Editors’ note: This article references sidebars and other materials not available in the digital edition. Please purchase a reprint for the full article.
Joyce Baldwin recently interviewed Geri Mannion and Taryn Higashi, the cofounders of Four Freedoms Fund. In 2003, Mannion, the program director of the U.S. Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund at Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Higashi, then the executive director of Unbound Philanthropy, joined forces to launch Four Freedoms Fund (FFF), a funding collaborative housed at Public Interest Projects.
Five years later, the collaborative has provided $25 million to support 85 grassroots efforts in 33 states and has developed a unique collaborative working style that maximizes funders’ ability to support local and state efforts that are connected to a national campaign, all aimed at helping immigrants become citizens and actively participate in our democracy. In the following interview, Mannion and Higashi discuss the work of FFF, some of the lessons learned from the collaborative approach, and goals for the future.
Joyce Baldwin: What is the core intention of Four Freedoms Fund?
Taryn Higashi: The foundations that are investing in immigrants and civic integration do so as part of their bigger mission. At Carnegie Corporation, the goal is strengthening U.S. democracy and civic participation for the whole country. For me, at Ford—and now at Unbound Philanthropy—it is to advance human rights and social justice for all communities. In fact, while all of the donors to FFF may come to the collaborative fund because it relates to their foundation’s specific program objectives, they see our overall work as promoting justice and fairness for everyone in the United States.
JB: How would you characterize philanthropic support for immigrant policy in the United States today?
TH: In the 15 years I’ve been involved in immigration-related grantmaking, there has been a great deal of growth in the amount of money going into the field, the number of foundations funding, and the expertise and collaboration among foundations, but there are still many gaps in geographic coverage and issue coverage.
Geri Mannion: In the last decade, the demographic changes in the country, especially as immigrants migrate to new destination states in the South, Midwest, and West, have made it more imperative that funders—whether national or local—consider who the newcomers in their communities are and their needs.
In addition, since 9/11, with concerns about national security and increases in [racial] profiling, especially among Arab, Middle Eastern, and other people of color, there has been a need for philanthropy to provide support for many of the legal and advocacy groups that can help ensure that individual legal rights aren’t abused. More recently, increased anti-immigrant rhetoric has motivated many legal residents to become naturalized citizens. Since 9/11, the naturalization process has also become much more complicated and expensive; applicants therefore need more help from legal and social-service groups in moving through that process, so there is an opportunity, especially in the new destination states, to provide English-language training, education in civics, and help with applying for naturalization. The opportunity to help immigrants integrate socially, politically, and economically is huge. Local foundations can play a central role in helping these newcomers and their families become American.