Exploring the Power of Collaboration and Inclusivity in Grassroots Organizing for a Stronger California

Illustration by Kristen Zimmerman for The i-Center.

Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations usually take a top-down approach to program development, where funding priorities and goals are determined by those in leadership roles. Those individuals then select and fund projects that are aligned with chosen priorities. However, these traditional philanthropic approaches can be muddied by White supremacy culture and can fall short of developing movement shifting strategies that change the material lives of the communities they seek to support. An improved approach, such as co-creation, is necessary. Co-creation, which advances anti-White supremacy culture, is gaining traction as a powerful tool for positive change. 

Co-creation involves collaboration among various stakeholders to create new ideas, products, or services that meet the needs and desires of everyone involved. Successful co-creation requires building trust among stakeholders, sharing power and decision making, and valuing diverse perspectives to ensure inclusivity. It is a valuable tool for enhancing impact, increasing collaboration, and empowering communities. But to meet the needs of communities and create a future where they can thrive, leadership must evolve so power building can evolve. This evolution requires intergenerational spaces that invest in future organizers so those young people can step into power building roles now. Additionally, creating movement institutions as places where leaders can heal and recharge is crucial.

Photo courtesy of HIP for i-Center.

Diverse California Leaders Unite to Build a Power Building Infrastructure Center

From the Summer of 2021 through the Winter of 2022, 37 leaders representing diverse constituencies, issues, generations, and regions in California developed the vision, purpose, and strategies for a Power Building Infrastructure Center. The cohort used survey and focus group data, representing over 500 individuals, to identify the key infrastructure needed to fuel transformative structural change across the state. The i-Center they developed is a space for power builders to come together and make breakthroughs on strategic questions such as evolving base-building strategies, building structural and narrative change, developing robust intergenerational and multiracial communities, and building robust alternatives to systems that are harming our communities. This work will serve as a vehicle to catalyze this movement-wide evolution and create a transformed California that communities urgently need and deserve. 

Photo courtesy of PICO California for i-Center.

The i-Center Lead Team is made up of changemakers and organizers that understand movement strategy and power building, intergenerational leadership development, and collective long-term sustainability and resiliency. Miya Yoshitani of APEN, Alex Tom of the Center for Empowered Politics, Anthony Thigpenn of California Calls, Olivia Araiza of the Othering & Belonging Institute, Joseph Tomás Mckellar of PICO Califonia, and Elly Matsumura of Power Switch Action are raising the necessary resources to fuel the mission, vision, programs, and key infrastructure of the i-Center.

Sharing Stories and Valuing Diversity are Crucial in Co-creation

The design facilitation and reporting of the i-Center generated many important insights that will strengthen capacity and impact with alignment regarding open-mindedness, empathy, active listening, and a willingness to compromise and collaborate. By valuing diverse perspectives and experiences and working collaboratively to create solutions, the i-Center achieved over 90 percent alignment (no easy feat!) on the three key strategic areas of focus: strategy and innovation, intergenerational leadership development, and healing and sustainable work culture.

Facilitation and storytelling are crucial components of co-creation as they help create inclusive and collaborative spaces where individuals from diverse backgrounds can come together to share their stories, perspectives, and ideas as they develop solutions that are effective, equitable, and sustainable. New Moon Collaborations, a Movement Strategy Network partner, focuses on storytelling and prioritizes co-creation and collaboration with Black and Indigenous people and communities of color. Unsurprisingly, Julie Quiroz, New Moon Collaborations founder, was tapped to create a captivating video that tells the story of the creation of the i-Center. 

Video by New Moon Collaborations, capturing the powerful voices of California leaders who took part in visioning and designing a future grassroots organizing infrastructure for California called the i-Center

MSC board member Tomás Garduño also contributed to the design development of the i-Center. With over 20 years of experience in political strategy and campaign development, Garduño worked as a community organizer, campaign manager, and strategic advisor for 22 grassroots social justice organizations, four candidate campaigns, and five institutes and universities. Along with MSC Innovation and Design Lead Sophie Hou, the two supported the facilitation of the i-Center’s design phase, allowing all individuals to contribute to the process, and ensuring that all voices were heard and valued.

"When we value diverse perspectives and experiences and work collaboratively to create solutions, we can begin to dismantle the structures of power that perpetuate White supremacy."

By incorporating values such as building trust, sharing power and decision-making, and valuing diverse perspectives, co-creation can lead to increased engagement, better outcomes, and stronger relationships among stakeholders. Thanks to the contributions of experts who make up the i-Center Lead Team, and with support from strategists and storytellers like Garduño, Hou, and New Moon Collaborations, the i-Center will foster the creation of more inclusive, equitable, and just solutions to the complex challenges facing Californians. 

When we value diverse perspectives and experiences and work collaboratively to create solutions, we can begin to dismantle the structures of power that perpetuate White supremacy and move towards a more equitable and just society for all. Join us in supporting the work of building intergenerational leadership and sustainable organizations as nurtured by the i-Center Team.