Building power together

The nonprofit organization Radical Monarchs encourages girls of color ages 8 to 11 to get involved in their communities and explore their racial identities.
The nonprofit organization Radical Monarchs encourages girls of color ages 8 to 11 to get involved in their communities and explore their racial identities.

This story originally appeared in SVCF's magazine, published in January 2022.

What does it mean to invest in the power of the people? SVCF has shifted its priorities to do exactly that.

Picture this: an activity group for young girls that’s based around engaging in politics, social justice issues and self-empowerment activities. It’s a far cry from your grandmother’s youth groups. But this is what it means to be part of a Radical Monarchs Troop. Established in 2014, Radical Monarchs are girls of color ages 8 to 11 who are interested in getting involved in their community, exploring their racial identities and learning what it means to love themselves unapologetically, especially in a society that will try to tell them otherwise.

“For marginalized communities to have collective power, they need to be in charge of the decision- making and then have the resources to implement those collective decisions,” says Marilyn Hollinquest, co-founder of Radical Monarchs. “Marginalized communities need to have a voice so they can say, ‘These are the things we need to thrive in this community.’ There’s money, people and resources attached to that. We teach our girls about social justice movements in history and how to advocate for themselves and the communities they are connected to.

In June 2021, the organization, which has grown from two troops in the Bay Area to nine troops across the country in cities like Denver and Minneapolis, received a $100,000 multi-year grant from the California Black Freedom Fund (for which SVCF provides administrative support and fiscal management). This unrestricted funding will allow the organization to work to sustain itself while building up the next generation of community leaders, and, Hollinquest says, it will enable the organization to launch even more troops across the country.

“The pressure of fundraising for your budget every year is real. It’s a gift to be able to know that we can count on that funding through this multi-year grant,” she says. “It allows us to do our work better because we don’t have to shape-shift what we do in order to please a donor.”

This point is crucially important in supporting nonprofits that serve communities of color, says SVCF President and CEO Nicole Taylor, who was instrumental to the creation of the California Black Freedom Fund. “Grassroots nonprofits have front-row visibility into the challenges their communities face and solutions that work,” she says. “Sustained, committed operating funds are what they need, not funding that can change on a whim or that they need to remake their priorities to obtain.”

Addressing an imbalance of power

SVCF began rethinking elements of its grantmaking processes starting in 2020. It has evaluated what organizations its grants are going to, which communities are benefiting most from grant funding, and most importantly, who is left out and how SVCF can help increase the agency and voice of the communities it serves. 

Latinas Contra Cancer received a movement- and power-building grant from SVCF that will help it expand its programming for Latinas and their families navigating cancer diagnoses.
Latinas Contra Cancer received a movement- and power-building grant from SVCF that will help it expand its programming for Latinas and their families navigating cancer diagnoses.

Wealth inequity leads to power imbalance

Although this region is one of the wealthiest in the United States, it is also one of the least equitable when it comes to wealth. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California estimates that top earners in the region make 12 times more money than the lowest earners in the area. The survey also found that Black and Latinx communities are overrepresented at lower income levels, and therefore extremely underrepresented at the high-income levels.

These issues lead to others. If low-income earners lose their job or if their wages fail to increase over an extended period, they are less likely to have savings and other forms of income to lean on. And because housing costs remain stubbornly high in the area, it is difficult for these earners to afford living in the communities they call home. This makes capital a form of power. Those who don’t have it struggle to make ends meet, but they also struggle to have their voices heard.

“There is so much wealth in Silicon Valley, and we want to make sure the results of this wealth can be used to positively impact the communities we serve,” says Jack Mahoney, director of movement- and power-building at SVCF. “That’s why we’re asking ourselves, ‘How can we invest in community agency, including low-income communities, in this region? And how can we ensure everyone has a seat at the decision- making table?’”

“Community solutions to address systemic inequities need to... emerge from these communities.”

One way SVCF is working to address structural inequalities and power dynamics in the community is through three recently established grant funds: the California Black Freedom Fund, the LatinXCEL Fund and the Movement- and Power-Building Fund. These funds were created to address unequal access to power and funding by intentionally giving unrestricted funds to nonprofit organizations that organize and serve people of color, build coalitions and advocate for public policy changes.

Rather than focus on large nonprofits that do this work, SVCF and its partners have chosen to focus on smaller, grassroots organizations headed by Black leaders, Indigenous leaders and people of color — many of these organizations have annual operating budgets of less than $1 million. The reasoning: These nonprofits and their leaders have been part of these communities for years addressing the needs and concerns of their peers. They know better than anyone outside of their communities what is needed for them to thrive.

“We realized we needed to help build the ecosystem of these nonprofits, and invest in leadership and in their networks. If you don’t invest in the ecosystem, it will be difficult for organizations to grow from the ground up,” says Gina Dalma, SVCF’s executive vice president of community action, policy and strategy. “We shifted around 70% of our funding to movement- and power- building. Community solutions to address systemic inequities need to be designed by communities, sustained by communities and emerge from these communities. Otherwise, it won’t be sustainable.”

One of the organizations that recently received a movement- and power-building grant from SVCF has advocated for healthcare in the Latinx community for nearly two decades. Latinas Contra Cancer (LCC), founded by Bay Area journalist Ysabel Duron, helps Latinas and their families navigate their cancer diagnosis, treatment and long-term care. The organization will use its $50,000 grant to create a new program called Defensoras: HealthCare Advocate Training. Designed to encourage the Latinx community to think differently about the healthcare system, the program teaches participants about patients’ rights, healthcare justice and treatment options. The goal is to help the Latinx community see injustices in their healthcare treatment as systemic and to empower participants to lead conversations in the broader Latinx community about healthcare inequalities and strategies for inclusivity.

“We want to help clients understand that the health injustices they experience are not one-off events. It’s a systems issue, not a personal issue,” says Darcie Green, CEO of LCC. “We want to be an organization that not only helps people overcome these inequities — we want to eliminate them. This is the future for our organization. We’re hoping that through these cohorts we start building a network of clients who can start helping each other.”

Real results

In 2021 alone, grants from the Movement- and Power- Building Fund, the California Black Freedom Fund and the LatinXCEL Fund went to more than 100 different nonprofits in the Bay Area and across California (via the California Black Freedom Fund), totaling more than $15 million in support. Since its shift in grantmaking focus began, SVCF has received largely positive responses from the local nonprofit community. The next step: SVCF is creating a new evaluation framework that will help gauge the impact of its new approach.

“Our staff is part of these underrepresented communities; they have been pushing us toward this way of thinking and funding,” Dalma says. “It was clear that we needed to shift what we were doing and allow the community to lead the work. The philanthropy sector is going through a point where we’ve acknowledged there is a power dynamic that has not served our community well. If we want to be a healthier, better Silicon Valley, we need to be sure we’re doing everything we can, and if what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, we need to use different tactics.”

You can find this story and more stories of local impact in the latest SVCF magazine:

Building Power Together.

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