Movement-Led & Emboldened Community Power

In Story by Esperanza Pallana

We know that not any one of us individually can transform food and farm systems. To transform the current system and be responsible descendants and future ancestors, we must be in right relationship with each other and the earth. What we began as a funder collaborative in 2012 has evolved into a deeper ecology of relationships and accountability.

For the past ten years, we have had a fundamental focus on both reindigenizing food and farm practices and reclaiming democracy. Eighty-eight percent of the 161 projects we’ve supported over the past ten years have focused on reclaiming democracy: building political leadership, strengthening civic engagement, mobilizing for policy advocacy, and organizing for community-controlled economies.

Since 2019, we have worked to create a power sharing structure to ensure our community of grantee partners, movement leaders, communications strategists and funders have equal voice in decision-making and strategic direction. We use a co-governance model made up of a Grants Advisory and a Steering Committee to collaboratively make decisions about our strategic direction, core values, and growth. The Steering Committee is responsible for our operational well-being, while the Grants Advisors guide our grants process, programs, and funding determinations. The Grants Advisory committee does not include funders- it is comprised of movement leaders, labor organizers and communications strategists.

We have ceded grantmaking power to grantee partners who are from, and working within, frontline communities who have been most impacted by systemic inequities. They are members of the very communities who have been the essential labor and talent of our food and farm systems. These are the grantee partners that decide how to use and leverage philanthropic capital to build community economic power and political leadership.

Communications has been the center of this work as it is a key tool for culture shift to foster engagement, collective care, inspire new practices and build and unify power through political leadership education and direct organizing.

Beyond movement-led grantmaking that supports capacity building, we have dedicated staff that provide movement support to our grantee partners. We pair grantee partners with coaching and capacity training on communications tools and strategy. We also foster a grantee network to support further collaboration and message unification. We strive to elevate and advance our grantee partners’ work, amplify their message and support their efforts to transform the food media landscape through compelling cultural narratives.

As we shifted away from funder-led decision making, we placed a premium on hiring staff who bring not only expertise in their fields, but also extensive networks and trusting relationships within frontline communities as members and practitioners. We are also asking of ourselves the same degree of accountability and community rootedness we seek in our grantee partners.

Over these ten years, we have matured beyond just providing access to philanthropic capital to ensuring community decision making power with capital; and we have implemented these practices from within a complex administrative structure that is not uncommon in philanthropy. We were founded as a Donor Advised Fund led by funder collaborators and administered by Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Our structure and partners have enabled a high degree of adaptability. In that, we are maximizing our ability to share power with stakeholders.

Together, with the deepest gratitude, we continue to receive the gift of community leadership from people who have the resilience to continue addressing some of the most urgent and significant problems of our time and are still willing to guide the philanthropic community to meaningful solutions.