Building a New Framework: Reflections on our State and Local Listening Tour

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

By Cairo Mendes, GCIR's Director of State and Local Programs

Earlier this year, we shared with you GCIR’s new state and local framework, a development that reflects our evolution as a national philanthropic mobilizing organization that creates strategic opportunities for philanthropy to move money and power to immigrant and refugee communities. We are growing our work at the state and local levels strategically, continuing our strong focus on California while deepening our engagement in other parts of the country. We are approaching this work by:
  1. Supporting the capacity building of immigrant and refugee-led and -serving organizations and networks.
  2. Amplifying and engaging in efforts to build power and expand protections and opportunities for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
  3. Cultivating funder networks to move resources and shift philanthropic practices.

In the early stages of planning for this work, it was important to us that GCIR’s state and local strategy be guided by the input of those directly impacted by immigration in addition to the perspectives and insights of our funder members. During a seven-month nationwide listening tour, I met with nearly 60 leaders from philanthropy, nonprofit, and immigrant justice movement organizations who shared with me their thoughts, their concerns, and their hopes for advancing immigrant justice in their regions. These conversations helped us identify opportunities for GCIR to leverage our unique position to support immigrant communities in these areas, along with opportunities to fill gaps in the immigrant justice ecosystem. In each region, we paid close attention to the political context, the social justice landscape, the emerging appetite for investing in immigrant communities, and the foreign-born population size and rate of growth. This helped us identify key issues and priorities, and we will be piloting programmatic and policy activities to address those issues in the future. Lessons Learned: Listening Tour to Pilot Implementation  As I reflect on this process, a few themes emerge 1) the importance of relationship building, trust, and accountability; 2)  the need for funders to engage in efforts to advance justice for immigrant communities beyond providing funding; and 3) the importance of investing in power building at the local, grassroots level over the long term. During the listening tour, we made many new connections in addition to deepening existing relationships. We dedicated time to getting to know each other, sharing our personal stories, how we came to do this work, and what motivates us to persevere in the face of significant challenges. These conversations drove home for me how essential it is that any social justice work be anchored in trust and mutual accountability between organizations, leaders, and communities. These elements have sustained countless organizations for decades and have led to significant shifts in how the philanthropic sector conducts grantmaking. As we deepen our work in key areas of the country, we are eager to continue to create spaces for relationship-building between funders, movement organizations, public sector partners, and other stakeholders. In the course of these conversations, I found that many funders are interested in providing support to frontline organizations beyond grantmaking, including collaborative planning, policy advocacy, and narrative change work. We are seeing this manifest in the work of our partners in philanthropy across the country. During a recent regional network call, a funder based in the South expressed interest in working with grantees to develop a comprehensive ten-year plan to improve conditions for immigrant communities in the region. At an in-person convening in California last month, funders expressed a desire for GCIR’s California Immigrant Integration Initiative to leverage its relationships with public officials to advance policies in support of humanitarian parolees and asylum seekers in the state. Another theme that emerged from these conversations was the importance of investing, long term, in power building at the local and state levels. What does that look like? The folks I interviewed shared that funders need to invest in strengthening the infrastructure of small but mighty organizations so they can pay their staff a living wage and hire for positions in critical areas such as communications, human resources, and fundraising. Doing this means investing in leadership development to create a pipeline of future leaders from directly impacted communities. A number of the movement folks I spoke with expressed a desire to purchase their organization’s building to ensure they can meet diverse community needs in a secure and sustainable way. It is also essential to invest in opportunities for community members to rest, to celebrate with each other, to express joy, and to have fun. The most important component of this work is the people who do it: the volunteers who give their free labor and the staff who are often underpaid and have the enormous task of moving the work forward day-to-day. Burnout is pushing people to leave frontline organizations and social justice movements, leaving behind a leadership gap. Dedicated funding for staff sabbaticals was offered as a tangible way to address this. On the funder side, many expressed frustration that they are unable to mobilize their local peers in philanthropy to provide support to immigrant communities due to a lack of understanding that immigration is a cross-cutting issue which intersects with other marginalized identities and priorities like education, housing, health, and employment. Addressing this requires us to center political education in our work so philanthropy can better understand these connections and help remove barriers to funding for groups employing intersectional strategies. Guiding Frameworks Development of this framework was also informed by Adrienne Maree Brown’s principles of emergent strategies which teach us to be in deep alignment with each other - as people, and with the planet. In my short time at GCIR, I’ve seen how we’ve brought these principles to life as we’ve developed our new theory of change and strengthened our internal work culture. And I have tried to carry them into my own work supporting GCIR members and movement partners. The state and local framework was developed to be adaptive and intentional in centering relational organizing. At a time when the economic, social, and political conditions of this country are shifting, we need to lead with intention and build trust. The process of creating our state and local strategy was also deeply influenced by my own experience as a community organizer. I’m grateful that I learned early on about frameworks like those from Marshall Ganz, Young People ForMidwest Academy, New Organizing Institute (now called re:Power), and others. These institutions taught me the significance of building political homes: spaces for people to come together, ideate, learn, and co-conspire. These approaches taught me that we need to meet people where they are and prioritize cross-sector, cross-movement alignment. These approaches, together with political education and clear calls to action, are essential to building an active base of individuals and institutions ready to move. Looking Ahead Since rolling out the state and local framework earlier this year, we’ve piloted virtual regional meetings, organized the first in-person gathering of the California Immigrant Integration Initiative after three years of virtual meetings, and cultivated new connections with partners in diverse localities. Our Midwest virtual meeting is coming up in September, and we are planning a site visit in East Texas later in the year to bring attention to border communities that have historically been under-resourced. We are also planning to launch working groups on key topics, including narrative change and rural infrastructure building. It’s been a busy year, and we’re excited about the possibilities for advancing immigrant justice accross the country. Development of this framework was only possible thanks to the leaders from across philanthropy, nonprofit, and movement organizations who graciously shared their time and knowledge with me. Looking ahead, we will continue to work in solidarity with leaders and organizations that are committed to ensuring that all people have the freedom to stay, to move freely, to work, to transform, and to thrive. We hope you will join us.

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