Rhizoma Logo

Stories of Impact

Explore our diverse collection of articles, blog posts, videos and audio interviews
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Asylum Access: The Origin Story
READ
How a small group of human rights lawyers created one of the first organization's in the world to focus on the legal and human rights needs of refugees beyond basic humanitarian aid.
May 9, 2024
3 min read

Working as a young lawyer in Egypt, Emily Arnold-Fernández had witnessed firsthand how disconnected the global response to the refugee community was from the actual realities of the refugee experience. In 2005, back home in San Francisco, she brought together a passionate group of human rights lawyers who shared her frustrations. With decades of combined experience in refugee and international law, they had all seen how forcibly displaced people who flee human rights violations in their home countries almost always experience further violations in the countries that should provide safe haven. In Arnold-Fernández’s small apartment, working on desks improvised from coffee tables and TV trays, they created Asylum Access, becoming one of the first organizations in the world to focus on the human rights needs of refugees beyond just humanitarian aid.

Nearly a decade later in 2014, Malaysian lawyer Deepa Nambiar was an integral part of the organization’s expansion, launching Asylum Access’s Malaysian national office. Now working at the global level as the Director of Partnerships, Nambiar reaffirms the importance of their mission: 

“Most refugees can't return to their home countries, so they end up being in host countries for years, if not decades. But the way the refugee response community responds to them is, let's put them in camps, let's just give food, shelter, water, emergency humanitarian aid instead of how do we fix the fundamental problems in the system. How can we ensure that refugees who are living in host countries have the rights and the laws to protect them, that allow them to work, to go to school, to rebuild their lives while waiting for potential resettlement, instead of just being stuck in camps forever?”

Twenty years since its inception, Asylum Access continues to provide legal advice, help refugees navigate complex legal processes to get documentation, challenge unlawful violations or exploitation, and do advocacy at the global level to make sure that institutions of power prioritize refugee human rights. But their work requires ongoing evolution and adaptation, and over the past few years they’ve emphasized more meaningful refugee participation: How can refugees themselves be part of leadership and be involved in decision making at all levels? They realized that one-off advice and mentorship wasn’t the most impactful way to facilitate change, so they began building local partnerships that supported communities in setting up their own refugee rights NGOs, working closely with them to develop the necessary tools and assist with fundraising. Says Nambiar:

“We believe in shifting power and changing the system and not just putting bandaids on the problem. But we recognized that the way we approached partnership came from quite a colonial mindset like, ‘We know better, let us show you how to set up this organization in a country that we've never been to.’ Of course it came from a place of wanting to help and wanting to support but, in hindsight, we didn't build partnerships that really centered the knowledge and experiences and leadership of our local partners.”

Their partnership strategy has changed significantly as a result, so that now, says Nambiar, 

“We are using our privilege and access to resources, to global spaces, to donors, to conversations, and saying ‘We've got information, we've got tools. What is going to be most useful for you?’ And we build partnerships around that. And ultimately our goal is to just slink away and let our partners lead the work.”

BYkids: The Origin Story
READ
How a former New York Times journalist recognized documentary film as the key to unlocking empathy and empowering young people around the world to tell their own stories.
May 9, 2024
3 min read

BYkids Founder and Executive Director Holly Carter loves documentary film. She sees it as an invaluable resource for kids to learn about the world—especially when the documentary films are made by other kids.

“I think that's the way to crack people wide open. I think it's the language that kids speak. They don’t need words, they need moving images. I want to have kids be able to see the world more realistically and be able to participate in it in a way that they have some amount of authority. I want kids to own their voice. I want kids to use their voice. I want them to really get comfortable in their skin so they can use their power.” 

In her earlier career as a journalist working at the New York Times, Carter noticed what she describes as “colonial journalism.” She observed her colleagues flying to countries where they often didn’t speak the language or understand the culture to quickly gather information that was then reported in ways that she believed were often superficial or incorrect. After leaving the New York Times, she traveled to South Korea as a Henry Luce Scholar, with little knowledge of the country, the culture, or the language. Returning two years later, she found herself engaged in a form of  guerrilla diplomacy, educating other Americans about a country that was potentially misunderstood.

"I really got obsessed with this idea that people on the ground should be telling their own stories. We should not be having a person, a filter, a journalist, a cameraman, go somewhere to take a story.”

From there, it was a logical shift to the realm of documentary filmmaking, where she became a producer on a film about the life of Margaret Sanger for PBS. “I realized that when I go to see a documentary film, that just lit up my world. That was where I found magic,” Carter says. Eager to share that magic with a broader community, her next project was a partnership with DoubleTake magazine to launch the Full Frame documentary film festival in Durham, North Carolina. 

Around that time, Carter began to notice what she considered to be significant gaps in her own children’s school curriculum, observations that reminded her of the colonial journalism she had witnessed early in her career.

“What got me mad was that these kids are being taught about pluralism and equity. And yet, they really only want to go to Harvard and get rich. What we're actually teaching our kids is not to listen and be empathetic, but just to get ahead for themselves.”

Motivated by the hypocrisy of educational institutions and the fear-mongering around differences following 9/11, Carter began working on how she could shift the education of American youth using films by young people.

And, with that, BYkids was born. 

Children of the Forest: The Origin Story
READ
How one safe haven for kids in Thailand inspired the creation of another to support migrant stateless children and their families on the border with Burma.
May 14, 2024
3 min read

Children of the Forest (CoF) is a non-governmental organization based in Sangklaburi, Thailand that provides stateless children and families with the necessary resources to build a self-sufficient and fulfilling life. Without Thai identification, stateless persons lack access to affordable education and healthcare and are at high risk for violence and exploitation. CoF provides opportunities for migrant children and their families to break their cycle of disadvantage through no-cost schools, healthcare coverage, and protection services. Their approach is guided by CoF’s principles of investing in youth, protecting vulnerable persons, reaching out to communities, and adapting to their needs.

British CoF founder Daniel Hopson was living and teaching in Japan 25 years ago when a student told him about a place he’d visited in Thailand called the Children’s Village, a healing space for children of drug-addicted parents. While traveling in Thailand himself, Hopson decided to visit the Village.  

“I was taken around by a social worker and saw their vocational activities, saw their teaching, saw the children enjoying washing their clothes and swimming in the evening in the river, the beautiful natural setting, and you could just sense that they were genuinely healing and that just by being there, by the support from the staff, by the natural environment, that they were moving through their trauma.”

What really stuck with him was the conversation he had with the social worker at the end of that day, when he came to realize that she'd grown up at the Village herself, had attended their schools, gone on to university, and come back to be a social worker there. He recognized not only the incredible change that had been made possible for her, but also the ripple effect it had on so many other lives.

That's when Hopson was inspired to leave the corporate world and follow a new path. He went back to Japan for a year to save up some money and then returned to the Children’s Village, where he volunteered for over two years, primarily as an English teacher. He began visiting the border region with Burma, where he encountered so many children who lacked access to formal education and many who were living in unsafe situations or had been abandoned by their parents. Hopson and his colleagues wanted to help these children join the safety of the Children’s Village, but the children didn't have the proper documentation to leave the border area. 

Seeing such an urgent need for schools and protective services, Hopson thought, why not bring a similar safe haven to them? With some help from his parents to purchase the land, he and a few other volunteers began their new project with a school. They thought maybe a dozen children would show up, but somehow word got out through the villages and plantations, and they had 150 children on the first day.

"So we were a school from day one. It wasn't really planned, but the need was there.” 

And the seeds for Children of the Forest were planted.

In-Sight Collaborative: The Origin Story
READ
How a group of volunteers responded to the refugee crisis in Greece and steadily evolved to become a global grassroots organization providing educational resources for humanitarians and activists.
May 10, 2024
3 min read

In-Sight Collaborative is a global grassroots organization that focuses on education for humanitarians and activists. What is one word that can describe their work? “Co-learning,” says executive director, Madi Williamson. 

Founded in 2016  by a group of friends volunteering in refugee camps in Northern Greece, In-Sight Collaborative began as a response to the often inaccurate narratives in Western culture regarding migration. Williamson and her fellow founding members recognized the incongruence between the media’s representation of refugees and the actual experiences of the people they met.

“We realized one of the most important things we could do to truly help the people we met in displacement was to help change those narratives. In an acute humanitarian crisis spanning acres and acres of farm fields, train tracks, and spreading to gas station parking lots and abandoned hotels, our founding members recognized that the current lens we had grown up viewing the world through was dangerously misleading. We saw a need for more collaboration, for more inclusion of the affected populations calling these camps home; for more platforms where the experiences of the displaced could be magnified rather than told on their behalf.”

The COVID pandemic was a critical turning point in In-Sight’s evolution.

“Like most organizations at a grassroots or global level, we were dependent on international volunteers to help with our programs and partnerships. COVID significantly limited the ability of travel and added the extra concern about incoming volunteers bringing the virus to new communities. The restrictions on mobility helped us recognize the power of localized, community-directed initiatives and ways to cultivate them.”

What they also recognized was that the key resource they could offer was education. “The most impactful thing we could be doing during these periods of lockdown was to reach out and share what we had learned with other sector participants who felt the same way we did about the mainstream narrative of humanitarian aid,” recalls Williamson. With that philosophy, In-Sight launched their first education program in the summer of 2020. 

But when the world reopened a couple of years later, many new challenges arose, including heavily policed borders, crackdowns on migration, and a shift in global sympathy for migratory communities. Once again, the In-Sight team saw the need to re-evaluate their work and steer themselves in a new direction to continue to effectively serve the migrant community.

“In the non-profit and humanitarian sector, you see lots of projects fail rather than adapt. Fortunately, this period of rest and growth was the best thing we could have done for In-Sight and for our team.”

As a result, In-Sight has refined their mentorship program and other educational initiatives to provide something extremely powerful that had been missing from the sector: accessible, decolonized, and wellness-based approaches to humanitarian education and humanitarian assistance. 

Lighthouse Relief: The Origin Story
READ
When the refugee crisis on the Greek island of Lesvos hit critical mass in 2015, a group of volunteers quickly organized to coordinate an emergency response as the first point of contact for desperate asylum seekers.
May 10, 2024
3 min read

Since the 1990s, Greece had been receiving asylum seekers pretty regularly each year. Many migrants came from Afghanistan during the first Taliban rule. When the Syrian war escalated in 2015, their numbers rose from a few thousand every year to nearly a million passing through Greece within a span of 14 months. More than half a million of them traveled through a single island in the eastern Aegean: the island of Lesvos. 

The numbers of migrants arriving on Lesvos started escalating essentially overnight and on the north shore of the island, an area of tiny fishing villages that is the farthest point from the main port city. Several thousand people were arriving every day for weeks and months on end, overwhelming the local community. Initially the villagers were empathetic and tried to help however they could, but they desperately needed support. That is where Lighthouse Relief began—before the U.N., Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or other NGOs had arrived—with several volunteers who had no previous connection to one another who quickly self-organized and coordinated an emergency response that was active 24 hours a day.

Chloe Esposito, Lighthouse Relief’s Head of Partnerships and Advocacy, describes these critical early days:

“Some people would stand lookout with night vision goggles, and if they would see a vessel in distress offshore, they would call one of the local fishermen, and the fishermen would go out and help the people and bring them to shore. We had another team that was waiting on the beaches with thermal blankets and first aid equipment. Passengers would pass them their babies while they were getting off. Then they set up a camp right on the beach that was a first rest stop for people when they were just arriving. So it was a place where people could get a warm meal, a hot shower, get some dry clothes if they didn't have any. They could rest, they could get some medical attention, and they could just catch their breath.”

Once the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, eventually established their own camp just up the hill, Lighthouse Relief became known as Stage 1, and the U.N. camp became known as Stage 2, where individuals would go to begin their asylum application process.

“That's how it was in the beginning. It was very transitory at that time, because pretty much everybody was hoping to make it to Germany and other parts of Northern and Western Europe, so they were passing through Greece very quickly.”
SafePlace International: The Origin Story
READ
One shelter on the streets of in Istanbul leads to a powerful network of safe spaces for healing and learning for LGBTQIA+ displaced persons.
May 9, 2024
3 min read

SafePlace International is a nonprofit organization that provides safe spaces for healing and learning for LGBTQIA+ displaced persons. Throughout its evolution, the organization has sought to address global issues of inequity, beginning with safety. SafePlace Executive Director Rachael LeClear notes that forcibly displaced people and asylum seekers are frequently failed by asylum processes that are meant to assist them.

“We focus on helping those who have experienced some of the most severe marginalization in the world. These are people who end up in limbo for years. The asylum processes are very punishing and really built to not be successful in many places, and people end up in these holding patterns where they have no documentation, they have no access to work, they can basically just be kept—intentionally trapped in these systems that prevent them from establishing and moving forward with their lives.” 

Already in a precarious situation, displaced members of the LGBTQIA+ community often land in places that are microcosms of the ones they left, leaving them at continued risk of discrimination due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The first SafePlace shelter was established on the streets of Istanbul in 2017 after founder Justin Hilton witnessed the extreme violence the trans community was experiencing there. More shelters were established in Turkey, Lesvos, and Athens, with up to 22 shelters providing case management services, referrals for legal aid, psychosocial support, food and clothing distribution, and livelihood training. 

During livelihood training, the SafePlace team noticed internal barriers that were keeping individuals from capitalizing on opportunities, even if they were offered to them for free. And that's where The Dream Academy was born.

“We recognized the challenge that comes from having this trauma—trauma of being ostracized and kicked out of your home and your family and your culture for being queer. It is then also the trauma of having to deal with the reality that is forced upon those who have to leave their homes and become asylum seekers or refugees or forcibly displaced. The Dream Academy seeks to unlock those internal barriers and help people reframe what they have experienced as a strength instead of a burden.” 

The first cohort of Dream Academy graduates began the 10-week community-led program in the spring of 2020. Since then, the Dream Academy has supported and celebrated the endeavors of nearly a thousand graduates across 15 countries through leadership development, job skills training, socio-emotional learning, and the support of SafePlace’s network of partners and funders. The program—and SafePlace as a whole—is now comprised of Dream Academy graduates, who have a deep understanding of the program and the experience of displacement.

When COVID hit in 2020, the Dream Academy quickly moved online, with its first cohort of 35 students starting in the spring of 2021. That turned out to be an unexpected blessing as it completely dissolved any geographic barriers and allowed them to connect with people in places they’d never been able to reach before. And now it has become one of their flagship programs.

History of EMA: Chapter 2
READ
The foundation's evolution continued under new leadership in 2018, with an added focus on youth leadership and how we can reimagine traditional education systems.
July 15, 2024
3 min read

In 2018, a new chapter began for EMA Foundation as Bill Meyer, a lifelong educator and Connie Adler’s son, stepped into the role of Executive Director. 

Bill's teaching career began in 1992 at the Webster Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota, but it was in his second job as a History/American Studies Teacher at Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, that his philosophy took shape. His friendship with his colleague Thierry Gustave birthed a shared dream: an "un-school" where learners, unburdened by hierarchy and institutional constraints, could explore freely in community. This vision echoed EMA's trust-based approach to philanthropy and would ultimately become the basis for rhizōma, EMA’s learning platform.

In 2003, Bill moved to Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, where he taught History and English and also co-created innovative programs like MA’s Conference on Democracy and the Transdisciplinary Leadership Program (TLP). His experiences teaching U.S. History for nearly thirty years unveiled the stark realities of structural injustices, compelling him to champion stakeholder-based partnerships that shifted power and resources to historically marginalized groups. The TLP course he taught focused on Migration and the Refugee Crisis, which  influenced EMA’s future work in supporting migration-based organizations such as Lighthouse Relief, Children of the Forest, SafePlace International, and In-Sight Collaborative

In 2020, as the world grappled with COVID, social isolation, and racial inequity, Bill wondered how he could leverage his network to create momentum for a different approach to the problems existing systems couldn’t solve.

"As I thought about the systems that had produced the murder of George Floyd and the chaos of the COVID response and put it all in the context of what I had learned—and really unlearned—teaching U.S. History, it seemed clear: A ‘return to normal’ was the wrong goal. There were signs everywhere that existing systems—some by design, some by decay—were not serving the interests of much of the world. The gift of a career in teaching is that I met so many incredible thinkers, most of whom are former students, and so I wondered: How could I activate my network with intent to see if we could collaborate to build infrastructure for more equitable systems?”


An opportunity to pilot new approaches came later that summer when EMA partner CAFILM Education (formerly CFI Education) reached out for assistance with exploring options for moving programming online during the pandemic. Bill assembled a dedicated team of seven college students and his former colleague Thierry Gustave to craft "CFI Education Reimagined." Through interviews with 38 stakeholders from 21 global organizations, EMA provided recommendations that helped CAFILM Education conceptualize their next steps, and the initiative culminated in a successful $100K match campaign. It also provided proof of concept of EMA’s belief that young people are not only ready to handle significant responsibility, but also that they could produce professional-quality results.

Traditional vs. Trust-Based Philanthropy
READ
A more in-depth look at how our funding philosophy differs from the traditional model in an effort to create greater equity and impact.
July 15, 2024
3 min read

We understand philanthropy, in a broad sense, to be a tool for driving positive social change. But does philanthropy itself need to change? 

Trust-based philanthropy is a relatively new practice offering an alternative to traditional philanthropy. The core objective is to build more equitable relationships between funders and nonprofits. 

Decision Making

In traditional philanthropy structures, foundation leaders and board members are the primary decision makers. Financial decisions are driven by the board’s interest in building or maintaining wealth. The individuals in leadership and board positions are considered the “experts” who assess funding opportunities to avoid risk and keep payouts low. 

Trust-based philanthropy instead promotes inclusive decision making, involving both foundation and nonprofit staff. This model views the nonprofit staff and the communities it serves as the “experts,” since those are the people closest to the issues on the ground. Trust-based funders emphasize building close relationships to their grantees in order to best understand their needs; those needs then guide decision making. 

Funding

Traditional grants are usually restricted to specific projects or programs, with strict timelines and objectives. This means that the funder decides how and when the money will be spent, decisions that often come from the top down without feedback from the grantee. Because of these restrictions, most grants are oriented toward short-term goals. Grant renewals or long-term funding are much more difficult for nonprofits to obtain.

Trust-based philanthropy prioritizes unrestricted and multi-year funding. This gives nonprofits the agency to allocate the funding according to their own needs and priorities. These funds are also not restricted only to projects or programs, but can be used for overhead costs such as rent, salaries, and other essential expenses. This funding approach encourages long-term relationships between funders and nonprofit organizations, which promotes stability and security for nonprofits to tackle larger issues.

Impact Metrics

Historically, acceptable metrics to demonstrate the impact of funding have been extremely limited. Impact metrics are traditionally quantitative, focusing on measurable outcomes and numeric indicators. While these numbers can be helpful, and are especially important to donors and advisory boards, they often fail to convey the human impact of the investment. 

Expanding the scope of impact metrics, trust-based foundations and the nonprofits they support often report in both quantitative and qualitative metrics relevant to their mission. Qualitative metrics can be more personal, shining light on the human impact of funding. They also allow for a more nuanced conversation about social impact and how it looks in different contexts.

Culture

The predominant focus of traditional philanthropy culture is on compliance and reporting. Relationships are considered to be transactional; extensive applications are required to facilitate a partnership, and these agreements are maintained by equally rigid reporting processes. Avoiding risk and proving impact are the goal outcomes, and all dynamics exist to ensure them. 

The culture in trust-based philanthropy is more concerned with learning opportunities. Relationships are personal and meaningful. Partnerships are viewed as opportunities for collaboration and shared learning, and they are upheld through systems of mutual accountability. 

While the missions of two different philanthropic organizations may be similar, their funding approach marks a vital difference in the grantee experience, and often the funding outcomes. As more organizations move to a trust-based model, work becomes more values-driven, nonprofit partners feel better seen and heard, and the potential for positive social change only grows. 

History of EMA: Chapter 1
READ
The first chapter of EMA Foundation's story and the innovative philanthropic strategy of its founder.
May 10, 2024
3 min read

In 2001, Connie Adler inherited an extraordinary opportunity that she never anticipated. Her father, Eugene M. Adler, had established a family foundation in his name in 1959, but ironically never revealed its existence to his family. In a pivotal conversation with her estate attorney after her mother’s passing, Connie recognized that she could create a new kind of foundation to drive meaningful change. She decided to put half of her inheritance into the fund and changed its name to EMA Foundation to de-center family identity and mark a new direction. 

Connie's decision to redistribute her inheritance through EMA Foundation was rooted in her values but also in her formative experiences in the nonprofit sector. Her years of service with organizations like the Southwest Research and Information Center, where she published the monthly magazine, and the Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, documenting the impact of US imperialism in Central America, shaped her understanding of the nonprofit landscape, and she knew firsthand that philanthropic funding processes could be burdensome for small organizations. Though the term “trust-based philanthropy” did not yet exist, Connie forged an approach built around the idea of developing relationships with partners and then shifting power and resources so the partners could focus on their mission rather than tending to funders.

“The values that drove my thinking at the time were driven by the fact that money didn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Connie says. “And if I could use it to do good in my community, that would give me much more pleasure than buying a larger house or a new car. I knew I wanted to use it to fund small groups similar to the ones I had been working with so that they would have a chance to grow—like a seed.”


Because Connie was new to philanthropy, she relied on friends in the community to identify potential partners. One of the first organizations she connected with was Southwest Creations Collaborative (SCC). Founded in 1994, SCC provides dignified, living wage employment to women from low-income communities through sewing and handwork projects. EMA's support to SCC went beyond one grant; it became a commitment spanning over a decade, including many conversations to determine what else EMA could do in addition to funding to help SCC reach its goals. In explaining her grantmaking philosophy, Connie noted that EMA was not a big foundation capable of disbursing millions, but it could offer opportunities for growth, especially through longstanding relationships that shifted power to its partners. 

Over the next 15 years, EMA continued to provide grants to organizations championing equity. Partnerships with organizations like the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and High Country News exemplified EMA's innovative approach. Unrestricted grants coupled with trust-based reporting methods became EMA's hallmark. This philosophy created collaborations where organizations had the freedom to innovate, explore, and create lasting impact on their terms. Connie’s intent was clear: 

"I did not want people to serve the foundation; I wanted the foundation to serve them." 

Introducing rhizōma: Where Empathy and Education Lead to Action
READ
So what exactly is rhizōma?
May 9, 2024
3 min read

Have you ever stood in a thicket of bamboo?

It seems impenetrable, like a green curtain that you could disappear behind so long as you were prepared to navigate a dense tangle of stalks and spears bound together by a unique root structure – a rhizome – that makes bamboo one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.  While the stalks soar upwards, the rhizome grows horizontally beneath the soil in a rapid and unpredictable fashion, serving as a communication network that connects towering thickets to each other and to the rest of the surrounding forests in ways humans are only beginning to understand.

It is no wonder that social theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari took the concept of the rhizome to describe a revolutionary theory of social organization. Like a bamboo thicket, a rhizomic community spreads horizontally, without hierarchy, and its roots give rise to nodes and connections to like-minded communities. Unlike traditional structures, rhizomes possess unparalleled flexibility. They foster a harmonious, horizontally-structured network, enabling fluid growth and adaptability.

So what, then, is rhizōma?

rhizome (n.)

1832, in botany, "a stem of root-like appearance," from Modern Latin rhizoma, from Greek rhizōma "mass of tree roots," from rhizoun "cause to strike root, root into the ground, plant," from rhiza "root" (which is probably from PIE root *wrād- "branch, root"). Also in English in Modern Latin form rhizoma. Related: Rhizomic.
(Source: https://www.etymonline.com/word/rhizome)

Rhizōma is the living narrative of the growth and development of EMA Foundation’s impact network of partners. It aims to fill a critical gap by building a broadcast network for small nonprofit organizations to build awareness and bring more people into their work. It is a vibrant tapestry of stories of courage, resilience, and healing from places like Safeplace International’s Dream Academy and  Haa Tóoch Lichéesh. It is a curated collection of stories of hope and promise from places like Children of the Forest

Rhizōma is a space to learn about the underlying “why” that drives EMA and our partners, to develop empathy with the human beings behind the logos and statistics, and to consider how you might get more directly involved.

The stories that live on rhizōma are an invitation to join our community and become part of a global network. We envision rhizōma as a nexus for learning, where educators, learners, funders, and individuals from all walks of life connect with each other through diverse narratives, live events, and transformative courses designed to move people beyond donations to deeper empathy and action in support of equity.  

You will hear conversations about the movement to decolonize philanthropy. You can take interactive courses from our growing Learning Center to dive deeper into the underlying issues driving the work of our partners. You will discover new and critical perspectives from young people as part of our commitment to youth agency, which we consider essential to any progress towards solutions to the issues that dominate current headlines.

For our partners and other value-aligned organizations, rhizōma provides a crucial space for networking and collaboration. Through convenings, calls for stories, and co-designed initiatives with partners and their networks, our aim is to help the rhizome grow organically. As the rhizōme grows, the thickets will converge into a thriving forest – a powerful network dedicated to equity and the growth of more just systems.

We invite you to dive into the thicket and join us for new stories every week that will move you towards empathy and action.

Haa Tóoch Lichéesh Coalition: The Origin Story
READ
HTL built an intentional model for enacting positive change, becoming a decolonized, independent nonprofit focused on violence prevention and internal reflection. Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO
June 26, 2024
3 min read
“HTL creates wonderful opportunities for cross-cultural learning and fosters collaboration and trust amongst several different organizations and individuals who are all engaged in anti-racism work. There is no other organization I know of facilitating this kind grassroots change.” —Cheryl Snyder | GM KTOO Music and Arts, LLC

Haa Tóoch Lichéesh (HTL) is a community-based coalition that follows a trauma-informed, survivor-centered approach to preventing violence and promoting healing. Guided by the wisdom of ancestors and grounded in a reciprocal, healthy relationship with the land and with each other, HTL is committed to healing and liberation.

The organization was co-founded in 2018 on the unceded territory of the Áakʼw Ḵwáan, also known as Juneau, Alaska. The name Haa Tóoch Lichéesh, gifted by Lingít activist and artist, means “We Believe It Is Possible.” Having grown beyond their previous role as the Juneau Violence Prevention Coalition under AWARE Inc, HTL is now (as of 2024) a newly formed nonprofit dedicated to violence prevention through regional healing initiatives and systemic change work throughout Southeast Alaska and beyond.

Like many emerging organizations experiencing growth and transformation, HTL dedicated time to internal reflection. This led to the development of an intentional model for enacting positive change, utilizing decolonized processes and establishing itself as a reliable and accessible presence in the community. As a result, the work continues to cultivate the conditions for safety and responds to the impacts of societal inequities that stem from centuries of unchallenged colonization, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism.

Central to HTL’s mission is the recognition of interconnectedness and the belief that true transformation starts from within. This shared journey centers around the following community-focused areas:

  • Healing and Transformation: Prioritizing personal healing, wellness, and authentic expression as the foundation for social change.
  • Centering Relationships & Working Across Generations: Building intergenerational, inclusive spaces of belonging and care within the community.
  • Learning & Unlearning: Committing to ongoing self-discovery and practice, challenging existing norms, and taking action toward social justice.
  • Remembering the Past to Build a Collective Future: Advocating for systemic change through legal, policy, and institutional advocacy, guided by the wisdom of ancestors and those most impacted by violence

These collective efforts are not only a means of maintaining meaningful relationships, but also a way of building transformative pathways forward. Programmatic initiatives such as Healing through Culture & Identity allow for intergenerational ties to cultural learning and identity-affirming events and spaces including Indigenous language and art classes, healing circles and retreats, traditional respectful harvesting teachings, and afterschool programs. All are interwoven with socio-emotional teachings that help to build connections, repair relationships, and promote restorative justice. Community Accountability & Racial Justice provides education and advocacy support to help individuals, communities, and organizations reckon with historic and current racial harms including dialogue facilitation and training on transformative and restorative justice, truth and reconciliation efforts, and negotiating reparations. Projects include the Lateral Kindness initiative, Cemetery Restoration projects, and United States Residential School Healing. Working with nearly thirty community partners, the HTL Coalition is a powerful network engaged in a shared vision of healing from and preventing further trauma in the region, using a Community of Care & Modeling Equity approach to respond to the needs of the community. With combined resources, they co-create equitable, accessible, Indigenized organizational frameworks, including facilitation modeled on First Alaskans’ dialogues, the Ḵaa Tukax̱saké Héende Cohort.

Collective well-being is essential to creating a world where kindness and kinship are the seeds that allow a brighter future to blossom. Haa Tóoch Lichéesh aspires towards truth, healing, and justice– where everyone can thrive.

Building Trust: Insights from the 2024 National GEO Conference
READ
EMA’s Bill Meyer and Tracy Tran attended the GEO 2024 Conference in May, introducing EMA to the broader philanthropic community.
Kara Grace Hess
June 26, 2024
3 min read

In May, the 2024 National Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Conference was hosted in partnership with Philanthropy California in Los Angeles. Each year, the conference invites grantmakers and practitioners of philanthropy from around the world to participate in conversations around grantmaking practices focused on community and equity. They aim to not only initiate dialogue, but to incite positive action among the funders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that take part. 

With that goal in mind, our colleague Abby Sarmac at Philanthropy Northwest —who also serves as a consultant to EMA partner Lighthouse Relief—invited EMA to participate on a conference panel titled “Exploring an Anti-framework to Shift Philanthropic Culture.” EMA Executive Director Bill Meyer and Partner Relations Associate Tracy Tran were joined on the panel by Oskar Zambrano and Anna Gonzalez, the development director and executive director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), a small nonprofit working to organize communities around environmental justice in Southern California. 

Tran, a third-year student studying public health at the University of California, Irvine spoke from their perspective as a member of the EMA Partner Relations team, detailing the impact of trust-based philanthropy in their work supporting EMA partner Children of the Forest (CoF). 

“My story is a living example that trust works and is great for everyone. Trusting our partners works, trusting youth works, and it's better for everyone when trust is there.”

As part of their role at EMA, Tran has worked closely with CoF on their organization’s website design and has helped to sort its impact statistics to better convey their influence to a wider audience. Through her direct experience listening to and then best responding to CoF’s needs, Tran brought a lot to the table at GEO. “What I hoped to give was my lived experiences of being with EMA as a means for people to trust in trust-based philanthropy and in youth,” they said.

During the panel discussion, Tran shared how their experiences working with CoF had helped them understand the importance of messaging. And, as someone who identifies as being on the autism spectrum, playing a part in the process to define and articulate EMA’s mission to the world helped Tran develop a deeper understanding of the structures around them.

“I've always struggled with understanding systems and how I fit in them, or how any kind of entity expresses themselves. Learning all of these things really helped me understand the world. I'm really glad that I was able to speak and that I was heard. I do think I represented myself well and by representing myself, I'm also representing young people.”

By attending the GEO conference, Tran hoped they could learn even more about how EMA might ensure more equitable relationships with our partners. But after attending a session with Meyer titled “Evolving How You Know What You Know: the Equitable Evaluation Framework in Practice,” Tran was encouraged to see that EMA was already heading in the right direction. By having confidence in our partners and valuing their stories, EMA was already working within an ‘equitable evaluation framework.’ “We're on the right track with trusting our partners and valuing their qualitative data,” said Tran.

Tran feels optimistic about where EMA is headed, but also felt like something clicked after hearing from plenary speaker Marcus Walton, who argued that philanthropy is merely a response to restore what was promised: equality, freedom, and happiness. 

“I hadn’t really situated philanthropy in a broader system before. I hadn't thought of the overarching goal: to fix what was promised that wasn't delivered.”

Additionally, Meyer felt that many of the conference’s plenary speakers challenged the funders to do better by shifting to unrestricted funding. Their call to action was coupled with a call to acknowledge where the money that philanthropy has to offer comes from and to whom it truly belongs.

But it was plenary luncheon speaker Alok Vaid-Menon, an internationally renowned gender non-conforming writer and performance artist, who surprised Tran and Meyer the most. Through comedy, Alok spoke candidly to the power dynamics of philanthropy, emphasizing the importance of love in grantmaker-grantee relationships while calling out the absurdities of historical philanthropy models that treat grantees as inferior. In contrast to the more serious demeanor of the majority of conference speakers, “the energy shifted” with Alok’s keynote, said Tran.

What really caught Tran’s attention was Alok’s statement that “philanthropy is a joke”—the notion that it is absurd to think that foundations, who have largely profited off of marginalized communities, are forcing those same communities to ask for funding. As Tran noted, “Alok pointing at that and many other things during their speech was really good because everyone just was able to like, laugh at themselves for how ridiculous the whole concept is.” Tran also found Alok’s talk particularly powerful because it allowed older generations to see what she saw: that philanthropy as a whole needs to change. “A lot of the people in that room I think have been in philanthropy for a long time,” noted Tran. “Once you're in any space for a while, everything just gets normalized, and Alok really shook that up.”

The best question posed at their panel, Tran said, asked how EMA measures the needs of its partner organizations. The audience member, seemingly amazed by what had been proposed, needed confirmation that philanthropy could really be as simple as a conversation. Meyer’s answer: Yes it really is.

“We're in a position not only to participate in those conversations, but to lead by example.”

SafePlace International: The Dream Academy
READ
The Dream Academy, a program of SafePlace International, empowers LGBTQIA+ displaced individuals and equips them to make sustainable change in their communities. 
Kara Grace Hess
June 26, 2024
3 min read

SafePlace International (SPI) not only works to provide safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ displaced individuals, but it also empowers them. The organization does so through The Dream Academy (TDA), a 10-week intensive virtual course designed to equip participants with leadership training, socio-emotional learning, and job skills. Graduates from the program have the opportunity to put their vision into action through grant proposals. 

The academy’s ultimate goal is to shift shame and trauma into agency and determination. SPI seeks to reach, protect, connect, and ultimately invest in those who participate. Upon completion of the program, participants are emboldened to be agents of change in their communities. Many of the TDA graduates felt like exactly that—agents. 

One graduate from South Africa, Babalwa, saw herself as a leader upon exiting the program. Being a leader, to her, meant showing up for those in her community with confidence. 

“If I want to take a stance, I would take a stance immediately with responsibility, knowing that I'm not only helping myself, but I'm helping a much bigger community. My main focus with being a leader is making sure I am being me, and showing myself comfortably around others.”

To her, showing up for the community looks like showing empathy. When Babalwa sees others suffering, she feels their pain. “It hurts to see innocent LGBTQI+ people out there, refugees, to get hurt by people who think that they are not part of this world,” she said.

Still others found that authenticity was a crucial part of their growth after completing TDA, like Eastern Cape graduate Lilita, who is known as Sweetness. 

“I was challenged by The Dream Academy, and it allowed me to begin to know who I am, what I want in life, and how to overcome. I am proud of The Dream Academy because I am now a changed person who lives a happy, happy life!”

Thanks to TDA, Sweetness is now the founder and director of Lilita’s Kitchen and Gardens. The project, funded by the program, teaches youth and mothers in Cape Town how to start small gardens in addition to its door-to-door ministry that provides living necessities for elderly folks in the community. 

Sweetness noticed many kids in her community struggling to find jobs, leaving them to join gangs and forego other opportunities. The creation of Lilita’s Kitchen and Gardens was her attempt to offer learning opportunities with the hope that those kids would also have a transformative experience.

Transformation is what TDA is all about, and Elina, a refugee and single and lesbian-identifying mother now residing in Cape Town, is a testament to that. Her time at the academy helped her find herself and helped her as a parent.

“When I started, I was so broken and so hurt. I wasn't vulnerable; I wouldn't let anyone in, I wouldn't let anyone past the walls that I put up. Now, I can let people in, I can communicate, I can love, I can hug, and I can give as well. I have learned that being vulnerable is a superpower, not a weakness.”

The Dream Academy, more than anything else, offers loving support and encouragement, allowing graduates to lean into who they are and what they are passionate about. Like Carol, a bisexual woman and mother of two from Zimbabwe who set up Smiling Homes, a home for the LGBTQIA+ elderly. Through Smiling Homes, food and shelter are provided to LGBTQIA+ people who need it. She’s proud to be a part of such a loving community and to have found her strengths.

“I discovered that I was a true leader, born a leader. I just needed the tools."

It was love that she experienced while a part of TDA that impacted her life and many in the class of TDA graduates the most.

"It took people loving me up to find that I can be a person of influence, and I can help another person. I can share my story with someone, and they can be healed through it” 

Filmbuilding: Students Use Film to Find the Meaning of Belonging
READ
Filmbuilding director Tom Flint and EMA’s Director of Educational Programs David Grace discuss the process and culmination of a filmmaking workshop at Lincoln Sudbury High School
Kara Grace Hess
June 26, 2024
3 min read

It all started back in early March when Tom Flint asked a group of 16 students at Lincoln Sudbury (LS) Regional High School what popped into their minds when they heard the word “belonging.”

A group of rugby players found themselves thinking of a team huddling together before a match. Others described it as more of a feeling. In the span of just two and a half months, these students ultimately collaborated in a workshop run by Flint’s organization Filmbuilding to dive much deeper into what belonging truly means—and to make three short films about it. 

The LS workshop was first conceived when David Grace, EMA’s Director of Educational Programs and a history teacher at LS, was approached by his colleague Lori Houghton. While working with the Racial Climate Task Force in Massachusetts, Houghton mentioned to Grace that she saw a need for students to tell their stories. As part of a long-running voluntary school desegregation program run by the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), the LS population includes students from Lincoln, Sudbury, and communities in Boston. Houghton envisioned that giving these students who came to LS from a variety of different communities the chance to tell their stories could help them build connections with one another. Grace immediately recognized the potential for EMA partner Filmbuilding to fulfill that goal.

After more than two months of learning and filmmaking, the end result of the Filmbuilding workshop was a pair of film showcases for the community: at LS on May 22nd and at Roxbury Community College in Boston on June 5th. Each event included a screening of the three films the students had made as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary about their process titled Belong-In made by Moses Sibley, an award-winning young filmmaker and rising junior at LS. Both screening showcases were followed by a Q&A with the student filmmakers, during which much of the emphasis was on how each individual grew while working with their peers. 

“The process oftentimes in art education tends to be overlooked," said Flint. "I think film, particularly now because it's visual storytelling and exploratory, offers so many opportunities for students to come together, get to know each other, and create something really meaningful.”

Throughout the workshop, relationship-building was a priority, with bonding time and field trips a key part of the schedule. This in-person time was critical, enabling Flint to encourage the students that they had stories worth telling and the capability to do it with the technology in the palm of their hands, with no prior filmmaking experience required. 

“With the technology that we have today there is nothing stopping anyone who has a recording device, some great ideas, and some people to do it with from going out there and making a movie. Film is inherently a collaborative form of art.”

Grace was constantly surprised by how the whole team continued to come together and how the students transformed through the process. Some of those who he thought might have had trouble with the project actually thrived with the challenge and rose to the occasion to collaborate across differences.

"Maybe the whole reason why we make movies is just to connect. Whether you have eight people in a Zoom room attending a virtual screening or 300 people in an auditorium at a high school, it's an opportunity to have a common shared experience around the story.”

During one of the post-screening Q&As, one question in particular really made Flint and Grace take a step back. Asking about their process during the workshop, one Boston mother asked the students to respond in this format: “Before Filmbuilding I was…, after Filmbuilding I am…” The responses varied from the literal to the tangential, with one saying “I am an editor” and others remarking “I am proud.” At the end of it all, Grace reflected on what he learned from the students about the meaning of belonging.

“It’s not a thing. It's not a noun, it's a verb. It's something you do, that you have to do, and continually do. The belonging is built through doing, so I guess we need to have a lot more shared experiences and watch a lot more movies.”

Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Category

Blog title heading will go here even if it is two rows

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros.
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read