SAPP Blog Forum: Q&A about AAPIP Civic Engagement Fund’s new video on AMEMSA funder collaborative to build collective community capacity
A new video released today by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) tells the story of how several Bay Area, California foundations came together to support organizations serving Arab, Muslim, South Asian and other affected communities in the wake of 9/11—and what other funders can learn from their experience.
We have with us Laila Mehta, director of the Civic Engagement Fund (CEF) which is housed at AAPIP and developed the video. Founded in 1990, AAPIP (Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) is a national member-supported philanthropic advocacy organization dedicated to advancing philanthropy and Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The CEF is a Bay-area based collaborative fund that emerged after 9/11 to build the capacity of new and emerging organizations that served communities most impacted in this environment. To learn more and view the video, visit AAPIP’s CEF Story. There, you can also click on two newly released reports – Widening the Lens on Boys and Men of Color: California AAPI & AMEMSA Perspectives and iCount: A Data Quality Movement for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education.
Now, to hear more about the video and the CEF initiative…
Why did AAPIP develop this video?
We all know the power of a good story. The Civic Engagement Fund (CEF) can be a complex and nuanced initiative to describe, with its multiple stakeholders, layers and phases. But ultimately it is straightforward: Funders came together to leverage their resources and networks to build the social and financial capital of community-based organizations that philanthropy knew little about or deemed too risky. We thought a video would visually illustrate this story line in a compelling way and would serve as a tool to draw people in, to learn more about the unique model created through the CEF, and about Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities that continue to face unprecedented challenges while also building community and local power.
What is the takeaway message?
After providing multi-year investments in organizations and facilitating convening spaces for AMEMSA communities we learned these lessons that apply to philanthropy as well as for policy makers and community advocates:
- Partner with funders for deeper engagement and to mitigate risk
- Resource new and emerging leaders who address unique or persisting challenges
- Keep up with changing demographics & issues to stay relevant and be effective
- Engage in conversation with community organizations from the start
- Build capacities, relationships and collaborations
- Commit to long-term investment that will empower the community
- Facilitate dialogue and build bridges within AMEMSA communities
- Include racial and religious profiling in the immigration conversation
What have reactions been so far?
We showed the video to a limited audience prior to today’s public release, and it has received very positive feedback, being described as a remarkably powerful way to tell the story. We hope that the video will open up doors to talk about lessons from the Fund, and spur thinking about how other regions and foundations could invest in these communities that are still so little known or misunderstood.
How are you getting the word out?
Since AAPIP is a philanthropic advocacy organization that engages the field of philanthropy to be more democratic, justice-oriented and inclusive – both institutional and individual – we partner with a range of networks, foundations and organizations.
We are working with our current Funding partners: The San Francisco Foundation, the Whitman Institute, the Y&H Soda Foundation, the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation; and previous supporters include the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Hewlett, Packard and Irvine Foundations through the Community Leadership Partnership. We’ve also shared this with our board who are encouraged to share the video through their networks.
Grantee partners who are featured in the video include the Council of American-Islamic Relations-SF Bay area Chapter, the Sikh Coalition, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, and also ASATA, 3rdi Films, and Narika.
Some of our philanthropic network partners and allies include: National Center for Responsive Philanthropy, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, Grantmakers for Effective Organizers, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Resource Generation, D5 Coalition, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, Center for Arab American Philanthropy, and the Council on Foundations. We are also in touch with some California-based regional associations of grantmakers, such as Northern CA Grantmakers and San Diego Grantmakers.
What action do you expect folks to take after seeing this video?
Ultimately, we hope the video spurs conversation and dialogue about how funders, advocates and policy makers can come together to find out more about communities that have a stake in this country yet are so often left out of philanthropic and policy discussions and decisions. We are planning targeted follow up to help get that conversation going.
About the CEF – What was AAPIP’s role?
AAPIP convened the funding partners, the grantee partners, and also facilitated interaction and learning between the funders and the grantees. AAPIP brought funders together to invest in organizations that they knew little about or were not able to fund directly. The pooled fund model worked to leverage dollars towards the CEF, but also to encourage direct investment in some of the participating organizations. CEF facilitated a process of deeper learning about the constellation of AMEMSA organizations in the Bay Area – from arts and culture to policy advocacy to immigrant and social services to community organizing – and developed a model for shared learning and joint action among the organizations themselves. CEF also created opportunities for the funding partners and the grantee partners to come together to demystify philanthropy, and to hear how AMEMSA organizations are building bases of support, leadership and collective capacities.
AAPIP does not want to be a “go-between” among funders and community organizations. But until the time when foundations will effectively and responsively fund diverse and underserved organizations and communities directly, we will play a role to leverage, facilitate, encourage and arbitrate resources in that direction.
Ultimately, the true value of the Civic Engagement Fund isn’t in the dollars distributed, but in the capacity built and relationships developed. AAPIP is proud of our role in helping to introduce the members of the cohort to the funders and to each other—building on strengths already present in the organizations and their communities to help build bridges and build power for AMEMSA communities here in the Bay Area. We hope that other foundations around the country will build on our experience to support similar organizations in their own communities.
Why the ‘civic engagement’ lens?
Almost every AMEMSA organization, no matter what programs or projects they run, promotes or encourages their communities to become engaged through a variety of ways: attending community or arts events, volunteering, donating, organizing, voting or other ways of becoming involved and active in this country. There are multiple reasons why AMEMSA communities in particular are not civically engaged in the U.S. These organizations are striving to build an inclusive, diverse and democratic society where AMEMSA voices are included and where they themselves can reframe the narrative that has been imposed on them.
So, while some people might assume that civic engagement means becoming politically involved, we actually wanted to have a broader framework that references the goals of building public voice, leadership and community involvement.
How does this work you are spearheading address this? What is your model?
The design of Phase 2 of this initiative allows the organizations to come together three times a year to discuss common community challenges that they might not realize they have in common. They also share ideas and strategies that build a common vision in key issues: immigrant and refugee rights, civil rights, and political participation. As mentioned before, the lack of civic engagement of their communities is a consistent barrier, which makes it difficult for organizations to grow their bases and ultimately build power to change critical issues of concern. Therefore, it is a central theme of the discussions and strategizing for change.
The grantee convenings create a unique space to share more of their experiences, to break down cultural and other barriers, to build trust, and to allow the organizations to find avenues for action and collaborations that will last beyond the timeframe of this phase.
Findings from an internal reflection we conducted last year to assess our particular model include:
- Funding is key to allow new and emerging organizations the opportunity to build and leverage their assets
- Collaboration and coalition building is important
- Building organizational relationships and trust takes time and resources
- Building understanding and relationships with funders is vital to expose newer organizations to the world of philanthropy
- The AMEMSA term has been useful to put these communities on the map
- Funders must be invested beyond resources to deeply engage in learning and strategic opportunities
What are CEF’s Next steps?
We are now in the final stages of Phase 2 of a three-year initiative that provided multi-year grants and convening spaces for seventeen AMEMSA organizations to build relationships, trust, and collaborations.
We are currently engaged in strategy conversations with funders, community and advocacy groups to identify and respond to the multiple needs and strengths of AMEMSA communities and organizations. We are planning targeted funder engagement to ask grantmakers what they are doing to include AMEMSA populations in existing foundation portfolios. We are planning dialogue with foundations, giving circles and local public bodies to strategize about ways to diversify decision-making tables that address the issues that are important to AMEMSA communities, such as civic and political engagement, immigrant rights, and interfaith dialogue.
For more information or to discuss what’s happening or could be happening in your communities, reach out to Laila at firstname.lastname@example.org. SAPP thanks Laila, AAPIP and CEF for their contribution to the blog today! And don’t forget to check out the video.