Communities of Opportunity (COO) Learning Community – Building Momentum into 2021

Communities of Opportunity believes that when community members have voice and power in the decisions that impact their communities, and express it through civic engagement and leadership, it leads to broader community and policy changes that assure racial, health, and economic equity. As part of Best Starts for Kids, we believe in supporting community to design and decide on the solutions that lead to safe, healthy, thriving places for children, youth and families. There are three reinforcing elements at the heart of Communities of Opportunity’s approach to building and strengthening community-led work and relationships:   

Photo Description: Multiracial group of 4 sit and stand in discussion around a table with a large paper with writing on it.
Photo from 2018 Narrative Storytelling Workshop
  • Geographic and cultural community partnerships build on collaboration and expertise to drive change locally;
  • Policies and systems change activities create and sustain equity at all levels;
  • And the Learning Community leverages the power of collective knowledge to accelerate change.

The Learning Community supports engagement in shared learning and practice, and towards community-driven solutions, especially for smaller organizations grassroots and community-based organizations accountable to King County communities of color. Under the Learning Community model, we provide resources to support experiences and activities that deepen a collective understanding and analysis of the root causes of inequity while creating spaces and platforms to collaborate, conceptualize and refine which equity transformations and community-driven solutions are needed to actualize the healthy and thriving communities we envision. Elements of these interconnected strands of work — shared learning, critical connections, equity transformations, and capacity building — are present in all of our recent and continuing Learning Community projects and activities:

  • The Community Real Estate Stewardship Team (CREST) Learning Circle Session 2: Building Power through Community Organizing, developed and hosted by Puget Sound Sage, is supporting collaborative visioning of community organizing and explore how community organizing drives community stewardship models and can shift relationships of power and improve material conditions for our communities. The shared learnings from the CREST cohorts will support organizations to increase their capacity to become developers and community asset owners ready to move forward a community stewardship framework, including models of collective ownership and permanent affordability.
  • COVID-19 Tech Fund, providing essential support for the organizational infrastructure and technology resources of COO community partners in response to the need to pivot to online spaces and platforms for safe and socially distant interactions and remote work.
  • A “Community of Practice”, for leads of COO partnerships to provide space to engage in peer learning and facilitated activities and conversations to develop, learn and practice effective techniques and skills to build strong partnerships with shared vision, deeper relationships, trust and conflict resolution skills.
  • The Commercial Affordability Pilot Project which is working to identify and develop models, tools, and services that will increase community ownership and equitable development opportunities, and support business owners who risk being displaced from their neighborhoods. The project’s research and information gathering continues to build towards Phase 2 of the pilot — implementation, and the deployment of strategic activities and aligned funds into community.
  • A Learning Community Speaker Series that will create a platform to highlight COO partners’ work and to incite a strategic set of conversations for stakeholders to learn new innovate strategies and approaches, and learn from leaders in the field. We imagine that the series will focus on emerging themes of our current landscape of work, such as, community-driven development, community wealth building, and health and community safety policy change
  • Communications Capacity Building coaching, workshops, and technical assistance to support COO partners as they deal with the multiple challenges brought on by COVID-19, influencing organizational capacity and communications in their policy, advocacy and organizing work, fundraising, community engagement and in shifting to digital spaces.
  • Funding of 5 King County community-led projects to tell the stories of the intersections of the pandemic in their communities using participatory approaches to collect and analyze data and to develop communications materials to share these stories with broader audiences. This work will provide an opportunity to both illustrate positive community resilience in response to COVID-19 as well as illuminate needed policy and systems changes to dismantle the root causes of health and social inequities.  
  • COVID-19 response coaching for a cohort of COO community partners, focused on contingency, transition and strategic anticipatory planning, following the coaching and technical assistance provided by Wendy Watanabe of Watanabe Consultation and Sarah Tran of Sama Praxis LLC, from the collective learning space, Reflecting and Strategizing to Move Forward in an Uncertain Future. This guided facilitated support will help build frameworks, ideas and deep questions to help organizational leaders plan for the months and years ahead.
Photo from 2020 Data Storytelling Workshop shows three multiracial groups of people sitting at tables and conversing on a workshop activity.
Photo from 2020 Data Storytelling Workshop.

Why Capacity Building?

For COO, the investments into the individuals, organizations and partnerships that serve our communities for greater effectiveness, creativity, and longevity, are critical for building a pathway to a future where all communities in King County thrive. We define capacity building as supporting leadership development, organizational and partnership infrastructure, and sustained civic capacity to actualize equity – policy after policy, issue after issue, year after year. We also understand that the benefits of capacity building and the deep need for uplifting and strengthening the existing knowledge, skills and infrastructure of communities most burdened by racism are a result of the ongoing and historic patterns of resource extraction and exclusion by philanthropic and government institutions. Capacity building needs are not a sign of organizational weakness, but a result of the injustices perpetrated by systemic racism and a culture of scarcity that produces less funding for organizations serving communities with the greatest barriers to health and well-being.

This work is also crucially relational – we know that building trust and authentic relationships are necessary to sustained positive impact. And as a recent article on Transformational Capacity Building details:

Building trusting relationships takes an ongoing investment of time and resources by capacity builders and organizations, including staffing capacity, emotional labor, and funding.

Transformational Capacity Building“, Stanford Social Innovation Review (Fall 2020). April Nishimura, Roshni Sampath, Vu Le, Anbar Mahar Sheikh & Ananda Valenzuela

To this end we’re deepening our Learning Community commitments in 2021 to support healing work and deep connection building, and the creation of more capacity building spaces and tools – including those for strategic communications, facilitation, mediation, and supports for community collaborations. And, we are working to build relationships and shift systems thinking in a way that invites others to join in our commitment to a model that supports community self-determination and frameworks for equity and care that improves the health and well-being of all our communities.

What’s next?

Photo description: Woman speaking in front of a projected image from a slide show that says "The Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center. City of Seattle Equitable Development Summit 2019: Resilience and Cultural Sustainability."
Photo from 2019 Equitable Development Summit by Sharon Chang

In addition to the continuation of the projects detailed above, planning and development is currently underway for several new activities in 2021 that respond to the needs expressed by our community partners. This includes training, workshops and coaching opportunities on Finance, Real Estate, and Community Development, the development of a Legal Toolkit for Community Collaboration, and several facilitated learning cohorts and workshops focused on Movement Building Somatics, Transformative Conflict, Capacity Building for High Impact, and Organizational Storytelling/Grantwriting.

Like many grassroots and community-based nonprofits across the country, our community partners have pivoted to be flexible to community needs, and we have a continued commitment to do the same. 2020 has been an intensely challenging year as COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequities in health and well-being and increased the number of people in our communities struggling to meet their basic needs. Community organizations and leaders, especially leaders of color, are at the frontline of response efforts – while under-resourced – and are straining against the overwhelming challenges of COVID-19 in their own lives, and to their organizations and communities, while also facing a future that looks uncertain economically, politically and socially as the impacts of the pandemic continue to play out.

Our community partners have been doing critical work – both providing for the basic material needs of community members in the work to secure and sustain safe, affordable housing, economic opportunities, healthy and culturally relevant foods, educational and family supports, and in moving entrenched systems and policies towards an equitable and just future. We want to continue to create space for working across traditional sectors and silos to dream, conceptualize and refine the community-driven solutions that will lead us all in the direction of transformation and equity and actualize the communities we envision. And at the same time we want to offer the space and grace for healing and care in our activities and programming as well as in ways that shift typical expectations and burdens in funder-grantee relationships and acknowledge the strain of this moment on our communities and partners.

As Learning Community events, opportunities and tools come on-line, they will be posted to our Learning Community Resources page here. To stay updated and be involved in this work, sign up to receive the latest on Learning Community news and opportunities here, or connect directly with the COO Learning Community Program Lead, Kalayaan.Domingo@kingcounty.gov.

Lastly, we are grateful to the expertise and leadership of Sarah Tran (Sama Praxis LLC) and Communities Rise in the development of our capacity building strategies, work and engagement. As part of the collaborative approach of the Learning Community, they have been central to the co-design, planning, evaluation, and adaptation of this body of work. And in response to the impacts of COVID-19 their ability to deeply listen to and respond to the needs of our community partners has been critical to the work’s successes. We extend our thanks and gratitude to them and to all of our Learning Community consultants, community partners, and institutional partners as we look forward to next year and the work ahead.

See you in 2021.

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