In this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto talks with Pooja Bhatt and Anthony Castaneda about the value of culturally specific early childhood advocacy and how their organizations are approaching this important work.
Pooja Bhatt is the cofounder and managing partner at SeeChange, a consultancy focused on people-centered change. She also works as a facilitator for the Early Childhood Equity Collaborative and is a participant in Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition.
Pooja and Anthony provide background on the Early Childhood Equity Collaborative and how the five culturally specific organizations involved are approaching advocacy. They also discuss the passing of the Early Childhood Equity Fund in 2019 and what that fund is helping accomplish in Oregon. Finally, Pooja and Anthony share some of the advocacy challenges for their organizations, describe describe what makes partnerships and coalitions successful, and share the impact that culturally specific advocacy can have for families.
Rafael’s Daughter: [00:00:00] Welcome everyone. This is the Early Link Podcast. Thanks for listening!
Rafael: Big thanks to our special guest opening the show today. That’s my daughter and she’s in third grade. I’m your host, Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the airwaves on 99.1 FM in Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM or subscribe and listen wherever you find your podcasts.
Today, I’m talking with Pooja Bhatt, who is the co-founder and managing director at SeeChange, a consultancy focused on people-centered change, and Anthony Castaneda, the policy manager at Latino Network. We’ll be talking about early childhood advocacy and what that looks like from the perspective of a number of organizations in Portland.
Pooja works as a facilitator for The Early Childhood Equity Collaborative, which we’ll learn more about, and which Latino Network is a part of. Both Pooja and Anthony are participants in Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition. Welcome, and thank you to both of you for joining me today. It’s great to have you.
Pooja Bhatt: [00:00:58] Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Anthony Castaneda: [00:00:59] Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Rafael: [00:01:02] Pooja, I thought we could start with you, and if you could just give us a bit of background about the collaborative that you work with and how the organizations involved are approaching advocacy.
Pooja Bhatt: [00:01:13] Sure. Great question. So, the Early Childhood Equity Collaborative actually came together in 2018, because at that time there was no systematic public support for culturally specific services in the early learning field, at a time when our state’s population of zero to five-year-olds is the most racially and ethnically diverse it’s ever been.
So on one hand, we’re growing in the diversity of our young children and families, and at the same time, we’re actually investing a lot more in early childhood. But at that time in 2018, there wasn’t a systematic support and acknowledgment of the need for culturally specific services throughout the state. So the reason that this collaborative came together was really to help advocate at the state level for legislation and investments to invest in culturally specific services.
So the Collaborative partnered with culturally specific organizations, philanthropy, and community-based organizations throughout the state to really build awareness about the need for these services, these culturally specific services, and mobilize advocacy for communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities. And the real purpose is really to shift power dynamics in our state, where communities of color are actually being able to self-determine policy and budget priorities. So that’s the real power of this collaborative, is that a lot of times you see foundations investing in direct services, which is of course very important, and at the same time there hasn’t been historic investment in the ability of culturally specific organizations to advocate on their own behalf, on their own communities’ behalf, for statewide legislation and investments in culturally specific services. So the partners around the table are Latino Network, who really helped to begin convening this conversation, with KairosPDX, Black Parent Initiative, NAYA, and IRCO. So they were the original five culturally specific partners, but many more partners, other culturally specific organizations around the state, have been engaged in the past. We’ve had the support, generous support, of our foundation partners and our fiscal agent of Social Venture Partners, and my role is really the contract facilitator for the group.
Rafael: [00:03:25] Anthony, I know Latino Network is part of the Collaborative. Can you give us just a background overview of what Latino Network does and its role in the community?
Anthony Castaneda: [00:03:33] Sure. Latino Network is a culturally specific organization serving children, youth, families in the Tri-County area: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties. We provide services to thousands of Latinos in the areas of education, mentorship, leadership development, and family stability. And one of the reasons why organizations like Latino Network exist is to address those needs in the community that are currently not filled by the systems in place. So we see families falling through the cracks and we see some of those needs of students not being met, which is why we see a lot of these disparities, which is the reason why we worked so hard to connect with these families.
Rafael: [00:04:20] So, can you talk about the experience of participating in the Collaborative and what that has been like?
Anthony Castaneda: [00:04:27] The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the Collaborative provides a space for our organizations to connect on shared goals and interests. it provides a space for information sharing as well as strengthening ties between our organizations. I think one of the early experiences has been learning about the other services provided in the area by our partner organizations.
We can share expertise, share resources with one another, and really connect these families to other services that may be needed.
Rafael: [00:04:59] Talk about, and maybe you both can talk about this a little bit, but the approach to advocacy as… as you’re representing direct service organizations that have close ties to the community and families. What does that mean for advocacy and how has that shifted or changed because of the Collaborative? Anthony, did you want to start with that?
Anthony Castaneda: [00:05:17] Sure. I think one of the strengths has been bringing parents from different backgrounds and perspectives together and really leading with that parent voice and really elevating the needs of those children or the youth that we’re working with.
Rafael: [00:05:31] Pooja, do you have comments on that?
Pooja Bhatt: [00:05:32] Yeah. I mean, I think that that exactly is the power of the Collaborative, of bringing together parents from diverse communities and really showing the richness of Oregon’s community. We often say that Oregon is very white, right? That we’re known as one of the whitest big cities in the country. But what that does is that it makes invisible the communities of color that are here. And so I think that one of the great things about the Equity Collaborative is that it really elevates the power of being present and being seen and we are here and we do have policy priorities that we want to engage partners across the spectrum to uplift.
So I think that the way that this collaborative has really connected parents from diverse communities with the organizations that they are most connected to – with other partners, dominant culture partners, school districts, as well as policymakers and funders – has been really powerful.
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