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Annual Conference Teaser: Q&A with Nayantara Mehta, Senior Counsel at Alliance for Justice

Monday, March 24, 2014

We’re now two short weeks away from NCG’s 2014 Annual Conference.  Planning for this conference began back in December when Alliance for Justice Senior Counsel Nayantara Mehta met with NCG staff one afternoon to discuss the possibility of partnering on a program about income inequality.

We loved the topic idea and the possibility of partnering with such a smart organization.  The initial conversation quickly led to this full day conference. As Alliance for Justice is one of our official conference partners, we’ve asked Nayantara to participate in a quick Q&A about on the conference.

Q: Why the focus on income inequality this year?

Income inequality has been in the news a lot lately, in the Bay Area and around the country. The dynamics are directly observable: you can see neighborhoods changing before your eyes, and hear about escalating rents and housing prices from friends trying to move. As a region that has a history of concern with social justice issues, we can’t in good conscience ignore the effects these economic changes are having on vulnerable communities across the Bay Area. The problems that result from economic inequality have been building for a long time and have no easy solutions. We are glad that the conference is providing an opportunity for philanthropy to come together to consider solutions.

Q: Tell us about the breakout sessions Alliance for Justice (AFJ) is developing. What can funders expect to get out of each?

Our morning session will look at the huge barriers to economic mobility that a criminal record presents. This will directly follow Van Jones‘ presentation; for those who aren’t familiar with him, he speaks passionately and persuasively about the devastating effect of mass incarceration, especially on communities of color. In our session, we will have advocates from two area nonprofits to talk about policy successes to reduce these barriers, and what more needs to be done. We will also have a local funder talking about why they see criminal justice as a social justice issue. I’ll be moderating this session, so I look forward to having a good discussion.

In the afternoon session, we will be highlighting local funders whose grantmaking explicitly supports advocacy and movement building, and how they and their grantees are tackling the problems created by inequality in the Bay Area. My AFJ colleague Daren Garshelis will explain the many legal avenues open to foundations to support, or even engage in, various forms of advocacy. Between the examples of funding peers and gaining confidence that they can legally support advocacy, my hope is that audience members come away from this session inspired to incorporate the support for advocacy, policy work, or systems change work into their grantmaking strategies.

Q: Why is AFJ partnering with NCG on this conference?

AFJ’s Bolder Advocacy initiative trains and consults with thousands of nonprofits around the country, helping them to be confident about their ability to advocate (dare I say boldly?) on behalf of their issues and communities. In addition to working with all these nonprofits, we work closely with funders of all types, to make sure that they understand the wide scope of advocacy they can fund, and even engage in. NCG is a natural partner for us. In fact, AFJ has worked with NCG extensively over the past several years, providing legal advocacy trainings to its members and serving on NCG’s Public Policy Committee. It turned out that both AFJ and NCG had been independently thinking of an educational event for funders on income inequality, so we decided to join forces.

Our West Coast office is celebrating its 10th year in Oakland in 2014, and taking part in this conference with NCG and Neighborhood Funders Group (who we also share offices with) is a great way to celebrate our birthday.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A couple of things:

1. The subject matter. I am so glad that NCG decided to turn the spotlight this year on income inequality, and that we could play a role in the planning, so we could highlight some of the amazing work that local nonprofits and foundations are doing. We strongly believe that philanthropy has a vital role to play in addressing social problems and making communities better, whether that role is through grantmaking to smart and effective nonprofits or foundations getting involved themselves.

2. The lineup of panels and speakers. I ‘m so impressed that we have both Van Jones and Robert B. Reich speaking at the same event. And of course I’m also excited about the two sessions that AFJ is organizing to highlight the need for advocacy and for active funder support for advocacy.

I think I speak on behalf of the entire planning committee when I say we’re working to make the day an engaging and informative experience for all grantmakers. Join us!