Open Society Foundations Launch U.S. Initiative Promoting Local Change

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations today awarded nonprofits in eight places across the U.S. approximately $100,000 per region to design plans to increase marginalized communities’ influence and access to economic, civic, and political opportunities.  

The grants are part of the Foundations' new Open Places Initiative. It aims to increase the capacity of local nonprofits and communities to bring about sustainable change related to effective and accountable government, civic engagement, criminal justice reform, immigration, education and other justice and equity reforms.

The planning grants went to collaborations of organizations in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Diego, California; and Puerto Rico.

Each place will determine the priorities it will address and propose a multi-issue, multi-faceted plan for building the region’s capacity to bring about long-term change. In late 2013, the Foundations will award implementation grants to three to five sites with funding of up to $1 million per year for a minimum of three years and, potentially, a full decade.

“There are fundamental changes occurring in local communities across the country—budgetary, demographic, technological, and otherwise. Local leadership and knowledge are the starting points in developing the necessary tools and capacities to manage these changes in ways that further local equity and justice interests,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “We congratulate the groups that won planning grants. They have great potential and we are excited about what they may do.” 

While the sites are just now beginning the planning process, they have noted some specific preliminary goals. These include advancing fair and inclusive local economic development and fiscal policy; integrating immigrants into the larger community; decreasing the overuse of incarceration; helping high school students graduate in greater numbers; decreasing racial segregation; and creating pathways to the middleclass for low-wage workers. All the sites will aim to increase their local civic capacity overall.

“Local communities have the deepest knowledge of the barriers to justice, equity, and democratic practice in their own region,” said Diana Morris, Director of OSI-Baltimore, who is spearheading the initiative at the Foundations. “But every place, no matter how sophisticated, could increase its capacity to bring about lasting positive change. One of the primary goals of the initiative is to help local organizations extend beyond their current agendas, strategies, and abilities to develop more innovative and coordinated approaches to challenges in the long term.”

The Foundations seeks to glean lessons from the Open Places sites for replication in other cities, regions, and states.

Open Places Planning Grants

*Note: The projects and the organizations listed in this section may shift during the planning process.

Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque organizations will develop a plan for a Community Chamber of Commerce representing the voices of community members committed to fair and culturally responsible economic development and fiscal policy. During the planning phase, the groups will identify issues and strategies to launch and guide the chamber.

Organizations: New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, SouthWest Organizing Project, Native American Voters Alliance, and Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ)

Buffalo, NY

The Buffalo collaborative will design means to engage people in community-based solutions to Buffalo’s most challenging issues to promote opportunity, equality, and unity. One means will be social justice hubs that will foster new leaders from disadvantaged communities and promote meaningful economic opportunity and sustainable wealth creation for all. The planning process will include a series of events and conversations infused with arts, storytelling, and diverse voices.

Organizations: Partnership for the Public Good, Coalition for Economic Justice, PUSH Buffalo, and VOICE-Buffalo

Denver, CO

Organizations in Denver will plan a broad-based and organized “hub” that will better integrate efforts for fiscal, immigration, and criminal justice reform (particularly the overuse of incarceration and detention), educate targeted constituents, promote economic justice, and civically engage residents.

Organizations: Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, Together Colorado, El Centro Humanitario, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, and Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition

Jackson, MS

Organizations in Jackson will formulate an initiative that will reduce the dropout rate and provide training for students so that they have the necessary skills to gain viable employment. The work will also include leadership training to strengthen the civic capacity of the city’s leadership – with an emphasis on recruiting and training young African Americans to run for office and take leadership positions. 

Organizations: The Mississippi Center for Justice, One Voice, Mississippi Workers Center, Southern Echo, and Mississippi Economic Policy Center

Louisville, KY

The Louisville Team will address the continuing racial segregation of the city and the problems that accompany it such as income disparity and unequal educational and economic growth opportunities. Organizations will use planning grant money to develop a progressive social and political network that can come together to pursue common interests and goals.  

Organizations: ACLU of Kentucky, the Fairness Campaign, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and Network Center for Community Change

Milwaukee, WI

The Milwaukee team will plan the creation of a permanent civic capacity table. During the planning period, organizations will establish initial priorities and strategies and establish a more sophisticated and dynamic strategic planning process.

Organizations: Wisconsin Voices, 9to5 Wisconsin, Citizen Action Wisconsin Education Fund, Voces de la Frontera, and Partnership for Working Families.

Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rico team will create an initiative geared toward strengthening the civic core in Puerto Rico. This initiative would work to ensure government accountability and responsiveness by substantially enhancing residents’ ability to engage with state institutions, identify actionable solutions to social problems, and provoke change in policies or services.

Organizations: The Center for a New Economy and other organizations.

San Diego, CA

The San Diego County team will identify the best strategies and solutions to create pathways for low-wage workers to the middle class; integrate immigrants into the larger community; and successfully transition formerly incarcerated people into the San Diego community. The goal of the planning grant period will be to develop an advisory committee to shape the mechanics of the planning and lay a framework for expanding upon existing civic capacity. 

Organizations: The Center on Policy Initiatives,  the San Diego Organizing Project, the CSA San Diego County, and Christie’s Place.