Social Justice

Kate McLean on the theory of creating change, not charity

By Joan Trossman Bien


hey had one in Santa Barbara. Los Angeles, too. But until recently Ventura County was without a social justice fund—a new generation of community-driven philanthropy. Bringing together the resources of a Giving Circle of progressive donors and the organizing power of grassroots groups, the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County works to determine real solutions to poverty and inequality.

What is your involvement with the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County?

I was the president of the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF), and one of the things I became aware of in doing all the grants was that we did not have the funding in Ventura County for the kind of grassroots, community-organizing advocacy work that really can create change in a community. I was one of the people involved in the early planning of this fund.

How is a social justice fund different from other nonprofits?

In addition to having been the president of the VCCF for 13 years, I was the executive director and one of the founders of Interface Children Family Services. I started the first battered women’s shelter, the first child abuse shelters, and did pretty traditional social services working through a great organization serving Ventura County. But in all of my 30-some years in the nonprofit world, I realized that as a grant-maker and somebody who delivered services, we continued to deal with same problems year after year: teen pregnancy, drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness. No matter how hard we worked to solve those problems, no matter how much money we gave to deal with them, we continued to have the problems. That’s why we say, ‘Creating change, not charity.’ We think charity has an important place in our community; we must take care of the person who is in need right now. But we also needed someone who could stand back and say, ‘Can we make some kind of system changes so they never get in trouble?’ That’s what I think a social justice fund does.

When you looked at other counties that had social justice funds, did you see them making a real difference?

Oh yes. When you looked at how it was changing people’s lives, it was dramatic. For example, in L.A., organizing bus riders to change transportation patterns so people could get to work and get home from work. And neighborhoods that were able to organize to get rid of houses of prostitution or crack houses. Changing the neighborhood so kids could go out and play in the street. One of our first grants last year was helping a neighborhood get streetlights so the children could go outside and play and the parents would feel it was safe.

When you look at this year’s recipients, is there one broad stroke that you could give that made all of these groups stand out?

They all had as a core both value and technique—what we call community organizing, which is empowering the people who are affected by community issues to make changes in their own communities. Whether those communities were geographical, or communities of people who shared common problems.

2008 Social Justice Fund for Ventura County Grantees

$5,300 to CAUSE as the fiscal sponsor for Arts for Action for the Media Justice Program, which provides youth with training and access to industry standard media production equipment.

$8,000 to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County for continued support of the One Step A La Vez youth-lead community action project, which provides youth leadership training and development.

$5,000 to Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) for continued support of the Empowering Neighborhoods through Systems Change project.

$7,700 to Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) for the Central Coast Organizing Project, a regional grassroots community organizing effort to build and bridge relationships among various entities.

$10,000 to Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) to support efforts in mobilizing farm worker communities to continue with the work achieved through the Poder Popular: Giving Voice to Mixtec Farm Workers Program.

$7,700 to CAUSE as the fiscal sponsor for Ventura County Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (VC CLUE) to support efforts in educating, mobilizing, and training leaders and members of congregations and religious associations to advocate for social justice issues in the county.

$6,300 to Ventura County Rainbow Alliance for the Equality Ventura County Project, which will provide public education and community organizing on California’s implementation of marriage equality for same-sex couples.


Back to top