In our work we view diversity through a broad set of lenses. Over the years, SAFSF has made deliberate effort to be inclusive, diverse and equitable in our work, be it considering new Steering Committee members, staff recruitment, or issue topics and site visit hosts for the annual Forum. We are now taking strides to ‘dig deeper’ on the importance of diversity in the philanthropic world and exploring how we, as a network, can engage together on this multifaceted subject. We each have an abundance of expertise and knowledge that is vital in our collaborative efforts. Through our newly launched Broadening the Palette work, our aim is to be more explicit and intentional as we strive to maintain a safe environment for uncomfortable realizations and learning.
We feel that sharing our own personal narratives is a successful approach for applied learning, and anticipate creating a blog of stories from members within our network, highlighting how experiences and realizations of diversity have come to impact our work and expand understanding. Our stories are inspiring, heartfelt, sometimes heartbreaking, and always genuine and relevant. Recognizing and honoring our differences helps us maintain an open mind in the ever-changing, complex world we live.
We would like to share the story of our most recent journey into the Central Valley of California. SAFSF, along with five other affinity groups—Grantmakers in Health, Convergence Partnership, Health & Environmental Funders Network, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, and the Funders’ Network for Smart and Livable Communities—hosted a funders learning tour from December 4-6th 2013, called Exploring the San Joaquin Valley: A Land of Change and Promise. As you can gather from the organizations above, the event included a broad range of affinity groups that work on a myriad of issues. This conference, and those hosting it, is a key example of how the diversity of our work is enriching and intimately connected. This was proven theme throughout the conference, which struck deep chords with many of the attendees.
A few facts about the San Joaquin Valley for those not familiar with the area:
The San Joaquin Valley is in the Central Valley of California and lies south of Sacramento.
This area is highly productive in agriculture, and has been referred to as the “food basket of the world.” Others would call it the “Ground Zero” of industrial agriculture. Americans eat 55% of nuts, vegetables, and fruit grown here.
Living in the Valley can seem oxymoronic: this land of highly productive and wealth-generating agricultural lands is home to some of the nation’s poorest, and one-quarter of families live in poverty. Residents face asthma rates that are among the highest in the country, serious environmental/health contamination, toxic waste sites, food insecurity and lack of fresh water.
Despite these factors, there is a strong sense of community empowerment for people building resiliency and advocating change together. This is what we aimed to showcase during our time in the Valley, and we felt we were successful in that regard. Funders attending our conference work on a variety of topics that are closely related to issues being addressed in the Valley. One funder may not be as versed on immigration reform as another. Another funder may focus solely on the health impacts of air pollution. However, to ensure long lasting and impactful change, communication and cross-sector learning are key to connecting with one another. We believe that our work will be magnified and successful by bridging our differences. We hope to elevate the pioneers, NGO leaders, advocates and youth who are already engaging in substantial efforts throughout the Valley.
The Valley is rich in diversity—cultural and ethnic, environmental, urban and rural, economic and political—which was important for us to highlight in educating funders. We did our best to develop a diverse and cohesive program that would outline the multifaceted history and hot-topic issues of the region. Our conference began with a pre-con site visit: Fresno as a Study in Contrasts. We showcased Fresno’s efforts to build new, mixed income, multi-family developments, revitalize its downtown, harness the benefits of high speed rail, and support community revitalization in low-income communities by engaging citizens in the planning process. We visited the proposed new Ag-Park which houses a unique urban farm of southeast Asian crops, and enjoyed lunch at the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust where guests experienced open space and rich agricultural lands along the San Joaquin River.
Throughout the conference we had sessions that overviewed a rich mix of topics, and that explored the community’s social demographics. We learned about the different ethnic subgroups that drive the area’s economic, civic and cultural dynamics; opportunities to build equitable, healthy and prosperous communities; major trends driving change in the Valley, and opportunities for smart growth to promote better land use, conservation, and transportation planning. We also considered the theme of keeping agriculture vibrant, what it means to have long-term agricultural viability, and what that means for the nation as a whole—agriculture creates significant multiplier effects throughout the region’s economy, and yet, agriculture faces enormous pressures and constraints.
The conference also included a half-day for site visits, which toured the region and focused on themes of immigration reform, pesticide reform, labor rights, coalition building, environmental and health hazards, and building community leadership. We were quite fortunate to have speakers with an immense knowledge of their field—farmers, nonprofit leaders, youth organizers, government officials, and academics.
Despite the broad range of issues, organizations, and people involved, we felt the conference was remarkably cohesive and comprehensive. Our main lesson was that diversity truly equals unity. All of our passions, work and varying backgrounds intersect at multiple levels. Long-term, systemic change is viable through collaborative efforts. We are fulfilling our mission at SAFSF if this type of collaboration and understanding continues to happen.
We have resource materials from the conference available and encourage you to check them out here.