In 2017, OSI-Baltimore marks 20 years of the Community Fellowships program, now a network of more than 180 individuals who have established some of the most respected and successful initiatives in the area, including Wide Angle Youth Media, Community Law in Action, Thread, Book Thing of Baltimore, Community Conferencing, the Right to Housing Alliance, and Bikemore.
Two years ago, OSI-Baltimore began a formal analysis of the Community Fellowships program, to get a better sense of the program’s role in the social justice community in Baltimore—and to put into place a more organized structure for the Fellows “network” to lean on and learn from itself.
In November, OSI released the result of that analysis, a white paper called Strength in Numbers: OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowships Network that explores the natural metamorphosis of the Fellows program into a network, and the myriad ways the fellows can, do, and should work together. Written by Didi Goldenhar, a strategist for nonprofits, the paper mapped out where the fellows’ work overlapped, how the network has grown and how the fellows are connected.
OSI found for example, that, on average, each fellow had connections to four other fellows before their fellowship. Since becoming fellows, they now have an average of 17 connections among the network.
“Networking is so important for taking the work of the Fellows to the next level,” said Goldenhar. “OSI-Baltimore still is the central hub but now the foundation is really grasping that in order for the network to develop, the work has to be scaffolded. The foundation creates the structure so that the fellows can connect with each other, and then, when done right, the network begins to strategize and align around issues on its own.”
That’s the beauty of working toward a true network, said Pamela King, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Community Fellowships and Initiatives.
“Right now, for a lot of the connections to happen initially, fellows still come through me,” King said. “Now I can start moving myself out to some degree.”
Jacqui Robarge is a 2002 fellow and the director and founder of Power Inside, a human rights and harm reduction program for women impacted by violence and oppression. She is eager to see the fellows program move seamlessly to a more structured network and can already see the benefits.
“The day after the  election, it just so happened that OSI was having a convening for Fellows. So we were all together,” Robarge said. “I looked out and it was like my dream community. We were there representing issues, communities, ages – and for me, it was the place to be. I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else at that moment. It was evident that we are connected not just on a human level but around working for justice. The network has become bigger than the sum of its parts.”
That’s the goal, said King. “Without knowing it, we have been growing this network since the beginning of the Fellows program. And now, 20 years later, we have a vision for what the program is truly capable of in terms of working together for the betterment of Baltimore.”