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Creating the Conditions to Advance Justice: Redefining Capacity Building

We have reached a tipping point in our society where a critical mass of people is demanding a new social contract. This wave has been building and gaining strength for years, and has reached tidal wave proportions since Trump’s election as more and more people awake to the injustices around them.

Alongside this wave, and since long before the election, our clients and partners have been expanding their focus of attention from their own organizations and single-issue coalitions to movement networks oriented around a shared vision and aligned action. Leaders are committing to nurturing movements over the long-term and forging values-based relationships across issue areas, sectors, and generations.

This shift – from competition to collaboration, from single issues to intersectionality, from scarcity to collective abundance – requires something different from us as actors for justice and as the intermediaries, capacity builders, and grantmakers who support them.

By listening to our clients and partners and looking to people whose history, knowledge, and experiences have been forced to the periphery, MAG has come to believe there are five elements that are critical to advancing a thriving justice ecosystem: 

In partnership with the Nonprofit Quarterly, MAG has recently published a series on the elements. The five articles in the series present each element in turn, exploring what it means and how people, organizations, and networks are putting it into practice.

We hope that calling out these elements will bring greater attention to them, encouraging all of us to embody them in our day-to-day practices, structures, mindsets, and culture as we work towards justice.

More On the Elements

  1. Advancing Deep EquityMore and more nonprofits, foundations, and capacity builders are delving deeply into the implications of equity for their work both externally and internally – this has been a shift towards what we call “deep equity.” The pursuit of deep equity is a long overdue pivot from primarily aiming for diverse staff, boards, and constituents, and is essential for creating the conditions necessary for advancing justice and liberation. A few of the  core aspects of what we mean by deep equity include honoring differences and working at multiple levels; focusing on relationships, intersectionality and addressing trauma; and eliminating disparities. Click here to read more on deep equity in MAG’s Nonprofit Quarterly article: Pursuing Deep Equity and this blog “Seeing, Reckoning, & Acting: A Practice Towards Deep Equity.” 
  2. Cultivating Leaderful Ecosystems: Today’s complex world and immense obstacles to justice demand that we think of leadership from a highly interconnected, ecosystem place rather than as a codified set of structures, practices, or even people. Leadership is the capacity to create something of meaning and align values and actions across groups of people or communities. It is about relationships among people and how they support, complement and supplement each other and the broader ecosystem. Leaderful ecosystems are mutually supportive and highly equitable, and support the kind of engagement that will yield meaningful and sustainable social change. Click here to read more on leaderful ecosystems in MAG’s Nonprofit Quarterly article: Cultivating Leaderful Ecosystems. 
  3. Valuing Multiple Ways of KnowingThere is a strong bias in the U.S. dominant culture, which shows up in the nonprofit sector as well, to value only one way of knowing—a knowing grounded in data, analysis, logic, theory, a rationalist approach to truth. There are many different ways to understand and engage with the world – including through your experiences, through art, and through ancestral wisdom. Privileging one way of knowing over others marginalizes and ignores truths that come from other ways of knowing. As a result, our theories and action plans are often disconnected from our values, beliefs and the bedrock experiences of our lives. Click here to read more on multiple ways of knowing in MAG’s Nonprofit Quarterly article: Multiple Ways of Knowing: Expanding How We Know.
  4. Influencing Complex Systems ChangeFor many nonprofits, there is little new about trying to move the needle by seeing the big picture. What is different about this moment in time is the immediate urgency and commitment to stretch the bounds of what is possible. Traditional avenues such as legislation, administrative action, and even soon the courts are becoming obstacles to progressive change, particularly at the national level. Pathways for transformation that do not embrace intersectionality, cross movements, and equity will continue to be unsuccessful and will reinforce the current challenges. Complex times require complex responses.Through our work in the field, we have seen a set of evolving practices that help leaders, organizations, and networks achieve the scale and depth of transformative change needed today. Click here to read more on complex systems change in MAG’s Nonprofit Quarterly article: Influencing Complex Systems Change and this blog Being Strategic and Nimble When You Aren’t In Control. 
  5. Creating the Space for Inner WorkMany people across the justice ecosystem are intensely reflecting on what will make their work meaningful, impactful, and ultimately transformative. Of the emerging insights, many of us are finding answers in the vital connection between inner work – transforming ourselves, and outer work – transforming the world. In the context of generating thriving justice ecosystems, “inner work” may be one of the least discussed, but most essential elements. Our ability to create meaningful change as an “ecosystem” – depends on our ability to embody and reflect the transformation we wish to see inside ourselves at the same time we embody it in the systems around us. This relationship – between inner and outer change – is generative. The more we nurture and experience change in one, the more we long for and believe it can be so in the other. Click here to read more on inner work in MAG’s Nonprofit Quarterly article: Toward Love, Healing, Resilience, & Alignment: The Inner Work of Social Transformation & Justice

Banner Image Photo Credit: Siv Andersson |  CC BY-NC 2.0

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