By Anna Ghosh & Bilen Mesfin Packwood
In all our work, the Change team takes a decolonized approach to strategic communications partnerships with changemakers working to make just and joyful futures possible for Black communities and communities of color. In addition to our communications strategy and messaging, and hands-on digital, content, and earned media engagement services, we are increasingly being called upon to help strengthen our clients’ strategic communications knowledge and practice – and ultimately grow narrative power for racial justice.
Conventionally, this type of support has been called “capacity building,” but we are inspired by the growing choir of Black experts and experts of color who are questioning the underlying assumptions of that term and calling for a paradigm shift for how social justice organizations strengthen their ability to advance their mission now and into the future.
Citing the seminal SSIR article Transformational Capacity Building, Vu Le points out that “most capacity building philosophies and practices have been very white, one-size fits all, and lack a racial justice analysis, among other problems.” Tiloma Jayasinghe, president and CEO of Community Resource Exchange, says “…we must move from a focus on building clients’ technical capacity toward a focus on partnering with organizations to build cultures of liberation.” Marcus Littles asks: “What if capacity building efforts were more honest about structural inequities? What if they were structured around how to grow collective power and dismantle barriers?”
Change Consulting’s theory of change centers Black people, joy, power, imagination, liberation, and solutions that undo systemic injustices. Our communications services aim to combine deep strategy with hands-on implementation to racial justice leaders to make Black liberation and racial justice possible for our communities. In alignment with our point of view, we think of our training, coaching, and skill-building work not as capacity building, but as learning together with our client partners.
We see our training and strengths-building projects as true partnerships where the learning goes both ways. We have several decades of combined experience in strategic communications and we always aim to learn and grow through our own learning, our work with our clients, and our participation in the brilliant movement building ecosystem in which we are grateful to be a part.
As we expand our learning work, here are some of our guiding principles:
- Listen first. We start with the inherent strengths and wisdom our clients hold. We listen first. We let our clients define what success looks like. We supplement their existing strategies and leadership, not override it with “industry standards.”
- Center directly impacted voices and solutions. We center the voices and leadership of directly impacted people – young people, crime survivors, community elders, trans and queer folks, and people who have been involved with the criminal legal system. We have a lot to learn from the people at the epicenter of society’s biggest problems, for they are also closest to viable solutions.
- Move at the speed of relationship. This means we practice humility and reflection so we don’t reinforce harmful power dynamics. Putting relationships first also means we work with people, not organizations, and we adjust our flow as needed, even if that means changing the agenda of a workshop in real time.
- Excellence with heart. We have established best practices, but stay flexible to put successful outcomes and the wellbeing of the people we serve first. While we hold ourselves to high standards of excellence and rigor in our work, we don’t default to the entrenched expectations of efficacy, efficiency, or production that have been defined by white supremacy for centuries.
- Ground ourselves in history to shape just futures. We are constantly learning, iterating, and innovating. We ground ourselves in the deep history that has shaped narratives around race in this country, and look to the elders in our work, Black feminist thinkers, emergent strategy, and Afrofuturism for inspiration.
These principles are just the beginning of our journey to shape new norms in training, coaching, and skill building in the field of social justice and racial justice communications. In the spirit of learning together, let us know your ideas and guidelines/practices for how to build narrative power toward making a true multiracial democracy possible. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.