“Nothing about us without us.” I heard this phrase from Claudine Sipili – a homelessness community activist and member of the Santa Clara County Lived Experience Advisory Board and Destination: Home's board of directors – several weeks ago when I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her advocacy work. I thought the sentiment perfectly describes the ethos of her work and how we are using that ethos to change our own work at the community foundation.
Claudine is one of those brilliant community members who design solutions, contribute around the table when decisions are being made and hold accountable those responsible for allocating resources. The phrase keeps coming back to me – “Nothing about us without us.” Those words provide us clear direction: that we must know who our community leaders like Claudine are, establish real relationships with them and ensure that Claudine – and hundreds of knowledgeable and committed individuals like her – have the resources available so they can devote time to improving their communities.
That is exactly what power- and movement-building look like to us. We need to ask questions instead of giving answers. Our Community Advisory Council – a group of community leaders that advise our path forward- helps us define goals for our work, they help us define who is designing solutions on the ground and what will we use to measure success.
Our team works intentionally at building relationships with community leaders so we can work together to build a stronger and more engaged community. We want this intention to be manifested in every interaction we have with our community – from how we ask for input, answer inquiries, design areas of work, design requests for proposals and review them, and learn together during implementation, to how we share results with the broader community.
Today, for example, members of our Community Advisory Council review proposals shoulder-to-shoulder with our staff, set priorities and review outcomes so we continue to learn.
Because we are serious about reducing systemic disparities, we will continue to put people who face the most vulnerable circumstances — low-income households, immigrants, and communities of color — at the center of our work. This means letting go of our stiff theories-of-change models, being nimble and, more than anything, being proximate to the challenge we are trying to solve. We have learned that only community-designed, -implemented and -led solutions will provide the change we all want to see and make our communities more resilient.