November 2, 2016

What Have We Learned about Place-Based Investments?

Last month, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group convened 100 local, regional, and national funders for Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy. Here, Simran Noor of the Center for Social Inclusion shares the three lessons that funders should build on to support sustainable community change.

Simran NoorBy Simran Noor, Center for Social Inclusion

Eight years ago, I worked for a foundation that heavily invests in my hometown, which allowed me to see firsthand the impacts of place-based investments. I was reminded of that work when I recently had the opportunity to attend the Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy convening organized by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. It was heartening to see the collective hope and call to integrate decades of hard-learned lessons into today’s practice of philanthropy, with the intent to address the reality of privilege and arms-length distance embedded in the institution of philanthropy. But my time in Aspen also left me reliving lessons I learned in my past work and seeing glaring examples that continue to surface from brilliant, thoughtful social justice-oriented funders across the country. Conversations in Aspen left me thinking, “Is learning real if not applied?” 

While these learnings depend on a number of factors including level, size, and scale of investment; relationships in place; and the reality of constantly changing social, political, and economic trends; they can be distilled into key considerations that could change the relationship philanthropy has with place-based investing. Among these lessons:

Listen first and allow communities to determine their own needs. Privilege comes in many forms. For philanthropy, in particular, privilege can come in the form of knowledge and ways of knowing. Believing or creating processes that implicitly position the academic knowledge held by foundation staff as superior to the lived experience of grantees, partners, and residents is one way place-based investing can miss the mark. Shifting power and creating methods for sustainable investment does not only mean engaging those who are most impacted to share their stories in participatory processes; it means resourcing them to co-design every element of process creation. This requires a different intentionality around listening, a potential shift in the ways initial investments are made, and a clear redefining of foundation funding priorities to match local, self-determined needs.

Develop strategies responsive to what you’ve learned. While listening is a first step, it is often not enough. Truly changing outcomes requires focused strategy. Many neighborhoods ripe for place-based investments have experienced decades of disinvestment and dismantling by every public and private institution. That does not only impact the infrastructure of those communities—it impacts the very souls of the people residing in the place. When funders enter communities that have experienced such disinvestment and lead with dollars, they often create a competitive dynamic that strains relationships between nonprofits and ultimately benefits no one. Place-based funders have a responsibility to understand local needs and support development of strategic approaches that take into account the current ecosystem of nonprofits, intermediaries, and public and private institutions, as well as the current power dynamics and inequitable resource distribution at play. Place-based strategies must use new and innovative ways to disrupt these (often racialized) power dynamics in order to foster an environment for intersectional, multi-issue approaches that address the root causes of deeply embedded challenges, including poverty and lack of access to opportunity for communities of color.

Reimagine what “success” looks like. Fundamentally, these shifts require philanthropy to reimagine success in place-based work. Could success potentially mean a self-sustaining future state without philanthropy’s presence? What are the mechanisms to create philanthropic accountability to the most impacted communities and potential grantees before investments are made? Answering these questions requires reimagining asset-based human and social investment in the residents who will be in a place long after philanthropic investments end. Capacity building and popular education approaches, for example, allow residents to develop the same technical and academic acumen held by decision makers and power brokers in the local context. Foundations would then also need to become comfortable and confident in residents’ future decisions, particularly stances that may differ with their own institutional preferences.  This process of authentic decision-making and shifting power could be a true success metric.

While by no means comprehensive in nature, if the lessons noted above and the many others that surfaced during the Towards a More Resilient Place convening are adopted, they have the ability to shift the nature of place-based philanthropy. Social justice-oriented funders who shared their experiences showed us how important and effective these lessons are, and they should continue to advocate for these lessons in future place-based philanthropic investments.

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June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

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