NEW YORK—Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico will receive $1.9 million each over two years to bring about lasting local change, the Open Society Foundations announced today. The sites are part of the new Open Places Initiative, which aims to increase the ability of communities to work together to secure greater justice and opportunity for their residents. The foundation anticipates funding the sites for at least three years and, in some sites, as long as ten years.
“The Open Society Foundations have a long-term interest in addressing equality, justice, and democratic practice at the local level, said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “As part of our core belief in the importance of a robust and capable civic sector, we are excited to be helping these local communities develop their capacity to promote civic, political, and economic opportunity for all their residents. By investing in collaborations between nonprofit organizations, and supporting them in their partnerships with government, business, and community, we aim to expand their potential to pursue effective responses to the profound demographic, economic, and technological changes that are taking place throughout the country.”
The participating groups in each Open Places site determined their own priorities and plans to catalyze local systemic change over the long term, responding to the most pressing needs of their communities.
In a city reeling from manufacturing job loss, the Buffalo group plans to engage the community in the creation of a high-road economic development strategy that will provide quality jobs for marginalized communities. It will work to reduce the flow of students into the criminal justice system through sound policy reform as well as create an arts network to engage residents and artists to advocate for a more open and inclusive Buffalo.
Organizations in the Buffalo team include Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo, VOICE-Buffalo, and Coalition for Economic Justice. Other collaborators in the Open Buffalo plan are Buffalo Peacemakers, Citizen Action/Public Policy and Education Fund, Clean Air Coalition of WNY, Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition, Investigative Post, Prisoners are People Too, Public Accountability Initiative, WNY Council on Occupational Health and Safety, and Cornell University ILR School. Foundation partners include John R. Oishei Foundation, Community Foundation of Western New York, Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, and the Western New York Foundation.
In a region that is reliant on the military as a primary economic driver, this team will work to advance policies that promote social and economic stability for the region’s most vulnerable residents, specifically immigrants and people involved in the criminal justice system. It will focus on improving access to middle income jobs, advancing policies that strengthen workers’ rights, and engaging the social service sector to improve the quality of service provision by local government.
Organizations in the San Diego team include the Employee Rights Center, Center on Policy Initiatives, San Diego Organizing Project, the California Endowment, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Christie’s Place, San Diego Youth Development Office, Pillars of the Community and SEIU/Service Employees International Union, Local 221, and United Domestic Workers, Local 3930. Foundation partners include the Ford Foundation, the California Civic Participation Funders (California Endowment, Color of Democracy Fund, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, James Irvine Foundation, Kapor Center for Social Impact, McKay Foundation, PowerPAC Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Women’s Foundation of California), the San Diego Grantmakers, and the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.
On an island facing very difficult social and economic situations, high unemployment, and very low labor participation rates, there is an urgent need to strengthen the civic sector. The Puerto Rico team seeks to increase equity and improve democratic practice for the most marginalized while building its capacity to advance long-term change. Its initial work will focus on increasing government transparency, creating new models to facilitate access to legal representation in civil cases, and launching initiatives to create income supports and encourage savings for low-income residents.
The Center for a New Economy currently guides the work in Puerto Rico. Its primary partners include the ACLU of Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico Law Clinic, the Center for Investigative Journalism, Angel Ramos Foundation, Banco Popular Foundation, and Flamboyán Foundation.
The Open Society Foundations have long recognized that local communities have deep knowledge of the barriers and opportunities in their own region. It founded the social justice laboratory OSI-Baltimore in the late 1990s and has invested in other place-based initiatives such as the Young Men’s Initiative, addressing broad disparities facing black and Latino boys in New York, and efforts to create an open city government and engaged citizenry in New Orleans. The Foundations seek to glean lessons from the Open Places sites and incorporate these into future work in other cities, regions, and states.
“Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico have exciting plans that extend beyond their current capacities and agendas to manage both challenges and opportunities in ways that further local equity and justice,” said Diana Morris, Director of OSI-Baltimore, the field office for U.S. Programs, who is spearheading the initiative at the Foundations. “We’re proud to be working with them.”
The three Open Places sites were awarded the grants after a rigorous and competitive selection process. They, along with five other sites from around the country—including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville, Kentucky; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin—were awarded planning grants in April 2013.
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.