In 1998, approximately 200 human services agencies in King County Washington committed to addressing the question: What would it take to actually meet basic human needs in King County by the year 2020? This multi-racial, multi-cultural group offered programs and services to meet basic human needs around issues such as homelessness, hunger, child care, domestic violence, aging, literacy, disabilities, sexual assault, community health care, employment, racial equity, and the development of children and youth.
Though providing phenomenal support to many people, these agencies shared a frustration of “putting out fires and doing crisis management instead of working on long term solutions.” Through a highly participatory, community-based process, they surfaced key issues and ideas for systemic change. This was largely a shared leadership effort of peers each contributing their gifts and commitments to the process. The coalition developed a common 20-year agenda that provided focus in their work with policy makers and government agencies.
Two important insights shaped their work. The first is the shift that occurred when participant agencies could see their work in the larger shared vision and move beyond advocating solely for their agency’s programs. This helped break the cycle of agencies competing with each other and created openings for much more powerful collaborations to emerge. This created an extensive network that was both nimble and adaptable as local conditions changed.
The second key insight was that to meet the basic human needs of people in the county required undoing institutional racism that kept in place the legacy of racially unjust practices and policies of the past. This led to founding a new coalition, the Non-Profit Anti-Racism Coalition (NPARC). Their mission is to “share information, resources, and best practices to encourage non-profits to work together to eliminate institutional racism and understand its connections to other oppressions.”
NPARC developed a strong network of mutual support where agencies share available training spots, coach each other in strategies and approaches, and provide encouragement in facing challenges and frustrations. Leadership is shared among participants across the many agencies involved. Recent case studies documented substantive change in agencies over the past few years and also how important the network is to confronting the daunting challenges in this work.
Seattle Human Services Coalition – [www.shscoalition.org] Non-Profit Anti-Racism Coalition – 1501 North 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98103-6708