“With the support of RVC, we’ve started mapping out our overarching work and documenting the process. We’re now thinking about what our organization and our work is going to look like three years from now, and then five years from now,” states Regina Elmi, Executive Director of Somali Parent Education Board (SPEB), a partner organization of RVC.
Regina and her grassroots organization started out very quietly. She was working behind the scenes, building trust with the community on the ground, and actively engaging with parents and local organizations already working on school reform efforts. Once SPEB gained momentum and legitimized themselves through community building and forming collective power, Regina strived to expand their outreach and programmatic work.
SPEB’s mission to close the education gap
SPEB’s vision involves closing the education gap by empowering Somali youth and promoting Somali parent leaders to engage with the education system.
“Our work involves three main areas, and they’re interconnected: Systems change, data work, and capacity building at all levels,” says Regina. “We need to recognize and work with community members, we need to disaggregate district data by race, and we need to push for family engagement and improve professional development for educators. At the end of the day, it’s all about advocacy, advocacy, advocacy.”
SPEB holds multiple community-led meetings every month, regarding systems change, navigating the education system, and advocating for family engagement. They provide workshops and inform the community about education policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels. They organize focus groups to create space for educators, parent leaders, civic leaders, and students to work together and bring awareness surrounding issues in the education system, particularly those that affect communities of color.
“We set goals and try to hold the system accountable. We challenge people to have these conversations, to set goals, and to ask, ‘How comfortable can you be when being uncomfortable?’” says Regina.
When her organization’s work started gaining traction, she looked for support with partner organizations, including RVC. She realized that SPEB’s outreach to Somali families could expand exponentially. The problem was that she had limited resources and not enough capacity to reach SPEB’s potential. Regina needed to map out and set goals for the organization’s future and build out their processes.
Receiving support through RVC’s Capacity-Building program
There are significant challenges that grassroots nonprofit organizations led by communities of color face. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple solution as the nonprofit landscape, particularly those involving communities of color, is ever-shifting and organization’s needs vary and are dynamic.
RVC, through its Capacity Building program, works to support and help alleviate these issues by providing culturally-responsive consulting, organizational assessments, and support by building out processes, refining strategic planning, and setting capacity building plans.
SPEB went from no hired staff to now having three staff members, including an RVC Community Impact Fellow. RVC is also supporting the organization through their Operations Support program, which helps SPEB with HR/accounting support, grant writing, and building infrastructure within the organization.
“Now, working with a bigger operation budget and staff, we partnered with RVC in developing strategic planning, which includes developing our own board, working on fundraising processes, documenting and setting goals for our future, and looking at different ways of building relationships, so we can better advocate for the communities that we serve,” says Regina.
Continued challenges and outlook
While SPEB has been able to expand their organization and its outreach and learn a lot through RVC’s program, there are still challenges that Regina and her organization face.
“Our growth is still ongoing and there needs to be more capacity building work. I’m, in turn, trying to support other organizations that we are engaging with. The work on the ground is really heavy, and I’m wearing many hats. My staff still needs more training from me to delegate the work, but I’m already working what feels like five jobs. I constantly feel like I’m missing out on opportunities to work with others, including big donors,” states Regina.
However, Regina is optimistic. RVC is there to continue supporting SPEB in carrying out their vital work. And with that, she is happy with SPEB’s healthy and continued growth. They persist in building relationships with community organizations and members of the Somali community, and have documented roadmaps for the organization’s future goals.
They are focused and look forward to its future. And most importantly, they continue to positively affect and reshape the lives of Somali families across the region.
To learn more about SPEB, visit speboard.org.