AAPIP Voices

The Civic Engagement Journey


By Laila Mehta, Director of AAPIP’s Civic Engagement Fund

Almost everyone remembers what they were doing the morning of September 11, 2001, including Tessa Rouverol Callejo, the FAITHS Program and Civic Engagement Officer at The San Francisco Foundation.  In the immediate aftermath of the horrendous attacks that day, Tessa began to think about the impact 9/11 would have on Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities in the United States.  What would be the fall out and impact on AMEMSA community members’ civil liberties and civil rights? What did we as funders know about these communities and the organizations that served them?  Thus began a series of conversations among funders and community members which eventually led to the formation of the Civic Engagement Fund, a funder collaborative made up of San Francisco Bay Area based community and family foundations.

From the beginning, it was clear AMEMSA communities and organizations were not on the radar of many foundations for a variety of reasons—some of the organizations were very new, there was a general lack of visibility and understanding of AMEMSA communities, and an increasingly stifling post-9/11 environment created restrictions on supporting these organizations here and abroad.

For AAPIP, it was an opportunity to leverage our role in philanthropy. Since we are not a foundation, we look for ways to support community organizations and provide context/lessons for the field.  The Civic Engagement Fund is an opportunity to gather lessons about how diverse groups come together to address and make change on a particular issue, about shared capacity building and about how philanthropy can help develop community infrastructure.

Through this journey we are learning what captures and inspires funder interest:

  • Collaborative efforts that demonstrate how and why organizations are playing to their strengths in order to tackle policy or community issues.
  • Stories that get to the heart of what is being done to address community and institutional challenges; that inspire hope and show courage.
  • Evidence that shows how groups are bringing in new and creative leadership to solve complex issues and challenges in innovative ways.

Another important avenue of our philanthropic advocacy is to connect foundation priorities with the work that AMEMSA organizations are doing on the ground. AMEMSA organizations often don’t fit neatly into a single grantmaking area, but have programs that intersect with immigration, arts and culture, racial justice, and health and wellbeing, to name just a few. Through the Civic Engagement Fund, AAPIP has helped cohort members articulate how their strategies align with those of foundations.

Ultimately, the true value of the Civic Engagement Fund isn’t in the dollars distributed, but in the capacity built and relationships developed. AAPIP is proud of our role linking members of the cohort to funders and to each other—building on strengths already present in the organizations and their communities to help build bridges and power for AMEMSA communities here in the Bay Area. We hope other foundations around the country will build on our experience and support similar organizations in their own communities.

With the generous support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, AAPIP is currently working on a short video to help tell the Civic Engagement Fund story to a wider audience. Want to be among the first to see the finished product? Like us on Facebook and we’ll let you know when it’s done.