Social Justice and Interfaith Understanding: Results

Social Justice and Interfaith Understanding: Results

Highlights of progress through February 2011

Strategy 1: Grantmaking to increase community engagement to identify and address social justice issues.

Grants totaling $480,659 have been awarded under this strategy. During the initial year of funding, organizations primarily focused on recruiting and training residents impacted by a social justice issue, developing an action plan, and meeting with key decision makers to discuss social justice issues.

Grantees continued to demonstrate progress toward the goal of this grant area. Participants represented a diverse set of stakeholders not often seen at the policy table, including people who are homeless, recent immigrants, and youth. Grantees have identified the social justice issues they intend to address through institutional and legislated policy change. Policy agendas included developing a local funding strategy to provide subsidized child care, establishing a Municipal Advisory Council and an Area Planning Commission in the unincorporated area of Marin City, advocating for affordable housing in Novato, working to change policies around impoundment of cars for non-licensed drivers, and changing school policies that create a safer environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.

A key area of learning from grantees is the substantial time needed to develop and guide a policy campaign, particularly one where community residents are engaged and are at the helm of the process. Policy campaigns involve a measured and strategic approach that includes collecting relevant data, crafting messages, advocating in the media, educating the community and policy makers, and building public support. This process takes time, and the impact of the policy change is difficult to measure in the short term. Decades of research regarding the impact of policy in shaping community change supports the value of policy advocacy, and the outcomes generated have the potential to create greater impact than individual direct service strategies can accomplish alone.

We have also learned that cultivating leadership among marginalized residents takes time but can have far-reaching impact. Marginalized individuals and groups often do not possess the advocacy skills necessary to carry out a policy campaign, and investments in training and ongoing coaching are needed. Developing the advocacy capacity of local residents is not only essential for the success of the current campaign but also builds the base of Marin County residents ready to identify issues, call for policy change, and carry out policy campaigns in the future. Through technical assistance provided by Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL), grantees reported increased knowledge of advocacy skills and improved capacity to engage in policy advocacy. Several grantees experienced significant wins resulting from engaging residents affected by the social justice issue being actively involved in the policy campaign.

We’ve also learned that collaborations and partnerships are critical to the campaign process. While the Foundation’s goal is to engage marginalized residents to identify and address social justice issues, partnerships with key institutions have also been a critical component of the policy campaign process. Through collaborations with religious institutions, law enforcement agencies, social service organizations, schools, and others, grantees have been able to widen their base of support, tap into new areas of expertise, and demonstrate broad support for the policy agenda.

There has been increasing recognition that focusing on change at the individual level alone is insufficient to address complex problems that are rooted in a constellation of individual, relational, institutional, and community factors. Investing in policy advocacy approaches provides the Foundation with the opportunity to address the root causes of inequality and disparities while complementing the work of the strategic initiatives and community grant areas.

Strategy 2: Grantmaking to increase collaboration and dialogue among religious institutions, faith-based communities, and community members.

Eight grants totaling $118,220 have been awarded under this strategy. Since this strategy was initiated, 28 interfaith events have been held, with 99% of participants surveyed reporting an increase in knowledge of diverse faith traditions. Events ranged in their focus and format, including book discussions, forums, community celebrations, study groups, and concerts. Three organizations expanded their efforts to deepen the interfaith work begun in the initial year. One grantee identified the need to address the dynamics impacting interfaith families, providing a different lens on the idea of interfaith understanding.

Interfaith events have attracted a variety of participants representing different religious and spiritual traditions, geographical areas, genders, and age groups. Capturing participant demographic data has been a challenge for most grantees and as a result, data tends to be observational, with some limited data coming from formal participant surveys.

According to Marin Interfaith Council, for religious institutions that serve primarily low-income and/or marginalized congregants, participating in interfaith dialogue may be considered a luxury. Religious leaders from these institutions are often functioning as quasi-social service agencies where congregants and community residents are often in crisis and turn to the faith community for spiritual guidance as well as basic safety-net support. Strategies that encourage interfaith understanding to evolve through shared service may be more effective in promoting understanding without burdening religious leaders and their congregants to participate in an external effort.

By the numbers:

Area of Measurement For period 3/10-2/11 Goal of Five-Year Plan
Number of community residents participating in social justice activities 156 750
Percent of participants at interfaith events reporting increased knowledge of diverse faith traditions 99% 75%
Number of interfaith events 34 125

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