Stacey Barbas Regina R. Smith Share Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email What does it look like for a national funder and its partners to authentically share power with place-based organizations largely led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color? In this post, we share some behind the scenes reflections from our FreshLo (Fresh, Local, & Equitable) initiative. We invite our peer funders and those in adjacent roles to join us in considering the questions we wrestled with and to share your perspectives. These questions include: Given the power dynamics between funders and grantees, how can funders authentically center communities as the creators, protagonists and experts? How can funders share power to catalyze community-led work and advocate for systemic change? How can funders remove barriers that burden and increase benefits for communities, in the design and execution of their partnerships? About FreshLo FreshLo is a multi-year initiative led by 23 communities across the U.S., sought to propel neighborhood revitalization by improving access to healthy food, fostering entrepreneurship, spurring economic development, and integrating arts and culture through a creative placemaking approach. The three groups that partnered with these communities to develop, implement and evaluate FreshLo – Kresge, DAISA Enterprises and Learning for Action – along with an advisory committee of practitioners, strove to center communities authentically through the core pillars of equity, creative placemaking, health and economic development. The multi-year evaluation, which over time sought to center Equitable Evaluation principles, examined the development of local democratic economies and the integration of food and creative placemaking in FreshLo communities. Striving to Authentically Center Communities As part of our commitment to center the work of grantee organizations in the FreshLo design, implementation, and evaluation, we regularly revisited this question: “How do we authentically center communities as the creators and experts of their work?” This question was central to decisions related to initiative design, evaluation and dissemination of findings. In particular, we set an intention to to center communities by supporting them in telling their own stories, a departure from the more common trend of funders, evaluators and others communicating on their behalf. This approach acknowledges that many community organizations have been leading the way for years, even decades. Their work did not start or end with the FreshLo initiative, and they can speak authentically and powerfully about their own work. We did this in several ways, including: Fostering relationships with and among FreshLo sites. During regular calls, convenings, and site visits, community leaders and members shared their insights directly with Kresge, DAISA and LFA. FreshLo also offered multiple avenues for grantee sites to build connections with one another, such as annual convenings, trips to see relevant community models and visits to each other’s sites. These opportunities fostered the conditions for sites to share stories, knowledge and support. Providing communications resources for FreshLo sites, including a workshop, webinar series based on community priorities, and optional follow-up 1:1 conversations with a communications firm that offered tools for sites to share their vision, goals and findings with a variety of audiences. Engaging FreshLo sites in the development of evaluation findings and reports. Upon completing the evaluation, the LFA team incorporated input from FreshLo sites to develop the preliminary findings and refine a draft report that we used to share key findings with FreshLo sites, partners and others involved in community-based work. Read the final report, “Cultivating Community Across the Country,” here. Tensions We Are Holding Throughout the FreshLo initiative, we continually asked ourselves, “How can we better acknowledge and share power and center communities and their needs?” This inquiry led us to consider additional questions, including: We know that communities understand the nuances of organizing in their local context better than we ever could. How well did we manage reinforcing the message that we regard communities as the authorities of their local context and unique journeys? How do we share power and share communities’ stories without directing attention to ourselves? While we wanted to ensure broad promotion and recognition for the FreshLo initiative and supported grantees to tell their own stories, we also recognized that the influence that Kresge carries could skew the story and message away from the communities’ work. For example, Kresge program officers helped several sites secure additional funding by connecting them with local government bodies and funders and lending credibility to their work as a FreshLo partner. However, in doing so, we questioned how we could lend support without attracting undue attention and credit to ourselves? How do we remove barriers to collaboration and increase the benefits for communities and partners? Throughout the initiative, we tried to find the right level of collaboration with communities in the design and execution of the initiative itself and the evaluation. For example, while it was critical for us to invite communities to partner with us in telling the stories of the FreshLo initiative, we also recognized that bringing them in as close collaborators could require a significant amount of their time and energy. As part of our process for making sense of the information we collected throughout the initiative, LFA drafted three main storylines and invited reactions from communities, as well as from Kresge and DAISA. LFA used this input to inform revisions to the storylines before moving forward with crafting findings for a final report. Join the conversation! We recognize that we do not hold all the answers. We did not get everything right, and we are eager to learn from your experiences and insights. Please revisit the discussion topics below, and weigh in with a comment or question by emailing [email protected]. Discussion Questions: Given the power dynamics between funders and grantees, how can funders authentically support communities as the creators, protagonists and experts? How can funders share power most effectively to support community-led work and advocate for systemic change? How can we remove barriers to collaboration and increase benefits for communities in the design and execution of their partnerships? To read more about FreshLo, click here.