Making Connections Oakland: A Case Study for GCIR

by William Wong

Oct 6, 2008
GCIR profiles Making Connections Oakland (MCO), a comprehensive initiative that helps newcomers gain an economic foothold and become full participating members of society. The program was designed to build united neighborhoods and stronger families through strategies that illustrate the cornerstones of GCIR's Immigrant Integration Framework: mutual responsibility, change and benefits; multi-sector involvement; and multi-strategy approaches. Each method has its unique strengths with regard to immigrant integration and is highlighted in this document. As the examples in this report demonstrate, foundations do not need to build an immigrant integration program from scratch. Grantmakers can use resources that already exist in their communities to continue supporting their funding priorities.
  • Mounting a comprehensive strategy to build strong, diverse neighborhoods comes with many challenges. The experiences of the Making Connections Oakland initiative illuminate many lessons that foundations may consider when they assess funding requests or consider developing a place-based initiative.
  • Language and Culture - Even though Making Connections Oakland has responded in many ways to the language and cultural needs of the diverse Lower San Antonio population, addressing these complex and nuanced issues inherent in a diverse, low-income population remains a constant challenge.
  • Aligning Identities and Missions - Different ethnic and cultural groups have their own identities and goals, while a neighborhood as a whole may have a different identity and mission.
  • Resident Mobility - Economically marginalized neighborhoods like the Lower San Antonio also experience a high degree of mobility, which makes it difficult to measure the progress of interventions and programs designed to improve the lives of its neediest residents.
  • Setting Priorities - Making Connections Oakland's strategies do not specifically address combating crime or working with at-risk youth, but crime, safety, and security are of utmost concern for many Lower San Antonio residents.
  • Being Inclusive - African Americans and other U.S.-born families can perceive the sensitive and necessary response of the nonprofit world to the basic needs of immigrants and refugees as special treatment. A good program must incorporate an intentional effort to address these concerns on an ongoing basis, foster intergroup alliances, and focus the work on shared goals.
  • Funders should design initiatives that are sensitive to language and cultural issues in ethnically diverse neighborhoods and as certain that on-site staff is culturally -- and if possible linguistically -- competent.
  • Funders should support culturally competent and linguistically appropriate training for residents to empower them to participate in community-change work.
  • Funders should fund ESL scholarships for immigrants and refugees learning English, and support cooperatives for bilingual translators.
  • Funders should sponsor community forums and workshops that seek to bridge the cultural gap between different ethnic groups as well as newcomers and immigrants.
  • Funders should encourage community-based organizations to maintain diverse governance boards that include residents from targeted neighborhoods.
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