This ongoing archive provides a new teaching and training tool for community development and planning education. It highlights the central role and contributions of women to community development that is often perceived and taken for granted as part of their traditional gender roles and undervalued as an extension of their unpaid care work at home. All of the cases were co-authored in collaboration with women and gender non-binary leaders of community based organizations in New York City and abroad. These stories highlight the leaders’ experiences, principles, and practices that go beyond dealing with everyday issues in their communities. They also build coalitions and engage in city, regional and nationwide policy advocacy for social, environmental and climate justice and equitable development. We hope this website will also serve as a platform for dialogue at the national, regional and global levels.
The purpose of this project is to provide a new teaching tool for community development education, an ongoing archive that highlights the contributions of women leaders to community development and climate justice. Knowledge production in community development education should be a democratic, equitable and collaborative process. Therefore, as three academics, we have partnered with women and non-binary leaders of 15 community based organizations to co-author these cases. They are stories of the organizations, and especially, the leaders' own experiences and approach to community development, documenting their major achievements, challenges and experiences.
Grassroots women’s central role in community development is often taken for granted. Perceived as part of their traditional gender role and an extension of their unpaid care work at home, women’s contributions are ignored and undervalued. In these short case studies, women and gender non-binary leaders reflect on and claim their contributions to the field in their own voices, providing rich and contextual insights into the complex process of community development through gendered lenses. By bridging academic and local knowledge, we expect these stories to provide fresh bottom-up insights to inform and inspire future practitioners.
These stories do not claim to be comprehensive case studies of the organizations. They are based on 1-2 hour in-depth interviews as well as some background research on the organization and neighborhood. An interview schedule was used to guide the interviews, but the discussions were open-ended to allow the leaders to focus on issues they felt were important.
The first part of each case provides background information on the organization -- its mission statement, operating principles, organizational structure, size, space, etc., as well as links to additional resource material on the organization. It was important to include a short section here on the personal journey of our co-author herself.
The second part of each case discusses each leader’s approach to community development in their own words, including their views on governance, how they define a grassroots organization, how they maintain accountability to their constituencies, how they work with and see as the role of grassroots women in this process, what they view as their key accomplishments and obstacles, role of space, coalition building, sustainability of the organization and vision for the future, and key lessons learned from their experience as a woman or non-binary leader.
The first phase of this project focused on nine NYC community-based organizations and was supported by a seed-grant from the Community Development Education Collaborative. Inspired by a “North-South” exchange organized at Pratt Institute on September 23, 2019, during the World Environment Week, the project was expanded to cover six additional organizations from abroad (Puerto Rico, Colombia, Kenya, Perú, Philippines and Turkey) with funding from the Pratt Center for Community Development’s Taconic Fellowship.
All of the 15 groups have been active for about ten years, and all started out to address specific everyday concerns of local residents that range from housing, public health, youth development, childcare and education, food security to immigration/refugees. Over time, they went beyond coping with everyday issues and got involved in long-term planning initiatives and joined borough, city, region or nation-wide coalitions engaging in policy advocacy for social, environmental and climate justice. The NYC groups work in low-income neighborhoods of color from all five boroughs of the city and can give a sense of the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods. The groups from abroad also work in low-income neighborhoods, and four of them now facilitate national federations or networks of grassroots women’s organizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated society’s reliance on the undervalued, and often invisible, work of women and people of color at the grassroots. We found it especially timely to create an intentionally gendered archive of the leadership and contributions of women and gender nonconforming leaders to this field.
In July 2021, we brought the leaders together in a Zoom meeting to meet and briefly discuss their work with each other. We hope that this brief, but powerful introduction and the resources on this website will inspire future relationships between the leaders – both within NYC and abroad. Our purpose was not only to highlight the contributions of grassroots women from different political, cultural and economic contexts to community development, but also to help start dialogue and exchange of strategies between the NYC leaders and their peers with similar values from abroad. Such spaces for engagement are essential to meet the challenges of the compounding global crises we are faced with today in public health and climate change.
During times of global crises and climate change, traditional binary approaches of patriarchy and modernism that emphasize the differences between the Global North and South are no longer valid. Transnational dialogue, and collaboration among leaders of frontline communities with similar values and principles is critical to share strategies and tools and to do policy advocacy for social and climate justice at the national, regional and global levels.
This project has been developed with support from the Community Development Education Consortium, and the Pratt Center for Community Development’s Taconic Fellowship. Special thanks to Sandy Schilen from the Huairou Commission.
- Ayse Yonder, Professor Emeritus, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning & The Environment
- Mercedes Narciso, Adjunct Associate Professor, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning & The Environment
- Juan Camilo Osorio, Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning & The Environment
- Violet Shivutse: Shibuye Community Health Workers, KENYA
- Elizabeth Yeampierre: UPROSE, Brooklyn, NYC
- Sasha Wijeyeratne: CAAAV - Organizing Asian Communities, NYC
- Lucy Cruz: G-8 Grupo de las Ocho Comunidades Aledañas al Caño Martín Peña, San Juan, PUERTO RICO
- Ethel Battle Velez: Johnson Houses Residents Association, Manhattan, NYC
- Annetta Seecharran: Chhaya CDC, Queens, NYC
- Relinda Sosa: CONAMOVIDI - PERU
- Damaris Reyes: GOLES, Manhattan, NYC
- Beryl Thurman: North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island (NSWCSI), Staten Island, NYC
- Wanda Salaman: Mothers on the Move (MOM), Bronx, NYC
- Chhaya Choum: Mekong NYC, Bronx, NYC
- Sandra Vargas: Corporación Casa Amazonía, COLOMBIA
- Sengul Akcar: (KEDV) Foundation for the Support of Women's Work, TURKEY
- Frances Lucerna: El Puente, Brooklyn, NYC
- Jhocas Castillo: (DAMPA) Solidarity of Oppressed Filipino People, PHILIPPINES
- Brit Byrd, Pratt GCPE City & Regional Planning Masters Student
- Yury Chang, Pratt GCPE City & Regional Planning Masters Student
- Suzanne Goldberg, Pratt GCPE City & Regional Planning Masters Student
- Laura Echeverry, Universidad Javeriana, Undergraduate Architecture Student
- Sofia Moscoso. Universidad Javeriana, Undergraduate Architecture Student
- Daniel Sherr, Interpretation Services
- Tamber Hilton, Remote Meeting Expert