At the end of the 1st decade of the 21st century, with more than 214 million global migrants, there is an ever increasing pace of technological change, and burgeoning global communication. But, there is, also, fragmentation, conflict, and cultural struggle. Strategies for developing more vibrant communities and opportunities for individuals and families now seem less obvious than half a century ago when there were the first glimmerings of interest in a "knowledge society" and "new world order".
After working for some years as applied researchers on issues of social policy program design, evaluation, and technical assistance we've inevitably given attention to a broad range of social science research macro-level projections of the trajectory of global development and the heated debate about competing strategies for intervention. But we've also spent much of our time talking with ordinary people, immigrants and farmworkers, community activists, shopkeepers, and administrators, health care providers, retired folk, teachers, and their students.
Strategic planning needs to focus on how 'Improving Lives' translates in action
It seems increasingly clear to us that strategic planning for social change must focus less on "grand visions" and incorporate more about how the real world realities of people's everyday lives – the micro-dynamics of how 'improving lives' translates in action, every day.
Macro and micro(cosm) are linked together: one perspective ignores the other to the peril of the (larger and smaller) community – we believe this.
We believe it is crucial to focus on the entire broad spectrum of ways humans seek to make change in their lives and the lives of their families and communities—physical migration, lifelong learning, evolving modes of communication—the discourse of political wrangling, but also, poetry, the mathematics of complexity theory, banter of day laborers on street corners. A key challenge is to navigate the diverse and imperfect connections between social networks and formal institutions to yield better linkages and synergies. We're currently focused on working toward innovative but sound, tangible ways to address these navigation issues. These areas are:
Lifelong Learning For Immigrants – Providing planning support and program design resources to build innovative learning programs for working migrant youth and adults in communities with few clear pathways to well-paying jobs.
Information technology is evolving at a breakneck pace. Social networking is now in vogue but critics such as Malcolm Gladwell argue cogently, not yet able to reach deep into peoples' lives. We have been inspired by the work of our colleagues in Spanish language community radio, emerging networks of ethnic media, documentary television, and multi-media initiatives to help local community activists help each other in confronting violence in the neighborhoods where they live. In this area, we are helping however we can, building on our experience evaluating pro-social campaigns.
Civic Dialogue & Community Opportunities – Community mobilization and engagement are crucial dynamics for creating, broadening, and sustaining opportunities for youth, young adults, and others to improve their life social, work and living environment. Nowhere more needed than in our local area perhaps, but needed in diverse communities throughout the US and the world, we are initially focusing on ways to help seed those opportunities and nurture emerging leadership.
Realizing economic opportunity requires new modes of interaction with community institutions
Immigrant Rights & Policy Reform – When long overdue legislation to "regularize" the legal status of more than 11 million immigrants in the U.S. is passed, we believe a massive effort will be needed to assure it fulfills its full promise. Realizing economic stability and opportunity will require skill development and new modes of interaction with community institutions. Immigration reform must offer immigrants an easily traveled "pathway to citizenship" which assures that "immigrant integration" is not just ritual— that
their new civic engagement is effective. We are focusing on strategies for preserving and drawing on cultural capital within the immigrants' own communities as a resources for enriching local community life here in the US, as well as simultaneously exploring how we might help immigrant advocacy, service, and local civic organizations be ready to help immigrants and their communities move forward.
The Werner-Kohnstamm Family Giving Fund (WKF) was funded by long-term immigrants to this country, owners of small businesses, who believed in youth entrepreneurship, and prospered, and who wanted to give back to their communities in like ways. With honor and respect for this background, WKF offers grants.
Researching ways to move toward "positive tipping points" in community life
Meant to support promising efforts to better the lives of economically and politically disadvantaged individuals, especially immigrants, as well as cost-effective applied research to better understand "pressure points for positive change" and ways to move toward "positive tipping points" in community life. We are providing pro bono technical assistance and strategic planning support to some of these organizations in cases where it seems our individual expertise and energy can make a useful contribution in these efforts.