In 2021, OSI-Baltimore continued to transform and evolve into a more focused and responsive organization, one best able to serve the people of Baltimore by implementing innovative solutions that also serve as a model for cities around the country and across the world.
Among our top priorities was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continued to have major health and economic impacts on Baltimore residents, especially those in disinvested communities. In addition to ongoing support for grantees working on COVID-19 response, we continued our collaboration with the City of Baltimore on the $6 million COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Program, which provided 15,000 Baltimore residents with $400 prepaid cards to help cover food and other household expenses.
In April, 2021, OSI launched the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative (BEVI), a collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation to improve the vaccination rate among communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. OSI-Baltimore partnered with the Baltimore City Health Department, Baltimore Corps, and more than 20 local community-based partners to provide medically sound, culturally competent information about vaccine safety and improve distribution and delivery mechanisms to reach disconnected Baltimoreans.
We are incredibly proud of the results: Since June 2021, BEVI partners have held more than 700 vaccine-related events; provided transportation, registration, childcare, and other assistance to get people vaccinated more than 61,000 times; Directly administered more than 6,600 COVID-19 vaccinations to some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable populations, including sex workers, homeless people, and young people; and made more than 4 million connections with community members through campaigns and information sessions.
Alongside COVID response, OSI and our partners continued to pursue structural reform. Working with local partners, including the BRIDGES Coalition and Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, as well as Open Society-US colleagues, we launched the Yes on My Block campaign to encourage the introduction of life-saving Overdose Prevention Sites in Maryland. The OSI-supported People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland made significant gains in its efforts to amend Maryland’s legal codes to limit the disparate impacts of marginalized populations, including youth, sex workers, and people of color.
We also explored new areas of investment. In 2021, OSI launched a Narrative and Culture Change portfolio that aims 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. Our first investment went to West Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Black Arts and Entertainment District to help celebrate this essential piece of Baltimore’s cultural heritage.
OSI also launched its Economic Justice portfolio, which aims to increase access to capital for historically under-resourced people and groups in Baltimore and build the economic power and self-determination of communities of color. Initial investments went to seven organizations, including CLLCTIVLY, which offers micro-grants to support Black-led organizations impacted by COVID-19, and the Revolve Fund, which provides capital to Black, Latinx, and Native American-led business, nonprofit organizations, financial intermediaries, and venture funds.
In May, 2021, OSI and Baltimore’s Promise announced the first cohort of grantees from B’More Invested, a transformational grantmaking strategy for advancing community-based solutions, collaboration, and racial justice. B’More Invested’s Grant Advisory Team, which decided which organizations would receive funds from the $1.5 million grant-making budget, was made up of 23 community stakeholders and 11 funder representatives, putting decision-making control firmly in the hands of the community.
As Baltimore’s Promise CEO Julia Baez and I wrote in our op-ed on the initiative in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (“Sharing Philanthropic Power With Grantees Is Messy and Challenging but Worth the Effort,” May 5, 2022), “to be truly transformative, grantmakers must give up their power and work in partnership with the communities they aim to serve.”
As we move forward with our transformation, we will continue to ground ourselves in the wisdom of the communities we serve. We hope you will continue to partner with us. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any feedback about our 2021 Impact Report, questions, or ideas for collaboration.