What does it mean to cultivate transformation? How do cross sector partnerships and collaborations support transformative work? Panelists from the beginnings of Communties of Opportunity shared their perspectives on these questions as part of the first COO speaker series event, Cultivating Community Transformation, along with lessons learned, and where they see the work moving forward.
Current COO Governance Group members, Michael Brown (Seattle Foundation, Civic Commons), Sili Savusa (White Center CDA), and A.J. McClure (Global to Local), all provided honest and forthright reflections on the difficulties of shifting systems and institutions to enter into more relational and authentic conversations with community, the early intentionality of COO to align around shared values and listen to the leadership within communities, and the work required to invest in and strengthen healthy community partnerships that drive the policy and systems changes needed for a more equitable King County.
You can watch the entire conversation here:
[someone at a foundation said] “Communities of Opportunity – it’s a great opportunity for a community.” No – it’s a great opportunity for systems! It all goes back to — I believe in the communities that are here throughout King County.– Cultivating Community panelist
COO began with an emphasis on building new kinds of partnerships — between institutions, funders and communities — that put into practice trusting that communities themselves are the experts in what they need. Starting with COO’s Governance Group, which holds a majority of seats for community representation, and including providing the time, space and supports for community partnerships to build strong and trusted relationships that are centered on aligned values and goals.
And still, working in partnership is difficult! We won’t always agree or get it right. The panelists also spoke about continuing to try to prioritize the people and relationships in the work — showing up authentically and honestly in order to have generative conversations — and shifting away from the transactional ways that traditional funder-grantee relationships have worked in the past.
‘We knew we couldn’t do this alone – that we had to enter into co-design of our initiatives and strategies with community.’
‘If we if we really can take the weight of the community to help transform um how funding happens this [COO] was the opportunity to do it. Did we get it right? Not all the time. Were we perfect? No, but at least we were able to get the County to listen to community in a different way, the Seattle Foundation to help strengthen their work in engaging community and partnering and frankly to model for other funders on how to do this work.’
‘One thing we all believe in – communities deserve to lead the work.’– Cultivating Community Transformation panelists
COO started with an intentional focus on systems and policy change for greater equity and long-term thriving, and supporting the transformative work already happening in communities to remove the barriers that exist to self-determination. COO has acted to align place and community based investments and systems and policy changes that will improve health, housing, and economic conditions across King County communities.
Getting to root causes and working upstream is a necessary part of the intentional work to achieve racial, health and economic equity — and investing in and co-designing strategies for policy and systems change is the fastest way to get us there. COO is also continuing to learn and work on the internal systems and practices that we can shift in order to work differently within our own network, including by investing in community-led research and innovation that will lead to significant impacts on the systems and policies that shape the environments we live in.
‘…when we talk about systems — it’s what are the barriers that are in place for individuals and families and households to achieve the type of prosperity or health or housing outcomes that cut across geographic communities, racial communities or cultural communities — looking upstream at the policy barriers in place and where might there be levers that can then shift the systems that are producing the barriers that have always been in place.
We’ve got to find ways of shifting policies and shifting systems that are producing inequities that we are seeing and seen for generations to get to different outcomes that go beyond a [single] geographical or cultural community place.’– Cultivating Community Transformation panelist
MORE TO COME
We are also excited for the remaining events of our six-part “Cultivating Community” Speaker Series, designed to amplify and learn from the efforts of our community-driven partners. Coming up on July 22nd from 12-1:30pm — Cultivating Community Imagination: The New Economy – in which panelists Evana Enabulele (Queer the Land). Tepatasi Vaina (UTOPIA WA), Njuguna Gishuru (People’s Economy Lab) and moderator: Deric Gruen (Front & Centered & People’s Economy Lab) will talk about their work to reinvision and reimagine land ownership, stewardship, development and our local economies.