A Practice in Emergence: Creating Resist’s New Theory of Change, Strategic Priorities, and Culture of Care

By Jax Gil

“The only lasting truth is Change. ― Octavia E. Butler

In our last piece, we asked ourselves, “what are the small steps we can take to shift power?” This piece is in part an answer to that question and our first time publicly sharing our story of transformation.

As we experiment with what it looks like to be a foundation that is accountable to frontline communities organizing movements for justice and liberation, our theory of change and our strategic priorities serve as our north star as we move through new terrain. Cycles of small risks and reflection allow us to move with clarity, intention, and purpose while leaving plenty of room for the collective wisdom and work necessary to authentically contribute to movement building. By doing so, we iterate our way towards being a foundation that is as radical as the groups we fund.

According to “Emergent Strategy” by adrienne maree brown, “Dandelions are often mistakenly identified as weeds, aggressively removed, but are hard to uproot.” And they represent “Resilience. Resistance. Regeneration. Decentralization.” This and other nature-inspired emblems we use come out Complex Movements’ work.

Part One: Resist’s Theory of Change and Strategic Priorities

At its core, a theory of change is a written tool that articulates how a person, group, or organization believes change happens and their role in bringing about that change. It may also include why change is necessary and the world that change makes possible.

We are excited to publicly present for the first time, Resist’s new theory of change and strategic priorities. Through this process, we articulated the values, the vision, and work that will guide us. We were privileged to be led by our ad hoc strategic design group. Check out who they are, here.

Resist’s Theory of Change

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Resist’s Strategic Priorities

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Some examples of how we live into our Strategic Priorities:

  • We ask for consent to use the information groups share with us in our communications and development publications. We outline what consent means to us and lay out a full list of options for engagement.
  • We are in community with other progressive and traditional foundations through networks like Neighborhood Funders Group and Social Justice Funders Network for the purpose of supporting deeper accountability to frontline communities so more money gets to the grassroots.
  • We are in the final steps of launching a resource database that shares Resist grantees’ offerings and needs with one another. Currently, the database will only be available to Resist grantees. Groups can reach out to one another for skill building and resource sharing.
  • We provide Rapid Response grants of $1,000 for groups to attend movement-building spaces, like the Allied Media Conference.
  • We convene a grant-making panel every year, made up of members from fully funded Resist grantees. We make changes to our funding process in response to their feedback.
  • And more…
adrienne maree brown says: “…starling murmurations can react to their environment as a group without a central leader orchestrating choices…” and they represent “Collective leadership/partnership. Adaptability.”

Part Two: Our Transformation Story and Our Care Practices

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin

Over the past six years, our movements have changed. Prison reform movements have turned into calls for the abolition of police and prisons. LGBTQ allyship, through the work of those at the margins of that community, now means putting queer and trans people in positions of power and listening to their critiques on what needs to change within organizations. As the movement called for more alignment between rhetoric and practice, so did staff members at Resist.

Resist’s history includes struggles that are not uncommon to foundations and nonprofits everywhere. Our transformation required challenging white supremacy and patriarchy within Resist, and moving from white, middle-class leadership to women of color and queer leadership. What’s followed has been beautiful.

“[Mycelium] connects roots to one another and breaks down plant material to create healthier ecosystems” and represents “Interconnectedness. Remediation. Detoxification”.

A lot of work that cannot be traced linearly made our present form possible. For the purpose of this piece, we want to share some key points that were integral to the creation of our current theory of change. Our hope is that by sharing our journey publicly, foundations, institutions with power, and those that are challenging them will have more examples to point to as the unpredictable path towards transformation unfolds.

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We were able to move through the uncertain terrain because of key choices we made about how we wanted to be together. When we came across Emergent Strategy in 2017, it resonated with our budding practices of experimentation. Since then, we’ve strengthened our experimentation muscle. Here are small-scale resilience practices that continue to move us towards being better, more connected, whole people.

Protect Trust

Trust is an immensely valuable and fragile resource. We work to create and sustain a culture of trust at all levels of the Resist community. It makes our risk-taking possible, exciting, and safer. When a staff member says they need to go home early because their childcare fell through, we trust that. When a grant-making panel member misses a mandatory call, we trust they made the choice they needed to make for their well-being and check-in on them.

Make Our Work Human

Our covenant, or collection of agreements on how we are together, details how we make our work human. We work at a human pace. Our agendas are spacious. We support each other in prioritizing time for rest and activities that rejuvenate us. When we don’t do this, trust weakens, stress increases, and projects begin to struggle.

See Differences As Strengths

We acknowledge that privilege is real and believe having different identities, positions of power, and lived experiences in conversation which each other matters. When making important decisions at Resist, we include elders, grantees, board members, staff members and others whose expertise and lived experience can give us necessary insight. This allows us to make smarter decisions and center frontline leadership.

“Ferns are a form of a -fractal” and represent “small-scale solutions [that] impact the whole system.”

Prioritize Healing and Trust Building

Conflict is not abuse. And yet, too often, conflict results in real harm for all involved and Resist is not an exception. Continued healing and trust building are a priority for us. We incorporate healing practices into our mutual support and accountability rituals. When we need extra support moving through delicate dynamics we partner with local healers and facilitators.

By using these practices we became more connected, less reactive, and more open to the work of transformation. We practice a culture of collective care consistently and with integrity. It makes our work smarter and our organization stronger.

These days, we find ourselves emboldened to share our practices with the aim of providing alternatives to traditional philanthropy. We want to work with others who are inspired to make their funding more democratic and emancipatory. At Resist, we’re listening to the future that is ready to emerge. And we hope you’ll join us.

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Jax is a body positive, pro-liberation facilitator and human. They believe collective, embodied spiritual and creative practices are key to our survival as a species. They are the founder of Liberatory Theater Project and co-director at Resist. Previously, they have geeked out about an economy for the many with Boston Ujima Project and New Economy Coalition.

Resist is a foundation that supports people’s movements for justice and liberation. We redistribute resources back to frontline communities. www.resist.org