Originally published in Los Angeles Times.
Nonprofits have always been important pillars of the community. Last year, organizations, such as the YWCA Greater Los Angeles (YWCA GLA), were on the frontline to provide much-needed social services to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. YWCA GLA President and CEO Faye Washington has dedicated her career to community service and racial advocacy. Her continued efforts and leadership have forever improved Los Angeles.
GHJ Nonprofit Managing Director Yulia Murzaeva sat down with Washington to discuss how YWCA GLA successfully pivoted during the pandemic to serve the community.
YULIA MURZAEVA: You have an impressive reputation, and every action you take really sets the tone for others to follow. Last year was especially difficult with the pandemic and protests. What was the most challenging obstacle, and how did you move past it?
FAYE WASHINGTON: The most challenging obstacle was to manage community responses in the middle of a global pandemic. Above all, we remained focused and moved with a sense of urgency. I have also learned that you cannot do it all; this is a collective team effort.
YM: If you have team members who are passionate about the mission and loyal to the community, it makes a world of a difference. Speaking of YWCA’s mission, you provide comprehensive services to the community, including childcare, on-the-job training, housing and more. There are more than 10 million residents in LA — how did you meet the demand?
FW: We received an award from the Black Entertainment Network (BET) and United Way Los Angeles to provide social services to South Los Angeles residents.
With this gift, we designed a comprehensive, programmatic response known as “UJIMA,” which stands for collective work and responsibility, and drew from our expertise to address the immediate challenges and needs faced by South LA residents, which range from workforce development to job search assistance to at-home learning support for students.
The success of our UJIMA program rests on cross-collaborative partnerships. To illustrate, we have also partnered with Everytable and other local restaurants as part of our programming response to serve over 18,000 individuals.
Thanks to the success of this effort, we have rolled out our UJIMA model to benefit our eight empowerment centers.
CREATING DISCOURSE NOT DIVISION
YM: It is amazing that you not only supported individuals but also local businesses. I want to pivot for a moment and talk about the Black Lives Matter movement. One important pillar of your mission is to eliminate racism. How did you use your platform during the protests last year?
FW: We knew that honest dialogues needed to follow. Less than two weeks after the death of George Floyd, we held our first event called “Days of Dialogue” in partnership with Avis Ridley-Thomas. The goal was simple: to listen and be heard. The event allowed individuals to engage in candid conversations around race with a diverse panel. Individuals were heard but also relayed their fears.
Fear is a strange thing; it will become your master if you do not give it an outlet. The program was so well received that we will continue it to foster more inclusive conversations.
YM: It is so much easier to understand when you can hear both sides of the story. You have been very involved in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion for many years. How have you approached this at your organization?
FW: It comes down to treating everyone equally. We designed an “equity” program, which includes four pillars: economics, gender, race and health. We identified partners and funders who help us respond to the needs of each pillar.
This approach is unique in that it allows donors to allocate dollars to a specific purpose that they are passionate about. We are all working toward the same goal of equity, but structuring it this way generates a bolder response.
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
YM: And by matching the funders to the community, you provide an innovative pathway for everyone to get involved. As we move forward after the pandemic, what advice would you give to other nonprofits?
FW: I know what we will do: we are going to take it slow. Our progress has certainly placed us on solid ground. We managed to carry out our mission despite enormous challenges.
I want us (YWCA GLA) to grow building upon our newfound strength of community and solidify our existing relationships. Nonprofits have been out on the frontline, and communities are beginning to realize that.