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Beyond Non-Profit Models

Beyond Non-Profit Models
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GROWING WINGS: Evolving Out Of the Non Profit Industrial Complex

Jidan Koon, FastForum Guest Editor

THE SILVER LINING: You know that curse which becomes a blessing in disguise?  That’s what faced INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence five years ago when it chose to search for opportunity in what appeared to be a crisis.

Here’s the back story: In February 2004, INCITE! received a letter from the Ford Foundation letting them know that they’d been awarded a $100,000 general support grant.   A short time later, however, a Ford Foundation board member decided to conduct some independent research on INCITE!.  Upon finding a statement supporting the Palestinian Liberation struggle on the organization’s website, the board member challenged Ford’s support of INCITE and the board  voted to pull the grant.

Stunned, INCITE! decided to move forward without Ford’s funding.  They embarked on a grassroots fundraising drive and quickly raised the money that they initially were counting on from Ford.  Not only did INCITE! completely shift its own perceptions of its dependence on foundation money, it embarked on fundamental questioning of the non-profit structure and the ways in which it controls and manages radical dissent.

Recognizing the power of the moment, INCITE invited its colleagues into this conversation, resulting in the first ever The Revolution Will Not Be Funded conference in May 2004.   The conference convened hundreds of organizers and activists nationwide to name the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) and explore strategies for maintaining the autonomy and integrity of the social justice movement in America.

Last year, a record number of non-profits have shut their doors.  On the average, non-profits took cuts of one third in government and foundation funding.  This year looks just as bleak.  The issue of the social justice movements’ use of non-profits as a primary vehicle for organization is more pertinent than ever.  In times of economic crisis, when services are needed most and opportunities for fundamental change are the highest, non-profit structures find themselves strapped by funding cuts and fighting for survival.

THE QUESTION OF FORM: Many of us learned in science class that as temperature increases, water moves through different phases: the solid form of ice, the liquid form of water, and the vapor form of steam.  The H2O molecules do not change in composition internally, rather they change in their relationship to each other as the external environment changes.  Similarly, we can see that as the conditions of the world change, so does the form of the social justice movement.  Like the water molecules, the essential make up of what we do and the crux of what we hope for does not change: freedom, love, justice.  However, our form and the relationship between our different forms are changing as we speak.

Its clear that the NPIC is not going away any time soon.  Although record numbers of non-profits are in fact shutting down, within current non-profits people do good work as well as build community, base, and leaders.  Rather than expecting a presto-bingo abandonment of the NPIC, what we will undergo in this next period is an evolution out of the NPIC.  The first birds started off ground bound reptiles and incrementally grew small stubby wings that first allowed them to flap and glide like chickens, and then eventually gained the physical structure to fly and soar like condors.  Our evolution as a movement to forms (old and new) that allow for autonomy and political integrity, and thus a movement capable of real transformation, will be like growing wings – shifting incrementally out of the form we currently have and into forms we intentionally want to move towards.

This Fast Forum seeks to explore further the nuances of the evolving out of the NPIC.  Contributors answer the following questions from their own experimentation and experience in work inside and outside of non-profits as well as project current new thinking into the future.

  • What kinds of work are most suited to the non-profit form and what kinds of work are suited to an outside form?
  • What should be the relationship of the non-profit forms to the outside forms?
  • The Revolution will not be Funded highlighted NGO’s from abroad, but what models exist domestically of alternatives to non-profit forms of organization?
  • What is the role of radical leadership development?

….AND CHECK OUT THE USSF WORKSHOP ON THIS TOPIC:

Anak Bayan East Bay, Serve the People, Xicano Moratorium Coalition, and Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership will be sponsoring an interactive youth friendly workshop at the USSF on the Non-Profit Industrial Complex and how their organizations connect grassroots (not-foundation funded) organizing with existing non-profits.  The workshop is called Growing Wings: Evolving Out of the Non-Profit, June 23rd, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at the WSU Student Center, Rm 786.

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PUSHING OUR IMAGINATION, SIN FRONTERAS

Katie Joaquin is the Chair of Anakbayan East Bay and an Organizer for Filipino Advocates for Justice and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). She organizes Filipino immigrant workers and caregivers to fight for their rights and Filipino youth to join the struggle for National Democracy in the Philippines.

Making demands too big for any CEO to meet”*

In October 2008, 130 grassroots organizations from 23 countries assembled in Manila, Philippines at the 1st International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) to oppose the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), a state-led initiative advancing neoliberal policies. Rejecting the GFMD’s framework of commodifying migrants, the International Migrants Alliance organized the IAMR as an alternative to demand governments address the root causes of migration by nationalizing economies and ending US-led global war on terror.

In contrast, many U.S. non-profits participated in parallel activities, demanding human rights and migrant voices be at the center of GFMD talks.  These reform efforts operate within the forum’s framework while exposing its contradictions.  Both non-profit and grassroots (not foundation funded) approaches to challenge the GFMD are necessary, but only when we combine efforts do we get a demand too big for any CEO to meet.

Non-profit organizations have developed working-class immigrant leadership to wage reform battles and build collective power.  However, our most advanced leaders need to elevate their leadership. Grassroots organizations fill this need; their political direction is determined only by the concrete, ever changing conditions and needs of members – not funding streams.

A GRASSROOTS MODEL FOR ORGANIZING SIN FRONTERAS

Anakbayan (AB) East Bay is a mass-based group that organizes Filipino youth around the collective interests of working class peoples and immigrants, while linking our local struggles with the Philippine movement for national democracy.  AB is a member of International League of People’s Struggle, the mother organization of the aforementioned International Migrants Alliance, and of BAYAN-USA, an alliance of 14 grassroots organizations across the U.S. fighting for national democracy in the Philippines.  BAYAN-USA is an overseas chapter of BAYAN Philippines. We are not a solidarity organization, but part of the same movement addressing the root causes behind the problems of Filipinos internationally: US Imperialism, Landlessness and Corrupt puppet governments. We believe our freedom in the U.S. is dependent on achieving genuine national democracy in the Philippines and all over the world.

One of our main goals is to develop and defend radical working class leadership.  Red baiting is rising as U.S. Imperialists desperately defend their failing system.  Melissa Roxas, a member of a BAYAN-USA affiliate in Los Angeles, was abducted by the Philippine Military while on a medical mission, accused of being New Peoples Army, and tortured for 6 days.  At every turn we must expose the targeting of member-leaders who are fighting for the interest and needs of the people.

GREATER THAN THE SUM OF OUR PARTS

An example of non-profit and grassroots group collaboration is AB’s leadership in the API Movement Building Pipeline.  Grassroots and non-profit organizations are sustaining our members’ leadership by identifying stepping stones to transition to different organizations based on their social and political development needs.  Instead of competing for funding or credit, we have a powerful relationship based on political unities and commitment to dismantling U.S. Imperialism.

Anti-imperialist organizations that want to participate in efforts to address root cause issues internationally should join the 3rd International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico November 7 – 8, 2010.

* Adapted from line of “Movement Poem” by Maria Poblet

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COMMON FIRE & THE NON-PROFIT STRUCTURE: A BRIDGE TO TOMORROW

Kavitha Rao is the co-founder of Common Fire which helps to create accessible and sustainable intentional communities as a means of cultural transformation. She is a mother, a yoga teacher, a facilitator, and an organizer.  She has worked with grassroots organizations around the world and is humbled by the immense commitment and vision she has witnessed from people unwilling to accept that the violence, injustice, and poverty that may surround them is the only way things have to be.  Her work and the work of Common Fire are explorations for how we can live the just and sustainable futures we all deserve NOW and in solidarity with all peoples on the planet.

NeEddra James is a writer and graphic designer working towards ecological transformation, social justice, and holistic healing through the development of sustainable and economically cooperative communities. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Common Fire Foundation and Planting Justice, a food justice nonprofit in Oakland, CA.


Common Fire is a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. It supports the creation of intentional communities created by and for a true diversity of people that are geared toward the transformation of society, from the inside out, and from the ground up. We seek to build a world that is more loving, joyful, just and sustainable, one community at a time.

Like many of our colleagues working toward a more just and sustainable world, we too recognize, not only the shortcomings of the nonprofit structure as a long-term solution to the troubles of our time, but we also believe that the current social, environmental and cultural crises we now face cannot be remedied at the same level of thought that produced said crises. Given this, we are committed to personal transformation, communication that breaks personal and collective silences to forge healthy relationships across lines of difference, and cooperative communities organized around resource sharing and consensus based decision-making. These features are the cornerstone of our work in the area of intentional community building; features that we envision will eventually supplant the “individual” of (neo)liberalism and its attendant “rights,” as well as capitalist notions of individual property ownership over land, food, and other vital resources.

At the same time, we are quite clear that community building at this scale – multi-acre affordable sustainable housing with organic farmland, retreat/learning centers and other buildings – requires considerable amounts of funding and still occurs within the existing legal, economic and political cultures we seek to transform. So, we use the nonprofit structure to negotiate the dominant culture. For us, the non-profit is a tool we harness toward an end for which it was not originally intended: radical social change. Our board is comprised of peo

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