Adelina Nicholls, co-founder and executive director of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) described the challenges of her work in the As the South Grows: Bearing Fruit NCRP report with a simple yet illustrative quote:
“I am the one keeping the books, moving around money and paying the bills. I am the only one writing the grants, and I am the one leading our community organizing.”
In spite of the financial limitations with which her organization has had to operate in the past almost two decades, the accomplishments of GLAHR speak of an effective organization staffed mostly by volunteers and cemented in the community.
Adelina’s case is not unique; in fact, it is the reality for a myriad of small Latino serving nonprofit organizations working in partnership with thousands of Latinx families, students and entrepreneurs across Georgia.
These organizations, Latino-led and largely underfunded and unknown to funders and decision-makers, are, in our opinion, the key to building a more equitable future for Georgia. This is why:
According to the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, one in five Georgians will be Latino in 2030. With significant geographic dispersion and significant limitations in transportation, immigration and language, it is only through a network of agencies that already have built trust and respect in our families, that we are able to have the wide and deep reach needed to bridge the gap between opportunity and talent for our hard-working, entrepreneurial and resilient community.
Since the early ‘90s, when Georgia experienced for the first time (since the African slave trade closed down) a large-scale influx of “non-traditional” population – in this case Latinos, coming to build the city for the Olympics – the Hispanic community has evolved significantly, yet funding models have not.
What made sense 30 years ago, which was to fund a few national or well-known organizations and expect them to deliver basic services to Spanish-speaking, mostly young males working in construction, following a pyramidal model that funds organizations at the top (more visible and larger) expecting benefits and funding to reach the middle and base of the pyramid (the communities) does not work today.
Today, the community has evolved and diversified. We are 10 percent of the state population, and mostly young families. While most Latinx adults are still first generation immigrants, 87 percent of all Latinos under 18 are American citizens. Latinas in Georgia are one of the fastest segments opening businesses in the country and very civically engaged, dominating voter participation rates with 73 percent of us casting ballots in 2016 (according to the report issued by Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, 2016: The Latino Electorate in Georgia Continues to Grow and Vote).
Many challenges remain. Unlike other states with a more mature Latino community, we do not have “barrios” where generations of Latinos have traditionally lived, grown and develop influence and iconic institutions and leaders. Our realities as recent immigrants and new Americans are translated into barriers for self-sufficiency and efficiencies, even more clear when we, Latinos, lead our own institutions.
A new funding model needs to take place to meet the needs of this new community.
This new funding model, an inverted pyramid, funding a network of organizations, versus one or two, needs to use a deliberate equity lens and criteria to assessing capacity that is sensitive to the realities of our community.
While perfect English, minimum budgets and complex strategic plans are often appropriate standards and blanket criteria for mainstream organizations, they do not serve a community that has been historically underfunded, many times ignored and at best tokenized.
These standards limit well-meaning organizations by overlooking the very attributes and capacities that make Latino-led and majority Latino-serving grassroots organizations uniquely qualified to serve our own community:
The only way to build a sustainable ecosystem of competent Latino-serving organizations is to invest in local and community-centered leadership.
With 41 percent of Latino children living in poverty in the state (Pew Hispanic Center) and only 0.3 percent of grantmaking in Metro Atlanta allocated to immigrant-serving organizations (according to NCRP), we must do better.
Yes, investments in large and national organizations with local chapters are still important, but it is equally important to support the existing infrastructure of organizations already influencing and doing the heavy lifting through deep community connections across counties and regions in the state.
This inverse pyramidal funding model is a model that we see replicated in politics, where mayors are leading change in their cities (versus Washington leading from the top down) and also in efforts to bridge the digital divide (from internet cafes and hubs, to mass access via subsidized digital products and technology). The model is key to ensuring economic opportunity, building capacity and supporting effective action and power building in our community.
Our network, 22 members strong, is a testament of the willingness of our Latino-led and majority Latino-serving organizations in Georgia to work together towards a better future for all. Because yes, we are stronger together and we, Latinx, help Georgia grow.
Gilda (Gigi) Pedraza is the executive director of Latino Community Fund (LCF Georgia). Follow @GigiPedrazaM and @LatinoConnectGA on Twitter.