Born during the longest civil war in Ethiopia’s history, I grew up witnessing the perils of a dysfunctional political system. Even at the age of seven, politics had a palpable presence on the playground, with my classmates recounting jokes and comments that were shared in the intimacy of their homes about different ethnic groups and the deepening division in Ethiopia.
After immigrating to the U.S. as a daughter of a political refugee in my early teens, my interest in democracy blossomed and was watered by wonderful history teachers and political science professors. After a brief experience in Washington DC, I directed this intellectual passion and my commitment to justice to building a career in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship.
Then in 2017, my life experiences, academic interests, and professional pursuits came into an interesting convergence: I became one of the founders and the international spokesperson for the Sister Marches that organized the 2017 Women’s Marches mobilizing 4 million people globally. Through the Women’s March, I met and collaborated with passionate everyday people who wanted to invest in their democracy and fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, the big question we all began to wrestle with after the march was, how do we translate this activism into sustained civic engagement?
It is this question that led my team and I at New Profit, a national venture philanthropy organization, to launch a new initiative called Civic Lab to support grassroots-driven models aimed at building civic trust and a strong civic culture in our country.
We are facing a crisis of trust in America, with disengaged and disempowered constituents who are skeptical of our political leaders and civic institutions – threatening the core identity of our country. At the same time, we have a diverse set of leaders who are working to dismantle or repair the broken system behind our democracy. We call these leaders democracy entrepreneurs.
Today, democracy entrepreneurs and organizations are helping to build bridges across communities, demographics, and issue areas – strengthening our civic culture.
After a two-year extensive landscape analysis involving field interviews as well as literary review, in March 2019, we selected seven organizations to become the inaugural cohort of New Profit’s Civic Lab. We selected organizations who are employing innovative models of organizing, who are recruiting and supporting a new generation of leaders for public office, and who are shaping a narrative that promotes unity and counteracts polarization.
These organizations were selected from a pipeline of 150 organizations based on the leaders’ deep insights into the problems they aim to solve, innovative solutions, track record of success, potential for growth, alignment with New Profit’s support model, and vision for systemic change.
Through Civic Lab, New Profit is providing unrestricted grants, strategic advice, and a peer learning community to help the entrepreneurs grow and increase the impact of their organizations, while also collectively contributing to the renewal of civic culture in America.
We are at the very early stages of building an ecosystem for democracy entrepreneurship. As part of our effort to shed the spotlight on this burgeoning field, we are collaborating with Giving Compass to highlight each of New Profit’s Civic Lab grantee-partner organizations over the course of 2020. We look forward to you joining us on this journey!
Organizations in New Profit’s Inaugural Civic Lab Cohort
Alliance for Youth Organizing
With 11 affiliates across 21 states, the Alliance supports and scales the work of local organizations, building a movement of young people, by young people, and for all people.
Millennial Action Project
Millennial Action Project (MAP) is the largest nonpartisan organization activating young lawmakers to transcend political divisions and strengthen our democracy. MAP's programs help over 800 leaders in elected office convene across party lines, develop and share innovative policy ideas, engage the public in cross-partisan political dialogue, and amplify impact stories to statewide and national audiences.
New Politics Academy
New Politics Academy revitalizes American democracy by recruiting and developing servant leaders who put community and country over self to serve in the political arena. New Politics Academy focuses on leaders who have significant service experience (military, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps) and provide programming, leadership development, and guidance on political pathways.
The Pillars Fund invests in and amplifies the leadership, narratives and talents of American Muslims in civil society, the media and public discourse. Through its funding programs, campaigns and initiatives, Pillars identifies the next generation of American Muslim leaders and civic organizations and provides financial assistance and a connection to a broad network of civic actors in both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
The largest organization of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region, POWER is an interfaith organization committed to building communities of opportunity that work for all. It represents over 50 congregations throughout Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania.
PushBlack is the nation's largest nonprofit media platform for Black-Americans with more than 3 million subscribers. It builds deep, daily relationships with Black-Americans through their phones in order to transform Black civic engagement.
Building on the success of Voters Not Politicians which mobilized 14,000 people in Michigan to end partisan gerrymandering, The People brings Americans together to engage in civil discourse, establish and carry out nonpartisan governmental reforms.