some well-intentioned but naïve, some with misplaced urban arrogance. Lots of national firms assigning the rural work to their least experienced folks. And many firms and intermediaries hired on the basis of one rural project from some years back or a book of business in the rural space that hasn't evolved in twenty years. Make sure that the people who are going to be your on-the-ground informants are knowledgeable, genuine, and committed to rural America.

3. Have an internal rural quality control lens that is funder-wide

While it's great for funders to think about doing more rural investing, it's just as important that the infrastructure within the foundation is rural-friendly. This includes everything from RFP language, to meeting places, to evaluation models, to communications. Few urban and national funders have an explicit rural equity lens embedded in their operations, values and vision. How to get there? Ideally, have someone assigned to advise on these and related issues on behalf of rural communities and prospective grantees. Perhaps that is not possible. Alternatively, hire someone to do a rural equity audit every year about all aspects of foundation operations. Make public the findings. It is a surefire way to provide an entry point to real conversation with rural people and places.

The road to being an authentic rural funder has many branches, but it is encircled by some clear tactical markers. While rural America wants more attention from funders, no rural community needs another experience with a funder or intermediary that is going to highlight the often profound difference between funder intent and execution.

Additional Resources:

(Photo credit: John Reed via Unsplash)

Headshot_Allen_Smart_2021_PhilanTopicAllen Smart is the founder of PhilanthropywoRx. This article was originally published on the National Center for Family Philanthropy's Family Giving News blog.

'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.

5 Questions for...Lisa Mensah, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

January 15, 2021

After serving for two years as under secretary of agriculture for rural development in the Obama administration, Lisa Mensah joined Opportunity Finance Networka leading network of community development financial institutions, as president and CEO in March 2017. In November, with a $100 million investment from Twitter, OFN announced the launch of the Finance Justice Fund, a socially responsible investment fund aimed at raising $1 billion in grant capital to address racial injustice and persistent poverty in the United States. 

PND asked Mensah about the initial response to the fund, the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of community development financial institutions, and the persistent lack of investment in rural communities.

Lisa_Mensah_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of response to the Finance Justice Fund have you gotten from corporate and philanthropic investors since the fund's launch in November? And are you on track to meet your fundraising goal?

Lisa Mensah: It's been wonderful to see the strong interest from both corporations and philanthropies in the work we're doing to finance justice. OFN is in discussion with potential new Finance Justice Fund investors; some of them are new to the CDFI industry and some are longtime partners. All understand that now is the moment to invest in Black and minority communities — the nationwide call for economic justice is louder and stronger than ever. We have a path to meeting our $1 billion goal and expect to announce new investment partners in the first quarter of 2021.  

PND: What was the genesis of the fund? Was it in the works before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and nationwide racial justice protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd last spring, or was it created in response to those twin crises? 

LM: Justice takes money, and CDFIs exist to finance justice. Our field started as a small grassroots movement to counter discrimination in banking and investing — the earliest CDFIs were created to provide financial services and support to people that banks wouldn't or couldn't serve. We've grown into a $222 billion industry that works to address longstanding disinvestment, the racial wealth gap, and persistent poverty by investing in people and communities left behind by mainstream finance. So the roots of the fund are really in our industry's history and unique role as community lenders. 

For years, OFN has been advocating for more public- and private-sector investment in communities underserved by mainstream finance. Since I joined OFN in 2017, we've been listening to our CDFIs and exploring new programs that would help the industry go bigger and bring new partners to our work. Then 2020 happened. 

The overlap of a pandemic-related economic crisis that disproportionally hurt low-income and minority communities and widespread calls for social justice put CDFIs front and center as a way to address both. The forces of 2020 — and interest from new corporate partners like Twitter — accelerated our plans. 

The Finance Justice Fund is just one result. In March 2020, OFN also welcomed Google as a partner: With OFN as the intermediary, the company is investing $170 million from its corporate treasury and $10 million from its philanthropic arm into CDFIs to help minority and women-owned small businesses. This mix of debt and grant capital is the type of investment we need to scale. 

PND: How has COVID-19 impacted OFN's and member CDFIs' programs and priorities? Are there lessons learned that might be applicable to the broader nonprofit sector?   

LM: The communities CDFIs serve are the communities that have been hurt most by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and so they have been very busy. 

From the very beginning of the crisis, OFN — the organization of thirty-five staff members and the network of more than three hundred CDFIs — understood the threat facing our communities and borrowers. In response, our member CDFIs have established new ways of providing services and support to borrowers. They have been proactive about easing the economic disruption for America's smallest, most vulnerable businesses, nonprofits, and homeowners, making loan accommodations, and standing up new loan programs. Many CDFIs have also helped small businesses adjust their business models to meet the new realities of stay-at-home mandates and changes in customer behavior. Our response from the beginning was focused on survival and recovery for our communities. 

One lesson for our industry and the broader nonprofit sector is that recovery from a major crisis demands partnerships, and that when those partnerships are strong we can move America forward. The last ten months have seen new partnerships with philanthropy, impact investors, corporations, and government. Never again should the CDFI field think of itself as insignificant. We must see ourselves as essential partners to the big work of having an economy that works for all. 

PND: The phrases "racial injustice" and "communities with high rates of poverty and disinvestment" are more often associated with urban, rather than rural, areas. What's behind that disconnect, and what are the implications — for rural communities in general, and for BIPOC residents of those communities in particular? 

LM: The truth is that racial injustice and high rates of poverty and disinvestment exist in both urban and rural areas. Persistent poverty in America — extreme poverty rates of more than 20 percent for more than thirty years — exists in more than ten thousand census tracts, roughly 14 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods. It has a strong hold in many rural communities: 19 percent of areas characterized by persistent poverty are rural, and millions of rural people live in persistent poverty. We also don't hear much about the racial diversity that exists in rural America. We don't think of Native communities or Black communities or Latino communities when we think about rural America, but these are vibrant and important populations in rural America.

I've focused on rural development for much of my professional life. One of the key questions is how to alleviate and begin to reverse the economic distress that has been driven by the systemic loss or contraction of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. The community developer's challenge is to find ways to create wealth and livelihoods by reinvigorating local economies and connecting to larger urban/regional markets. CDFIs do this but also retain a racial equity lens and are willing to make loans to the communities and people who have too often been ignored. This is true in both rural and urban areas. 

And, of course, rural and minority communities live under the double-edged sword of poverty and racism — they've suffered the most historically and suffer the most from crises like COVID-19, climate change, and economic upheaval. 

PND: Your career has spanned the private, public, and social sectors, and you've led collaborative efforts across all three sectors. What has been your North Star in your work over the years? And what are your hopes for the incoming Biden administration with respect to policies that support racial and economic justice?   

LM: Economic justice has been my North Star — for me, that means fighting for financial capital to reach all people and communities. Financial capital is the fuel that drives economic opportunity, and I'm on a lifelong journey to help make sure that the allocation of capital is inclusive. 

I have many hopes for the Biden administration. It is exciting to see the administration embrace a goal of advancing racial equity and then to define this goal as spurring investment in small business opportunities, investing in homeownership and access to affordable housing for Black, Brown, and Native families, and ensuring that racial equity is considered in federal procurement and federal investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture. These are all policies to which CDFIs have much to contribute.  

CDFIs understand that government policies helped create the racial wealth gap and government policies must help end it. In the last week of 2020, Congress passed a historic government investment in CDFIs as part of the most recent COVID relief bill: $12 billion for CDFIs and minority depository institutions (MDIs). This is a giant step forward for our industry and the communities we serve. But injustice is persistent and tenacious, and we won't undo it with one bold step.

So, I'm considering that federal investment as a down payment, and I hope we can build on it in the months and years to come.  

— Kyoko Uchida

Why playgrounds matter in rural America: insights for rural donors and funders

October 01, 2020

Kaboom_salamanca-3The neighborhood playground is a critical asset that helps make communities resilient places where kids can thrive and residents can connect. But in many rural communities across the country, factors like physical distance, countywide recreation policies, and the lack of a local tax base can limit children's ability to access these spaces and the benefits they generate for health and well-being. This fact gains even more urgency when considering the deep disparities in rural childhood health outcomes.

Through decades of work partnering with rural communities, KABOOM! has come to understand that location is critically important in shaping the opportunities and barriers that kids and communities experience.

Addressing health outcomes with playspace equity

"Playspace equity" means every child has access to playspaces that deliver critical outcomes for child health, development, learning, and social and emotional well-being — regardless of factors such as race, ethnicity, or family income. KABOOM!, a national nonprofit, is working to achieve that vision.

For more than 23 years, KABOOM! has worked with communities to transform 17,000 playspaces, engage more than 1.5 million community members, and expand access to playspaces for 11 million kids. The community is at the heart of the process, with residents and kids engaged throughout the design, construction, and maintenance phases to ensure that the final playspace reflects their unique needs and expectations. According to a survey, 94 percent percent of KABOOM!-led respondents believe their playground project helped strengthen relationships among neighborhood residents and among community partners.

The approach also inspires optimism, as community members work toward a collective goal that will benefit future generations. KABOOM!’s engagement process focuses on the existing assets in each community has and supports a greater vision for what it would like to see for its kids.

Playspaces: supporting broader strategies to support rural communities

Last year, KABOOM! teamed up with the Colorado Health Foundation and the community of Trinidad, Colorado, to complete a project at the Las Animas Fairgrounds. Trinidad is a small rural community with just over eight thousand residents, 20 percent of whom experience poverty at some point during the year. Throughout the engagement process, local partners cited high rates of obesity and the mental health impacts of social isolation and increased time using technology as top concerns.

Together with the community, KABOOM! helped build an Adventure Course for teens that serves more than a thousand kids annually. The Adventure Course also provides a community gathering space, which is critically important in a location where public space is limited or hard to access. Afterschool programs and home school students use the space frequently, and the local fire department can be spotted on the course during training exercises.

In Bastrop County, Texas, KABOOM! worked with a local nonprofit, Bastrop County Cares, to build a playspace in Stoney Point. The support from multiple agencies and resident leadership ensured the project would be part of a greater effort to develop county spaces for families in the region. With the help of funding from the St. David's Foundation, KABOOM! was able to support the community and build on the existing coalitions that had been established. The community reports a measurable difference in play activities, with more than 90 percent of respondents to a survey of build volunteers affirming that the amount of time kids spend playing has increased.

In western New York, KABOOM! partnered with the Rural Revitalization Corporation, the City of Salamanca, and the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation. Salamanca has a population of just over five thousand residents, with a little more than 20 percent experiencing poverty. The city sits on top of the Tribal lands of the Seneca Nation and, due to lack of funding and a smaller tax base, has found it difficult to secure support for capital projects like park infrastructure. But KABOOM! was able to help the community build a state-of-the-art Adventure Course that now provides more than nine hundred and fifty children with a safe place to play. Six months after the build was complete, playground participation had increased by 20 percent.

A KABOOM!/funder partnership is well positioned to respond to a number of challenges faced by funders looking to engage with rural communities:

  1. The KABOOM! model generates a cohort of volunteers — many of whom have had no contact with the funder in the past. A successful KABOOM! build can be a springboard for other community-led community development projects.
  2. The local site sponsor, whether a church, community based-nonprofit or a rural Housing Authority (for example), often expands the funder's network of interested and eligible grantees and responds directly to the frequently heard funder’s lament, "There is no one to fund."
  3. The model is scalable and creates a level of interest in surrounding communities.
  4. The funder is the administrative intermediary with KABOOM! and can mitigate the challenges faced by rural communities in accessing outside resources.

In our conversations with rural communities, residents often express frustration that national programs don't have anything for them: most best practice models are built on urban density. The KABOOM! partnership provides an opportunity for a very active rural engagement that is scaled to communities' needs and culture — all in the context of a community-led design and build process. It's an example of how funders and donors can bring resources to rural places that are more than the sum of the parts and a reminder that the best rural philanthropy supports a sustainable community ownership structure.

(Photo credit: KABOOM!)

Allen_smart_lysa_ratliff_PhilanTopicAllen Smart is the founder of PhilanthropywoRx and Lysa Ratliff is acting CEO and vice president, partnership development at KABOOM!. This post originally appeared on the Giving Compass website.

 

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