An Update on the Orange County Opportunity Initiative

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Approximately 955,000 immigrants live in OC, making up one-third of our county’s population. OC’s immigrant communities are deeply connected to our region, with 80% of OC’s foreign-born population having lived in the US for a decade or longer. Lawful permanent residents account for 26% of immigrants in the county, of which 180,000 are eligible to naturalize, and those who are undocumented account for 24% of immigrants (OC Equity Profile, 2019). Ensuring that immigrants are welcomed, gain economic mobility, participate in local civic decisions, and supporting naturalization among those who are eligible, are important ways to gain greater security for immigrant families, in addition to broader economic and civic benefits to OC.

The OC Opportunity Initiative (OCOI) was founded on the belief that the successful integration of immigrant and refugee communities into the full economic and civic life of Orange County is crucial to the health and well-being of our region. Since 2015, OCOI has partnered with more than 20 local and regional funders and donors to provide $3.75 million to 35 immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations for legal services, outreach and education, advocacy, and community organizing. Initially a funder collaborative, the initiative expanded to include both funders and nonprofit organizations to broaden its work and efforts in the region.

Our vision is of an Orange County where immigrant and refugee communities secure justice, solidarity, and a place of belonging in the socio-economic, cultural, political and civic life.

OCOI’s goal is to create a lasting infrastructure for immigrant rights in Orange County. OCOI strengthens immigrant-serving organizations by enhancing direct services and system change capacity to achieve collective impact. In 2020, OCOI adopted a more intentional focus on systems change as part of its new strategic plan, refining its vision to emphasize justice, solidarity, and belonging. OCOI convened nonprofit partners to redesign the initiative’s strategy toward articulating the key “drivers of change” that promote successful immigrant integration:

  1. Systems Change Advocacy: Development and implementation of strategies to engage decision makers (elected officials) in order to shift policy and change systems, rooted in advocacy demands from base.
  2. Narrative Change: Development and implementation of narratives and communications strategies that shift values and shape public opinion regarding immigrants in OC, countering harmful narratives of exclusion and fear.
  3. Infrastructure Development: Creation or expansion of long-term regional capacity for scalable collaborative work on immigration.
  4. Cross-Cultural and Multiracial Work: Building solidarity across communities with intentional analysis and understanding of their histories and cultures.

OCOI 2021 and 2022 grants were awarded to 10 nonprofits advancing the identified drivers of change through five specific scopes of work. OCOI has evolved into a collective impact approach that incorporates a shared governance model and fiscal sponsorship from Charitable Ventures. The shared governance model entails a Steering Committee of the 10 funded nonprofit partners, and an extended network of immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations.

Coordinated Advocacy Efforts – The Steering Committee will focus its collaborative work on County systems and policymakers through a set of coordinated advocacy efforts.  This focus represents a significant step forward in collaboration to advance immigrant justice in terms of scope (four interconnected policy issues), degree (more robust coordination across four areas of work), and reach (more intentional engagement of OCOI partners in advocacy strategies). The Steering Committee’s strategic aim is to create County-levels systems change.

The Steering Committee will engage in the coordinated advocacy efforts using an ecosystem approach to immigrant justice, where each collaborative and organization plays a role in advancing systems change. Using this ecosystem approach, the Steering Committee identified four areas of coordination –  Base and Capacity Building, Civic Engagement, Direct and Grassroots Advocacy, and Media and Messaging – each with a set of activities and shared resources. If successfully implemented, these activities and shared resources will establish a more robust degree of coordination than has previously been achieved within Orange County’s immigrant justice ecosystem.

The Steering Committee now hosts monthly OCOI Partner Meetings, which are a central venue for shared power analysis, policy landscape analysis, narrative/messaging, training, and capacity building.  Partner Meetings will provide tangible opportunities for learning, capacity building, and action in support of coordinated advocacy efforts. With leadership and capacity building from the Steering Committee, partner meetings are becoming a space for aligning strategies, tactics, narrative, and messaging within Orange County’s immigrant justice ecosystem.

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Internship Reflection

By Avery Huffer As my time with the Orange County Grantmakers comes to a close, I’ve had the chance to really reflect on my experience

How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? WAJAHAT ALI knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

Wajahat Ali

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.