Over the past year, Open Society Foundations has undergone a global transformation to empower local changemakers, reinforcing the organization’s original premise that “the people closest to the problem are best suited to define the solution.” As part of that transformation, Open Society-US (OS-US) has re-shaped its structure to create and strengthen a multi-racial, pro-democracy alliance powerful enough to shape our politics, culture, economy, and impact on the world.
OSI-Baltimore will contribute to this shared strategy by investing locally in ways that position Baltimore as a national and global model of grassroots movement, collaborative governance, and civic innovation; and by imparting learnings “from the ground” to influence broader regional, national, and global advancements in policy, practice, and structural reform.
Open Society-US Transformation
OS-US will focus efforts to build a pro-democracy alliance using four theories of change, listed below. The Leadership and Innovation work will be led by OSI-Baltimore Director Danielle Torain, with team members located in Baltimore, New York and Washington DC. Connecting this work to Baltimore will make it easier both to scale successful place-based work nationally, and to integrate lessons from around the country here in Baltimore.
- Leadership and Innovation: Investing in leaders and ideas shaping local movements, leveraging our place-based agenda in Baltimore as a platform for learning and advancing innovation.
- Narrative and Culture Change: Winning the battle of ideas and narratives to build support for an inclusive multi-racial society, based on values of belonging, faith in government and an inclusive economy.
- Campaigns and Advocacy: Constant issue wins that improve lives and build an inclusive democracy at city, state, federal, and global levels.
- Structural Reforms: Dedicated to tackling structural barriers that make the United States less representative, less open, less just, less free, and less equal.
The new structure of OSF’s US work is an enthusiastic validation of the intensive, place-based work that OSI-Baltimore has been doing for more than 20 years. Since its founding in 1998, OSI-Baltimore has worked to build trusted relationships with on-the-ground changemakers and partner with them to create lasting change for the residents of Baltimore.
To respond to local needs and build on OSI-Baltimore’s historical programmatic work while aligning with national priorities and maximizing the potential impact of the new OS-US structure, OSI-Baltimore is reimagining both the way we work and the way we organize our work.
In the past, OSI-Baltimore was primarily structured as distinct teams focused on distinct themes of work, including Addiction and Health Equity, Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Education and Youth Development, and Community Fellowships. Our new structure will be more flexible, with different team members collaborating on different investments and projects as needed and embracing a more intersectional approach to tackling local issues. This aligns with the national and international efforts to streamline our collective work, break down silos, and be more nimble and responsive.
Also, while OSI-Baltimore will continue to build on its previous areas of work, the organization will re-align into five areas of strategic investment. In 2020, OSI conducted a local stakeholder engagement process, including one-on-one interviews and surveys with community members, grantees, and other partners, to help identify these core investment areas. As an institution, OSI will continue to routinely assess its investment priorities by gathering community input. This brings our value for resident-led decision making and democratizing philanthropy in-house and aligns with processes that we’ve supported externally, like the Blueprint for Baltimore survey.
Collectively, these five areas will help advance OSI-Baltimore’s mission is to disrupt the long-standing legacy of structural racism in Baltimore by supporting powerful social change movements led by and centering the needs, interests, and voices of historically marginalized communities and communities of color. Pursuing this mission at a local level engages and resources effective leaders and movements that are the local building blocks of a multi-racial alliance that has enough power to advance a pro-democracy agenda. Our five areas of strategic investment are:
- Amplifying Local Leadership: This strategic investment priority seeks to increase local, national, and global support of local leaders, particularly BIPOC leaders and leaders of Baltimore’s most impacted and historically marginalized communities. This area of work includes a focus on amplifying and potentially expanding/building upon the success of the Baltimore Community Fellowship Program, as well as a focus on building the health and strength of local social sector and grassroots institutions and infrastructure.
- Economic Justice: This strategic investment area seeks to close the racial wealth gap and transform Baltimore’s economic and financial systems by (1) building the strength of community-owned and community-governed projects; (2) cultivating cross-sector collaborations that heal, restore, and build the economic power of historically marginalized and under-resourced communities; and (3) building new financing institutions that facilitate a more equitable distribution of capital and resources among local communities.
- Just and Safe Communities: This strategic investment area seeks to decriminalize and decarcerate currently marginalized people in Baltimore, with a focus on Black people, by dismantling and replacing those systems that are rooted in anti-Blackness with restorative, community-based alternatives.
- Narrative and Culture Change: This strategic investment area seeks to radically shift local and national narratives about Baltimore, our leaders, our movements, and our communities, and shape a narrative represented by authentic people and anchored in accuracy and truth.
- Wellbeing and Systems Change: This strategic investment area seeks to strengthen the wellbeing of local residents and community leaders by supporting strategies that decrease racial and other disparities in health and wellbeing and working to transform public and private systems to be better accountable to marginalized communities and create a more equitable social safety net.
In her new role as Director of Leadership and Innovation for Open Society-US, Danielle Torain will continue to oversee OSI-Baltimore, while Tracy Brown will continue as OSI-Baltimore’s Deputy Director and oversee day-to-day operations. The re-organization has resulted in several other key changes among OSI-Baltimore’s current team:
- Karen Webber, who has led OSI-Baltimore’s Youth and Education program for seven years, and Bobbi Nicotera, who has been OSI-Baltimore’s Communications Specialist for six years, will join the Innovation team. While the Innovation agenda will be separate from OSI-Baltimore, it will include a linkage to Baltimore and provide an opportunity to amplify local innovations.
- Pamela King, who had led OSI-Baltimore’s Community Fellowships program for more than 20 years, Evan Serpick, who has been OSI-Baltimore’s Director of Strategic Communications for seven years, and Michael Camlin, who has been a Program Specialist for OSI-Baltimore’s Addiction and Health Equity and Criminal and Juvenile Justice programs for seven years, will assume positions as OSI-Baltimore Program Managers.
- Jennifer Kim, who has been an OSI-Baltimore Program Specialist for six years, has decided to move on from OSI-Baltimore.
- Lauren Ammons, who previously worked with OSF’s global Justice Initiative, recently joined OSI-Baltimore as a Program Operations Associate.
In addition, we’re tremendously pleased to announce two new job openings at OSI-Baltimore, linked below. We hope that you will share the listings with your networks and help us to identify dynamic candidates to join our incredibly talented team of local changemakers and community-centered grantmakers and administrative professionals:
As always, OSI-Baltimore remains committed to our grantees, our stakeholders, and the Baltimore community. We’re excited about the opportunity these changes offer for us to build on Open Society Foundations’ 20-plus year legacy in Baltimore.