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Investing in Relationships to Build Grassroots Power

Posted By Tausi Suedi, Monday, August 22, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, August 24, 2016

If you are interested in equity, inclusion, and grassroots power, this article by Samantha Harvey of the Overbrook Foundation, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review might be worth a read.

Samantha writes about an innovative approach to building grassroots capacity, a project she and other funders have supported called Building Equity and Alignment for Impact. One aspect of the approach is patient fostering of relationships and leadership across many sectors.

What struck me most is that she is describing funders investing in relationships rather than outcomes. She says, “Recognizing there will never be enough funding to go around, it’s important to remember we can approach a restructuring of power not just through grantmaking, but also relationship-building.”

One reason this theme caught my attention is that I have just been watching as the Chesapeake Bay Funders’ Network launches a project with a similar philosophy.

The Bay Funders gave it the unexceptional name of Regional Capacity Building but buried beneath that bland title is the somewhat radical idea to support the growth of collaborative relationships across unlike partners who share a commitment to a particular place and the people who live in it.

One of those places is East Baltimore. Led by Blue Water Baltimore, the Neighborhood Design Center, and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, the East Baltimore collaborative is in its nascent stage.

With the help of a CBFN-supplied facilitator, 9 groups with very different work commitments in East Baltimore are devoting day-long meetings to figuring out how to craft common goals and a shared work plan across sectors. The East Baltimore Collaborative is one of 5 such projects across the Chesapeake region.

Partners at the table are really diverse: job training, housing and economic empowerment, community health, urban design, environmental health, community greening, neighborhood development, and watershed protection. With my Environmental Health Network hat on, I have a seat at this table.

What connects our diverse group so far is our shared philosophy of respecting community voices, supporting local leaders, and helping residents achieve a better quality of life in East Baltimore.

The Bay Funders have taken a step outside the usual focus of philanthropy and are relinquishing the demand for metrics and short-term outcomes. Instead they are investing in collaborative relationships to create more leadership capacity with limited funds.

Rebecca Ruggles, Director
The Maryland Environmental Health Network

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