Partner Spotlights

Meeting the Moment with George Galvis

By George Galvis, Executive Director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)

In 2020, the intertwining and inequitable systems, from health and education to legal and democracy and beyond, in this country were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed and growing call for Black liberation and justice. As part of this year’s Annual Report, we asked nine leaders from the New Profit community what 2020 and these national reckonings looked like for them, their organizations, and the social sector writ large.

Continue reading to hear from George Galvis, Executive Director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), a member of New Profit’s second Unlocked Futures cohort, that works to end cycles of violence and poverty by uplifting young people of color that have been impacted by incarceration to lead the way in transforming their community and developing the policies that impact them.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.

What is the biggest challenge that philanthropy/the social impact sector is/has faced as a result of the events of 2020?

Philanthropy and the social sector have to figure out more innovative ways to support the folx on the ground, in the mud, doing the hard work. We are navigating new terrain as a result of the social, political, and medical turmoil of 2020. The challenge is to pivot and be responsive while staying intentional. Philanthropy tends to move slowly and be risk averse. So, what happens in crisis when solutions are needed in the moment? The propensity to go for single large grants with a heavy lift on application and process doesn’t work when there are people running out of food, housing, money, and healthcare, and others in the streets risking their lives for justice.

Philanthropy and the social sector have to figure out more innovative ways to support the folx on the ground, in the mud, doing the hard work.

Philanthropy has to learn to be nimble. We found that when the pandemic hit hardest, some funders froze while others quickly ramped up rapid response grants meant solely to sustain operations. While the latter was the better approach, I would argue that there could have been a strategy of rapid response, but with extreme flexibility, allowing grantees to determine their needs and how best to use the funds. This is part of a bigger challenge for philanthropy in letting go of dictating funding priorities and really allowing those people doing the work to have the power in determining how best to use funds.

What innovations/solutions did you create in response to the events of this year?

The intensity of the events this year highlighted for us the need to be more efficient in the way we do things. If we are going to meet the needs of the moment and really be able to respond to everything that is happening, we have to be able to quickly draw on institutionalized memory and codified systems. Instead, despite the fact that we do this work and have years of experience in our hearts and bones, we found ourselves leaping in and reinventing the wheel with each new action we engaged in.

We had not done a good enough job of documenting and archiving. We needed to create a true inter-staff memory. Our solution (which is a work in progress) is to create a blueprint for actions, to codify the work that we do out in the streets everyday so that we can respond quickly, bring new or inexperienced staff into the work more efficiently, and support the movement more broadly. In a way, our innovation was to go back to our roots and solidify them.

What do we need to do collectively to “Meet the Moment?”

We have to be bold and lean in to taking risks; worry about protecting our people rather than protecting our funding. For CURYJ, this meant shifting our funds to provide food, clothing, and shelter when the pandemic began to ravage our community. We aren’t a food distribution organization, but that’s what our participants and our families need in this moment.

We have to be bold and lean in to taking risks; worry about protecting our people rather than protecting our funding.

Too many nonprofits are conservative when it comes to responding to a crisis; it is easy to sit back and wait for a new funding stream before taking action. As social sector actors and non-profits, we have to constantly remind ourselves to be mission-driven and not to think of communities as “widgets”: recognize that everything is interconnected. It is our responsibility to be as responsive as possible to the moment. Collectively, we can find ways to support nonprofits and those they serve in the short term, while still holding to long-term strategy. We can take note and inspiration from young people out in the streets and from organic community efforts. They are the ones taking up the task of organizing, marching, and showing up when the pandemic made that even more dangerous. That’s where the power and the movement lives. Our work is to find ways to directly support them, to listen to what they need, to enable their plans, and provide the infrastructure for their actions.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.