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Getting Back to the Basics: Prioritizing Inter-agency Collaborations

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Written by: Jorge Vidal, Project Coordinator, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

When I was asked to write this blog, I wasn’t expecting we’d be entering yet another wave of xenophobic incidents as intense as we experienced after Sept 11, 2001. Human rights violations based on gender, sexual orientation, religious identity, ethnicity, and immigration status have seen an unfortunate increase in recent months. These violations are directly related to health care and safety, because they widen the gap of isolation and distrust for historically marginalized communities –what we call prevention challenges. This is why now, more than ever, advocates and providers are being called to return to the basics, to prioritize the dying art of relationship building to help ensure engagement and retention in our community.

Knowing that relationship building is crucial to our work allows us to take intentional steps towards achieving it. Here we recommend steps your agency or organization can take:

Adopting a Cultural Lens

From a larger perspective, relationship building is related to vínculos de pertenencia (strong family ties), respeto (respect), and empatía (empathy); all of which are important values in Latino communities. Including these elements in our agencies guarantees trust and access from the community.

In order to prioritize the inclusion of a cultural lens in our work, we must invite culturally specific organizations as leaders in these efforts. As culturally specific providers we find ourselves, for the most part, functioning in survival mode; often times not reflecting on the great work we do, create, and establish. Nonetheless, liberation work requires grounding our organizations in the expertise that we and the larger community bring.

Adopting an Intersectional Lens

Effective collaborations necessitate listening to each other, and that requires us to operate from an intersectional lens. To apply the concept of intersectionality in our work, we must first understand the blind spots of our organization. Here are some tips for your organization to begin exploring intersectionality:

  • Engage in critical and reflective conversation with staff.
  • Bring a client scenario to your next case study, supervisor’s check-in, and/or staff meeting and ask questions about identity, family, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and other factors that contribute to a person’s experience.
  • Ground conversations in the internal and external challenges the client must navigate to prioritize health.
  • Lead conversations with open questions; notice what identities are invisible to the staff. Introduce other frameworks such as social justice, feminist theory, and anti-oppressive practice in your discussions.
  • Host a training at your organization if the organization is not prepared to lead the analysis.

Network building

Start moving outward. Think of your partners that you refer, collaborate, and engage with, and ask yourself: How do I support them in this process? We don’t want to operate in systems that refer our communities from one service provider to another. Our goal is to create a network that is grounded in community and that incorporates an intersectional lens so that our communities do not feel pushed from agency to agency. Network building guarantees that clients will receive the best level of care and attention possible and that your agency will nurture a reputation as a trusted source of information.

Internal advocacy

Internal advocacy is moving the knowledge from the ground up. Structural changes require internal advocacy, so it’s important to bring all of your expertise, evaluation, and information to the table. As an expert, confidently share what works and what does not work with funders and mainstream organizations. If your partners are not invited, include their stories and the work that you do. The key to relationship building internally and externally is always giving credit to all the people who support and uplift you.

Concluding Thoughts

We recognize relationship building is not simple, but if we don’t actively try to foster and strengthen relationships it is likely our agencies will be faced with a number of challenges. Our community members will continue to lose faith and trust in the systems that supposedly were created to assist them. I have witnessed many Latino community members bounced around from agency to agency with no support or explanation. Due to a lack of language access, many struggle to accurately communicate their needs in an unfamiliar language. As a result, I’ve seen children as young as 12 having to explain their parents’ ailments to doctors and nurses. I’ve also witnessed many Latin@s being rejected due to agencies’ unwillingness to engage with their story-telling process of communication. The explicit or inexplicit messages we send is that we do not value them, their family, their realities, cultures, and needs.

We must understand that health and being conscious of your health is a privilege. To engage in the process of taking care of yourself takes time, resources, and support — three things many immigrant families don’t have. For example, health will never take precedence when we have to choose between that and making money to support a family (in our respective states or countries of origin), losing our job, or taking care of immigration needs.

If relationship building is so valuable to bridge historically marginalized communities to services, then one may ask, why isn’t it required? For the most part, because it’s undervalued, it does not fit neatly into our deliverables, and agencies don’t get funded just to build relationships. Secondly, it takes time. Nonetheless, it is only through meaningful relationships and collaborations that we’ll be able to start to chip away at generations of oppression, heal historical trauma, repair trust, or shift systems that often oppress our communities.

We would love to hear from you! Please let us know how do you include relationship building in your work? Please send us your emails at info@casadeesperanza.org

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