1. Movement-Defined Learning

What is the Movement-Defined Learning Project?

We know from our grassroots partners that philanthropy’s current methods of learning, reporting, and evaluation are laborious, extractive, and centered around data that we, as funders, collect to monitor our grantmaking.

The Movement-Defined Learning Project is a participatory learning and evaluation project designed to support communities in defining their own impact and success and reflect back their wisdom to resource and cultivate a culture of learning.

By creating a collaborative learning space to engage Black grassroots organizers, the project attempts to ask—and answer:

  • What does it look like to engage and center our grantee partners in our evaluation methods?
  • How can philanthropy align its approach to evaluation with how organizers measure and track their own progress?
  • How can the philanthropic sector utilize reporting processes to better understand what our grantee partners need to thrive?

What makes this project transformative?
What makes it essential?

The reimagined approach to evaluation co-created through the Movement-Defined Learning Project is necessary because philanthropy’s existing processes are not only time consuming, but also one-dimensional, and—above all—harmful.

When funders too often measure success quantitatively—through bills passed, or jails shuttered—we not only set a tacit expectation that our grantee partners rapidly (and single handedly) dismantle long-standing systems of oppression—we also miss the true labor, love, and cost of leading truly transformative work. We miss, for example, the challenges of implementing newly passed legislation—such as the intense political backlash that accompanies the very wins we hold our grantee partners to achieving. We miss the mental, emotional, and logistical fortitude needed to fght backlash to policy wins. We miss the trauma organizers face when they are doxed and criminalized for pushing forward this work.

We miss the power they’re building in the mutual care networks they’re weaving—efforts that will usher in changes for generations to come.

And by rooting ourselves in the same processes that have consistently led to the under-resourcing of Black-led organizing efforts, we continue to carry forward this country’s shameful tradition of abandoning Black communities.

The learning and evaluation tool that organizers have co-created through the Movement Defined Learning Project is an invitation. The reimagined approach to evaluation co-created through the Movement-Defined Learning Project is necessary because It is a portal through which the philanthropic sector can better understand what movement actors require of us in this critical moment and for the long-haul. It is an opportunity for philanthropy to be less directive, while simultaneously enabling our grantee partners to extend their capacity for the powerful storytelling necessary to their success. Finally, it is a recognition that the fight for liberation is decades- and generations-long—and an urgent call to resource Black-led organizing.

Why focus on Black-led organizing?

Black folks have led safety, liberation, justice, and democracy organizing and policy work for the last 400 years. Through centuries of resistance and protest—from slavery abolition (the very first labor movement in the history of the U.S.) to the Civil Rights Movement to the Movement for Black Lives—Black folks have helped the country live up to its founding ideals, paving the way not just for Black communities, but for every other civil rights struggle, including women’s rights, trans and queer sovereignty, and migrant and disability rights. Without the efforts of Black organizers and activists, our democracy today would look incredibly different.

And, yet. In spite of this inclusive, centuries-long track record, Black-led organizing remains recklessly underfunded.

People protesting and holding a Black Trans Lives Matter banner
Inforgraphic for stats

At the BLMF and CTPF, we believe there are manifold reasons for this, one of which is that power building, and mutual aid work—which exist at the heart of organizing work—are near impossible to measure with traditional philanthropic metrics. The Movement-Defined Learning Project exists to shift this reality.

Why is Borealis stewarding this work?

As a social justice intermediary that bridges the philanthropic and movement ecosystems, we see it as our role both to distribute pooled resources to the frontlines of intersectional movements for justice and push the philanthropic sector to embody approaches that are community-driven, restorative, and people-focused. The learnings and possibilities developed from this project meet both of these goals. 

Our Funds are humbled to package and put forward this labor of Black organizers’ love and brilliance to funders and changemakers alike. And as donor organizers, we are proud to issue a call to our philanthropic peers to join us in taking the “next most elegant step” towards shifting power: moving towards liberatory research methods.