Networking for social justice
Ventura County takes first step
By Joan Trossman Bien 03/20/2008
A new social movement is catching fire in the world of nonprofit organizations. Known as social justice philanthropy, this new fundraising strategy seeks to connect the diverse quilt of individual organizations that provide services to the community into a coordinated tool through funding.
At a meeting March 13 at the Camarillo headquarters of the Ventura County Community Foundation, groups working on efforts such as bringing art to disadvantaged children and providing translators for the Mixtec community met under the umbrella of the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County to explore this new approach. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to coordinate the work of the numerous organizations at work in the county. It was also an opportunity to address what each group feels are the greatest threats to social justice in the county.
The Social Justice Fund is a two-year-old organization which parses out donations to grassroots groups addressing needs within their own communities. Last year the fund distributed $50,000 to local organizations. It expects to hand out the same amount this year.
Jill Bangser Fioravanti works with the Social Justice Fund. She said the fund is trying to learn just what these diverse groups are focused on and how to link them together to meet a shared goal goal.
Bangser Fioravanti said the fund is focused on strengthening social justice throughout Ventura County by offering financial support and other assistance to groups using grassroots tactics to combat “structural and institutional barriers to social, economic and environmental equity.
“We’re looking to create change, we’re looking to find the root causes,” she said. “Hopefully, through the groups that we fund, we will be able to address some of those root causes which prevent social justice from actually happening.
“This fund is really all about social justice philanthropy,” she said, “but also connecting to a larger national movement which is trying to address issues of social injustice across the country.”
Bangser Fioravanti said the fund hopes to become a leader in social justice philanthropy. The money it doles out and the networking it offers is intended to help organizations have sustainable resources to pursue long-term goals and self-empowerment
One by one, representatives from each group at the Camarillo event briefly discussed the issues which they felt were the most pressing. Housing, environmental justice, economic justice and health issues came to the fore, Bangser Fioravanti said.
“Things are not equitable and how people are not always at a position of advantage, people aren’t always given the opportunity to be empowered and to change the situations and the environments that they are in,” she said.
Julie Drezner, another SocialJustice Fund organizer, said there were two purposes of the meeting. One was to inform each organization participating about the Social Justice Fund.
“The other purpose,” Drezner said, “is to be in dialogue with us. We are looking at how best to focus our resources.”
About 35 people were in attendance representing more than a dozen different organizations.
Participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet they consistently stressed a need for a systemic change in our society so as to provide equal opportunities for every facet of Ventura County’s disadvantaged. Although the language of nonprofit groups sometimes obscures the urgency of their needs, and the discussion of the definition of key words can lack specificity, there was an overall mood of mutual respect and surprise at the number of equally dedicated organizations in Ventura County.
The Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, a mainstay in Ventura County that often fights for the rights of farm workers, focuses on volatile organic compounds and the politics of pesticides. Veterans for Peace works to provide educational and humanitarian alternatives to military enlistment. California Youth Connection advocates for legislative change to benefit foster children.
Other groups in attendance focused on bringing music and films to homeless shelters, the arts to disadvantaged youth, mental health services where they are needed, providing translators for the Mixtec population, which does not speak English or Spanish, and even advocated of bicycle use to reduce climate changes.
The issues which were discussed were even more far flung. One group helps communities living in river bottoms, another advocates for tolerance of the difficulties of the homeless. Yet another provides a legal clinic for victims of domestic violence and incest. There was a group that uses dance as therapy, and one that teaches tolerance of gays in schools.
In summarizing the goals of the attendees, Bangser Fioravanti said they were about helping people help themselves and focused on “removing barriers to equal opportunity” and “strengthening grassroots efforts.”