Putting people of color at the center of workforce efforts

A new collaborative funding opportunity asks organizations to value their participants’ lived experiences

“The purpose of this new fund is really to put our money where our mouth is,” says Loh-Sze Leung, co-director, Workforce Matters, a network of funding organizations that make grants in supportive workforce development programs and policies.

Loh-Sze Leung, co-director, Workforce Matters (Photo: Leung)

To that end, Workforce Matters has launched a collaborative effort called The Fund for Workforce Equity. “We really value lived experience,” says Leung.

Organizations that apply for the grant funding will need to demonstrate innovative strategies for putting workers and learners of color at the center of their efforts.

“Engaging community members, engaging the folks that may already be in their programs, and finding ways to really honor, value, and lift up their voices and lived experiences can be done in any number of ways,” says Leung.

“The idea being rather than ‘designing for’ ‘designing with’ workers and learners of color so that we’re really taking the time to understand what their needs are, as well as what they would find valuable and helpful.”

“Human-centered design is not new, right? Particularly if you think about product development or technology development, there’s often this kind of user experience component. This kind of language has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t quite been integrated into the world of workforce development. There’s a lot of room for growth there,” notes Leung.

She continues, “I feel we don’t put a lot of intentional resources behind helping organizations do that work or compensate it appropriately.”

Who is Eligible?

Among the RFP priorities:

Must provide workforce development programming or advocacy, including but not limited to:

  • Education and training programs that help individuals acquire and retain good jobs
  • Efforts that help workers to increase their income and/or advance their careers
  • Internships, apprenticeships, and/or learn-and-earn experiences

The Fund for Workforce Equity RFP anticipates approximately $1,000,000 will be awarded to a still-to-be determined number of organizations. It is expected the typical awards will range from $60,000-$70,000. Applications are due by July 31 with the grantee announcement on October 15.

The Result of Self-Reflection

In 2021, Workforce Matters asked its own funding members to examine their priorities, practices, and structure, including looking at whether there were racial biases in the funding ecosystem.

Leung says the new RFP and funding opportunity is a direct outgrowth of the results of last year’s internal examination: A Racial Equity Framework for Workforce Development Funders.

“There is a much greater awareness amongst funders that we have a long way to go and that we do have to start with the way that we ourselves do business in philanthropy. And whose voices we value and how we value them,” she says. “At the same time, this fund is a way for funders who are wanting to do more in this space to collectively learn together.”