As smoke from the Canadian wildfires recently hung over much of the United States, local groups quickly identified needs and organized to distribute masks and other necessities. Groups like these are examples of mutual aid—a “collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually stemming from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them,” as an article in Truthout defines it. Meanwhile, the climate justice movement—a type of social movement, or a group engaged in collective action to create social and/or political change—continued to address the root causes of wildfire-inducing climate change.

When our Urban Institute and George Mason University team defined the social sector and determined what types of infrastructure it needs to thrive, we included these lesser-known, informal groups that unite around a common social purpose without nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid business status—but fill critical gaps, often during crises.

To understand the infrastructure supports mutual aid groups and social movements require to operate and some barriers they face, I interviewed three leaders in the space: Deepa Iyer, senior director of strategic initiatives at Building Movement Project, which “ignites nonprofits’ potential to have an impact in advancing movements for progressive social change and focuses that potential into tangible action;” Farrah Lafontant, senior director of action and success at ioby, a crowdfunding platform that serves mutual aid groups; and Trevor Smith, director of narrative change at Liberation Ventures, which “accelerates the Black-led movement for racial repair.”

Interviewees identified the following infrastructure needs of mutual aid groups and social movements:

    1. Support for their sustainability.
    1. Opportunities for learning. 
    1. Strong relationships.
    1. Influence.

Read the full article about mutual aid groups by Hannah Martin at Urban Institute.