Collaboration to Drive Positive Change in Communities•
Authored by: The teams of Opportunity Nation, Council for a Strong America and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Support from the Kresge Foundation set the table for a targeted collaboration between Opportunity Nation and two great partners, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Council for a Strong America. The partnership included sharing of ideas, challenges and opportunities we see to make a larger impact that would not have happened without Kresge creating space for these relationships to deepen. To give one concrete example, the collaboration allowed us to create a webinar to teach a group of our Opportunity Leaders successful strategies for achieving state and local change.
Opportunity Leaders are grassroots ambassadors for the Opportunity Nation campaign. Many of them are young adults with first-hand experience with the barriers to opportunity in America and are now helping remove those barriers for others. They are thought and action partners who often utilize the Opportunity Index to frame local conversations and initiatives aimed at improving community conditions. We have held two successful Capitol Hill Days in Washington, DC, advocating for a set of bipartisan policy ideas aimed at expanding economic opportunity that reached dozens of offices in the House and Senate as part of an ongoing engagement strategy with federal elected officials. But we wanted to tap into the expertise of our collaborative partner organizations to equip these young advocates with new ways to drive change in their communities.
As an immediate example of how this collaboration is paying dividends, Opportunity Leaders drew on the learnings from our friends at the Center on Budget and CSA during our “Opportunity Week,” February 8-12th. During this week our Opportunity Leaders spoke out at a local and state level for increased pathways to education and careers for young people (creating more work-based learning opportunities for young people, high-quality career and technical education, reforming juvenile justice to remove barriers to re-entry, etc.).
Our call with the collaboration partners featured three speakers who have won important advocacy campaigns in states and were identified as expert speakers by our partners at the Center on Budget and CSA. Their issues of focus cover a wide terrain but their tactics are targeted and relevant for our grassroots leaders. This engaging training call for our network featured:
- Miriam Rollin, Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of Council for a Strong America spoke about their early childhood education victory in Mississippi and how they identified and mobilized the best messengers to move the effort forward — unexpected messengers, including law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, and evangelical pastors.
- Deb Fastino, Executive Director of Coalition for Social Justice and a key leader of the Raise Up Massachusetts (RUM) coalition achieved wins on minimum wage and paid sick leave using language about values, person-to-person organizing and the power of stories
- Renee Fry, Executive Director of OpenSky Policy Institute, provided data and analysis to lawmakers and other leaders that showed harmful tax legislation would have slashed funding for education and other vital services. OpenSky’s data and educational efforts with these leaders played a key role in lawmakers ultimately rejecting the dangerous measures.
Thirty Opportunity Leaders took part in this training and professional development discussion. One Opportunity Leader, Ryan in Chicago, Illinois, wrote: “It was eye-opening and inspiring, and I feel as though I’m walking away with concrete tactics and strategies to keep in mind for the future. I hope that we can have more calls like this with presenters sharing their success stories!”
The overall message was one individual, or a small group, can make a difference when speaking up on an issue and utilizing stories to pair with data and put a face on community challenges. On the call, we talked about techniques for meeting with a legislator and how doing so can move them to action and provide targeted expertise on issues their staff may lack. Our Leaders had specific questions, which drew on challenges they face in their states. The experienced advocates on the call not only shared their examples put provided answers tailored to the unique issues raised. Leaders also shared with each other strategies they have utilized and encouraging examples of actions they have taken in the past to create change to continue building a sense of agency and community within the group.
With our “opportunity week” of action, we have seen a range of diverse actions taken that demonstrate how this cohort of grassroots leaders put to work the tools and ideas garnered during this training call. We will be sharing examples of some of the exciting community mobilization and advocacy work, which has been strengthened by the rich experience shared by our partners through this collaboration. From placing passionate op-eds in local print and digital outlets to meeting with elected officials and their staff to elevating data from the Opportunity Index with local decision-makers, our Leaders have had an incredible week.
More spaces need to be created for partners with similar goals but different skill sets to come together and launch collaborations like this one. All of us involved learned from each other and are incredibly grateful to the Kresge Foundation’s foresight not only in supporting us as individual grantees but looking down the road and envisioning the potential for us to work together. Our biggest and toughest challenges will only be tackled and resolved through this type of collaboration and we need more philanthropic partnerships that incentivize and support this work.