This is a guest blog post by Nathan Henderson-James, the online director for the Leadership Center for the Common Good. He was among the thousands that attended the Freedom From Fear Awards at Netroots Nation 2011. He blogs irregularly at Ghosts of Joe Slovo.
On 18 June 2011, a young Latina stood in front of 2,500 people in Minneapolis, M.N. and said, “My name is Tania Unzueta and I’m undocumented and queer.” But more than those two critical pieces of identity and status, she also is the cofounder of a group called the Immigrant Youth Justice League, which got its start as a campaign to stop the deportation of a friend. That campaign eventually won the support of five Congressmen, a Senator, the Chicago City Council, community organizations and thousands of Chicagoans, and provided the momentum for the launch of IYJL. Since then they have created “National Coming Out of the Shadows Day” for undocumented youth, declaring to be “undocumented and unafraid.” Oh, and they stopped the deportation of their friend, Rigo Padilla as well.
What made this speech remarkable was not so much its content (though Unzueta’s story is moving and powerful) but rather the setting of her speech and how she was chosen as part of the closing keynote presentation at the annual Netroots Nation convention. And those two factors have much to say to philanthropy as a whole as it moves into the second decade of the 21st century.
Unzueta’s speech was a part of the “Freedom from Fear Award” ceremony. The award was created by two program officers: Geri Mannion of the Carnegie Corporation, and Taryn Higashi, executive director of Unbound Philanthropy and former program officer of the Ford Foundation. It is administered by Public Interest Projects. This year, 15 recipients each were awarded $5,000.
The first remarkable factor about these awards is that recipients aren’t identified through an RFP process or LOI’s. They were found via “crowdsourcing”: people were nominated via social media – outside of the traditional, paper-intensive grant-soliciting process. Not only does this approach have the ability to help expand the potential grant pool beyond those with the most “insider” knowledge, it also has the ability to reach potentially deserving grantees from traditionally underserved communities because those communities tend to be among the most voracious users of social media.
The second remarkable thing about these awards was that they were publically announced at the 2011 conference of Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of highly wired activists and organizations that work on an array of issues aimed at bringing marginalized communities into the American mainstream. Not only did the audience of 2,500 contain a huge contingent of people who have worked tirelessly for comprehensive immigration reform, it was also pre-disposed to “get” the process by which the awardees were nominated. That combination probably had a lot to do with the fact that recipient after recipient received standing ovations from the crowd gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Both of these facts show philanthropy a path through which it can navigate the tremendous changes that are being wrought by the internet. While this may or may not have direct impact on the biggest of the institutional donors, it will, along with tools like Kickstarter and Jumo, remake the landscape of individual donors and donor advised funds.
It is not hard to envision a future dominated with approaches like that adopted by the Freedom From Fear Award; corporate donors like Chase and Pepsi both have implemented large-scale crowdsourcing donor programs over the past two years. And by opening up the grantmaking process to more recipients, philanthropy also is expanding its audience.
Ceremonies like the one at Netroots Nation will become more common. And that’s a good thing. Because who doesn’t like seeing their grantees get standing ovations for their work to make the world a better place?
Video of Tanaa Unzueta's Speech during the Freedom from Fear Award at Netroots Nation
Full video of the Freedom from Fear Award Ceremony