Living up to our values

Faizah Barlas

This summer, I was accepted to the Environmental Fellows Program, through the University of Michigan, SEAS, and placed at the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund (Grassroots Fund). When I found out, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to support their work through my lived experience, my work experiences, and the knowledge I have obtained through my graduate studies in nonprofit management and policy at NYU Wagner

I have previously worked providing direct legal services in housing, criminal justice, and undocumented immigration organizing for a grassroots, a small, and a mid-sized nonprofit. Through these experiences, I became increasingly interested in the ways the physical environment--such as water and air quality, neighborhood planning and development, and transportation--affected my clients, and how these environmental conditions were connected to their legal troubles. Grassroots Fund staff and I are excited to find ways to innovate on their intersectional environmental lens in a way that allows me to share my knowledge and experience advancing equity, transparency, and developing social justice practices that match these values.

This summer, I am creating the Toolkit Report, which will function as a resource for grassroots organizations to understand Grassroots Funds’ Guiding Values and provide examples of grassroots organizations and projects that successfully embody those values. The report will explain two of Grassroots Funds’ core values: Just Transition and Shifting Power. 

The Grassroots Fund considers projects rooted in a Just Transition as those “focused on efforts to move from an extractive fossil-fuel driven economy grounded in consumerism, militarism, the exploitation of land, labor and resources to a local, living, loving economy grounded in ecological and social well-being, cooperation, and regeneration.” The Grassroots Fund takes leadership from the Just Transition framework created by the Climate Justice Alliance, with the hopes of bringing the framework to communities throughout New England. This framework asks us to think big about the changes we need to build a just and liveable future, and we want to bring it home to New England communities so that they can situate their work as a part of this movement toward justice and democracy. Our Toolkit will break down what Just Transition means for grassroots organizations and how an organization can determine if their work is rooted in and advancing a Just Transition. A key component of a Just Transition is shifting power back into the hands of the people, and those most impacted by the crisis we face. 

The second Guiding Value I will be assessing is called “Shifting Power” and is defined by the Grassroots Fund as “transparency and accountability to the community, and democracy.” This toolkit report will detail a more full definition of what these terms could mean within grassroots organizations, and provide a framework for organizations to be able to determine where they are on the spectrum of shifting power within their organization and community, and what work remains to be done. These frameworks will be built off of Grassroots Fund’s decades of experience working with community-based groups to understand the challenges and opportunities for uplifting these values.

Both Toolkits will highlight what our highest scoring grantees in recent years are doing in their work to embody these values. This resource will be available to foundations, grantees, and prospective applicants about two of Grassroots Funds’ guiding values and the kind of work they are invested in funding.  

To put together this Toolkit, I will be interviewing staff and individuals from our grantmaking committee about what these guiding values mean and identifiers they look for when they are determining how to score organization’s grant applications. Further, I will be analyzing grant reports, their grading rubrics, and comments, and high scoring grantee organizations will be interviewed about their work and different processes that show how they’re pushing themselves to think deeper about the work that they’re doing and how they’re shifting power and advancing just transition. The goal for the toolkit report is to be informative and transparent about Grassroot Fund’s process and the intersectional environmental grassroots movement they’re interested in building, as well as inspiring to prospective and current grantees about the work that is currently being done by grassroots groups within the region. As members of our wider community and practicing our guiding values internally, we want to make this process transparent and encourage your involvement. Stay tuned! 

Please contact [email protected] if you want to share ways your grassroots group is practicing Just Transition and Shifting Power or if you would like to share your definitions of Just Transition and Shifting Power and actions and procedures grassroots groups can adopt to further these values internally. You can also sign up to be a grant reviewer and learn more about these frameworks here