By Allison Magee

An Inside/Outside Approach to Funding Participatory Governance in Oakland

At ZFF, we developed our strategic framework to promote belonging, connection, and a shared sense of safety among people and communities in the Bay Area. We’ve used the framework as a compass for our work and over the last six months, leaned into the questions we established in our learning agenda. A learning agenda acknowledges that no one person or organization can define or impose a solution for a whole system. Using an emergent learning process allows the broader community to apply its collective thinking and evolving understanding to the complex challenges we are working together to address.

ZFF is committed to the long game but, we already see the potential for greater community impact taking shape, especially in Oakland where we are taking an inside/outside approach to advancing community participation in governing.

In June, ZFF contributed to the newly established Multiracial Democracy Fund (the Fund). The Fund, launched by the East Bay Community Foundation and the Akonadi Foundation, is part of a growing effort to support community-driven efforts to realize an inclusive democracy that centers the voices and prioritizes the needs of Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color. What is unique about this effort, is its focus on testing new ideas to ensure an effective and equitable co-governance structure that includes greater participation among marginalized communities; better said, an Oakland that works for everyone.

One of the first investments of the Fund was Oakland Mayor Thao’s Talking Transitions, a citywide civic engagement process to build a solutions-based Action Plan created in partnership with the community. Mayor Thao is a rare example of a leader who has endured many of the same hardships that Oakland’s most marginalized communities are themselves experiencing. Her lived experience as a daughter of refugees who faced challenges such as homelessness and domestic violence offers insight and credibility as she forges new and authentic partnerships with her constituents.

ZFF’s investments in the Fund and Mayor Thao’s vision for Oakland exemplify the relationship between ZFF’s strategic framework and our learning agenda, and how the learning questions we developed guide our grantmaking. Our goal to transform systems to invest in services and supports that reflect the strengths and needs of the community means we need to understand the complexities of our public systems and how real sustainable change happens. As part of our learning agenda, we want to learn with our partners what it takes to support and empower decision makers to affect change within the system. We hope that the work in Oakland along with ZFF’s other partnerships will inform ZFF’s strategy and more importantly contribute to the field so every resident in the Bay Area feels safe, welcome, and has what they need to thrive. We are eager to share more about future investments of the Fund and our learning agenda. Stay tuned for more updates as the work progresses!