Amanda Navarro, Executive Director, Convergence Partnership
Michele Silver, Director of Programs, Convergence Partnership
Philanthropy is increasingly embracing narrative change as a tool for building public and political will to advance equitable policies and structural change. Yet philanthropic narrative investments to advance racial justice and health equity are still relatively new and disparate. The work is often siloed, lessons and insights are not often shared across efforts, and there is also a wide range of definitions of narratives, perspectives, and approaches on how to shift them.
According to a definition put forth by the Narrative Initiative, narratives are “the themes and ideas that permeate collections or systems of related stories.” Because narratives manifest across collections of stories, it is important to understand how the stories we choose to tell add up to narratives that either reinforce—or undermine—actions and solutions that will move the needle on racial justice and health equity. Like many in philanthropy, the Convergence Partnership (the Partnership)—a national funder collaborative working to transform policies, practices, and systems to advance racial justice and health equity—began with a grounding in strategic communications, not narrative change.
In the face of blatant racism from town halls to the halls of Congress, communities continue to fight for their right to exercise power and voice. The wisdom, voice, and agency of people—particularly people of color—must be prioritized and elevated to change racist and harmful narratives, policies, and systems. Now is not the time to backpedal from racial equity commitments. For health equity to be truly realized, philanthropy must strengthen its investments in those most impacted by structural racism to shape narratives that promote health and wellbeing. And perhaps even more importantly, philanthropy must break its usual tendencies to invest in disparate efforts that will not add up to the kind of groundswell of political and public support we need toward an inclusive, healthy democracy and society.
For these reasons, the Partnership adopted narrative transformation as a core strategic priority in late 2017. The shift to a narrative strategy also emerged from the Partnership’s commitment to working with grassroots leaders and impacted communities to amplify inclusive narratives and counter harmful racist narratives. In 2018, the Partnership brought on narrative strategy consultants Narrative Arts (formerly Working Narratives) and Moore + Associates to build and grow narrative power for the Partnership and its partners. Since 2018, the Partnership has supported the community-determined power building and narrative priorities of nearly 30 frontline, BIPOC-led and serving movement building organizations in six regions across the country—Buffalo, New York; California; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Louisiana—to shape policies and systems toward racial justice and health equity.
In Buffalo, the Partnership provided core support grants to three organizations—PUSH Buffalo, CoNECT, and Heart of the City Neighborhoods—to build grassroots neighborhood infrastructure and develop social justice ecosystems and models at the neighborhood level to sustain community organizations, organizing, and engagement.
The Partnership also provided core support grants to two tribal nations—United Houma Nation and Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw—in Louisiana to fill critical resource gaps in their recovery from Hurricane Ida in August 2021. This resulted from their unjust lack of federal recognition, which exacerbates inequities and significantly diminishes their ability to qualify for federal aid after disasters. This support allowed these tribes to return to critical work focused on land rights, cultural preservation, community resettlement, canal backfilling, and coastal and wetland restoration that benefit not just the tribes but all of Louisiana’s people.
To better understand opportunities to align racial justice and health equity-focused narrative change work across the philanthropic sector, the Partnership commissioned a field scan of the racial justice and health equity narrative change work going on in philanthropy, which was recently completed by the Partnership’s narrative consultants along with Narrative Initiative. This scan includes the dynamics of national grantmaking for narrative work, the role of narrative practitioners working with grantmakers and grantees, and philanthropic collaboration on narrative change. We are learning that the ways in which funders approach narrative power building vary significantly, and that there is a lack of alignment across those that fund narrative work, despite a clear desire to collaborate and share learnings. The scan also surfaced interesting tensions between investments in mass movement and community narrative power building and investments in mass media and culture narrative power. Achieving narrative change at the scale and depth required to shape a just society means making long term investments at various scales, in a diverse set of institutions, organizations, and individuals across the country.
We believe that creating a greater shared understanding of the narrative field—and establishing best practices for narrative change work—will result in greater alignment and impact on what many in philanthropy say they want to achieve: advancing inclusive, antiracist narratives and policies. Our hope is that the work of the Partnership, including the forthcoming report from this scan, will open up these much-needed conversations and explorations.
We welcome others to join us in aligning and coordinating philanthropic investments to unleash the true power of narrative to advance racial justice and health equity. If you would like to receive a copy of the report when it is released, and to stay in touch, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.