The Resilient Communities Initiative: Empowering those Impacted Most by Climate Change

In 2014, Bay Localize organized a Regional Convening on Resilience and Equity, bringing together leadership from grassroots organizations from disadvantaged communities with representatives from local agencies working on climate adaptation planning. The fiery discussion that ensued made clear the need for intensive dialog and collaboration between these critical actors.

In 2015, Bay Localize organized the Resilient Communities Initiative (RCI), a coalition of grassroots organizations from disadvantaged communities across the Bay Area. The coalition began researching opportunities to influence nascent climate adaptation planning across the region, from bay wetlands restoration to sea level rise planning, public health frameworks, grant funding criteria, to selecting speakers for the California adaptation forum. The RCI placed its grassroots representatives strategically on advisory committees to shift the viewpoint of agencies from thinking of disadvantaged communities as helpless objects of planning to necessary partners and thought leaders.

Former RCI Coordinator Kirsten Schwind (left) speaks with Breakthrough Communities founder Carl Anthony (right).

The Resilient Communities Initiative also organized a series of trainings for public agency staff on collaborating with grassroots organizations. In 2016, the coalition piloted its Regional Resilience Leadership Academy with a cohort of more than 200 leaders around the Bay Area.

Our goals included:

1. Train grassroots leaders from disadvantaged communities to advocate for resilience policies based in social justice.

The RCI commissioned local member organizations to organize four full-day grassroots trainings around the Bay Area. Coalition members came together to share the rich compendium of training tools developed by our member organizations, and agreed on points each training should cover. Member organizations were free to cover those points in ways most culturally appropriate for their members, drawing from the RCI Grassroots Resilience Training Curricula.

2. Train agency staff in best practices in partnering with community groups.

The RCI brought together than 110 staff representing 90 local, regional, state, and federal agencies working on climate resilience policies in a full-day training covering key RCI equity tools. These trainings emphasized two key tools:

The RCI Equity Checklist is a simple one-page checklist to help planners to identify populations that may be especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that need to be included in the planning of any given adaptation project. Inspired by a civil engineer who stated during a planning workshop, “They didn’t teach me about social equity in engineering school,” the checklist also lays out clear steps for agency staff from any background to launch dialog with community groups in respectful ways.

Long-time Oakland environmental justice leader Margaret Gordon (right) helps lead a session at an RCI training.

The West Oakland Indicators Project’s Partnering Agreement is a model inter-organizational agreement developed for a real life collaboration between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Port of Oakland, environmental justice organizations, and other stakeholders. The partnering agreement set ground rules for working together to successfully reduce diesel emissions in West Oakland. Those ground rules help place organizations with a vast differential in resources and power on the more equal footing required for successful collaboration.

The RCI fine-tuned our Agency Training Agenda by organizing an additional full-day workshop at the California Adaptation Forum, and in 2016 we co-organized two major policy workshops together with state and regional agencies:

Flooding, Sea Level Rise and Justice with the California Coastal Conservancy and Bay Conservation Development District

Social Justice in Climate Change Adaptation: Beyond Sea Level Rise with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the California Department of Public Health

Each workshop produced an exciting set of opportunities for increasing grassroots community leadership and/or increasing resilience funds to disadvantaged communities.

RCI Coalition Structure, Decision Making, and Members:

The RCI is run as a democratic coalition. Major decisions are made by two-thirds votes of its steering committee, which is made up of member organizations elected by all coalition members each year to ensure accountability. The current steering committee consists of five diverse organizations that collectively organize in African American, Latino, Asian, immigrant, environmental justice, low-income, and at-risk youth communities. Eighty percent of the current steering committee representatives are people of color. Coalition agreements define roles, responsibilities, and decision making procedures.

Resilient Communities Initiative Members

  • Rooted in Resilience (original host organization and coordinator, formerly Bay Localize)