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June Spark News: Changing the World, One System at a Time

Spark Policy Institute

Spark-notext-highresThis month, we’re looking at how organizations can support large-scale systems change, either as a backbone, partner, evaluator, fiscal intermediary, or through many other roles. But we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about what happened in Orlando. Earlier in June, we witnessed the worst mass shooting in our country’s modern history. In the wake of the shooting, there has been a lot of discussion about how we got here and where we go.

As some of you may know, Spark was originally conceived to replicate, improve on, and expand the types of systems change work that one of the founders helped to lead in response to the Columbine High School shooting. During that process, over a hundred leaders from across the system, community and private sector came together to try to find a systemic solution. They found some small changes, but it took years before anything significant shifted. Spark was created to help catalyze, accelerate, learn from, and scale systems change efforts across issues and needs. It was born of a recognition that meaningful change doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it requires a cross-system, cross-sector approach.

The why of what happened at Pulse on June 12 is complex and there is no easy – or singular – way to prevent similar incidents happening in the future. But we can work toward achieving a solution together by recognizing the complexity of the situation and the ways in which we all play a part in creating, implementing, and continuing to improve that solution.

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Working with the Faith Community to Spark Social Change

This month, we’ve looked at how to use the private sector to scale change.  Now I want to shift the focus outside of the public/private realm and look at the role other groups can plan in creating meaningful change: specifically, the role the faith community can play in bringing attention to and energizing people around an issue.

MLKFaith-based organizing has historically been integral in social justice movements, from women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery and in civil rights movement of the 60s in the US to ending apartheid in South Africa. More recently, the faith community has been an active partner in addressing issues such as climate change, immigration reform, access to contraceptives, economic justice, ending childhood obesity and many others.

The power of faith-based community mobilizing comes from:

  • Their focus on living an ethical life, with an emphasis on service to others and working towards a just society;
  • The transformative nature of faith, which orients people to the public good; and
  • Their ability to cross racial and economic lines and to bring new constituencies, such as recent immigrants, into the public sphere.

Recognizing the power of the faith community to achieve social reform through civic engagement, faith-based community organizations (FBCOs) began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s. These organizations helped build a mobilizing infrastructure that is more fully able to leverage the natural orientation of faith communities toward the public good, amplifying the voice and reach of their social justice efforts.

Together COIn our work with Project Health Colorado, we saw upfront how valuable faith leaders can be as part of a broader movement. PHC was a three-year effort designed to get people talking about access to health care and how it can be improved. The initiative worked with 14 organizational partners who helped spread the message of PHC through their networks and by recruiting volunteers.  One of the partners was Together Colorado, a member of the PICO National Network.

Together Colorado worked to engage faith leaders in PHC and our evaluation found that the leaders they recruited were some of the most active and engaged in the project. On average, faith leaders reported reaching over 70 people in-person and over 170 people when electronic outreach was included. There were some who had more extensive reach, engaging over 300 people through in-person events; one leader even had access to a congregation of 8,500 people!  The faith community was invaluable – extending the reach of PHCs message far beyond anything paid staff could have done.

Clearly, the faith community can be an important partner in a social movement – they have a trusted platform, an engaged constituency and the passion for making a difference in their community.  So how can we effectively connect with faith-based communities?

  • Be respectful, do your research and listen to their concerns, so you can frame your issue through their values and beliefs. Circle
  • Similarly, allow faith communities to connect to the issues that resonate with them, rather than creating an agenda they may not connect with.
  • Be strategic when engaging faith leaders – rather than asking them to join your work, work respect their leadership and support it.
  • Provide an organizing platform that allows them to easily move from concept to action and support them (and your cause) through training on messaging.  Check out the great approach Together Colorado uses to learn more about this!
  • Demonstrate results! Show that their voice matters to sustain engagement.

Creating meaningful change is a collaborative effort.  It takes people and programs from across the spectrum: public and private, faith-based and secular, and everything in between.  Each group has unique abilities and attributes that can – and should – be used to help scale change and help spark the change that makes the difference we’re all working toward.

To learn more about Together Colorado’s efforts and how to effectively engage faith leaders, check out our brief with The Colorado Trust.