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Sticking Together, While Staying Apart

People walking together but sepeaated by distance

Is it just me or is 2020 turning out to be much more complicated than any one of us could have imagined?

It’s Tuesday, March 17. Our kids should be in school. Our employees should be in the conference room. Our restaurants and retailers should be open for business. Instead, we’re doing everything in our power to make our daily routines as uninterrupted as possible in a world where nothing is normal anymore.

COVID-19 will challenge us on many levels in the coming months. It will challenge us as parents, as business owners, as foundation and nonprofit executives, and as individuals who need to keep work going even when everything around us feels like it’s come to a screeching halt.

What I know for sure is that our community is a profoundly kind one and that each of you have the grit, perseverance, and resilience to guide your organization, your colleagues, and your community through this time of unknown.

The reality is it’s hard to know what to do, and how to stay focused when the situation is still unfolding.  So, while you’ve had no shortage of coronavirus messages in your inbox, I wanted to share a few of the most impactful tools I’ve seen come through, should they be helpful to you as well:

  1. On shifting your team to remote work. Last week, I made the decision to move Mission Partners to a remote working policy through at least March 27th. For those considering the same, I’ve offered a link to our announcement, as well as our health and safety best practices should you find the resource helpful.  I also wanted to pass along the amazing crowdsourced resource that Amira El-Gawly of Manifesta shared in her newsletter, which really helped my team develop the above health and safety best practices document.

  2. On managing well while remote. It’s one thing to make the decision to go remote, and another to manage well in a remote working environment. I loved this article from our friends at the Management Center with excellent tips for staying connected even while apart. Read their tips.

  3. On communicating through crisis. The awesome team at CommNet has started a Coronavirus Crisis Comms Triage Kit — an Open Google Doc to share and crowdsource best practices, resources, and examples of effective crisis comms covering many of the tasks you’re attending to. Access the kit.

  4. On helping where it’s needed most. There will be no shortage of community nonprofits who can benefit from support, but if you’re looking for a group to help now, we hope you’ll donate to Manna Food. For the estimated 63,000 people who regularly experience hunger and food insecurity in Montgomery County, COVID-19 presents unique challenges. Families with limited means, particularly seniors on fixed incomes, often don’t have the resources to stockpile groceries and supplies, and they don’t have the ability to weather the self-quarantine that the CDC recommends as a crucial step in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the community. And the 3,000+ kids who rely on free and reduced-price meals are in danger of not having that food resource over the weekends with schools now closed. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to help someone else through this public health crisis, I invite you to donate to Manna, and contribute to #foodforall.

  5. On pro bono support. And finally, if there’s anything you need through this crisis, related to communications, crisis, or fundraising strategy, including the virtual facilitation of meetings and media trainings, I hope you’ll turn our way. We are offering our services at significant discount through May, including up to 5 pro bono engagements to help nonprofits, foundations and associations with messages, materials development, donor communications, and crisis strategies related to COVID-19. Schedule a call with me here to discuss your immediate communications needs.  And if you’re in need of a service beyond what we can provide, turn to this terrific DC-area small business list first- a collection of small businesses who greatly benefit from your business in these trying times.

I’ve built my business on a commitment to using business as a force for good, and I don’t intend to stop now.  Sending you strength, health, and good things to come.

Carrie Fox (she/hers)
Founder and CEO
Mission Partners, A Benefit LLC
carrie@mission.partners

Edited to Add on 4/6/2020: Since the original publication of this article, our business is now remote until at least April 27th. While we have also already reached capacity on our pro bono engagements, we are still continuing a discount through May 2020 for COVID-19 support. If this message resonated with you and you would like to learn more about how we can help with your own messaging to push your organization through these unprecedented times, please contact us today.

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Just Business

When we’re asked what it means to be a Certified B Corporation®, we often tell people that our business model sits between that of a traditional for-profit business and a non-profit organization. As a Benefit LLC in the state of Maryland, we are legally held responsible for considering people, planet, and profit in every decision we make. And as such, we have a heightened sense of responsibility about our actions to ensure that we build a business that is equally good for our employees, good for our clients, and good for our world. 

It’s one thing to say that, and another to dig deep into what it means to say that.  

We are not only a Certified B Corporation, but a founding signatory of We The Change, a movement led by fellow women-owned B Corporations, who believe as we do in building a radically inclusive and richly regenerative economy.  That is to say: an economy where business can work for everyone, and for the long term. 

Building a business like this requires deep analysis of the systems, structures and institutions at the core of traditional business and employment models to ensure we foster an environment that supports our commitment to justice and racial equity, and that is in line with our stated values.  Because if a business commits to being a force for good, it must also be deeply committed to challenging barriers that inhibit equal outcomes in business. It must be committed to actively identifying and eliminating racism, sexism, classism, ableism, anti-semitism, ageism and heterosexism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power can be redistributed and shared equitably. It is those -isms that have supported and maintained the long defined societal norm in North America (white heterosexual male leaders who are Christian, living without disability, and who have access to wealth, resources and networks), and which limit a society’s ability to achieve true equity among its people.

It’s been an especially interesting journey given the work we do. As strategic communications consultants working at the intersection of policy, philanthropy, and public relations, we’ve been at the decision-making table with dozens of nonprofits and foundations as they have taken on issues of race and gender in their work: in grantmaking, Board development, hiring and recruitment, all the while pushing our company along the same complicated, often uncomfortable, but necessary path.

Yet, for all the work we do with foundations and nonprofit organizations, many of whom have begun to document their race equity plans as well, there is far less of a barometer for business leaders, especially for small businesses like ours.

And so, over the last few years, members of our team—including current and former employees and contractors across the business—have worked to identify, disrupt, and address policies, systems, and situations where we see signs of white privilege and power and other inequities at play. 

It has not been easy. Shifting power to an envisioned end state of distributed power and racial equity—when race or immigration status is no longer correlated with one’s outcomes and when everyone has what they need to thrive—requires a willingness to get messy. It requires a vulnerability to try even when the right words aren’t easy to find, and a commitment to wholly transform how business operates, knowing that the end result of employing high impact practices through an equity lens is a business model that works for everyone, and for the long term.

As this journey requires regular reflection, accountability and continuous commitment, we wanted to share some of our practices for those going through, or considering, a similar process. We share this framework as a tool for other businesses, and as a public barometer and internal accountability reminder to ourselves that there remains a long way to go within our own practice. For those who are interested, you can also email Carrie or Arron to request a complete copy of our Race Equity Action Plan, which will be released in the coming months.

What follows are some of the commitments included in our plan, and a sampling of the actions we are taking to advance and realize equity:

  • Build a racial equity lens into our organization’s strategic planning policy, priority setting process, and issue area strategy and implementation work. We have long deployed a high impact model of project management, but in 2020, we intentionally added a race equity lens to every project we take on. Our Equity Accountability Practice includes team members from across the organization who bring diverse perspectives and experiences, who are being trained in a shared language of equity, and who will hold fellow team members accountable to using the most racially equitable processes in our planning, research, client service, project management, materials and campaign development.  This commitment requires continuous learning and will never come to an end.
  • Remove bias from the hiring process while building equitable pathways to wealth-building opportunities and senior leadership roles for all employees. In 2019, we re-engineered our hiring practices, organizational chart, and leadership team to ensure that every member of the organization can realize a path to leadership, including opportunities to build ownership stakes in the business. We understand that having a diverse staff is itself an essential goal as minorities become the majority and as a lack of diversity increasingly has a business cost. Research shows that employers with more diverse workforces experience better rates of innovation and, as Neilson reported recently, “with 43% of the 75 million Millennials in the U.S. identifying as African American, Hispanic, or Asian, if a brand doesn’t have a multicultural strategy, it doesn’t have a growth strategy.”
  • Eliminate adverse outcomes and barriers caused by the systems of oppression within our work and communities. We take seriously our role as an employer and good community partner. We create an environment for all to thrive by offering a robust healthcare plan, flexible work from home policies, and paid parental leave, as well as a cash benefit to offset travel to the Mission Partners office. While most small businesses do not offer a 401K, we offer a plan that guarantees a minimum 3% investment to all employees after one full year of service, including access to impact investing funds that are in line with our company’s core values.
  • Actively challenge policies and systems, internally and externally, that perpetuate oppression, discrimination and inequities.  For years, we have led with a person-first approach to communications. We believe that the words we choose and the way we use them characterize our identity, manifest our belief system and join us or disconnect us from those with different identities. As language changes, we adapt and change to ensure we are using the most thoughtful and inclusive language possible. We do not always get it right but we are determined to keep learning. We center inclusiveness in our language and counsel our clients on how to reframe their communications to remove instances of discriminatory, stereotypical or biased language while creating messages and materials that enable everyone to feel that they are being reflected in the work.   
  • Support the efforts of organizations that serve those most affected by inequity and strengthen our role as an effective partner to those organizations. We are intentional about the clients we support which creates an even greater imperative to achieve, model, and spread equity as a company and partner to these important allies. Through our work with AIDS United, we helped raise public awareness and Congressional support for HIV/AIDS funding in the Deep South where there is a disproportionate number of African Americans living with HIV/AIDS due in part to limited access to quality health care. On another project, working as an evaluator for Slack, we helped establish a blueprint for replicating an apprenticeship pilot program to shift perceptions and eliminate stigma about the workforce potential of formerly incarcerated individuals. And, our work with the Family Independence Initiative helped elevate the importance of access to choices, capital and social connections to help families lift themselves out of poverty. 
  • Prioritize Black and Woman-Owned Vendors. We are proud of the alliances and partnerships we’ve built that support our equity vision. More than 65% of Mission Partners vendors are women-owned businesses including five organizations identifying as Black-led, African-American-led or Person of Color-led (PoC-led). In 2020, we will further diversify our team of faculty to support Mission Forward webinars and programming, supporting our commitment to elevate and promote diverse talent.
  • Create an ongoing dialogue to explore key concepts including cultural, structural and institutional racism, white privilege, and community partnership, especially within the content of our issue areas. Our Mission Forward series of events is both a platform for us to convene leaders on key topics as much as it is a platform for us to be in conversation and relationship with those most impacted by inequities. We conduct quarterly employee surveys to check in on our progress towards a more racially just and inclusive company, and since 2014, we’ve hosted community gatherings, workshops and trainings to learn and grow as a team and to build more equitable communities.

It is our intent to hold ourselves accountable to these goals and actions and to adhere to these values. As such, we invite you to join us for an upcoming conversation on this exact topic when we convene on March 27 for our annual spring convening on The Business Case for Race Equity, which we are hosting in partnership with Leadership Montgomery.

If you are working through a race equity plan for your business, or if you have expertise that you can share, we hope you will consider joining us on that day.  You can learn more and reserve your seat here, or reach out to us if you’d like to set up a conversation to talk more deeply about what it means to build an inclusive economy, together.

Carrie Fox and Arron Neal

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The Words Matter

By Elena Hilton

One of my favorite movies of the past few years is Arrival, which stars Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who’s recruited to figure out how to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth. I’m not one for sci-fi stories, but as a writer, I love how the movie centers on the role that language and communication play in expressing who we are, how we think, and how we view the world. Words are more than just letters strung together. They shape our ideas, how we process information, and how we form judgments. And they are among the most powerful tools we have.

During my first month at Mission Partners, I took part in Mission Forward’s Race and Identity Training. I learned so much valuable information during that one-day session, but the activities around equitable and inclusive language stood out to me most. Prior to the training, I thought I had the tools to incorporate equity into my work, but it’s less about knowing everything, and more about continuing to learn and question the systems as I know them. In the workshop, we addressed our own identities, where we hold power and privilege, and where we are often pushed to the margins. My identity as a white woman in the United States allows me certain unearned privileges because of my race, while my gender means I must navigate the effects of sexist cultural values and policies. 

To that end, I wanted to share some tips I took away from our Race and Identity training, and continue to use in my day-to-day work at Mission Partners. Hopefully they will spark some a-ha moments for you, too:

  • Labels don’t apply to everyone.

Our brains are constantly searching for ways to categorize information through labeling, but certain words and phrases that might be embraced by some, could be shunned by others. When thinking about how to describe individuals and communities, it’s important to remember there are no “one-size-fits-all” labels. As a white woman, the most important thing I can do is ask, listen, and research, because my identity means there are many community experiences I don’t know firsthand. When discussing communities, I make a concerted effort to determine how those communities refer to themselves. When discussing individuals within communities, I’ve found the best course of action is to ask what terms they’re comfortable with, listen, and adapt to people’s preferences.

  • Think twice about the word “empower.”

“Empower” seems like a bold, positive word, doesn’t it? I definitely thought so, but during Mission Forward’s Race and Identity training, I learned to think about it from a different perspective. When we say an organization or a movement is empowering people, what we’re really saying is that those individuals don’t have power or agency on their own and require help from outside forces. Of course, that’s not true. Instead of using the word empower, consider using “support,” “offering tools,” or “working together to achieve a goal.”

  • Say what you mean.

Racially-coded language is embedded in so much of our day-to-day communications, you might not even realize how certain words have contributed to bias and discrimination. When writing, take a step back and think about what your words imply, paying careful attention to common phrases. One of the most commonly used terms when talking about young people who live in under-resourced communities is “at-risk.” Ask yourself, at-risk of what? Living in a certain area doesn’t make you a risk. A young person living in an under-resourced community shouldn’t feel like they are to blame for the institutionalized barriers impacting their life. 

Don’t be afraid to call out systems of oppression. A word that gets avoided a lot is racism, especially in reference to statements made by people in positions of power. If something is racist, say it’s racist. Don’t say it’s “racially charged” or “inappropriate.” In fact, many news outlets, such as NPR, have explained their decision to label some of President Trump’s tweets racist. By explicitly calling out racist tropes, NPR listeners who weren’t familiar with the history of the phrase “go back where you came from” had an opportunity to learn. So, let’s call racism what it is so we can work to address it by offering solutions on how we can move towards combating it.

If you, like me, are always searching for ways to make your communications materials more thoughtful and inclusive, I’d encourage you to check out this resource that’s been enlightening for me: SumOfUs.org’s Progressive Style Guide.

  • When in doubt, use statistics.

Data is your friendwhen used correctly. Words alone pose a challenge in crafting a complete, accurate narrative. “Aggregating” data by lumping groups together usually is not the right course of action, as it can erase identities. For instance, think twice before saying you have statistics on “Hispanic women.” Categories like this are typically far too overarching and likely can’t fully depict the individual cultures and backgrounds that fall within them. Disaggregated data ensures that people in communities are not viewed as a monolith. 

To offer some ideas, data points and research could be used to dispel the myth that the racial wealth gap is the result of individual actions. Or you could use data to show how racism causes higher Black maternal mortality rates and many other health-related problems. Just keep in mind that research, like language, can hold biases based on how its compiled, so do your due diligence to ensure the statistics and data at hand aren’t worsening or ignoring existing disparities. 

  •  Use people-first language.

The simple way you place a word to either be an adjective or a noun can make all the difference in how your audience thinks about the person you’re describing. Instead of saying “homeless person,” reframe your syntax to say a person experiencing homelessness. Instead of “foster child,” say child in foster care. People are so much more than their situations and environments. 

  • Continue learning.

What I am learning here at Mission Partners is using equitable and inclusive language doesn’t happen without effort. It requires an intentional commitment to continually learning about intersectionality and applying that knowledge on a daily basis. Above all else, know that communication has the power to shape our thinking and our culture at large. When you mindfully choose inclusive and equitable language, you’re helping to encourage a more inclusive and equitable world. 

Interested in learning more about how you can bring equity and inclusion to the forefront of your work? Reach out to us for a cup of coffee, or join us at Mission Forward’s next Race and Identity Training on December 11. 

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The Power of Equitable Design (And 3 Tips to Become a More Inclusive Communicator)

By Eleni Stamoulis

“Design creates culture.”

One of my professors from grad school said this to my class when teaching us about the ethics of graphic design. He then showed us national campaigns he designed that sexualized women or encouraged young people to smoke. He was not proud of these successful designs, but shared them with us to show what our responsibilities were as young designers. It was the first time I realized that my work as a graphic designer has a much larger impact than simply conveying information in a visually appealing way.

Since starting at Mission Partners, I’ve been able to see first hand the impact design has on how messages are received and audiences are engaged (or left behind). Every day, we think about these intended and unintended consequences in our work, realizing that there’s design in everything we do and every decision we make—whether designer is in our title or not. We practice inclusive marketing and equitable design, which works to create social change through design and reflects our diverse world. In essence, it is “design for good.

We are a visual society. With the explosion of social media, the visual literacy of our culture has only increased. Think of how many platforms are purely image-based and why social content with images produce 180% more engagementImages are a common language we can all understand. But, if you were to go through today building a collection of all the images you see on social media and in digital advertising, what do you think you’d find? And what—or who—might be missing? In inclusive marketing and equitable design, the images and graphics that are being put out into the world should reflect the diverse and accepting world we want for the future—a world with less hate.   

As I reflect on my own growing practice of equitable design, I wanted to share the top three tips that I think can benefit all communicators—including those who don’t have “designer” in their title: 

1. Be more intentional about stock photography. 

It’s important to show a variety of races, cultures, genders, sexual orientation, ages, abilities, and body types. But also be aware of the positioning and context of the photo. For example, in a recent project, a coworker sent me this photo to use. The image depicts a brainstorming session in a workplace, with a mature, white man in the center writing on the glass wall, with a Black woman on the right and a white woman on the left. While it’s a great photo, it shows the white, male figure as the leader, consequently putting both women in a subordinate role. The image subtly perpetuates the societal notion that white, males are the leaders in the workplace. Instead I sent my coworker two alternative images to use—both are similar brainstorming sessions with sticky notes on the wall. The first shows an Asian woman at the front of the group and the second photo, a Black woman (actually the same Black woman from the original photo). These two images conveyed the same message, but a woman of color was in the leadership position. While this may seem subtle, it’s a small way to challenge existing assumptions and stereotypes. My favorite sites for diverse, free stock images are Unsplash.com, Pexels.com, Burst by Shopify, and Nappy.co. (If you can invest some money into stock imagery, I suggest PhotoAbility.net and RepresentationMatters.me for great photos of people with differing abilities and body shapes, respectively)

2. Make your design accessible for people with differing abilities. 

Don’t forget that inclusive marketing materials and equitable designs don’t just consider what goes into the final product, but who will see and read them. It can feel overwhelming to think about all the accessibility issues that need to be addressed, but your social media is a great first place to begin. Start by adding alt text to your images so people with visual impairments can enjoy them as well. Alt text, or alternative text, is used to convey the information that the visual represents when it cannot be seen by the user. For people using screen readers, this is the text that is used to explain the photo or image. Adding it is slightly different for each platform so simply Google “How to add alt text on [insert social media platform]” to find out how. Other ways you can ensure accessibility in your designs is to run graphics through a colorblind simulator or add captions to a video. 

3. Make sure the images match the words/message. 

When all is said and done, words are unbeatable in their ability to be precise and detailed. It is important that your message is consistent across both the visuals and the written language. Not only will the message be clearer for your audience, it will be a more powerful, memorable, and lasting message.The visuals of a project are often dictated by the message, so it’s important to make sure your message is clear/provides a solid foundation to build on. If you’re interested in creating a message centered on equity or in getting more tips on the good work you’re already doing, register for one of our Mission Forward® workshops on equity. We host two separate workshops that can help you be more equitable in your language: 

  • Race + Identity Workshop works on building shared language for addressing and reducing harmful environments at work, providing guidance on effective practices and the latest language around diversity, equity and inclusion. Our two-pronged approach addresses both institutionalized racism and oppression as well as the interpersonal racism and oppression. 
  • Equity + Design Thinking Workshop helps you work through your stickiest communication challenge. You’ll learn how to apply a human-centered, equity lens to very specifically to your communications materials, messages and process. Our team will help you work through your current or upcoming communication materials to make sure you are communicating through an equity lens and finding the right solutions to the problem.

As Antionette Carroll, founder and creative visionary of Creative Reaction Lab has said, “Design is the intentional and unintentional impact behind an outcome.” And, as we often remind our clients and workshop attendees, we are ALL designers, even if we don’t have the degree or title. Every decision we make, every message we develop, has consequences and can easily reinforce or break long held stereotypes and biases. There’s great power in design—and equitable design ensures that you can use that power for good.

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Four Ways that Organizations Miss the Mark on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts

Two people of different races and genders sitting in front of their laptops

By Becky George

It has long been known that there are quite a few gaps to fill in the arena of diversity, equity and inclusion. Often, well-intentioned organizations try to tackle this work in some capacity but, in reality, may not have the resources or people-power to make it as effective as possible.  

At Mission Partners, we have committed to boldly speaking equity and working towards a more just world. We lead with racial equity and steer away from diversity-only conversations. Internally, we model how one might address this in their own workplace and want to share learnings and pitfalls. We have years of experience helping organizations develop their own equity action plans to meet and exceed their goals on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Our Mission Forward® Race + Identity workshop is an important first step that provides guidance on effective practices and the latest language around diversity, equity and inclusion. Our two-pronged approach addresses both institutionalized racism and oppression as well as the interpersonal racism and oppression. We understand the importance of recognizing how these two levels of oppression cannot be solved without addressing the other. Unfortunately, we have seen this happen repeatedly which prevents progress from occurring. 

Here are some of the ways we’ve seen organizations miss the mark on equity work: 

  1. Hiring a “Diversity Officer” – Without full buy-in from all of senior leadership, staff members who are hired for this type of position may not be set up for success. Goals and deliverables set for this person will likely not be met due to an organization’s competing priorities.
  2. Letting work crises push equity work off the table – In times of crisis, it is easy to let things fall by the wayside to focus on what must happen to end the crisis. However, if equity-based work is not at the center of crisis strategy then the communities who need the support most will likely not be prioritized well.  
  3.  Relying on people of color to own all the “diversity” work – Although it is important for people of color to be key stakeholders and leaders in the work, it is a pitfall when they are the only stakeholders in the work. It is the duty of everyone within the organization to take ownership of the work to move into progress. 
  4. Continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done – If organizations do not take the time to examine their policies, practices and procedures, they risk replication of ongoing inequitable standards. 

The concept at the center of our Race + Identity workshops is to build a culture of empathy as well as develop shared language on racism. We use the time to brainstorm and learn what has and has not worked within organizations to create the next steps on how to implement more actionable equity plans in the workplace. 

| At Mission Forward®, we create transformational trainings that model what is possible in the world. We believe that the future will be inclusive and just. 

Each month, we bring together six thoughtful participants who are ready to tackle racial equity in their workplace and give them practical tools to do the work. As with all of our other workshops, we take a person-first approach in centering equity and justice. Soon, we will be debuting our executive-level Race + Identity workshop for C-Suite leaders and other senior leadership members. Contact us at connect@mission.partners to hear more. 

Our workshops are adaptable and relevant. No matter the industry or the discipline, whether you work on issues of healthcare or housing, to authentically center equity, there must be a willingness to talk about race and center anti-racism in all of our work.

To learn more about Mission Partners’ upcoming Race + Identity Workshops, and to reserve your seat, visit MissionForward.us

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On Brave Actions and Bold Speak

By Carrie Fox

Above my youngest daughter’s bed hangs a framed sign that reads “Be Brave”.

My husband and I were intentional in hanging that sign, and we remain focused on instilling its message in our children: to stand up for what is right, to speak up when something feels wrong, and to use their voices and actions for good in this world.

But on this third Monday in January—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—when the complexity of their young questions is mounting— about the world we live in, about the actions of those in power, and about the federal workers, small businesses owners and families hurting in this government shutdown— those two words “Be Brave” are far easier to speak than they can be to live.

This weekend’s protests at the Lincoln Memorial—including a now viral incident of young people hooting, hollering and mocking a Native American activist and Vietnam veteran—reinforce my sense of urgency as a parent, a business owner, a board member, a Girl Scout troop leader, and a white woman of privilege. I must be willing to do the hard work: to acknowledge and leverage my power, to bold speak when I witness injustice, and to own when I have allowed an injustice to occur if I am to raise racially-conscious, brave and bold girls. Professionally, I must expect just as much from myself if I am to build a racially-conscious business.

“Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Frankly, it’s hard to know if I have the tools that this requires. And it’s hard to know how best to translate the same lessons I’m working to instill in my daughters to our work at Mission Partners. But I know one thing for sure: we learn to be brave by watching. We learn by what we see, and what we don’t see.

Remaining silent on issues of race and injustice at home or at work is the worst we can do. And so, just as we intentionally hung that sign above our daughter’s bed, and just as we’ll intentionally mark Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life this weekend in service, there are a few other intentional changes we’re making at Mission Partners this year that I hope will inspire other brave actions, as well.

  1. We’re strengthening our skills in bringing Race to the table. Last year, Mission Partners committed publicly to advance issues of equity in our work, but this year, we’re naming it. We started this year with a frank conversation on the themes in Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, and we recently invested in Race and Identity training for all full-time employees. We hired Becky George, as our full time Director of Community Engagement, who will bring these same skills to our clients and network. And every Tuesday from here on out, we’ll feature a story on our weekly newsletter that sheds new light and understanding on issues of race in the workplace. Our personal commitment to addressing individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism will be a theme for this entire year and will extend into everything we do as a team.
  1. We’re creating new platforms to bold speak. Mission Partners last week hosted the first meeting of our Loyola University Social Impact Fellows, with 12 brave students who will journey this year together, identifying injustices around them, building the muscles to bravely explore solutions, and boldly speaking out for change. This group of undergraduate students across disciplines will work together over the course of the next 10 months to advance issues of social justice in communities where we live, learn, and work. If and when we don’t feel we have the tools, we will build them, together.
  1. We’re prepared to challenge injustices when we hear and see them. Throughout this year, Mission Partners will place a continued focus on questioning, challenging, and boldly speaking up about the systems around us. We will use every communications skill we have to advocate for social change and systems change in our communities. We’ll challenge clients when we hear words that reinforce negative stereotypes, and we’ll speak up when we see actions that reinforce racism, because we know, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

This is a moment in time to be brave and to bold speak, but it certainly won’t end at the close of this new year.  At Mission Partners, our way of working with one another and with our clients is steeped inside understanding, learning and applying a racial equity lens to all that we do- this year and every year moving forward.

If we’re lucky, our Congress will choose to be brave this year, too. But while we wait for necessary signs of progress there, it’s time right now to get to work here—to use the tools we have to bravely act and boldly speak in the name of justice.  Our kids and our future deserve no less.

 

 

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The 5.5 Million Women Protest in Kerala You Should Have Heard About

Vanitha Mathil - Womens Wall // Vincent Pulickal-EPS

By Becky George

On New Year’s Day,  our world experienced a beautiful display of women standing together in solidarity against gender inequity.  Reports state millions of people in Kerala, India stood together to create a literal 385 mile vanitha mathil or “women’s wall,” in contestation of  the Sabrimala Temple’s refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that lifted a ban on women from entering the temple. My family hails from Kerala and for as long as I can remember, I have known that I am a descendant of fiercely powerful women. Malayalee women have an undeniable strength in their being. Perhaps it was the courage of my aunt who left her home in Kerala to create a better life for her children while paving the way for her sisters and cousins. Or the determination of my mother who somehow convinced my father to leave his comfortable home to put down roots across the world in Texas. Maybe it was the thoughtfulness of my family to ensure I always had a connection back to their birthplace. Possibly, it was the bravery of my cousin that led her to leave an abusive marriage to create a better life for herself and her daughter.  These stories of the women in my life, among many others, are the reason I work towards building a better world for future generations. With the support of my family, I have spent my entire adulthood fighting for women’s rights and justice here in the United States. It is also because of my family that my story will always be connected to Kerala.

In September of 2018, India’s Supreme Court voted 4 to 1 to confirm the ban on women or girls of menstruating age from entering the Sabrimala temple in Kerala was unconstitutional. “The golden-roofed temple, which is thought to be more than 800 years old, is considered the spiritual home of Lord Ayyappa, a Hindu god of growth. Nestled atop a steep mountain amid a lush green tiger reserve, it’s the site of one of the world’s largest annual pilgrimages, with millions of Hindu devotees making the journey each year. Sabarimala had previously been off limits to women of menstrual age on religious grounds, with proponents of the ban arguing that since Ayappa is considered celibate, allowing “impure” women into the shrine would be disrespectful. Others have maintained that women cannot complete the 41 days of penances, a condition required to undertake the pilgrimage.”[1] Since the protest, three women have managed to access the temple, sparking outrage and violence from opponents of the Supreme Court ruling. Many are calling this time period the “Kerala Renaissance.”

Kerala, known for its beautiful lush green landscape, stunning backwaters, and delicious food—Anthony Bourdain once raved about it—is also known for fostering a long history of women’s rights’ movements, holding the highest literacy rate and lowest sex-selective abortion rate in India. Kerala was the first state in the country to open a school for transgender students, which provided a safe space for learning and decreased dropout rates. In short, Kerala’s history of women’s empowerment and gender equity in India was the foundational support to this event. The demonstration was a collaboration of 176 social and political organizations with the support of the Kerala government. One of the protest organizers aptly said, “Social change doesn’t happen in a day. It needs time. But with these small steps, we’ve made it easier for the next generation to embrace it.” [2] Perhaps this will be the catalyst for systemic change in India beyond patriarchal ideas on menstruation and a move towards higher levels of girls receiving education, lower rates of female infanticide, and true equality for women in the country.

Starting the new year with this story from my motherland gives me such hope for the year. I am inspired to continue to fight inequities based in the systems of oppression of the United States. Here at Mission Partners, we work towards creating more equitable communities and are inspired by this moment in India. As we map out the strategy for the year, we are determined to dismantle the systems in place that prevent liberation and equity.  We stand with the women of Kerala and hope you will as well.

[1] “Sabarimala temple history – Tag – Konitono.” https://www.konitono.com/tag/sabarimala-temple-history/. Accessed 5 Jan. 2019.

[2] “Millions Of Women In India Fan Out For 385 Miles To Champion … – NPR.” 4 Jan. 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/01/04/681988452/millions-of-women-in-india-join-hands-to-form-a-385-mile-wall-of-protest. Accessed 5 Jan. 2019.

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Time to Begin Again

Another year has arrived and with it, millions of little moments to start anew. New routines. New commitments. New projects that will surely pull us in all sorts of directions. But isn’t that the beauty of new beginnings? We get a fresh start, each day a blank page, and each day an opportunity to move towards making our world a better place for everyone.

At Mission Partners, 2018 gave us a solid glimpse for what’s to come in this year ahead. As our nation continues to grapple with issues of justice and equality, our work was and will continue to be bound together by a commitment to build more equitable communities, and a fierce acknowledgement in the power of people to break down barriers and build connecting lines between even the most divisive of issues.

In 2018, we

  • developed bold new strategic plans for nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible organizations who committed to increase their impact—and to challenge the status quo.
  • built fresh, new narratives that led with strength and simplicity—and that were based on insights gleaned through research—about housing, health, higher education, philanthropy, and public media.
  • led and facilitated board meetings and community convenings that challenged long-held ways of working, and identified new solutions to bring often unheard voices to the forefront.
  • hosted and facilitated community meals and working groups to drive changes in antiquated systems, including philanthropy and the workplace.
  • designed creative campaigns that presented the impact of established organizations in new ways, driving increased community impact and engagement.

Perhaps most importantly, we committed ourselves even further to the work of equity, inclusion, and identity in our practice with clients and in our own organization. We expanded our leadership team with Becky George as Director of Community Engagement, which will allow us to scale our Mission Forward trainings, workshops, and convenings in the year ahead, and we elevated Bridget Pooley to Director of Client Services to ensure that our work and impact is consistently strong across all projects and teams. We introduced a new series of Equity + Design Thinking Workshops, and we’ll soon begin offering a new workshop series focused on deepening conversations around Race + Identity.

We believe that communications and collaboration can change the world. In this new year, we plan on challenging ourselves to be the best we can be for ourselves and our community. We look forward to building a better future with you in the year ahead.

With gratitude in our hearts and fervor in our souls,

Carrie Fox

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Do I Belong Here?

people walking across a busy intersection

Last month, NBC News’ Generation Latino blog published the story of 18-year old Jason Mero, who headed off to Brown University this fall, “proudly staking claim to his Latinx heritage, but mindful that the sacrifices his immigrant parents made for him.”

Born in Queens, New York, to parents who emigrated from Ecuador 30 years ago, Mero would ruminate with his family growing up about the challenges facing an American with Hispanic roots: how to deal with a more hostile environment against Latinos, and how to assert his U.S. citizenship, his birthright, while staying connected to his community.

What stuck with me about Jason’s story is how, in a country built in part on immigrants, so many people across ethnic and minority groups are actively questioning if they belong here. And how, in this divided America, we ever get beyond that feeling.

Competing Narratives

There are so many “competing narratives” about the American experience. The New York Times’ David Brooks has argued that there are four, to be exact.  As said in this column, “Different groups see themselves living out different national stories and often feel they are living in different nations.”

A Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends study from a few years ago found that most young Latinos are “satisfied with their lives, optimistic about their futures, and place a high value on education, hard work, and career success. Yet they are much more likely than other American youths to drop out of school and to become teenage parents. They are more likely than white and Asian youths to live in poverty. And they have high levels of exposure to gangs.”

As Pew stated in its report, “these are attitudes and behaviors that, through history, have often been associated with the immigrant experience. But most Latino youths are not immigrants.”

Like Jason, two-thirds of Latino youths were born in the United States, many of them descendants of the big, ongoing wave of Latin American immigrants who began arriving in this country around 1965. According to Mark Hugo López, director of global migration and demography research at the Pew Research Center, one million Hispanic-Americans will turn 18 this year and every year for at least the next two decades.

Sitting here in Washington in the lead up to this year’s midterm elections, one particularly loud narrative is the role that Hispanic and Latino voters will, or will not, play in determining the outcomes of the election. But, there’s far more at stake beyond this midterm election, if we don’t find ways to come together. If we don’t challenge ourselves—and by extension, our businesses, our governments, our faith communities, and our families—to listen to and learn from the massive wave of Hispanic Americans who will play a significant role in the future of our country, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Elevating Important Voices

At Mission Partners, we live by person-first communications. We listen beyond the loudest voices in any conversation to the voices often struggling to be heard. We listen to challenge assumptions, and to close gaps in our understanding of issues. And it’s a philosophy that extends to every issue we take on. Whether we’re tackling equity in education, women’s issues, public health or affordable housing, we believe that every voice in our community matters, but there are far too many voices that aren’t being listened to in meaningful ways.

On Thursday, November 15, Montgomery County-based Identity, Inc. will release a new report on Latino youth in partnership with the Pew Research Center called the Promise and Potential of Latino Youth. Mark Hugo Lopez, referenced above, will be on site to share his findings and elevate trends that nonprofit, government, and philanthropic decision makers must be aware of and acting upon.  It will be an important conversation and one that I look forward to attending.

The next day, Mission Partners will gather community members, business, academic and social sector leaders, entrepreneurs, and students at AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center to take the conversation one level deeper. Most importantly, at Mission Forward: Narrative Change, we’ll hear from Hispanic and Latino youth living in Montgomery County who will bring Identity’s research report to life, through a conversation with Emmy-award winning reporter and Montgomery County resident Armando Trull. We’ll also hear from award-winning freelance journalist Valeria Fernandez who covers the intersection of migration and politics, and the people in between. And we’ll look at the issue through a post-midterm election lens with American University Professor and CBS News Political Analyst Leonard Steinhorn, and MacArthur Genius Award Winner Mauricio Miller, who will give new perspective to the dangers of competing narratives.

We’ll close the conversation with best-selling author Anand Giridharadas. His new book “Winners Take All” challenges us to consider whether we are inadvertently perpetuating the social problems we seek to solve.

But it won’t end there. This November’s Mission Forward event will launch a series of community meals and conversations, hosted in the DC region and across the country, during which we will listen and learn from voices that often go unheard. We hope you’ll join us for the first of many conversations, and that you’ll be part of this wave of change.

If you’d like to be part of the conversation, please register to join us today.

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Changing the Narrative

Focus on runners feet in a marathon

By Carrie Fox

I was 16 and working my earliest job in public relations when I first experienced the power of narrative change.

It was coming on Christmas and I had been tasked with telling the story of another 16-year old girl living with a severe case of juvenile arthritis. The condition limited her ability to walk but this young woman was determined to run a local road race to support the Arthritis Foundation. She was determined to change the narrative that she believed others had set for her.

I pitched her story to the New Jersey Star Ledger, and one Sunday soon after, it landed on the front page. It seemed that her story resonated with far more people than just me. I remember her parents’ gratitude for sharing her story, and the boost of confidence they believe it gave her to continue challenging the perceived limitations of her condition. I also remember how that story changed my own attitude and response to persons living with disabilities.

She was my first agent of change. She was an expert-by-experience who showed me the power of positive storytelling to shift perceptions. Telling her story cemented my desire to pursue a field in storytelling, and to pursue a certain kind of storytelling—the kind that could challenge people to look, and then look again at the issues.

I placed that story in the New Jersey Star Ledger almost 25 years ago. Since then, I—and later, my team—have had the blessing of supporting hundreds of people to tell their stories, in their own words, to close gaps in understanding on issues as varied as foster care, homelessness, economic mobility, access to education, and the environment. To many, narrative change is just another jargon term that gets tossed around in politics and philanthropy. To us, it’s a powerful tool to shift how people interpret and understand the world around them, with the goal of making the space between us as humans smaller.

This November, Mission Partners will host its next Mission Forward® convening, and, you guessed it, we’ll take on narrative change. We’ll open the doors wide to our community, and we’ll create an experience that allows every participant to hear and examine the stories behind the issues. We’ll be joined by award-winning national journalists who will retrace their steps on how they’ve told stories on issues of immigration, criminal justice, public health, and education, and we’ll spotlight community members who have experienced those issues first hand.

I invite you to join me in this journey, and to dig deeper in your own understanding of the issues. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Mission Forward: Narrative Change will be hosted on Friday, November 16th at AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. If you’re interested in attending, please email bayonia@mission.partners to be added to the invitation list.