The Innovation Initiative

Radical Re-Imagination to Catalyze Change

In order to confront deep, structural challenges to equity and our democracy, it is essential that we create space to imagine a new future, build power, and make change. The Innovation Initiative brings leaders together to spark new insights and develop new strategies that enable us to meet both the profound challenges and opportunities we face.

Our collective work suffers from a constant pivot to the now—driven by the urgency and harm in our communities, reinforced by short-term political cycles, and fueled by short-term funding. But to imagine a radical new future and map our way there, we must revisit our individual and shared theories of change, lengthen the timeline for our work, and build new muscles for shared strategy work across organization, role, and discipline.

The Innovation Initiative brings “uncommon” allies to these tables, engaging academics and future forecasters whose longer-term modeling and analysis—on the nature of technology and threats to democracy, long-term major demographic shifts, changes in the geopolitical ordering of the world—rarely inform our near-term social justice campaigning work, but must infuse a smarter, more sophisticated progressive movement.  

Building the muscle and practice of deep collaboration requires time and space, and more deeply, relationships of respect, trust, and commitment. It requires cultivating new ways of being in conversation, new habits of clear-eyed assessment and honesty, and the ability to step out of purely institutional/positional postures as we imagine what our world needs and how to build the ecosystem, not individual organizations, to get us there. Existing forms of collaboration—campaign tables, project-based engagement, etc.—do not foster the form of exploration and trust-building required for the work ahead.

The Innovation Initiative is an important home for the work of imagining, practicing, and proliferating new ways to build resilient relationships, shared imagination, deep rigor, and the networked capacity to move ecosystems to action aligned to shared strategy.   

To support the deep work of change—of liberating our imagination, building the muscle of new practices, and fostering deep relationships of trust—each Initiative offers programming anchored in our approaches to generate connection and change:

  • Fellowships/Residencies: cultivating respite from daily work for reflection and study, creating space and time for deep engagement, connection, and innovation.
  • Cohorts/Learning Communities: building shared experiences over time for reflection and introspection, learning, exploration, practice, and relationship-building that spark new insights and seed networked, life-long relationships that anchor our ecosystem across the country.
  • Experiments/Innovation Labs: setting the stage for radical re-imagination, inviting thinkers and doers across disciplines and issue areas to bring their best, biggest, boldest ideas and, over the course of their time together, cook up new solutions for long-standing challenges.
  • Gatherings/Retreats: creating shared spaces that support stepping out of daily routines, out of old habits, and away from a purely institutional viewpoint to explore together, learn across disciplines and ecosystem roles, engage with thinkers and experts outside our social justice realm, and spark new insights and strategies for change.

Program Highlights: In 2021 and early 2022 we organized a number of “Big Idea” gatherings to wrestle with endemic challenges of our time: from counter-majoritarian structures of democracy in the United States, to building resilient multi-racial organizations and coalitions to using policy to create countervailing power institutions for working class people and communities. These gatherings are anchored in deep preparatory intellectual work by practitioners and academics who have framed core challenges and proposed innovative solutions. Seasoned facilitators organize discussion and debate, and this year we plan to share the fruits of these gatherings broadly through publications and virtually. 

The innovation gatherings (Innovation Labs) are the spaces through which we spark ideas and pilot new strategies. These gatherings will be followed by the creation of justice cohorts that will focus on the experimental implementation of those ideas and strategies. For example, one such cohort that emerged from an Innovation gathering is currently focused on building a campaign to establish a tenants’ union in New York.