Apr 4, 2022
Stretching towards Hope in 2022
By Uma Viswanathan, Executive Director of the New Pluralists Collaborative
Originally posted on newpluralists.org
Reflecting on the past ten months since New Pluralists launched, I find myself humbled, inspired, and hungry for more. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by the seemingly relentless tidal waves of division, violence, fear, and isolation we’re experiencing in this country. As we discover more about what’s driving our mistrust in each other and our institutions, it’s hard not to struggle to determine where to begin. Any single action we take seems like it’s not nearly enough.
This is where we’re meeting this moment with optimism – grounded in the potential of what people are capable of. Pluralism can unlock that potential. It empowers all of us to change the way we see and act with one another as people and as groups. This is human, cultural, and generational work. It requires many, many of us coming together to discover and manifest what we want to become.
We launched New Pluralists last April as an ideologically diverse community that is fully committed to the promise of pluralism. We are 12 funders and 40 organizations made up of 71 people who are making an explicit commitment to pluralism to inform how we interact with each other, how we make choices and set priorities, and where we go and how we get there.
And that was just the start.
Our community is expanding and evolving as new grantees, partners, and funders join us. This past year, we have been testing out who we are, where we can be useful, and how we can best respond to the moment - through action, learning, and pivoting. We have, and continue to, make missteps along the way, and are also gaining momentum. We are becoming.
It isn't easy to collaborate across so many lines of difference, fields, sectors, and approaches to change. We haven't had the opportunity to meet in person where the honesty and trust necessary for collaboration across our differences is typically built. We are hungry to be together, to walk around communities, to feel and see the promise of our work in action. We are hungry to meet the “everyday pluralists” who are in communities making transformational change. With that hunger growing in our bellies, we are already seeing the power and potential of what we’ve embarked on together.
Where we’ve been: The Power and Potential of Our Journey So Far
2021 brought forth many of the same challenges we’d already been grappling with as a country, along with new ones. Social upheaval, political unrest, and the continued impact of the pandemic aggravate our existing fear, anxiety, and loneliness. The urgency of our mission grows daily. We feel this urgency, and are meeting it by taking a deep breath in, then moving. We don’t have the luxury of waiting to figure it all out before we act. Collaborating with funders, our field builders, our grantees and community leaders, we’ve been able to do and learn a lot in a short time.
Sparking collaboration and experimentation across the field
Field Builders are working together to build trust, see and weave across each other’s work, and take risks. What does this entail? Here’s a small sampling of projects we resourced through an experimentation and collaboration fund, launched last year:
Pathways to Repair: The People’s Supper, Center for Rural Strategies, and Faith in Action are examining the conditions required for healing, trust, and relational repair. In recognition that too often, we have found ourselves ill-equipped to navigate the everyday bumps and bruises of relational work, they are tapping the experiences of their diverse members and networks to develop resources that can be adapted for different communities working to reduce harm and to normalize human messiness.
Millions of Conversations and Over Zero are infusing global peacebuilding insights and techniques into communities across Tennessee, building communal consensus with veterans and other community leaders around what it means to belong in America and how we can collaboratively solve everyday problems.
The Millennial Action Project (MAP) and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GSSC) are bridging research and practice to collaborate on the development and delivery of training programs for young political leaders to teach them research-based skills and strategies for bridging differences. These trainings will offer legislators concrete tools they can use to support their own well-being and foster more constructive dialogue and connections with others across lines of difference.
“New Pluralists has allowed us to have the spaciousness to get in the weeds with one another- really exploring together the complexity of being in deep relationship, committed to finding ways forward that strengthen our relational ties, and therefore nourish and fortify our communities”
—Field Builder K Scarry, the People Supper
How we do our work is as important as what we do. It isn't easy to collaborate across so many lines of difference, fields, sectors, and approaches to change. Funder collaboratives as a model can hold tremendous promise but are not without their challenges. Being committed to meaningful partnership with the field requires we hold complex power dynamics and inequities of access and opportunities well.
This work requires radically new ways of being and acting together which inevitably raises questions and criticism. As we’ve moved from vision into action this year, we’ve been discovering what gives people pause about whether pluralism is the right approach for them and their work. Skepticism and questions have often centered around, “Is pluralism simply about civility, where anything goes as long as we stay together? Or are there lines we will draw?” and “By choosing unity, are you asking us to ignore the harms that others have caused our communities? “Is pluralism contradictory to justice?”
That’s why this past year, we developed practices to help find our way through thorny challenges. We know that a commitment to diversity, equity, including, and belonging are core to our mission - and that it goes beyond words on a screen. We are developing internal practices to help guide us as we expand our network of funders and partners and grantees, build our team, and make strategic choices. Our ethics practice, for example, will help us navigate moral and ethical dilemmas when it isn’t easy to discern where and how we “draw lines,” and where we can enable restoration and healing. In the spirit of learning and transparency, we’ll be sharing these practices and what we learn from them over the coming months.
Where we’re going: What’s coming up in 2022
At first blush, pluralism can be a fuzzy and abstract concept that feels intangible and hard to act upon. So in 2022, we’re going to be focused on getting real about pluralism. We’ll be working with partners who are showing how it can be felt, seen, and experienced in very real ways, with very real results. The language we use and the frameworks we build must appeal to many types of people working toward many types of outcomes. Early in 2022, we’ll be working on:
An interdisciplinary literature review to understand the current state of research and evidence about pluralism and pluralistic practices. Our goal is to enable ourselves and audiences working in this space (especially funders) to understand what works and what doesn’t, and how to know whether we’re making an impact in ways that can inform our future investments in research, evidence, and knowledge.
A community-driven pluralism project led by Field Builder Scott Shigeoka and his diverse team. This ethnographic storytelling project is rooted in an asset-based approach to community-driven pluralism and will enable us to listen and learn about pluralism and its impacts from people who embody and advance its tenets. It will also help us discover new ways of thinking about culture change.
We’ll also be sharing several opportunities to engage with New Pluralists and learn more about what we’re doing, including:
Opportunities to join our team. We’ll be growing our small and mighty team in the coming months, so stay tuned for opportunities to share with your networks and to apply.
Grant opportunities to support people, organizations and work that is connecting dots, framing and make the case to advance pluralism in our society.
Grant opportunities to enable organizations to meet the stressors Americans are facing in 2022 with pluralism - by telling different stories, building courageous alliances, healing old wounds, or navigating conflict better.
Making choices to direct our learning and energy and understand where and how pluralism can gain traction toward demonstrable impact, in ways that inspire and inform all of us.
Everyday People Leaping into Action
This work is for everyone. And it’s critical that it comes from everyone. Transformational change is happening now, and it’s coming from people across the country who are working to build stronger and more cohesive communities. There are many more stories - big and small - to gather and share that will help us make sense of who we are, and who we might become.
We are striving to root ourselves and this work in our guiding principles and we invite everyone to join us. Share your stories and actions that demonstrate pluralism in action.
Throughout the last year, one question I’ve been asking myself (and others) is “what does pluralism make possible for my work? Our communities?” And it’s a question that I want to open up to all of you as well. We all have a role to play in building a country where everyone belongs. And your answer will reveal something about what you can do, and where we can work together.
Uma Viswanathan is the Executive Director of the New Pluralists Collaborative, where she works with funders and field leaders to foster a culture of pluralism in America.