A funder’s tale in re-envisioning grantmaking strategy and developing innovative programming to meet the needs of the current moment

Lindsay Ryder, Program Officer, Security & Rights Collaborative at the Proteus Fund

Contact: lryder@proteusfund.org

January 2016

What does “acting in solidarity” mean to you?

“Understanding and acting on the connections between our common struggles.”

“Creating space in our field meetings, calls and events to address anti-black racism in our spaces.”

“Joining direct action with other communities of color to demand reform, accountability and awareness.”

These are a few of the answer that leaders of national civil rights organizations provided in response to this question, and their statements embody the intersectional and cross-community dialogue we have been working to foster over the past year.

In 2014, the Security & Rights Collaborative (SRC) undertook a field landscape study and strategy review process. The SRC is a donor collaborative — a grantmaking initiative that pools the funds of foundation and individual donors — and is the only national funding collaborative specifically supporting Muslim, Arab and South Asian (MASA) communities.

Following five years of targeted grantmaking designed to build the capacity of a field of MASA organizations and strengthen civil rights protections in a national security context, the SRC is now moving forward with a renewed strategy — one that is more directly aligned with the natural trajectory of the field and serves to integrate these issues and communities into the broader rights movement. Our timing could not have been better, considering the immense shift in the field, culture, and conversation around issues of race and justice we have witnessed in the past year and a half. I encourage funders to consider looking at their strategy with a similarly critical eye — the moment almost demands it!

Our goals in undertaking this review process were multiple. Namely, we desired to 1) re-envision our grantmaking strategy to meet the growing capacities and shifting needs within the field; 2) develop innovative programming designed to support diverse movements; and 3) inform our strategy for engaging other donors — whether foundations or individuals — in supporting this critical yet often overlooked set of issues and communities we support.

The results of this process have revolutionized our engagement both with the field and with other donors. And again, our timing was ideal.

The process concluded right around the time that Neighborhood Funders Group started convening a group of funders who wanted to learn more, connect, and act collectively to support the groundswell of organizing and activism in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere around the country.

This group, which came together under the name Funders for Justice, continues to meet regularly in person and on calls, and the SRC entered the space in order to connect with other funders working on issues of police accountability, racial justice and criminalization in order to learn, coordinate and amplify our efforts.

The dialogue, information sharing, and inspiration provided by Funders for Justice and its members have served to inform and reaffirm our revised strategy, and the new relationships and capacities the SRC has developed through Funders for Justice and other avenues have helped us develop an informed, coordinated response to this critical moment.

Implementing strategy at the local level

We have forged ahead with our donor organizing and programming in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the support of our courageous and innovative funding partners, The Whitman Institute, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation and an individual donor, we have held a series of convenings among a diverse group of civil rights/racial justice advocates from across the Bay Area.

The first convening, held in September, was designed for groups to come together around how “state oppression” impacts their communities both in the U.S. and abroad (whether Filipino, Arab, Muslim, Latino, Chinese, etc.). This was a great grounding place for the conversation to start and for groups to begin drawing connections in how their respective communities are impacted.

The second convening, held in December, allowed for groups to go deeper into learning specifically about how MASA communities are impacted by state and societal bias and racism, and to share lessons learned about using direct action as an organizing and advocacy tactic.

I’m honored to share reflections from a couple of participants on what they’ve learned so far, which I think really demonstrate the power of coming together and creating opportunities for learning and dialogue that otherwise didn’t exist:

“[I’ve learned] so much! Learned a wider perspective of barriers that affect MASA communities and how it correlates to mass policing and even more broadly U.S. imperialism and continued colonization.”

“[I’ve learned] how multi-faceted the work we do is; Impacts of funding on national security work; How much energy is behind direct action; FBI/state surveillance tools and strategies.”

Other points of reflection include the extent to which this opportunity has allowed the groups to think more broadly about the racial justice frame they apply to their work and their communities’ struggles, and to think more inclusively about how other communities might also be impacted by the issues they are working to address. It’s been a very exciting process, and I think a very creative and meaningful way to involve funders that might not have directly supported this work themselves.

This space has also allowed for open conversation about the role that these groups and advocates can play (and also that funders like the SRC can play) to support the current racial justice movement, considering the increasing awareness and focus around supporting black communities and leaders — how to draw those connections and keep the dialogue inclusive while preserving a focus on anti-black racism.

Supporting movement building among national advocates

This work in the Bay Area very much parallels how our national Solidarity Summit convenings are unfolding. Nearly every organization involved in that program has signed on to the truly momentous We Are Better Than This campaign, and in fact three of the nine lead organizations for that campaign are Solidarity Summit participants. That campaign is a timely and large-scale example of the types of conversation and partnerships that have arisen from that program, among organizations that previously had no working relationships in many cases. Truly a moment for intersectional solidarity!

Looking ahead

In 2016 we will continue to bring together the Solidarity Summit participants and the Bay Area community leaders. We’ll also continue our technical assistance and convening program with a group of advocates in the Los Angeles area, where Muslim and allied communities are still reeling from the scrutiny and hate crimes targeted at these communities following the San Bernardino attacks.

While it’s been amazing to witness the unified response in support of these communities’ rights and safety, we continue to grapple with how to most effectively respond. Given centuries of hate violence that mar our country’s history, what do we need to understand about the current scrutiny and even violence directed at these communities? What resources do we have — people, organizations, and dollars — to address and prevent future attacks, especially against Black, immigrant and Muslim communities who find themselves on the receiving end of these attacks?

As we hold this questions at the front of our minds and in our actions, we also celebrate the impact of these relationships and capacities as they continue to developed, and are grateful for and inspired by the dedication and creativity with which funders and advocates alike are stepping forward.

The leaders and organizations we have engaged with and supported are leading successful efforts in the call for accountability and oversight of the NYPD, in developing frameworks and language for diverse communities to “build across movements,” and working to elevate the dialogue around American values of diversity, inclusivity and equality with their claim that “We Are Better Than This.”

Read the full Medium post here.