On the Road for Community Democracy

March 24, 2016 | Garland Yates and Peter Pennekamp |

Democratic community action to confront and solve problems is part of America’s spirit. From 19th century New England town hall meetings to the civil rights movement and issues of today, stories and research demonstrate citizen efficacy where government, service providers and business fall short. Yet support for the engagement of democratic practices by communities, while never more needed, is ever less apparent by those in positions of power. This is all part of a larger pattern leading to growing inequality and pessimism by most Americans for their communities and our future.

Today, in spite of a recovery from the Great Recession, these are not the best of times for most Americans — particularly people of color. The middle class continues to shrink, wages are stagnating, retirees are struggling and low-income people remain powerless and voiceless in matters of civic importance. Yet the country continues to embrace policies where the wealthiest Americans have little incentive to invest in vibrant, equitable and inclusive communities, and the rest of us have fewer opportunities to make our voices heard.

In response, Community Democracy Workshop (CDW), a national project of Philanthropy Northwest, has been testing and demonstrating the practices and benefits of authentic community engagement:

  • CDW senior fellow and managing director Garland Yates consults with the Ford Foundation’s efforts to examine the premise that a civic engagement strategy can support a more robust and inclusive recovery process in Detroit.
  • We work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on methodology, strategy and tools for developing a cadre of Senior Community Democracy Fellows dedicated to coaching and mentoring future generations.
  • We helped the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) assess the potential for building institutional and community partnerships in central Little Rock neighborhoods that embrace the centrality of an “authentic resident leadership voice as a core element in the neighborhood revitalization process. We supported local WRF grantees in Jonesboro and Springdale, Arkansas as they strive to develop local approaches that embody authentic resident engagement strategies.
  • We work with the Learning and Evaluation Department of the California Endowment to research and increase knowledge and application of community democracy practices throughout California. We coach, mentor and help build connections with Pillars of the Community, a volunteer organization grounded in Islamic faith, committed to countering criminalization through civic engagement, community organizing, leadership development and strategic partnerships.
  • We collaborate with the Kettering Foundation to explore the links between philanthropy and community democracy.
  • CDW Senior Fellow Peter H. Pennekamp is in the second year of helping the California Community College Research and Planning Group think through the role of community engagement in improving student success, and the structural questions both for colleges and communities that result.
  • In partnership with Philanthropy Northwest, CDW led a workshop with the network of Washington community foundations to build knowledge about why and how to engage more with residents as part of their program development and grantmaking processes, particularly in the areas of community building and community change.
03.24.16 On The Road for Community Democracy

Oh, the places we go: CDW’s work in 2015

Organizationally, CDW’s primary achievement in 2015 was to expand, clarify and engage our vision, mission and purpose to support resident-centered community change strategies. In the fourth year since beginning research and conversations that led our founding in 2014, we have made good progress in transitioning from a pilot to an organized national effort under the umbrella of Philanthropy Northwest:

  • Our Summer 2015 National Meeting was hosted and supported by the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg, Oregon. CDW’s national meetings connect community democracy practitioners with philanthropy to jointly identify and solve problems, while refining CDW’s directions and priorities.
  • CDW partners agreed on a strategic direction for 2015-2017 that calls for a more robust approach to helping institutions, including government, work more effectively in partnership with communities to tackle basic and essential problems.
  • We identified and recruited people to serve as CDW Senior Fellows, who will also serve as a leadership group. Our day-to-day work, including fund development and overseeing operations, has been delegated to co-managing directors.
  • Key CDW Partners are organized into two main groups, with some overlap: (1) funding partners, such as the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the California Endowment; and (2) action partners of institutions and individuals, including from government and philanthropy.
  • We began work to build a technology platform to help maximize the strategic use of social media, with our new website published on February 25.

We look forward to the new year and growing our collective effort in building authentic community engagement.

This blog post was originally published by Philanthropy Northwest.