September 1, 2016

For the Surdna Foundation, Communities Should Define Their Futures

Will Cordery, Program Officer of Surdna Foundation’s Strong Local Economies program, writes about racial justice and inclusive economic development.

This post originally appeared in NCRP’s quarterly journal, which you can find here.

When people have asked me what compelled me to join the team at the Surdna Foundation more than a year ago, I’ve often shared that I saw a philanthropic organization that is not only guided by principles of social justice, and working to address real societal problems, but one that is committed to investing in new ways of building economies, environments and communities that place those directly impacted by inequity at the center of making decisions on the best solutions. 

In essence, I saw Surdna as a foundation that was driven to invest in a better, more just world with people at the center. And this was important to me as a former fundraiser and organizer for Project South, an organization whose work for racial and economic justice was guided by principles of investing in people, place and regional identity across Southern states. Few national foundations support marginalized communities in building local leadership and long-term infrastructure that not only works to address current challenges, but also prepares them for future challenges and supports their leadership.

As a family philanthropy, Surdna and the Andrus family have been practicing responsive philanthropy for nearly 100 years. Much of those years were devoted to direct service and programs for children. In 1989, the third and fourth generations of the Andrus family established Surdna Foundation’s programs in environment and community revitalization, which came with a decision to expand the professional staff to broaden the foundation’s effectiveness. By 1994, programs in effective citizenry and the arts were added. Guided by the principles of social justice, the foundation today seeks to foster sustainable environments, strong local economies and thriving cultures in marginalized communities in the United States.

Surdna Foundation is a national philanthropic leader working across both the public and private sectors to actualize smart and inclusive economic growth. I am especially excited by what our Strong Local Economies program has so far accomplished and the work that continues. The line of work, which I lead, is committed to improving the lives and economic opportunities for low-income communities, people of color, women and immigrants by investing in communities to win good economic policies, building and growing locally owned businesses, creating quality jobs and improving jobs that millions of low-wage workers hold by bringing up the labor market. 

I am inspired by the vision of a country where communities that have been systematically locked out of economic mobility can realize true economic opportunities and security. 

Minority Business Investment

One of the areas of work under the Strong Local Economies program is Business Development and Acceleration (BDA), which aims to create jobs and wealth in communities through thriving, diverse, sustainable local businesses increasingly owned by people of color, women and immigrants. 

This past year we continued to focus our efforts on harnessing the power of the private sector to broadly promote quality job growth in local communities. Our work with minority-, women- and immigrant-owned businesses remain one of our larger areas of investment. Our program is able to provide grant dollars to business accelerators – private or nonprofit entities that provide early capital and technical assistance to start-ups and small businesses to assist with their growth. Many minority-owned businesses struggle to secure the capital needed due to their size, location and leadership. 

The business accelerators we are supporting provide an array of services to a diverse business audience. One of them is Chicago United. As part of Chicago United’s Five Forward 20/20 Initiative, each company commits to working with five local minority-owned firms over five years, better positioning local minority-owned firms to compete for corporate contracts. To date, Chicago United has produced partnerships with 21 area companies that reported spending an aggregate of more than $350 million in 2014. Among these businesses, a select number of minority-owned enterprises created more than 4,700 jobs. 

Some of the most compelling work happening in the BDA portfolio is the investment in converting small businesses into worker-owned cooperatives. In a recent report, Ours to Share: How Worker Ownership Can Change the American Economy,  Surdna explored the opportunities of worker-owned firms to fundamentally change local economies and to build wealth for historically low-income communities. 

With the pending retirement of tens of thousands of baby boomers that were successful in entrepreneurship, there is going to be a huge transfer of wealth in this country. That wealth could be transferred to a larger corporation in a buyout, to a developer for repurposing of their land or to the workers who’ve worked for those small businesses for years who would now have an opportunity to own a business and help drive the local economy. Transferring ownership of a business from just one person or group to the business’ workers creates opportunities for workers to build wealth, to own their work and products in an entirely new way and to increase economic activity in communities that have suffered from years of stagnation and inequity. 

Although this model of local economic drivers redistributing wealth is relatively small, there are immense opportunities to scale and make this a practice of wealth redistribution that is good for workers, retired business owners and local economies. 

Economic Development for and by the People

Historically, economic development projects do not benefit all populations and oftentimes exclude the communities we serve – low-income, people of color and immigrants. We believe that economic development can be done in a different way – a way that reaches beyond city centers and produces positive impacts on local communities, placing its residents at the decision-making tables and creating opportunities for economic mobility. 

The attention being paid to growing income inequality and an uneven economic recovery this past year has created an opportunity to redefine economic development guidelines and practices to include equity and to engage people directly affected by development at the most local level. Surdna is working with a host of economic development, policy research and nonprofit and philanthropic partners to further advance an equitable economic development framework. 

This summer, the Surdna Foundation, in partnership with the National League of Cities, PolicyLink, the Urban Land Institute and Open Society Foundations, launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship. This is a two-year, $1 million effort to promote equity, transparency and sustainability as driving forces in local economic development efforts. It also will provide participants with leadership development, technical assistance and peer learning. Leaders were chosen from six cities for the inaugural class: Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. We and our partners are hopeful that advancing an equity frame in these respective communities at this time will place local leaders in positions of influence at the cusp of impending economic development boom in these cities. 

Workers and the Economy

Through our Job Quality & Career Pathways (JQCP) line of work, we strive to improve the quality of jobs and conditions of work in low-wage sectors in this country as well as expand access to higher-paying jobs, identify and develop promising career paths in emerging industries and seek the overall improvement of economic mobility. 

Over the past few years, advocates have fought for and celebrated tremendous policy wins that improve conditions of work for millions in this country – from increasing the minimum wage to securing paid sick and family leave, fair scheduling and other labor standards improvements that have the potential to transform the lives of working families. As a result, there are renewed efforts around the country to engage key stakeholders in the enforcement of job quality measures. Many cities have dedicated staff focused on policy implementation, but some cities still lag behind with insufficient staff, accountability measures or true commitments to achieve intended results. 

Surdna is working to better understand the capacity needs and current challenges of government in addition to community-based interventions to realize the benefits of new policies to improve the quality of jobs. This past July, in partnership with the National Employment Law Project and Rutgers University Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, we convened leaders from worker organizations, government agencies and small business advocacy groups from across the country to share some of the challenges and opportunities they’re facing, the importance of worker power, business compliance and revenue sources separate from local and state budget negotiations to fund enforcement of labor policies. 

Over the coming year, we will explore how best to invest in efforts to safeguard all of the significant strides we’ve made in creating good economic policies as well as how best to respond to preemptive attacks that attempt to halt progress. 

The Importance of People and Place

As we approach our centennial, the Surdna Foundation understands just how important people and place are to a community’s ability to flourish. History has taught us that trickle-down economics do not work. In order to create the ecosystem needed for local communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally, we have to invest in their success at the local level. 

Over the summer, the foundation staff conducted an exercise during a staff retreat that challenged us to summarize Surdna’s mission-driven work in eight words. One of my favorite statements was “Communities define their futures. We support their goals.” 

As a social justice foundation, we are not alone in this sentiment. Although our collective resources are somewhat finite, if all of philanthropy was responsive in a way that put the resources into the hands of those most affected, we could lead a renaissance that would drastically reshape how communities and economies are driven.

May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!

May 1, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Jenny Arwade

Photo of JennyJenny Arwade, Co-Executive Director of Communities United and FFJ Field Advisor, tells us about current Chicago happenings and the role of healing justice in “building the power necessary to change the conditions in our communities, dismantle structural racism, and address long term healing through transformative change”.

What are some key fights happening in Chicago that you think folks across the country should be watching?

In Chicago, we are coming off of a historic Mayoral run-off election, with voters electing the city’s first Black, Lesbian woman as Mayor. We now have Black women at the helm of our city, county, and occupying a key position in our state as Lieutenant Governor. All eyes are watching to see if this will help our city lead to progressive change, or if the status quo will merely be reinforced through new leadership. What we do know is that all three women have a stated an ongoing commitment to criminal justice and juvenile justice reform, and addressing the cycle of violence through positive investments in communities.

There are several key things to watch for: Under this new leadership, will we start seeing progress towards community justice reinvestment? — a paradigm shift in which public resources are invested in meeting the employment, housing, educational and health needs in communities of color that have been hardest hit by disinvestment, mass incarceration, and immigration enforcement, rather than perpetuating systems that reinforce trauma, violence, and the separation of families. Can we move from a place of winning critical policy changes, and losing others, to having truly transformational change to preserve Chicago as a city that continues to be home to the poor and working class, and where a holistic racial equity agenda is advanced by both communities and our elected leaders?

This may all sound aspirational – but that is the key challenge ahead of us. We need to not only believe it is possible, but recognize that it will only be possible with visionary demands, coming from communities most directly impacted. While having people that represent the identities of our communities is an important aspect of the paradigm shifts we are working towards, we know from history that it is not just who represents us, but the movement for change that is built from the ground up that will make the difference.

Why does Communities United use a Healing Justice Frame? How is Healing Justice central and vital to your work and the work of Communities United?

“We are the solution we need”

Communities United’s Healing Justice frame is centered around the need to decolonize health and wellness. While there is growing attention to the medical benefits of mindfulness, yoga, and other practices that are deeply rooted in the ancestry of people of color, they are also becoming billion dollar industries that in many cases continue to fuel corporate profit, and underscore elitism, cultural appropriation, and a lack of access for communities most directly impacted by trauma.

CU’s approach is grounded in the notion that we all have the capacity to be our own healers, and support the healing and wellness of those around us – that we ARE the solution we need. Breaking it down very simply, our approach to healing justice focuses on the sharing of our stories and our wounds, building a community of support, moving to collective action, and being conscious of our own movement and breath as we build together. We believe that every act of self-love and individual recovery is an act of heroic living. By building a critical mass of individuals who are redefining what investments in communities need to look like, we are building heroic communities. This leads to building the type of power needed to hold public systems accountable and advance change that is truly transformational.

What do you want funders to better understand about the healing justice frame?

We believe that a healing justice frame creates a pathway for systems change and community change that is transformational. Through our work with mental health professionals, we have broad agreement both that the scope and impact of trauma is so expansive that clinical supports will never be enough, and that there are often no systems available that reflect the cultural dynamics and histories of communities of color. We also have agreement that the critical role of community in supporting the healing process is not widely recognized or valued through traditional systems, even though it can have the most powerful impacts. Healing needs to be broadly accessible, and the reason community plays a vital role is that it is rooted in relationship – our relationship to ourselves, each other, and our understanding of the world around us. We all have the power to be our own healers, and to help each other on the healing process.

Partnerships are also critical in this work. CU partners with organizations that have values and approaches that are aligned with our healing justice frame, such as organizations focused on supporting individuals suffering from addiction along their path to recovery using approaches that include traditional healing practices, and more. These partnerships are critical to bringing the breadth of community wisdom and values-aligned health institutions together to advance our healing justice work.

We are currently working to build movement with our Healing and Justice Transformation framework across communities. Our hope is that the more we all share and make resources accessible, the more this work can grow and become part of the fabric of how communities and institutions are engaging in this work. As we work to decolonize health and wellness, we believe there is a crucial role for mental health professionals, especially those that come from our communities, but that healing and wellness is a movement approach.

How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? What do you think we need to do differently right now?

Healing justice is about building the power necessary to change the conditions in our communities, dismantle structural racism, and address long term healing through transformative change. If we believe that “we are the solution we need,” then we need to trust communities to define our own needs, what makes us well, and not try to fit anything into a box. In this political moment, as in all political moments, we have to look back to our roots. Healing justice is not a new shiny object, but an approach grounded in our ancestry and past movements, and propelled by the vision of our next generation of leaders.