In philanthropy we know that storytelling is a critical way to illustrate impact. A new video, “Post 9/11: The Impact of a Funder Collaborative ,” tells the tale of what we learned through the Civic Engagement Fund  (CEF). The CEF is a collaborative fund that supports little-understood communities that were propelled to the spotlight after 9/11, and remain invisible yet hyper-visible in mainstream America even today.
In the San Francisco Bay area, a network of grantmakers  recognized that they have Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA)  communities in their regions but did not know how they were impacted post 9/11 or what organizations existed to serve these communities. The funders involved recognized that the narrative around AMEMSA communities, even 12 years after 9/11, was too often shaped by misperceptions, bias, or ignorance .
A recent Bay Area Muslim Survey  also supported by a collaboration among Bay area grantmakers and AAPIP  finds that Muslims from all walks of life continue to face ongoing Islamophobia that results in fear and mixed effects on their civic engagement (measured by donating, community participation, and voting).
Ultimately, the true value of the CEF isn’t in the dollars distributed, but in the capacity built and relationships developed. We hope this video spurs conversation about how foundations are addressing these and other underserved communities that are a vital part of our regions and nation. We also hope it inspires grantmakers to strategically include and invest in AMEMSA visibility, voice, leadership, and capacities. Our call to action is to develop meaningful partnerships with AMEMSA community leaders and organizations.
Here are some lessons we learned that apply to philanthropy, policymakers, and advocates:
- Partner with funders for deeper engagement and to mitigate risk
- Resource new and emerging leaders who address unique or persisting challenges
- Keep up with changing demographics and issues to stay relevant and be effective
- Engage in conversation with community organizations from the start
- Build capacities, relationships, and collaborations
- Commit to long-term investment that will empower the community
- Facilitate dialogue and build bridges within AMEMSA communities
- Include racial and religious profiling in the immigration conversation
Laila Mehta is director of the Civic Engagement Fund.