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Monday, August 15, 2022

Leading With Community: A Call To Uplift Organizations At The Center Of Inequities

Ubax Gardheere

By Ubax Gardheere

Imagine if every effort to improve the Puget Sound region centered people carrying the heaviest burden of racial inequities. What lessons would we learn? What outcomes would we achieve? What harm would we avoid?

The Seattle Foundation and a cross-sector network of donors and funders are trying to find out. In April 2022, the Foundation announced that 21 community organizations would receive a combined total of $12.6 million from its Fund for Inclusive Recovery. Each of these organizations is led by people with intimate knowledge of the obstacles their communities face. Obstacles like discriminatory practices and structural racism, as well as erroneous and harmful beliefs, have weighed heavily on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color communities for centuries. This burden became all too apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With that framing in mind, the Fund for Inclusive Recovery specifically aims to support community organizations led by people of color. These leaders have the lived experience and deep relationships needed to help undo the centuries of harm done to their communities. They know where resources can be best invested to drive meaningful change.

In his 2018 groundbreaking book Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva writes, “Everyone has the potential to lead, and leadership is about listening and being attuned to everyone else. It’s about flexibility. It’s about humility. It’s about trust.”

The Fund for Inclusive Recovery is built on trust. Nonprofit organizations appreciate donor dollars but the real value of the Fund’s support is the flexibility and responsiveness of those dollars. Grantees determine how to use money from the Fund so that their organizations can best advance power and base-building – this may look like running programs, conducting outreach, or training staff.  For organizations like The United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), this means using grant dollars to form a new partnership with Sound Alliance to support more client families in advocacy work related to early childhood and K-12 education. For UTOPIA WA, this funding will help protect the rights and safety of sex workers.

For the past year and a half, I and several other local minority leaders have co-designed the Fund with Seattle Foundation. Known as the “Community Advisory Group,” we each come from communities most impacted by racism and economic inequities. As a Muslim-American woman who has experienced homelessness, poverty, and a mental health crisis, I’ve felt the pain of not having the resources to take care of myself and my children. It is my hope that no one will have to suffer this kind of pain and stigma.

By investing in minority-led and -rooted organizations, our community can make sure others have the support and resources needed to reach true prosperity and belonging.

We can also make sure funding opportunities are as accessible as possible. The Fund for Inclusive Recovery models an application process that prioritizes the quality of organizations’ work and not the perfection of their written applications. Each of the finalists and grantees allowed us the opportunity to explore their work and impact. We’re grateful for the time, energy, and resources they spent applying to the Fund. We acknowledged their efforts by providing a $2,000 honorarium. We were also intentional about not opening the application process around the holidays or periods of time off. Each grantee deserves the opportunity to rest and not worry about forming the perfect paperwork for a grant. We hope we have modeled an example for other funding institutions to follow.

The Fund for Inclusive Recovery is only the first step in creating a pathway for Greater Seattle’s inclusive recovery from the long COVID pandemic. It is an opportunity for us to center those most impacted by racial and economic disparities and to be guided by their experiences. It is a chance for us to truly create a stronger, more vibrant community for all.

Ubax Gardheere is a member of Seattle Foundation’s Community Advisory Group. She is the former Equitable Development Manager for the City of Seattle.

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