GCIR's Affirmative Vision for Philanthropy

Publication date: 
March 2020

Remarks delivered by GCIR's president, Daranee Petsod, at Courage, Vision, Action, GCIR's 2020 National Convening, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers across the country—and the movement that supports them—have suffered enormously, especially over the past three years. In response, our funder community has mobilized unprecedented resources to address humanitarian needs and push back against policies that dehumanize, demonize, and criminalize immigrants. And we should all be incredibly proud of these investments.

While rapid response will be needed for the foreseeable future, we cannot afford to remain in a defensive posture. We need to articulate an affirmative philanthropic vision that not only matches but surpasses the scope, scale, and swiftness of these attacks—and the opposition’s master plan. At this critical juncture, ahead of one of the most consequential elections of our time, we have the responsibility—and the opportunity—to embrace a long-term, affirmative approach, one that seeks to transform our society into one which everyone thrives no matter where they’re born.

Having been a part of GCIR since its founding 30 years ago, and leading it for the past 21 years, I’ve seen this organization traverse many peaks and valleys in the immigration policy terrain, some opening up opportunities and others closing them.

  • Over three decades, GCIR has mobilized funders against policies that eroded the rights of immigrants, from immigration and welfare reform in 1996 to post-9/11 restrictionist policies to the current onslaught driven by hate and fear.
  • On the affirmative front, we have rallied funders around policy openings like the census in 2010 and DACA in 2012. We have also created our own opportunities, most notably our immigrant integration framework and toolkit that drove philanthropic investments for more than a decade. That body of work represented our pivot from post-9/11 defensive work to an affirmative vision for integrating immigrants into our society.
  • Several years ago, we began thinking about updating and building on immigrant integration. Then came November 2016, and we have been reeling ever since.

Against an extremely hostile policy environment, we continue to hold firmly to an affirmative vision that is grounded in values of justice, belonging, humanity, courage, and solidarity:

  • We are committed to racial, social, and economic justice.
  • We believe that belonging is essential to building strong communities and a healthy democracy.
  • We believe that everyone is connected by our shared humanity.
  • We believe that taking risks is imperative to achieve a just and equitable society.
  • We are united with other movements and communities in the pursuit of civil and human rights.

And it is from this place that we look forward to and dream big dreams about our shared future.

We embrace immigration as a defining issue of our time. Immigration is squarely at the center of our national debate. It has and will continue to have a reverberating impact across issues and communities that philanthropy cares about. It has to be an overarching consideration and a part of your analysis, regardless of your priority, approach, or theory of change.

We take the long view. Rapid response will continue to be a given, but we play into the hands of anti-immigrant forces if we don’t also invest in long-term goals. Effecting lasting change will not happen within a three-year funding cycle. Nor will the policies of the past three years—and the white nationalist movement behind them—be reversed in November, regardless of who is in power. This is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. All of us—movement leaders, funders, allies—must take the long view.

We cultivate belonging. We live in a time when people are denied their full humanity because they’re immigrants, they’re poor, they’re black, they’re brown, they’re women, they’re trans. The list goes on. GCIR’s immigrant integration framework, developed nearly 15 years ago, focused on weaving immigrants into the existing fabric of our society. This approach takes us part of the way. That’s why our new vision, inspired by the work of john powell and others, focuses on belonging. Belonging requires that we weave a new social fabric together. That we listen to, engage with, understand, and respect one another. That we co-create a society in which everyone can maintain and celebrate their identities yet feel they belong.

We champion our shared future. The threats to our society—from our democracy to our planet—are broad and existential. We cannot prevail by focusing on any single population or issue alone. We must adopt an ecosystems perspective, a movement perspective, and understand the complex interplay of various forces. As the Ayni Institute urges us to do, we must also appreciate different theories of change and explicitly acknowledge our own individual biases toward a specific theory. A future that is truly shared is only possible when we see and value one another, when we work across communities, when we bridge strategies and movements, and when we connect funding silos.

We build power to transform. GCIR’s affirmative vision is about transformation, and centering impacted communities and shifting power to them are critical to build inclusion and belonging. To move philanthropic resources to support power building, funders must tap their personal power, their institutional power, their sectoral power, and their narrative power. What can you do to build power within your institutions to support power and movement building? And, as suggested by the Immigrant Movement Visioning Process, how might you share power externally with your grantees and other partners to support a more powerful movement?

We honor our movement and field leaders. GCIR’s vision recognizes their fatigue and trauma, supports their healing, and invests in their resilience and sustainability. When we honor our leaders, we listen to them and trust them. We hold safe and brave spaces for naming and discussing fears, challenges, and failures. We stand with them when times are tough, amid transition, change, and turbulence. And we credit them for their work and celebrate their successes.

We act with courage. Courage is the heartbeat of this gathering and the foundation of our vision. How you show up as funders matters more than ever. In these dark and perilous times, every single one of us must lead with courage. What does courage look like for philanthropy?

  • Courage means shifting your mindset—from one of constraints and limitations to one of possibility and transformation.
  • Courage means taking risks, creating room for experimentation, and being willing to fail.
  • Courage means using your power, sharing your power, and supporting power building in impacted communities.

In our affirmative vision, we invite philanthropy to embrace immigration as a defining issue of our time and take the long view. We invite you to cultivate belonging and build a shared future. We invite you to support power building and honor movement and field leadership.

As you look ahead, consider the acts of courage you might take to make this affirmative vision possible. We have more power than we often acknowledge or are willing to exercise.

When you look back a decade from now, will you be able to say, “I did everything I could have done”? The future of our country depends on how each and every one of us answers this question.

Find More By