Over the past decade, philanthropic leaders and others working for progressive social change have increasingly focused on culture. This growing interest in culture comes from a dual understanding that achieving systemic, lasting change requires a shift on a cultural level—our worldviews, lifestyles, norms, social relations, and values—and that cultural strategies and methods can help catalyze and accelerate change.

Philanthropists have invested in certain parts of the cultural strategy landscape—a growing field of practice that engages culture and cultural practitioners in efforts for social change—but much less so in others. Investment in cultural work that supports community power building is particularly lacking. While some grassroots organizations and organizers do integrate culture into their efforts, the potential to build power in under-resourced and marginalized communities by harnessing culture is not well understood or supported by funders.

This is a missed opportunity for two reasons. First, robust people-powered movements have proven highly effective at achieving transformational social, political, and economic change. Second, grassroots cultural strategies can catalyze and enhance community power in significant ways.

This article describes some of the essential features and functions of culture as it relates to community power building. My intention is to help funders (and practitioners) who are engaged in community power-building work see how cultural strategies might support and amplify their efforts. In addition, I hope to encourage funders who support cultural strategy to see community power building as a critical lever for change.

Building community power is long-term work that requires stable, resilient, and accountable organizations to nurture and channel people’s energy and will toward strategic change. Organizations that most effectively build and channel power do three things well:

Build a “we” by fostering authentic relationships and a sense of collective identity among community members, across lines of difference.

Develop visionary and distributed leadership by helping people cultivate a shared understanding of the root causes of their conditions and a vision for their desired future.

Build new worlds by helping make alternatives tangible and visible. Grassroots cultural practice can support efforts in all three areas.

Read the full article about community building power by Alexis Frasz at Stanford Social Innovation Review.