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Housing Affordability

Alison McCarthyOur Social Innovators Breakfast Series summer focus, Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change, continued in June with a panel discussion on housing affordability.

We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned:

When asked about how involving people who are most impacted by housing affordability (or lack thereof) in their work has made a difference, panelists pointed to the phenomenon of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” All three panelists talked about understanding the gaps between what exists and what a community needs: One talked about shifting focus to a specific population what was otherwise not part of the work (seniors on fixed income at risk of losing housing); another about integrating social equity into developments; and the third panelist talked of engaging community members in the design process of an affordable housing building so it is a trauma-informed space that can best meet the needs of the people it intends to serve.

One key point made during the discussion was about the range of ways people can experience homelessness. “We really need to keep in mind this affordability crisis, often, is invisible” and can weigh heavily on those living paycheck-to-paycheck because of the rent burden, those who are living doubled-up with relatives or couch surfing, or those staying in domestic violence situations for fear of being homeless if they leave. “We really need to keep in mind all of these invisible people who are holding it together, but they’re doing it at a real cost to themselves and their kids.” Nodding heads around the room suggested the panelists’ words rang true for many audience members.

Panelists discussed some of the most pressing issues regarding the current landscape of housing affordability, including the impact of interconnected systems that go along with housing (access to and affordability of healthy food, transit, the built environment) as well as policies that can impede or alleviate finding and keeping safe, affordable, stable housing. All three panelists explained how the social determinants of health play into housing insecurity, and how addressing upstream factors is important if we want to move beyond band-aid solutions to the housing crisis.

The interconnected nature of systems can make an issue like housing affordability feel even more complex and difficult to address. However, as panelists reminded the audience, interconnectivity also means multiple points of access into the issue, and multiple opportunities to affect change. “I urge you to think about how you can enter this sphere,” one panelist said in closing, as another added, “We need to address those other systems that accompany homelessness.”

You can view a recording of the panel discussion here.

We will continue to explore the interconnectivity of systems with the rest of our Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems change series. These include:

• July 31: Colorado’s Economic Growth
• August 29: Addressing Food Insecurity

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Moving from Equality to Equity

Alison McCarthyIn May 2018, our Social Innovators Breakfast Series launched a special summer focus: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change. Though we anticipate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) will be an important component for all events in the series, we decided to kick things off with a DEI-specific topic: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of moving from Equality to Equity.

We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned:

  • Heather Chikoore, Policy & Equity Specialist with the Colorado Education Initiative;
  • Tara Manthey, Vice President of Advocacy and Communications with the Colorado Children’s Campaign; and
  • Nancy Csuti, Vice President of Research, Evaluation & Strategic Learning with the Colorado Trust.

Panelists discussed both internal and external shifts driven by an organizational focus on equity. Internal work includes making structural changes such as hiring, performance management, and evaluation practices as well as staff training and education. External work includes dedicating time and resources to foster a genuine relationship with diverse partners, supporting grantees to advance equity, and working with marginalized populations to elevate their key concerns and progress.

“It’s been life-changing for me,” one of the panelists reflected when asked about personal growth on the journey to furthering equity, recognizing privilege, dismantling systems of oppression, etc. “I just wish I’d learned this years ago… the fact that I am White has made all the difference and that recognition has been pretty eye-opening.” In fact, one of the lessons panelists shared was the realization of how they may have unknowingly perpetuated inequities by hiring based on existing relationships by not asking candidates about their experience tackling inequities, thinking this work exists within the 9am-5pm window as opposed to a constant effort, unwittingly asking staff of color to do the emotional labor of educating White staff, etc.

Audience members also contributed to the dialogue by posing thoughtful questions to our panelists, illuminating their own struggles, lessons, and hopes for championing equity in Colorado. We hope this event prompted important reflections and provided concrete ideas for advancing equity – and we hope it is one of many ways funders, advocates, and other professionals can leverage each others’ knowledge and shared values to continue this important work.

Other events as part of our Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change series include:

• July 31: Colorado’s Economic Growth
• August 29: Addressing Food Insecurity

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Moving Principles into Practice

Alison McCarthyWe’ve been busy this Spring! As promised, we want to be transparent in sharing our journey to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles here at Spark. This blog post describes our DEI updates since May.

Tools for sharing and reflection

One of the early activities identified in our DEI plan was to develop a project checklist. The intent of this checklist is to ensure we consider DEI principles in all Spark projects. Not all the items on the list will apply to all projects. However, it reminds us of our values and probes us to ask questions like: “Could this element be included/considered? Why or why not?” It is meant to be a tool to help us think critically about the incorporation of DEI principles into our regular practice.

As we drafted the project checklist, we also recognized the importance of integrating DEI elements into the work before the project launch phase. We decided to develop a project proposal checklist so DEI can be integrated from the beginning of the project design process.

We adapted our checklists from work by Public Policy Associates and Equitable Evaluation. While we are still piloting them and anticipate they will be tweaked over time, we’d love to hear any thoughts or feedback you have on what we’ve come up with so far:

It’s also important to note that we understand that something as complex and crucial as DEI cannot be boiled down to a couple of checklists – we don’t see these tools as the end-all-be-all. Rather, we see them as a starting point, a way to prompt us to integrate these values into everyday practice.

DEI Awareness and Learning

In addition to our process tools, we’ve looked at other ways to elevate DEI within Spark.

As a team, we started regular DEI Discussions where we select an article, video, podcast, or other resources on a relevant DEI topic and get together to discuss it over coffee. Our first conversation was centered on a Denverite article on the gentrification of the Welton Corridor/Five Points. Since Spark is housed on Welton Street, we felt it was important to consider how we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and the changes occurring in the neighborhood. We asked ourselves an important question: If Spark were located somewhere else, what, if anything, would change? The question spurred thoughtful reflection and rich discussion. Next month, we plan to focus on inclusion in the workplace, basing our discussion on this article from Psychology Today.

Additionally, Spark’s Social Innovators Breakfast Series launched a special summer focus: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change. Though we anticipate DEI will be an important component for all events in the series, we decided to kick things off with a DEI-specific topic: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of moving from Equality to Equity. You can listen to the panel discussion on our YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for next blog post, which will be a reflection on this conversation and the lessons that emerged!

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Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Update

Alison McCarthyWe are committed to being open and transparent throughout our process of implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Spark. We have a lot of progress to share this month and hope it will be helpful to our staff, local community, peers, clients, and the people most affected by our work.

After announcing our DEI commitment and sharing our plan in January, we searched for and hired a DEI consultant, Maria Velasco from the Spring Institute. We feel lucky to have talked with so many incredible people; it’s heartening to see how many qualified folks are out there doing this work.

Here’s a list of names and contact information of the DEI consultants with whom we spoke. We are so excited to begin our work with Maria!

In preparation for our DEI “kickoff” with Maria, we conducted a literature review to identify tenets and measurements of organizational inclusiveness. Literature suggests that the essential components of inclusiveness are:

  • Fairness and opportunity
  • Belonging
  • Trust and respect

We then developed an internal staff survey that would incorporate these components and help us to better understand our baseline regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. We adapted three commonly used instruments to ensure relevance to our organization. They include:

We have administered the survey to staff, and are hoping for a 100% response rate. We’ll work through the results with Maria at our next DEI staff training.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share our efforts at developing a DEI project and proposal checklist – serving as a prompt for incorporating DEI principles into all Spark projects. As always, we welcome your insights and questions as we move forward on this journey. Feel free to use the chat box below with any comments.

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Journey to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Alison McCarthy

Capitalizing on the new year’s encouragement of new habits and improvement, we are excited to announce a renewed focus to build and improve on Spark’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. This undertaking reflects our organizational and individual staff values. Much like New Year’s Resolutions that last, we know this type of work requires ongoing commitment through successes and challenges, a humble and realistic approach, and support from those around us.

Spark has had an inclusiveness statement since 2014 and has used participatory research and facilitation approaches since its inception. The general sentiments underlying DEI have been a part of this organization since the beginning. We believe it’s time to build on these sentiments to operationalize them – to “walk our talk,” so to speak. The people we work with and for deserve it. Additionally, many of us are drawn to the work we get to do at Spark because of our desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. To do so effectively, we know we need to work to better understand all the layers that make up people’s rich cultures and world views. It is the first step towards building the authentic relationships we seek to cultivate.

Our DEI plan, which you can see here, includes both internal goals for staff awareness and skill building and external goals around the way we work with stakeholders, partners, and clients. We aim to infuse DEI into our language, behaviors, tools, approaches, products, processes, and policies. Part of the reason for this range of focus areas is the recognition that both an individual and systemic approach are needed for real change.

This affects all of us at Spark, and our DEI team (Daniela, Alison, Kristin, and Adell) will be guiding the implementation of this plan. As a team, we largely reflect Spark in this process: passionate about our values and dedicated to this work, though by no means experts.

We commit to keep you updated on our progress. This will include both the successes we have and the challenges we bump up against. We’ll share lessons learned and highlight partners who are taking on this work.

We sincerely hope we hear from you, too. Have a resource to share? Got some advice or feedback for us? Are you struggling with something in this area where we can either help or brainstorm together? Let us know! We don’t have the perfect formula here, and we don’t expect everything to go smoothly. But we know something is better than nothing, so we’re doing our best and taking some important steps. We hope you’ll join us on this journey!