Lessons from Pioneers in Justice: Winning Strategies—Setting up for Success Internally and Externally

Lessons from Pioneers in Justice: Winning Strategies—Setting up for Success Internally and Externally

This post is the second in a series being published in support of our work with the Pioneers in Justice initiative of the Levi Strauss Foundation. This multi-year initiative is working with next-generation leaders of social justice organizations to enable peer learning and equip them with new tools, strategies and ways of working to create change. Read more about our work with the initiative and the first post from the series.

By Sherbeam Wright

What happens when you take a few highly motivated organizations, their leaders and staff, and offer the resources to give their technology and social media a boost? You get the kind of innovation that is allowing the Pioneers in Justice to leapfrog old mindsets, processes and circumstances. Whether they are empowering brand ambassadors, reaching out to new audiences or finding new ways to tell their stories, they’re bringing a fresh look and perspective to long-standing challenges.

The Levi Strauss Foundation’s Pioneers in Justice initiative supports next-generation leaders in the social justice field in San Francisco as they retool their organizations and movements for greater impact through new forms of collaboration and social media.  The initiative fosters peer learning among these leaders and equips them with new tools, strategies and ways of working to catalyze social change. Through Pioneers in Justice, the Levi Strauss Foundation seeks to help the next wave of social justice leaders explore and test new ideas that will benefit them, their organizations, the communities they serve and the issues they represent.

Elevating Voices

Two key benefits of social media, particularly for nonprofits and small organizations with limited resources, are that staff can utilize it to reach a greater audience through a core of brand ambassadors and elevate the voices of subject matter experts (SMEs). 

The Pioneers, as social justice advocates and leaders, have a very keen understanding of the value a multitude of organizational voices can bring to achieving organizational and social goals—especially for the purpose of positioning organizations and empowering thought leaders to impact, shape and change public discourse.

Chinese for Affirmative Action adopted the strategy of developing a socially-empowered core of brand ambassadors and SMEs and implemented formal process that was based on a true belief in the concept of empowerment.

As Vincent Pan, the executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) put it, the organization “made the decision to have a staff that communicates—not just a communications staff.”

In support of that decision, the organization developed an internal social media committee, hands-on opportunities for program staff to become socially engaged on behalf of the organization, and was truly supportive of empowering all who are interested in putting their skills in action on behalf of the organization. The result is not only a strong core of brand ambassadors, but a cross-sectional cadre of staff supporting a more inclusive vision for the organization—and the ability to leverage collective voices to amplify and elevate messages and support movements.

Building Bridges and Reducing the Language Gap

One strategy that is often overlooked in social media (as well as traditional outreach) is making content available in multiple languages, even when outreach to multilingual audiences is an important and strategic organizational goal. Reaching out to non-English speaking audiences in a meaningful way generally requires additional resources. It’s not a challenge that many English-based organizations are not willing to take on.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California decided to take on the challenge in a big way, given one of their goals was to connect with and serve new communities— including those for whom Spanish was their primary language of communicating.

The Mi ACLU Spanish-language page has more than 10k followers (2x as many as the english page).

The organization developed and launched MiACLU, a Spanish-language “know your rights” website targeted to Latino communities and developed MiACLU Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition to the online campaign, the organization conducted a nationwide promotional tour, partnered with ACLU affiliates along the way, integrating grassroots outreach, traditional media and social media in one campaign. 

Telling Compelling Stories, One Image at a Time

Instagram, Twitpics, memes, Vines… there seem to be an infinite number of tools for making and sharing media and building audiences. But when it comes to meaningful social engagement and sharing media that will help make movements, leading with strategy trumps leading with tools.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice |Asian Law Caucus, has been able to move beyond pushing information out in a one-off, single channel approach to thinking about how to present their work in more meaningful ways through infographics and multimedia—sharing stories in ways that resonate. By leveraging their program successes and audience knowledge, they have become adept at producing images that move and matter through multiple channels.

A snapshot from the Asian Law Caucus' Facebook Page. This infographic had 82 likes and 245 shares.

Over the past several years, each of the organizations participating in the Pioneers in Justice initiative has experienced a necessary shift in their respective views of social media—both from the organizational and individual points of view. This shift has enabled them to move from being risk averse to understanding the power of empowering and leveraging all voices. Our final post in this series will address these Culture Shifts. Stay tuned!

Sherbeam Wright is a social media and communications expert currently working under contract with ZeroDivide. 
Levi Strauss Foundation, Pioneers in Justice, social media training, social justice organizations