Messy Work – Broad-based Organizing for Social Change

When non-profits talk about community organizing efforts, the purposes can seem vague. What does it look like to build capacity in people? How does engagement actually happen? What does system change look like, and how can it be measured?

At its January 2019 board meeting, the Steelcase Foundation awarded a three-year $294,000 grant ($102,000 for years one and two and $90,000 for year three) to the Micah Center, a broad-based organization doing work in Grand Rapids. Micah Center is adopting a power before program framework. Instead of creating issue-specific programs and then building capacity around them, Micah Center will build a strong, broad-based organization first, rooted in relationships, which will then have the capacity to address multiple issues.

What is a Broad-Based Organization?

A broad-based organization is different from a traditional civic organization in that it:

  • Creates capacity for change-making by bringing together multiple mediating institutions and organizations as opposed to bringing together individuals. Mediating institutions are places where individuals go between work and home and where formation happens; places like neighborhood groups, faith communities, labor organizations, or schools.
  • Focuses continuously on leadership development and engaging new potential leaders.
  • Focuses on developing leaders and capacity in institutions whose public missions include the common good and creating stronger, more whole communities and people.
  • Is part of a national network of broad-based organizations with many years of experience in successful change-making, carefully and constantly honed organizing training, and ongoing access to practitioners for help with growth, guidance, and development.

Micah Center is partnering with the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (SWIAF) to accomplish this work. SWIAF has worked with communities to establish more than 50 broad-based organizations made up of mediating institutions whose membership is working together to learn the skills of engaging in public life, building relationships across lines that divide, and acting together effectively.

How Does This Meet a Community Need?

Micah Center’s efforts will address the root cause of social problems. This is an important complement to existing programs that respond to symptoms of issues. Direct services – such as food pantries and shelters – provide much-needed resources for immediate needs. Broad-based organizing and capacity-building efforts seek to change structures and systems to reduce the number of people who will need direct services in the future.

We’re excited to see how a broad-based organization in West Michigan can develop deepened capacity to tackle complicated social change work!