Background: Communities of color, especially immigrant and refugee communities, struggle to be heard on almost every important community issue. Nonprofit staff from these communities, especially those who are focused on advocacy and systems-change work, are few, as there are not many pipelines to develop these leaders. If we want the voices of communities of colors at the tables addressing issues of education inequity, economic development, environmental stewardship, transportation access, etc., we must invest in developing strong leaders from within these communities. With many nonprofit leaders of color retiring in the next ten years, the gap in leadership will widen unless there is a pipeline to support the next generation of leaders to take their place.
Unfortunately, many ethnic-led organizations face constant challenges in growing their capacity, which they need in order to fully participate in civic engagement and systems-change efforts. The traditional model for capacity building tends to be top-down and/or not driven by communities, and has not been as effective as it could be. Often, assistance such as through workshops and small grants are offered, but the benefits are lost when organizations have little or no staffing to implement what is learned. Because of the lack of capacity, ethnic-led CBOs are constantly struggling for sustainability, and existing funding and partners are beyond the reach of many.
The most critical component that has been missing is staff, particularly staff who can devote the significant amount of time required to provide a “jumpstart” to building capacity. Without sufficient investment in staffing, many nonprofits will continue to face challenges in building capacity and being involved at advocacy and other areas of civic engagement.
(An infographic version of RVC, the issue we are trying to address, our project model and goals is available here.)
Project model: RVC will recruit cohorts of 10 to 15 emerging leaders from diverse communities of color each year; provide training, support, and mentorship to these emerging leaders to further develop their leadership capacity and knowledge of non-profit management, capacity building, civic engagement, and working with community dynamics; and place them to work full-time in ethnic-led CBOs to develop the organizations’ capacity. In this way, capacity and impact of ethnic-led CBOs is strengthened while leadership from within communities is deepened and supported for the long-term.
Goals: The overarching vision and goals of Rainier Valley Corps are to ensure that:
- Communities of color are better served through direct services because of stronger organizations within the communities;
- Communities of color are equally represented, engaged and influential in broader shared efforts such as those to address systems change in education equity and economic development;
- There is stronger and more sustainable leadership in communities of color and ethnic-led organizations;
- An effective model of capacity building exists that can be replicated in other regions.
Principles: The model is based on several key principles: responding specifically to the needs of communities of color, committing to long-term change, fostering mutual peer learning among leaders and organizations, and building on strengths that already exist.
Timeline and work to Date. Over a dozen refugee and immigrant CBOs serving the Rainier Valley, local funders, non-profit capacity builders and other partners have worked together since September 2012 to form Rainier Valley Corps. The work included an initial feasibility study and initial fundraising to begin implementing the project. At this time, the project is beginning a ramp-up phase to complete program set-up tasks such as fundraising and curriculum development with an anticipated launch of the first cohort in September 2015.
Funders: We have received or continue to receive support from the Gates Foundation, United Way of King County, the City of Seattle, the Loom Foundation, Social Venture Partners, the Seattle Foundation Neighbor to Neighbor Fund, the Statewide Capacity Collaborative, and individual donors
Partners. Program implementation will be co-led by the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) and United Way of King County (UWKC), bringing together complementary strengths in direct community services, relationships of trust and credibility within the CBO community, shared community values, and administrative and management capacity. We have also been working in collaboration with 501 Commons, the Nonprofit Assistance Center, Home Sight, the Seattle Foundation, Social Venture Partners, the City of Seattle, OneAmerica, the Loom Foundation, Social Justice Fund Northwest and others. Since the beginning, the project has had participation from over a dozen Rainier Valley immigrant- and refugee-led CBOs, many of whom are now serving on our Steering Committee.