Ayada Leads develops the capacity of New American parents to identify, articulate, and advocate for policies on community wellbeing. “Ayada,” the Somali word for “she,” demonstrates the organization’s commitment to inspiring women to be leaders at home, in their children’s schools, and in their neighborhoods and communities. They are a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the development of African diaspora women’s leadership and social inclusion.
For the past two years, Ayada Leads participated in Propel’s Capacity Building Initiative for Family Engagement (CBIFE). This 2-year program, slated to begin just before the pandemic began in 2020, engaged a cohort of 12 nonprofits and/or fiscally sponsored organizations in a participant-driven capacity building model to empower families in K-12 educational systems.
The intent of CBIFE was to help participants deepen their efforts to engage families, and ultimately, create more culturally responsive, welcoming, and hospitable schools for BIPOC families by strengthening their internal capacity.
Why Capacity Building?
Ayada Leads Executive Director Habon Abdulle underscored the value of having access to capacity building funding and peers who were working in the same space as them as they navigated successes and challenges together.
“When I joined the cohort, I believed that our organization was facing a unique challenge that required a unique solution. Over the course of the capacity-building cohort, I learned that we had similar challenges to other organizations,” Abdulle said.
For Ayada Leads, capacity building means improving skills and obtaining the resources their organization needs to survive. The word “survive” was intentional. Habon, the Executive Director, emphasized how the financial challenges Ayada Leads is experiencing is not limited to their organization––instead, it is a systemic issue that many BIPOC-led and serving organizations face.
Throughout the past two years the organization focused its capacity building efforts on board development, workforce capacity, communication strategies, and office space, emphasizing the latter two.
Partnerships and capacity building
The initiative opened the doors to a collaborative effort between Ayada Leads and another Somali-serving nonprofit in the cohort, Somali American Parent Engagement (SAPA). Both Ayada Leads and SAPA work with East African students and parents. Together they identified the need to better understand the causes of opioid disorders in their community. In response to this need, the two organizations’ collaborative project is to conduct community-based research on opioid addiction. They received funding through Propel’s Opportunity Fund, a grantmaking effort for collaborative project made available to cohort participants.
Responding to the community, looking forward
Like many community-based organizations led by and serving BIPOC, COVID greatly impacted the breadth of Ayada Leads’ services. Initially, they focused solely on leadership development and had started to broaden their offerings shortly before the pandemic began. As the effects of COVID began impacting the Twin Cities, they transitioned to the role of a more comprehensive community service organization.
Specifically, Ayada Leads offered interpretation services to families that needed to call schools or public services, delivered food to households, and connected families to mutual aid organizations. As a result of focusing on service provision, they shifted their capacity-building efforts to address challenges related to their new services and the transition to virtual work – something that was difficult for many organizations, let alone new ones working to increase their capacity in general.
Taking on the new service-oriented responsibilities meant staff workloads increased exponentially, which meant that they did not have the ability to focus as much staff time on capacity building. As they look to the future, they have plans to fundraise and invest in staff.
“In our cohort gathering, we learned that sustainability is more of a journey than a destination,” Abdulle said. “As the leader of our organization, I will put my focus on investing in the right people, establishing great partnerships, raising unrestricted funds, and implementing programs that will help our communities flourish.”