Meet the foundations we will honor at the 2019 NCRP Impact Awards in Seattle
“We are in the fight of our lives for the story of who we are, and who we should become.”
We live at a time when false and misleading narratives about people who are immigrants and refugees, Muslims, people of color and Native people – especially those who are women, queer, transgender and/or disabled – are deeply polarizing societies and damaging and sometimes destroying the lives of individuals and communities.
For all of us working toward a just and vibrant society where we can all flourish – where we uphold human dignity, value our diversity and embrace our common humanity – we must help shape narratives about our communities.
Today’s harmful narratives shape hundreds of millions of people’s worldviews and behaviors. At the same time, affirming, pluralistic ones can make a new, just future feel possible, and can accelerate changes in public sentiment, as well as policy change.
In July 2018, an NPR/Ipsos poll found that the type of TV news people consume is the strongest predictor of their feelings on immigration – stronger, even, than their political party.
Unbound grantee Define American works in news and entertainment media to increase and improve the representation of immigrants and people of color through more nuanced, accurate and humanizing stories. Specifically through its entertainment media work, they consult with Hollywood writers and showrunners on the production of new storylines.
For example, Define American has consulted on NBC’s hit comedy Superstore for 4 seasons, helping craft and navigate the story of Mateo, a gay character from the Philippines who discovers that he is undocumented through the course of the show.
Superstore is the first network TV sitcom to feature an Asian undocumented character. It has a substantial reach across mainstream audiences, including parts of the Midwest and rural America.
“TV and film play a profound role in shaping American culture,” Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, notes on its website. “Yet, when it comes to representation of Black people, culture and issues, far too much of the content Hollywood produces promotes dangerous misunderstandings that holds back racial justice in the real world.”
Racist policing is propped up by racist media narratives about crime and justice.
Color Of Change, a pathbreaker in their use of long-term, culture change strategies, builds power to ensure accurate, diverse, empathetic and human portrayals of Black people on screen.
For example, they partnered with filmmaker Ava DuVernay on the Emmy-winning Netflix series When They See Us about 5 young men of color wrongfully convicted in the 1989 killing of a jogger in New York’s Central Park.
Through the When They See Us campaign, Color Of Change is working to help audiences explore the themes in the series and identify ways we can come together and take action to end the injustices in our criminal justice system.
Funding urgent immigration needs
As a relatively small funder focused on immigration in the U.S. and U.K., we look for urgent, unmet needs; we test and iterate new ideas to address them effectively; we act as a catalyst; and we seek partners to multiply our impact.
Based on our research, Unbound believes that narrative strategy advances and complements other more well-practiced power-building strategies such as organizing, civic engagement, and policy advocacy.
For more than 5 years, Unbound has invested significant resources into investigating the role that narrative power can play in accelerating the goals of advocates for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.
Unbound was an early funder of the immigrant justice movement in using narrative and pop culture strategies.
Transforming today’s harmful narratives to affirming, pluralistic ones is the fight for our lives.
In 2016, Unbound co-funded, with the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Pop Justice Report Series produced by Liz Manne Strategies to illuminate the pop culture for social change landscape for the philanthropic sector.
Based on those findings, Unbound co-founded with Nathan Cummings and the Ford Foundation the Pop Culture Collaborative, a multi-year, multi-million dollar philanthropic resource and funder learning community that uses grantmaking, convening, narrative strategy and research to help mass audiences understand the past, make sense of the present and imagine the future of American society.
The Pop Culture Collaborative organizes its grantmaking through 5 strategic areas:
1. Artists Advancing Culture Change.
2. Building the Pop Culture for Social Change Field.
3. Culture Change Research and Learning.
4. Innovations in Mass Audience Activation.
5. Movement-Led Pop Culture Narrative Strategies.
In addition to funding the emerging and pathbreaking pop culture change work of social justice organizations, it directly supports artists to build new infrastructure within the entertainment industry.
For example, it supports Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Alliance to develop an industry database to find, cultivate, and market diverse below-the-line crew talent, and Sameer Gardezi’s Break the Room Media, to create television writers rooms led by artists from Muslim, South Asian, Indigenous, trans and other historically excluded communities.
They take this grantmaking approach with the understanding that when artists are innovating and building new infrastructure inside the entertainment industry, the opportunity moves past just creating better representation and towards a storytelling field capable of creating authentic, paradigm-shifting narrative experiences.
Being a partner with the collaborative has deepened Unbound’s ability to further this field and enhanced our pop culture for social change grantmaking approaches.
Our grantees are collectively leveraging pop culture opportunities to build narrative infrastructure and narrative power in order to advance their organizing, policy, and educational campaigns.
For example, the National Domestic Workers Alliance partnered with Particpant Media and director Alfonso Cuarón around the Oscar-winning film Roma to transform the narrative about domestic workers, and created a culture change strategy that directly connected the film to concrete solutions, including a National Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights and Alia, an online benefits platform for housecleaners.
These collaborations came about due to deep relationships built among artists, entertainment industry leaders and activists over time and from long-term philanthropic support of organizations engaged in culture change work.
Additionally, Unbound is exploring through this work how to create a narrative system framework that goes far beyond immigration, as narratives about immigration are intertwined with other aspects of our identities and other issues, such as racial justice, economic justice and gender justice.
We are forming a cohort of stakeholders engaged in narrative work related to immigrant, refugee and asylum-seeker issues, who will grapple with foundational questions about Americans’ views towards immigration and who will prototype new narratives.
What other funders can do to change narratives
Unbound has numerous lessons about working with narrative that may be useful for other funders, but 3 rise to the top:
1. We must engage in narrative in collaboration. Narrative work takes an alchemy of researchers, people with lived experience, artists, experts in narrative strategy and philanthropy.
2. Developing narratives takes time, and narratives need to be implemented and continually iterated, tested, revised, retested and repeated, until they become a story we’ve always known. Engaging in narrative requires more collective energy, creativity and rigor than we have typically allocated.
3. Narrative change does not happen in a silo; it happens when it is interconnected with organizing and policy-influencing activities. The strategies build strength for each other, they all need to be supported, and the approaches need to be integrated.
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