Grassroots Engagement: Equal Voice Networks
Since its inception, Marguerite Casey Foundation has believed that strategic networking is a critical component of movement building. We support organizations that build networks and alliances to share knowledge and best practices, develop leadership, and organize constituencies of low-income families to pursue policy advocacy campaigns for change.
In 2005, Marguerite Casey Foundation selected two subregions – the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas and the Mississippi Delta region in Mississippi – in which to promote cross-racial networks and identify shared challenges and common concerns. That year, the board met in Jackson, Mississippi, with grantee members of the Delta network, who shared how they were working together to eliminate the race-based educational achievement gap and to develop the network members’ capacity and grassroots leadership and technical skills.
One year later in February 2006, Marguerite Casey Foundation hosted a convening in McAllen, Texas, which brought together grantees from Mississippi and South Texas. In an effort to support the emerging cross-regional network, the foundation hired its first two network weavers to act as connectors between the regions and to build the capacity of the network. The role of network weavers is to support the member organizations in a network, help them identify mutual interests, and facilitate the growth and strength of relationships among network collaborators to maximize their collective impact. The network weaver facilitates the sharing of information, updates, and challenges among the network at large, which results in opportunities for broader organizing participation across issues, experiences and priorities.
Based on the success of the subregional strategy and the subsequent 2008 Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign – which demonstrated the potential of working across regions, issues, race, ethnicities and egos to achieve large-scale mobilization – the foundation expanded its investment in networks.
As a result of the 2008 Equal Voice campaign, several organizations formed networks. For example, the Equal Voice for Southern California Families Alliance, one of the most vibrant and active networks, was created that year.
In 2009, the foundation initiated the first of three rounds of Equal Voice strategic network mini-grants. The one-year grants were open to grantees to build or strengthen networks aimed at movement-building and achieving change on issues in the Equal Voice national family platform. These locally organized and administered networks represent one of the foundation’s goals: to support grassroots-generated structures to foster civic engagement.
Today, over a dozen Equal Voice regional networks and one national network (the Native Voice Network) are working to support and nurture strong, vibrant activism and to achieve a more just and equitable society.