Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

Main: 503-823-4519

City/County Info: 503-823-4000

TDD: 503-823-6868

1120 SW 5th Ave, Suite 114, Portland, OR 97204

Subscribe to RSS feed

Most Recent

View Less

Engaging for Equity report - Text format






Lessons Learned

Next Steps




It is an honor to share with you the accomplishments of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement’s (ONI’s) Diversity and Civic Leadership Program (DCL) and invite you to celebrate with us and provide your thoughts on the successes, challenges, and future of the program. For the City to work effectively with communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities we must create new pathways for participation, new efforts to strengthen people’s ability to participate, and new levels of cultural awareness and responsiveness by City staff and elected officials as envisioned in the February 2008 City Council adopted Five Year Plan to Strengthen Community Involvement in Portland.

As promised when the first DCL grant was awarded in 2007 we are returning with a report documenting the program’s development, accomplishments of our grantee organizations, lessons learned, and questions we ask you to consider as we look forward to the program’s expansion in coming years. To that end we invite you to join us at the Community Summit, Saturday, Feb. 28 and ONI Bureau Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting, and on Monday, March 9 to celebrate, share your reflections, and discuss your ideas for the future.  

Your input will help inform the ONI BAC’s deliberations, and ultimately City Council’s consideration, on future expansion of the program and strategies for making it a permanent component of the City’s civic engagement strategy alongside the long-established Neighborhood Association program and other programs engaging people with disabilities, elders, and youth. The BAC has embarked upon a parallel dialogue to consider what equitable funding looks like for our civic engagement programs and grantees.

As you read the report, consider the following questions.  Are the goals and objectives of the DCL program meeting the needs of the intended communities? What structural changes could take place to support expansion of the program? What range of non-geographic communities should ONI consider serving beyond those funded currently (renters, the houseless, LGBTQ community, etc.)? What ONI support services are most appropriate for the program?

Again, please join us as we celebrate the amazing community engagement successes that have been accomplished to date and collectively consider next steps in the evolution of this amazing program.

Amalia Alarcon de Morris
Director, Office of Neighborhood Involvement



In November 2006 the Portland City Council took a historic step toward greater citywide equity and community engagement by establishing the Diversity and Civic Leadership (DCL) program. Created as a partnership between city government and community organizations, the DCL program had the ambitious goal of bringing the voices of all Portlanders into decisions that affect their lives. Focusing on communities of color, immigrants and refugees, it was designed to change the relationship between people and government through a strategy of leadership development, culturally relevant community building, and new channels of communication with City officials to affect public policy.

This approach to engagement grew out of an extended conversation about race and equity in Portland, and it responded to two problems. First, a history of institutional exclusion had created barriers to civic participation by communities of color, immigrants and refugees, as well as mistrust of government. Second, Portland’s established and highly regarded system of neighborhood representation had not done a particularly good job of including the full range of diverse communities within the city. Changing demographics, including growing numbers of immigrants and refugees, compounded the challenge of representation for non-geographically based communities.

The DCL program represented a leap in creativity for the City of Portland by recognizing that greater equity and empowerment cannot be achieved only by expanding participation through existing institutions. It also requires new pathways for participation, new efforts to strengthen people’s ability to participate, and new levels of cultural awareness and responsiveness by City staff and elected officials. This breakthrough in understanding and commitment was the product of years of dedicated work by community activists and forward-thinking government leaders.

Since it was created, the DCL program has exceeded expectations and yielded valuable lessons. Community partners have engaged thousands of people in activities to build community identity and work on issue campaigns, trained hundreds of new leaders for roles within and outside government, increased regular contact and communication with government staff and elected officials, and developed stronger relationships among themselves and with other organizations.

The purpose of this report is to describe the history and function of the DCL program, to document the activities and achievements of the partner organizations, and to capture lessons learned for future program development and possible replication by other cities. The report is also intended as a resource to support a process of community input on next steps for the DCL program.



A History of Exclusion

The broader context for the DCL program is a history of racism and exclusion in Portland and throughout Oregon.1  The legacy of discrimination has left its imprint on Portland’s modern era of land use planning, urban development, infrastructure investment, and public policymaking. While it is uncomfortable for many of today’s Portlanders to see their city in this light, the enduring impact of our shared past is still felt by many in the community and is well documented.2

From the standpoint of public involvement in policymaking, City staff and elected officials have had limited experience and mixed success engaging diverse communities. There are understandable reasons why communities of color, immigrants and refugees might mistrust government and question the value of engaging with City officials.

While Portland’s neighborhood system is rightly celebrated nationwide for its progressive approach to public involvement since the 1970’s, leaders in Portland’s non-geographically based communities have pointed to the system’s limitations. Community advocates’ experience and expression of the legacy of exclusion and discrimination takes many forms:

  • Not feeling heard and not being at the table when decisions are made;

  • Government approaches to engagement reflect dominant cultural attitudes;

  • Frustration when City officials say, “We invited them but they did not come,” because this fails to account for barriers to participation and the need to engage diverse communities in different ways;

  • A sense of tokenism when a person of color is asked to serve on a City committee to fulfill diversity requirements;

  • The dilemma of tolerating a broken system in order to gain access vs. working to change it;

  • The choice of whether to do multicultural or ethnic specific organizing;

  • The lack of City preparedness to work with people from many countries who speak many languages;

  • The absence of public voice for community members who are not citizens;

  • Historical trauma experienced by communities, resulting in mistrust, fear and a sense that it is not safe or rewarding to engage with government.


Early Efforts at Inclusion

It is precisely the DCL program’s contrast to this pattern of exclusion that makes it historically significant. And yet, while innovative, it was not unprecedented. Earlier efforts to change the system came from both City leaders and the community.3  Indeed, the City and Multnomah County had already begun funding civic engagement programming beyond neighborhood-based efforts in the 1970’s and 1980’s with Elders in Action and the Disability Program. The City also created an immigrant and refugee coordinator role, though its focus was more direct service coordination.

By the 1990’s City commissioners were urging neighborhood associations to become more diverse in their representation, a challenge easier said than done for volunteer-based membership organizations with democratically elected leadership and minimal direct funding from the City. Meanwhile the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) recognized the importance of supporting ethnically and culturally specific civic engagement similar to the City’s longtime work with elders, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees. In 1990 a collaborative strategic planning process called Portland Future Focus identified the need to increase diversity in civic life generally, and in the neighborhood system specifically. The following year, in FY 1991-92, the budget called out involvement of diverse communities as a City responsibility for the first time.

In 1995 ONI formed a task force to study the system, introducing the idea of “communities beyond neighborhood boundaries” and proposing support for capacity building by immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color. In response, the City Council began to implement the task force recommendations, changing the name of the Office of Neighborhood Associations (ONA) to the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. In 1998 ONI changed its guidelines to formally acknowledge “ethnic communities beyond neighborhood boundaries” that met certain criteria “as important aspects of Portland’s neighborhood association system.”4

This period marked an openness to change on the part of City leaders, and the beginning of new model of inclusion. A decade of reflection led in 2000 to Interwoven Tapestry, an intensely focused effort by ONI and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) to integrate immigrant and refugee communities into the civic life of the City and build collaborative efforts with neighborhood associations. It was funded as a three-year demonstration project as part of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Building the New American Community Initiative, a partnership that included the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Urban Institute, the Carnegie Endowment, and the National Immigration Forum.

While early attempts to increase the diversity of participation in neighborhood coalitions met with mixed success, some of those involved with Interwoven Tapestry brought these issues into the work of the City’s Public Involvement Task Force convened in 2003-04.5  Taking a different approach, the Task Force proposed direct City funding for culturally specific leadership training and organizational development by nonprofit groups that were not neighborhood-based.

In March 2004 Southeast Uplift, a Portland neighborhood coalition, convened the Diversity and Civic Leadership Committee (DCLC), the result of three years of work by the coalition’s Diversity and Representation Committee (DRC). The participants in the DCLC represented a broad range of community-based organizations, neighborhood associations and ONI.6  The committee proposed that ONI fund a citywide, five-year, $1.75 million project to strengthen civic leadership within underrepresented groups and increase their participation in neighborhood associations. Their proposal created a framework by which the City’s neighborhood system could better serve and engage these communities.7



First Steps

Tom Potter was elected mayor of Portland in November 2004 on a platform championing civic engagement. One of many task forces organized to examine and improve City governance was Bureau Innovation Project #8, also known as Community Connect. The goal of the three-year project was to strengthen involvement in Portland’s communities, create a welcoming environment for public participation, and reinvigorate the partnership between community and government. The final report, The Five Year Plan to Strengthen Community Involvement in Portland, approved by Council in February 2008, included multiple recommendations to increase the power and voice of underrepresented groups.

Against this backdrop, Mayor Potter established and funded the DCL program in 2006. Of several options proposed by the DCLC, the mayor favored creation of a leadership academy focusing on communities of color, immigrants and refugees, with additional resources for the seven neighborhood district coalitions to build partnerships with diverse community organizations.

The City Council approved a first year budget of $70,000 for the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy, $45,000 for cross-cultural organizing through the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Initiative, and a fund of $30,000 for language interpretation and translation, child care, and ADA accommodations to make meetings and activities more accessible. In addition, ONI established a small grants program to be administered by the neighborhood District Coalitions, of which 35 percent of funds were to be distributed to under-engaged organizations (a goal that has been met or exceeded each year).8

The stated goals of the Leadership Academy were:

  1. Support efforts to build the organizational capacity and leadership skills of community organizations of color and immigrant/refugee organizations to be more effective advocates for the advancement of policies to achieve economic and social equity for their constituencies.
  2. Create a source of leadership from communities of color to develop representation on City advisory committees, boards and commissions, neighborhood associations, and a wide array of City public involvement opportunities.
  3. Encourage the development of collaborations and partnerships between a wide-range of community organizations, including neighborhood and business associations, where there may be opportunities to work on common community and neighborhood livability issues.9

In November 2006 the City hired staff to manage the DCL program through ONI.10  In early 2007 ONI awarded a grant for the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy to Latino Network, partnering with Oregon Action and the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO).11


Program Development

In subsequent years the goals of the DCL program evolved, and the process by which this occurred provides insight into the nature of the program. City staff report that many community members and City staff perceived the project intent as vague. Although the request for proposals listed community capacity building as the first project goal, City Council members and many community organizers and neighborhood activists believed the main goal was greater participation by people of color on City boards and commissions and within neighborhood associations. The new staff coordinator conveyed community concerns about this approach, including the need for work on the City side to prepare for participation by new leaders. The challenge was to create a community-driven program that would serve not just the needs of the City, but allow participants to serve their communities while engaging with the City.

Prior to the next round of funding, program staff worked closely with members of the DCLC to help develop the request for proposals. The result was greater clarity about the program’s intention to strengthen community capacity to organize internally and engage externally. Following the community’s input, ONI’s Budget Advisory Committee proposed the creation of the Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing Project. Expanding on the concept of the Leadership Academy, the new program emphasized community building, encouraged partnerships among community organizations, and acknowledged the need to improve the City’s own capacity to work with underrepresented groups.

The Organizing Project was meant to support the organizational and communication capacity of grantees to:

  1. Develop culturally appropriate means to build community identity, understanding of existing City governance structures, and skills to analyze City power dynamics.
  2. Develop communication structures to encourage and maintain communication among community members and public agencies to support community building and livability efforts, foster dialogue on policy issues, and opportunities for involvement with the City.
  3. Develop leadership opportunities to be more effective advocates responding to City public involvement initiatives and advancing policies to achieve economic and social equity for their constituencies.
  4. Create a source of leadership to develop representation on City advisory committees, boards and commissions, neighborhood associations, and a wide array of City public involvement opportunities.
  5. Encourage the development of collaborations and partnerships between a wide-range of underrepresented community organizations, neighborhood and business associations, where there may be opportunities to work on common community and neighborhood livability issues.
  6. Develop culturally appropriate models for how these communities can safely and successfully interact in City processes in meaningful ways that adds value to both their communities and the City.  Present these models to the City as effective strategies to interact with underrepresented groups.12

A hallmark of the DCL Organizing Project was that it invited each grantee to pursue culturally relevant ways to achieve similar goals. While all grantees work toward common outcomes (building community identity, developing leadership, communicating effectively, strengthening relationships, participating in government processes), they are encouraged to choose strategies that make sense for their communities. 13

Mayor Potter included $268,000 for the new program in his proposed budget, and City Council approved it for FY 2007-08. Representatives from seventy community groups attended a pre-proposal information session. Four were funded with $67,000 grants each for the Organizing Project: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), and Urban League.14  The Leadership Academy partnership was narrowed to Latino Network and CIO, and funding was expanded to $105,000.

Today’s DCL program retains the core elements of the Organizing Project developed in 2007. All the original grantees from that year have remained program partners through 2014. As the size of program funding increased gradually each year, the community partners decided among themselves to divide total program funding equally. By FY 2014-15 each organization received $98,657. While funding was not guaranteed by City code, the ONI Bureau Advisory Committee deliberately chose to shield the DCL partners from budget cuts during the economic recession despite cuts to other ONI grantees.


Program Budget

Following is a historical summary of DCL funding and grants to each DCL partner.

FY 2006-07: The DCL program was first included in ONI’s budget in fiscal year (FY) 2006-07, including $70,000 for a Leadership Academy grant and additional funds to hire a program coordinator. The initial grant was awarded in April 2007 for FY 2007-08, to Latino Network in collaboration with the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) and Oregon Action.

FY 2007-08: ONI expanded the program the following year, funding three additional organizations through a competitive grant as part of the Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing Project (DCLOP). Equal grants of $60,000 each were awarded to Immigrant Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Native American Youth Family Center (NAYA), Urban League of Portland, and Latino Network in partnership with Verde. An additional $7,000 was awarded to each in November 2007 for a total of $268,000. Latino Network received a second year of expanded funding for the Leadership Academy to $72,310 in partnership with CIO, bringing total program grants awarded in FY 2007-08 to $340,310. Oregon Action was funded for one year.

FY 2008-09: The first Organizing Project multi-year grants were approved in FY 2008-09, again awarding $67,000 each to IRCO, NAYA, Urban League, and Latino Network through FY 2009-10. The Leadership Academy grant was transferred to the Center for Intercultural Organizing, still in partnership with Latino Network, for a total of $100,000.

FY 2009-10: Funding for the Organizing Project grantees (IRCO, NAYA, Urban League, and Latino Network) was held steady at $67,000 each in the second of their two-year grant.  The final year of the Leadership Academy saw a slight increase to $105,222 for CIO’s grant, in continuing partnership with Latino Network.

FY 2010-11 through current FY 14-15: In FY 2010-11 the DCL program was consolidated into five equal grants of $74,710 to Latino Network, CIO, IRCO, NAYA and Urban League, for a total of $373,550. While originally awarded as five-year grants through FY 2014-15, funding was increased each year, bringing the current grants to $98,657. While funding for many ONI programs was reduced during several years of citywide budget cuts, the ONI Bureau Advisory Committee advocated against cuts to the DCL grants.

Link to Graph: DCL Grant Funding by Fiscal Year


Today’s Goals

While the program goals have not substantially changed since 2007, the City has clarified in subsequent years what the DCL program is intended to achieve and how it relates to ONI’s mission. Drawing on the work of Community Connect, ONI now has a sharper three-point focus for its community engagement program goals.15

Goals for the Diversity and Civic Leadership Program

Enhance community involvement of under-engaged people, with a focus on communities of color, immigrants and refugees, in efforts to improve community livability and public safety, organizational capacity and self-empowerment at the community level and to implement the goals and recommendations of The Five-Year Plan to Strengthen Community Involvement in Portland through the following:

1. Increase the number and diversity of people involved in their communities through:

    • Increasing the power and voice of under-engaged people
    • Overcoming common barriers to participation
    • Providing effective communication to keep the community informed about issues and opportunities for involvement

2. Strengthen community capacity through:

    • Fostering social ties and a sense of community identity
    • Supporting the community’s capacity to take action to move forward its priorities
    • Fostering networking and collaboration between Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing project organizations, neighborhood and other community-based organizations

3. Increasing community impact on public decisions through:

    • Making public decision-making more responsive and accountable to community input



DCL Partner Activities

From the perspective of community members, the programs and activities supported by DCL funding are the most tangible manifestation of the City’s commitment to a new model of civic engagement. The community experiences this investment through the commitment and efforts of the partner organizations themselves. Viewed through this lens – how much work the partners accomplish with the funds they receive – the DCL program has yielded tremendous results.

The expectations in the DCL partners’ scopes of work are expressed primarily in terms of programming, number of community members engaged, and networking with government officials. In the first year of the Leadership Academy, the key deliverables were development of leadership training curricula, participation by at least forty community members in a series of leadership trainings, creation of service learning opportunities for program participants, and meetings organized by ONI with City staff, elected officials and leaders of district coalitions and neighborhood associations.

In subsequent years, the expectations for the Organizing Project included convening internal community gatherings, developing communication structures, connecting leadership training to opportunities for issue advocacy and participation on City governance bodies, creating partnerships with other community groups, and working with City leaders and staff to improve community involvement in government.

There is a great variety and volume of activities supported by the DCL grants. Each partner has developed a portfolio of strategies to carry out the activities envisioned for the program. Generally, their accomplishments generally consisted of eight kinds of civic engagement work:

  • Campaigns addressing community identified needs and issues
  • Partnerships with City bureaus and government agencies
  • Partnerships with other community organizations
  • Trainings and workshops
  • Participation on boards, commissions and advisory committees
  • Community gatherings for constituent engagement
  • Communications and outreach
  • Research and reports

The following sections highlight some of the DCL partners’ accomplishments. 16


Quantitative Measures

Quantitatively, the number of participants in leadership trainings, community gatherings and issue campaigns has exceeded expectations. The following charts summarize the number of activities, events and partnerships reported by DCL grantees in each program year, as well as participation by community members on boards, commissions and advisory committees. The data indicate significant efforts to build community identity and solidarity, advocate for community needs, increase the density of social relationships across groups, and promote participation in government processes.17

Link to graphs of quantitative performance measures


Program Highlights 

Program Highlights: 2006 – 2007

  • Latino Network, Oregon Action and CIO initiate the Leadership Academy. Each group creates its own curricula, recruiting process, and evaluation tools to measure leadership growth of participants. The number of applications far exceeds the goal of thirty participants for each organization.
  • Representatives from CIO, IRCO, Latino Network, NAYA, Urban League and other community organizations work closely with ONI staff to develop the Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing Project.
  • ONI provides additional funding – $6,500 for each neighborhood office – to encourage collaboration between neighborhood groups and non-geographic communities. An example is Central Northeast Neighbors’ work with NAYA on a community dialogue among native elders, youth, and Cully Association of Neighbors leaders.


Program Highlights 2007–2008

  • Collaboration – Candidate forums, City budget testimony, Vision into Action steering coalition and transition team (next steps for Vision PDX), racial profiling issues.
  • Leadership Training – All partners develop culturally specific leadership programs to build community capacity for participation and advocacy. Trainings range from the basics of City government, to history and power analysis, to skills for organizing and effective advocacy. Programs include CIO’s yearlong Pan-Immigrant Leadership and Organizing Training (PILOT), IRCO’s ENGAGE gathering forums, Latino Network’s Academia de Líderes and Puentes program, Oregon Action’s Leadership Academy workshops, NAYA’s workshops for youth development, job training and political organizing, and Urban League’s social justice workshops on health equity.
  • CIO – Mayoral Candidates Forum in collaboration with Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), CIO leader Lul Abdulle wins Spirit of Portland Award.
  • IRCO – Capacity building in mutual assistance associations and advocacy on affordable housing.
  • Latino Network – Academia de Líderes participants support the Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. committee by mobilizing the community to participate in four public forums on the renaming of an existing street to honor Cesar E. Chavez, providing a specific opportunity for organizing and mobilization.
  • NAYA – DCL funding supports Portland Youth and Elders Council (PYEC), a community-led group that reaffirms Native cultural values and identity, facilitates intergenerational dialogue, and supports community organizing.
  • Urban League – Establishes broad partnerships to revive the State of Black Oregon report after a 17-year hiatus. The report combines data, narrative, and lived experience to illustrate the social and economic reality of Black Oregonians.


Program Highlights 2008–2009

  • Collaboration – City budget process, County budget process, City Council candidate forums. CIO, Latino Network and Oregon Action organize dozens of immigrants and refugees to tell their stories to media and elected officials.
  • Leadership Training – Partners continue their leadership programs from the previous year. NAYA adds workshop on gang awareness, Urban League adds civic leadership trainings to social justice forums, Latino Network and CIO convene joint workshop to link issues and build alliances.
  • CIO – Somali women work with Portland Parks and Recreation on policy change to allow women-only swim times at Buckman Pool for community members for whom separation of genders is culturally significant. Produces “Uniting Cultures in Portland,” a report on local immigrant and refugee policy issues.
  • IRCO – Convenes Engage ’09 leadership class, provides facilitation trainings, and surveys Engage ’08 graduates to assess and support their interest in further civic participation.
  • Latino Network – Surveys the community and recruits Spanish-speaking residents into the Parks bureau’s Thomas Cully Park Master Plan process. Surveys the community on the City’s Cully Green Street project, and organizes the community to prepare for employment opportunities from public projects.
  • NAYA – Continues support of PYEC. Works with more than twenty organizations to produce “Making the Invisible Visible,” a document describing the diverse history of Portland’s Native American community.
  • Urban League – Publishes “The State of Black Oregon,” describing disparate impacts on Oregon’s African American community with respect to health, education, economics, criminal justice and civic engagement. Through partnership with CIO, the report is the only one of its kind in the country with a section on African immigrants and refugees.


Program Highlights 2009–2010

  • Collaboration – All partners work closely with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to engage diverse communities in the Portland Plan. Multiple partners work on health equity reform, and Urban League and NAYA work on Census Counts 2010.
  • Leadership Training – Partners continue core leadership programs (PILOT, ENGAGE, Academia de Líderes, PYEC, Social Justice and Leadership). CIO adds advanced PILOT training, Urban League adds forums and seminars around State of Black Oregon, Latino Network’s Puentes program provides leadership training to low-income renters, NAYA adds digital storytelling workshops and dialogues with Office of Human Relations and Parks and Recreation bureau.
  • CIO – Advanced training workshops focus on higher-level public policy participation and cross-cultural coalition building. PILOT participants organize annual dinner with 400 attendees. PILOT graduates appointed to a State committee on interpretation, serve on East Portland Action Plan committee, start a Somali youth group, host a radio talk show, join CIO board and support CIO with website development, fundraising, strategic planning and outreach to the Slavic community.
  • IRCO – Holds three training sessions, mobilizes community members to participate in City budget forum, ENGAGE participants active with the Portland Plan and APANO’s Health Equity Task Group.
  • Latino Network – Continues mobilizing and training residents and potential contractors for Cully Green Street project. Continues “Puentes de Paz con Policía/Bridges of Peace with Police,” a series of living room conversations with police and community members, praised by the Police Chief at a conference and documented on video by the Police bureau.
  • NAYA – In addition to monthly meetings of Portland Youth and Elders Council, develops budget testimony for County budget forums, advocates for use of community verified data to City Council, continues dialogue with Parks and Recreation about culturally specific programs, and advocacy and relationship building through the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable.
  • Urban League – Begins implementation phase and organizing strategy, including presentations and meetings with the Mayor and City bureaus, for State of Black Oregon priorities. Holds African-African American dialogue, organizes public forums to develop health and child welfare legislative priorities, organizes town halls on Rose Quarter and Interstate Urban Renewal Plan, mobilizes members to participate in City budget process.


Program Highlights 2010–2011

  • Collaboration – At the request of Mayor Sam Adams, all partners participate on the Creation Committee for the Office of Equity, and all partners work actively on the Equity Initiative of the Portland Plan. Multiple members participate in the City’s Broadband Strategy Plan.
  • Leadership Training – In addition to core leadership programs, CIO conducts field training at the State capital, IRCO holds strategic planning and leadership trainings for African Youth Council and Asian Youth Leadership group, Latino Network develops Academia de Líderes Latinos and Diverse Civic Leaders Academy structure, NAYA and Latino Network receive an East Portland Action Plan (EPAP) grant to expand training in underserved areas of outer East Portland, and Urban League holds workshops on housing and labor discrimination, State legislative advocacy and the City budget process.
  • CIO – Expands use of digital storytelling in PILOT program, organizes State Legislative Advocacy in Salem with 50 CIO members meeting 20 elected officials, and PILOT participant produces a cultural orientation video for Bhutanese refugees.
  • IRCO – Holds a community needs assessment conference where over 200 immigrants and refugees identified key issues to guide IRCO’s future efforts.
  • Latino Network – Addresses LGBTQ equity issues in collaboration with Western States Center and Northwest Health Foundation, connects leadership program graduates to health policy issues, organizes Spanish-speaking meeting with TriMet on transit investment planning, and works with community partner Verde and NAYA for funding and construction of Thomas Cully Park.
  • NAYA – Writes Native-specific community report for Coalition of Communities of Color disparity report, took delegation to President Obama’s Portland visit and speeches by governor, established Indigenous Advisory Group on Land Use in Portland in collaboration with BPS. In addition to working with Latino Network and Verde on Cully Park, NAYA advocates more broadly for recognition of Native history and culture in City parks.
  • Urban League – Develops a race equity survey and does door-to-door outreach to improve bus service to underserved and low-income communities, followed by a survey focusing on health access, jobs, transit and housing. Convenes “Voices are Important for Community Engagement (VOICES),” a series of community meetings to engage African Americans in outer East Portland. Holds candidate forums with 250 attendees.


Program Highlights 2011–2012

  • Collaboration – Participation on multiple Policy Expert Groups (PEGs) for the update of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan, which sets the framework for the physical development of the city over the next 20 years.
  • Leadership Training – All partners continue their leadership programs.
  • CIO – Holds mayoral candidate forum with more than 100 attendees, with interpretation in three languages.
  • IRCO – Staff work closely with East Portland Action Plan (EPAP), city bureaus, Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and various neighborhood associations to collaborate on leadership development and community involvement workshops and initiatives. Hosts county budget forum, which was attended by other DCL partners as well.
  • Latino Network – Collaborates with Parks and Recreation bureau to hold Latino Family Day. What started as an opportunity for Latino Network staff to sit on a Parks committee for Sullivan’s Gulch leads to conversations about equity issues and how the bureau can improve services for Latino community members who may underutilize the Portland Parks system. Nearly 240 parents and children attend the event at Mt. Scott Community Center in SE Portland, and Latino Network collects 60 Spanish language surveys developed by the Parks Bureau to better understand the interests and needs of the community.
  • NAYA – Continues collaborative site tours and meetings with potential partnering organizations, and PP&R representatives, to build Cully Park. Explores community’s desire for a “Cultural Collective” that can serve as a speakers bureau on Native American culture and affairs.
  • Urban League – Working with multiple community organizations, expands outreach efforts to East Portland to build culturally appropriate services for African American community members. Continues to work closely with government agencies and community groups to develop a Racial Equity Strategy guide for City bureaus and leaders.


Program Highlights 2012–2013

  • Collaboration – Partners continue participation in Comprehensive Plan PEGs, and collaborate to hold candidate forums.
  • Leadership Training – All partners continue their leadership programs.
  • CIO – Holds leadership retreats for PILOT participants. Partners with Housing Bureau to provide feedback on “housing opportunity maps” and the Citywide Housing Strategy.
  • IRCO – Community leaders review data from ENGAGE survey of 250 members from 28 ethnic communities on civic and political engagement. “Hear Our Voices,” a roundtable presentation of the survey results, convenes civic leaders and officials at Portland City Hall to hear directly from the community about increasing civic participation of immigrant/refugee communities.
  • Latino Network – Researches technology usage data among Latinos, and members of Academia de Líderes pilot a private group on Facebook to address the digital divide and promote dialogue and a sense of community among Academia participants. Trains families to advocate at public hearings, including several who testify to the Portland Public School District Board about adoption of an equity lens.
  • NAYA – Participates in a private/public collaborative on trauma informed engagement strategies when working with the Portland Native American community. Twenty members of PYEC participate in “Elder and Natural Helpers” (E/NH’s) trainings and develop a plan to confront health disparities in the community. PYEC continues to strengthen its partnership with the Portland Parks and Recreation bureau, and moves closer to development of a Tribal Gathering Garden in the Cully neighborhood.
  • Urban League – Amber Starks, a graduate of the Social Justice and Civic Leadership program has significant advocacy role in the passage of the Natural Hair Care bill in the 2013 State Legislature, which exempts African American hair braiders from burdensome requirements of attaining a cosmetology license to conduct business. She goes on to found Conscious Coils, a business that encourages people of African descent “to love and embrace our hair, ourselves and our diverse culture,” and offers consulting on “issues of natural hair, cultural awareness and competency for businesses, schools and organizations.”


Program Profiles

Following are profiles highlighting a significant accomplishment for each DCL partner edited from quarterly performance reports submitted each year.

Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO)
Pan-Immigrant Leadership and Organizing Training (PILOT) Program

CIO’s signature DCL project is the Pan-Immigrant Leadership and Organizing Training (PILOT) Program, a yearlong program that builds cross-cultural alliances across immigrant and refugee groups utilizing popular education methodology and workshops designed to elicit common issues and solutions. CIO creates intentional, safe, multi-cultural spaces enabling participants to develop deep and lasting relationships, learn from one another, and develop a shared sense of community identity. CIO’s role is to build a shared analysis of immigrant and refugee issues and foster solidarity across culture and race in order to develop leaders who have the skills and ability to organize collectively and build campaigns that foster multi-ethnic movement building.

In FY 2013-14 CIO selected 22 emerging leaders keeping in mind a balance of countries of origin, gender, age, and other factors. Four weekend retreats, evening workshops, and additional leadership development activities are organized throughout the year providing opportunities for engagement in civic and legislative advocacy, involvement with city bureaus and projects, and promoting issues of concern to immigrant and refugee community members.

Over 35 workshops are provided over the course of the year covering a wide range of topics including understanding how local government structures work, community organizing and issue campaign basics, and the unique challenges of immigrants and refugees navigating the role of race and power dynamics in our political system. Telling one’s own story plays a prominent role helping participants understand what others are experiencing, connecting issues with actions, a vision for change, and a plan to win. CIO also partnered with Portland State University on a series of workshops on topics such as the role of leadership in movement building, issue campaigns to target unethical corporations, and remixing online video for social justice campaigns.

CIO provided simultaneous interpreting in Spanish and Farsi and reimbursed for child care expenses. Dietary and religious considerations are likewise respected, with CIO having each member fill out a special needs form indicating any issues with foods, prayer times, religious holidays, etc. To make curriculum accessible, CIO utilizes popular education techniques in its workshops and organizing trainings, with the fundamental belief that all are both teachers and learners. This enables us to draw from the rich, diverse experiences of immigrants and refugees and engenders very deep group ties.

Beyond the workshops CIO actively engages PILOT participants in ongoing issue campaigns and collaborative projects with government agencies. In FY 2012-13 PILOT leaders were active with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability on the Portland Plan, the City of Portland’s budget process and organized a Multnomah County candidates’ forum. CIO mobilized members to testify about Portland’s proposed changes to the Independent Police Review (IPR), the Department of Justice settlement agreement, as well as start up their end profiling campaign.


Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)
Engage Survey: “Hear Our Voices”

Some five years into the DCL program Dr. Pei-Wu Wang, Program Coordinator of IRCO’s civic engagement program, recognized no one had yet collected solid baseline data in terms of the civic participation, engagement behaviors and attitudes of program participants.  Dr. Wang, serving as the lead researcher, adapted the “Civic and Political Engagement Survey” developed by Tufts University. Understanding the barriers that immigrants and refugees face will help develop methods and strategies to increase the number and diversity of involvement from those communities. 

More than a dozen ENGAGE leaders were recruited to use the surveys to collect data within their own communities. They also used the survey as an opportunity to engage and educate their perspective community members.  ENGAGE is IRCO’s leadership development program also funded by ONI’s DCL program. Leaders were oriented and trained by Dr. Wang and other staff to engage in conversations and collect survey responses.  A total of 256 surveys (68 Slavic, 65 Asians, 85 Africans, and 39 Pacific Islanders) from 28 ethnic communities were collected mostly by ENGAGE leaders. 

The process of collecting data, discussing the results, and planning how to present that information to civic leaders and officials strengthened the community capacity of ENGAGE leaders. Each leader received a stipend for collecting completed surveys. Staff mentored leaders throughout the process, created a database, and analyzed data. They reviewed the results and met twice to guide further analysis. Participants reviewed data across three areas: civic engagement (volunteering), electoral engagement, and political voice engagement.

Lastly IRCO staff worked with ENGAGE leaders to craft talking points and presentation format to share the results with local government officials and civic leaders. “Hear Our Voices,” a roundtable presentation of the ENGAGE 2013 survey results was held on May 4, 2013 bringing together civic leaders and officials at Portland City Hall to hear directly from community leaders. Civic leaders had the opportunities to talk with community leaders from Asian, African immigrant, Slavic and Pacific Islander communities. 

Their report included concrete recommendations for increasing civic participation from immigrant and refugee communities. Results showed there was a high rate of volunteerism with faith-based and Mutual Assistance Associations (MAAs). Community members are more likely to attend community forums and events hosted by non-governmental organizations.  Barriers to participation include time constraints due to other life and work obligations, language barriers, lack of knowledge on government and political involvement, distrust or fear of government, and citizenship status. Common solutions suggested included: empowering community leaders, increasing access to information, creating more opportunities through education and involvement, working with organizations which have developed good rapport with the communities. To see the report go to:


Latino Network
Puentes Program

Puentes (“Bridges” in Spanish) was an organizing project of Latino Network in the early years of the DCL program to build capacity and develop leadership opportunities for low-income Latinos to be leaders who advocate for the health, well-being, safety, and quality of life of their community. Our constituents have created a network of relationships with various organizations that advocate for their rights. This network is utilized both to assist the community in organizing efforts and to push their agenda forward as well as is used to get help from allies and give our allies assistance in their efforts. Below are a few examples.                                                                                  

Puentes de Union (Bridges of Unity) – Organizing Aero Vista apartment residents

Latino Network began organizing with Aero Vista apartment residents, near Killingsworth and NE 68th, after hearing from residents the property owner was failing to address repairs and improvements. Residents had grown frustrated, and were anxious to see positive change.   Staff organized tenant meetings for residents to identify priorities including pest control and laundry facility improvements. Community Alliance of Tenants and ONI’s Crime Prevention Program provided technical assistance. Prior to Latino Network’s involvement there were no rules or responsibilities in place within the apartment complex. Tenants worked together with the apartment manager to establish and agree to uphold responsibilities for each party.

Tenants began to hold ongoing meetings to identify other actions they could take to improve their own quality of life including building a playground for the children, creating green space, and holding a community-police dialogue.  One activity, “barre tu lugarcito,” or “sweep your little place,” was held one spring day when each resident, Latino Network staff and volunteers cleaned the area in front of each apartment and swept the parking lot.

Puentes de Paz con la Policia (Building Bridges of Peace with Police)

Latino Network organized a series of “Living Room Conversations” between community members and Portland Police held in people’s homes, including at the Aero Vista apartments. Eventually discussions were co-facilitated by both Latino Network staff and Police officers. This organizing effort resulted in Police closure of a drug apartment and was a transformative experience for the participants. Police Chief Rosie Sizer spoke about the project at a conference. Shortly after one of the dialogues, a raid on undocumented immigrants by Federal ICE officials detained several community members active in the conversations creating confusion and mistrust. Organizing staff had the difficult challenge of mending relationships and clarifying they were not associated with ICE.

Puentes de Paz (Building Bridges of Peace Immigration Dialogues)

Latino Network partnered with Portland Central American Solidarity Committee (PCAS) and the Nuevo Movimiento Santuario (NMS), a project of Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice as an effort to teach Anglos how to be allies to Latino community members with efforts related to changing immigration policy. Together community members collected data and evidence of human rights violations by the Police and Immigration/ICE, created art work for a social enterprise project for Latinos, and raised awareness of opportunities to advocate for policy change with City government.


Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA)
Let Us Build Cully Park Collaborative and Tribal Gathering Place

Portland Youth and Elders Council (PYEC) members are actively engaged in the Let Us Build Cully Park Collaborative, a development process of the Thomas Cully Park in the Cully neighborhood as well as building an Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden (ITGG) on site. The goal is to transform a former landfill into a new 25-acre park for Portland’s most diverse, park-deprived neighborhood.

The design and build out of Cully Park has strengthened community capacity and fostered social ties and a sense of community identity and pride through the participatory design process. We have worked with community neighbors, partnering design firms, Portland State University and Portland Community College students and professors, Portland Parks and Recreation, Metro, Verde, Columbia Watershed Council, the Cully Association of Neighbors, local schools, as well as members of the Cully Boulevard Alliance steering committee. We are working to identify and coordinate collaborative ways to deliver prosperity and connection to the Cully Neighborhood and bring community resources that will promote wellness.

The community-based participatory process in developing Cully Park, and the Inter--Tribal Gathering Garden in particular, has truly resonated with our community and PYEC as it allows us to practice self-determination and highlight Native history in our public parks and trails system. Community members have participated in advisory boards, design charrettes, and conducted listening sessions that will create access to traditional plant and gathering materials used for enhanced health, cultural traditions and crafting purposes.

The PYEC Elders group took a trip to the traditional huckleberry picking fields in the Indian Heaven Natural area on Mount Adams, Washington. During this trip there was a lot of conversation about the potential to grow berries in the ITGG and about the cultural teaching activities that would be developed to educate the younger generations. They also participated in a volunteer gardening day with the Portland Trail Blazers at the NAYA community garden. This collective work inspired conversation about the potential to teach canning and cooking classes to the youth that attend school at the NAYA Early College Academy and also engage the community to maintain the community garden. A ground blessing ceremony conducted to reclaim this land, which also happens to be a brownfield, was significant for the local Native population and many others who attended the event. See video of Cully Park Blessing Ceremony:  There have been subsequent blessing ceremonies at Cully Park and several other Portland public parks as well as Metro lands.

A particular success that this project demonstrates is the community’s ability to advocate for increased acknowledgment of Native history in the way we develop parks. PYEC has been emphasizing this priority with Portland Parks and Recreation  (PP&R) for a number of years particularly through the creation of their Native American Community Advisory Council to PP&R to address underrepresentation of Native Americans in our parks and parks programming. These efforts have caused Parks to explore new ways they engage community in the development process at a level that is unprecedented and is improving neighborhood livability.


Urban League of Portland
Legislative Advocacy Day & Passage of the Natural Hair Care Act

On February 19th, 2013, Urban League supporters from across Oregon filled the halls of the state’s Capitol to take part in a hugely successful and historic Legislative Action Day.  Over 200 students, seniors and representatives of over 30 organizations met with legislators, shared their stories and advocated for jobs, culturally competent health care, an end to police profiling, affordable housing, education and a bill to promote natural hair care.

Teams of advocates and leaders, many of whom had been trained in how the legislative system works, discussed issues facing the African American community and spoke with over 20 lawmakers seeking support for legislative solutions. Our Voice United was sponsored by the Urban League of Portland, in partnership with the Oregon Commission on Black Affairs and the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF).

Such an event doesn’t happen without leadership training and months of planning. Visits were made to five Portland high school Black Student Unions with presentations about the importance of being engaged and information about the Action Day and our priorities. There were many discussions about tuition equity and racial profiling and the importance of sharing their stories. Approximately 45 students attended and were given opportunities to speak directly to legislators about issues that were important to them and the community.

A week before the Action Day an activist training was held in partnership with the Portland Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Portland African American Leadership Forum and the Urban League of Portland Young Professionals. Approximately 50 Participants received training on how the legislative system works, legislation affecting communities of color, and how to be an effective activist.

Amber Starks, an Urban League Social Justice and Civic Leadership training graduate, is one such story of a woman seeing a need in the community and wanting to help. She explained the motivation behind starting her own natural hair care business: “What I wanted to do was provide a sense of empowerment. I wanted to create choice and access.” But Oregon law would not even allow her to “volunteer her services [free of charge] to black foster children without breaking the law.”

Oregon was one of seven states that require hair braiders to obtain a cosmetology license before they can practice this traditional art form. These natural hair care specialists are subject to “up to 1,700 hours in beauty school, where tuition can run anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.” That’s thousands of dollars wasted, as the beauty school curriculum focuses heavily on cutting, styling and chemically-treating hair, none of which apply to braiders. This overregulation forced Amber to conduct her business on the other side of the state border in Vancouver, Washington. Her leadership led to the passage of legislation exempting African hair braiders from the arduous and costly requirement of attaining a cosmetology license to conduct business in Oregon. 


Program Impacts

ONI’s goals provide a focused framework for understanding the impact of the DCL program and evaluating its success based on a three-tiered model of change:

  • Greater and more diverse participation – Community engagement through the DCL program has brought a wider range of underrepresented voices into the government process. Program funding has allowed community partners to bring thousands of people together and train hundreds of leaders in more than twenty-five languages. Those who develop leadership skills go on to serve their communities in a variety of ways – by volunteering on boards and commissions, by employment in strategic positions within and outside of government, by becoming grantors within City bureaus or foundations, and by running for public office;18
  • Community capacity – Leadership development and community building activities have strengthened the ability of underrepresented groups to work effectively with each other and the City by improving relationships, knowledge, skills, and recognition by those in power. Leadership development efforts, the cornerstone of the DCL program, have graduated hundreds of individuals taking on leadership roles in their communities on issue campaigns for social and political change. Culturally specific communication strategies have included innovative uses of social media along with person-to-person outreach when it is most effective. The DCL program has also enabled greater collaboration among organizations on issue campaigns. Events hosted by DCL partners bring thousands of people together each year – building a greater sense of community identity, raising awareness across cultures, and helping people organize themselves around community needs.
  • Impact on public decisions – DCL support has increased partner organizations’ influence on policy outcomes such as the Portland Plan, the creation of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, women-only swim times at Portland Parks and Recreation’s Buckman pool, and state legislative passage of the Natural Hair Care Act. Reports produced by DCL organizations have highlighted disparities and provided recommendations to guide advocacy. Individuals who serve on boards, commissions and advisory committees bring voices from their communities into the policymaking process. The City’s support of DCL partners gives bureau staff an incentive and opportunity to consult with and hear a much wider range of voices on any project or policy decision.  Greater contact between community leaders and elected officials can change the priority of issues and help shape the development of government institutions themselves.

ONI’s framework reveals how DCL activities affect not only the community, but also influence the work of the City. At the staff level, leadership graduates and community advocates who go on to work or volunteer for the City bring a level of cultural competency that can inform bureaus’ outreach to diverse communities and potentially increase the credibility and effectiveness of those efforts. Members of DCL organizations have served in the minority evaluators program, improving the City’s ability to award contracts more equitably. Bureaus that are committed to working with diverse communities can translate those good intentions into meaningful communication and engagement by developing culturally specific strategies in collaboration with DCL partners.19

The DCL program has also strengthened relationships and understanding between elected officials and underrepresented communities. In recent years, the mayor and city council have put equity at the center of the City’s agenda. Key milestones for this institutional transformation have been the adoption of Portland’s Public Involvement Principles in 2010, the creation of the Office of Equity and Human Rights (OEHR) in 2011, the adoption of the Portland Plan in 2012 (including the first chapter on “Equity as a Framework” and a 5-year Equity Action Plan), and the adoption of the Civil Rights Title VI Policy in 2013.

It is reasonable to ask whether this focus on equity would have occurred as quickly or definitively without the DCL program. Mayor Sam Adams consulted DCL partners prior to establishing the OEHR, and the partners were heavily involved in both the development of the Public Involvement Principles (as members of the Public Involvement Advisory Council) and the Portland Plan (receiving additional funds from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to support that involvement). In 2011-2012, Urban League of Portland, in partnership with ONI, convened community partners and City staff to develop the core elements of an equity lens to help implement the policies adopted by elected officials. The resulting Racial Equity Strategy Guide was directly informed by the experience of the DCL program.

Much of the success detailed here is a result of greater coordination among the DCL partners on their organizing activities and issue campaigns. While most of these groups had already initiated the Coalition of Communities of Color in 2001 – the purpose of which was to spotlight socioeconomic disparities, address institutional racism, and organize for social change – the City’s DCL funding expanded their capacity to develop new leaders and build strong, supportive relationships among community organizing staff who might not have worked together much in the past.

In addition, the DCL partner organizations have successfully leveraged their City grants to secure significant outside resources, multiplying the impact of the program. Several of the DCL grantees have received Meyer Memorial Trust funding to create statewide leadership development programs.  One partner has also secured funding from the City of Beaverton and Metro to expand its culturally specific engagement model beyond the City’s borders. As a result, the City receives a strong return on its investment in the DCL program, bringing resources and benefits to Portland communities exceeding the contributions from ONI’s budget alone.




As the City of Portland continues to develop the DCL program, and other cities seek to replicate it, it is valuable to consider lessons learned over the past seven years. What makes the program work? What are the challenges it has faced?

The Main Lesson: Communities Beyond Neighborhood Boundaries

The major achievement of the DCL program is the formal inclusion and funding of communities of color and immigrant and refugee organizations within the City structure. The central lesson is that meaningful inclusion of these communities in government decision-making requires non-geographic structures of representation and participation alongside established neighborhood-based channels.

While it is important to increase diversity within the neighborhood system, this approach alone could not achieve ONI’s goals of increasing and diversifying participation, building community capacity, and impacting public policy. While the City (and ONI) had a history of more than twenty years funding engagement programs serving seniors (Elders in Action) and people with disabilities (Disability Program), it had made minimal progress before the DCL program toward effectively engaging communities of color. It took almost a decade for the concept of “communities beyond neighborhood boundaries” to find institutional expression, and once established, the DCL program became an innovative way to apply Portland’s celebrated approach toward public involvement to a population and social environment that had changed dramatically since the creation of the neighborhood system.20  The very existence of DCL as a funded program initiated by the City signals a new kind of commitment to inclusion, and puts community partners on the radar of staff and elected officials in a way that had never happened before.

Process, Organization, Strategy

The lessons learned over the past eight years concern the process of creating and developing the program, the way it is structured and managed, and the strategic choices about how to implement it. Some of the lessons are highlighted here.

  • Define the staff role properly

The person hired to manage the DCL program was a longtime community organizer, sensitive to community dynamics and respected by program partners. This gave the work a degree of credibility that it would not have otherwise enjoyed based solely on past experience. The job itself requires skills as a liaison and cultural translator – the ability to communicate in different ways with different audiences and to build bridges between community members and City officials. As a practical matter, this requires a large time commitment outside of regular business hours and outside of the office, and greater attention to nurturing relationships than is typical for government agencies. Because the program was effectively tasked with changing the internal culture of the City, the staff role also involves a delicate balance between patience and urgency, and a tolerance for discomfort or frustration at times.

  • Involve the community in program design

The City initiated the program and established baseline expectations, but there is also a degree to which staff and elected officials took their hands off the wheel and let the community self-determine the process and strategies for implementation. Early on, key community groups, including the DCLC, were consulted in a collaborative process to create the request for proposals. Much like previous ONI grants to neighborhood District Coalitions and Elders in Action, once the first grants were awarded, the partners were given latitude to determine how they would achieve the program goals and what kinds of issues would be their focus. ONI’s model of allowing community partners to identify their own strategies for achieving the bureau’s goals was particularly important in the early phases of the DCL program. The process of co-design increased the credibility of the City’s commitment, encouraged culturally specific approaches to leadership development, and allowed community members to prioritize their own needs. It also instilled an expectation of creativity that helped partners adapt their programs based on what they learned over the years.

  • Fund the program for multiple years

On the one hand, treating the program as a pilot project generated pressure from the outset, with staff and partners feeling like they could not afford to fail. On the other hand, the City’s multi-year funding commitment put the program in a position to succeed. Given the magnitude of the change envisioned (new institutional structure and citywide cultural shift), it was essential to measure progress over a number of years. By providing community partners with continuity of support, elected officials demonstrated the seriousness of their commitment and wisely avoided squandering the early investment during tight budget years that followed.

  • Foster a spirit of cooperation among community and neighborhood groups

Early on, the DCL grantees agreed jointly to divide the program funds equally among organizations. This decision mitigated potential competition for funds and set a tone of collaboration. At the same time, prior relationships among the partners were complex, and it was essential to address some historical tensions in order to move forward together. One way of addressing this challenge was to bring different groups together through meetings and events in a deliberate way to strengthen relationships. Both approaches – equal funding and creating a shared sense of purpose – have been important to the program’s success.

The emphasis on cooperation has also extended to the partners’ relationships with neighborhood associations, helping the two systems of representation complement one another. Seed money has been essential to jump start collaborative efforts between organizations that have traditionally not worked together. From 2007 to 2008 the seven neighborhood coalition offices were granted $6,500 each to be shared evenly with other organizations on specific project partnerships. The loss of these funds in subsequent years slowed such creative efforts. However, one example of ongoing success is East Portland Action Plan’s grants program, which has led several of the DCL organizations to make targeted investments in leadership development and community engagement in outer East Portland.

  • Focus on community capacity before formal engagement with government

Building community relationships is primary, followed by skill building, followed by formal involvement with government processes. DCL partners first organized within their own communities, fostering a stronger sense of identity through community-building events, activities and campaigns. This was the basis for recruiting and training potential new leaders, and the foundation for reaching out to other groups. For people who are not accustomed to engaging with mainstream institutions, these steps must come first. This is why the DCL program was truly a necessary condition to achieve the City’s initial goal of having more diverse participation on boards and commissions. Similarly, it is an important strategy for resisting tokenism, providing support networks for those who might feel overwhelmed and isolated as they do begin to serve in these formal government roles.21

  • Build the City’s own capacity to support greater community participation

One of the underappreciated lessons of the DCL experience is that City staff members and elected officials themselves often must develop new skills and strategies to support civic participation by previously under-engaged individuals and groups. Engagement at the City’s initiative can sometimes be seen as a transaction in which community leaders are asked to do outreach for the City – to increase the diversity of a public process or attendance at a meeting – without a clear benefit for the community itself. Or, when individuals agree to serve on a board or commission, they may not feel welcome, supported or effective in the role despite the appearance of greater diversity. The DCL program has taught that deliberate actions by the City are necessary to create a supportive environment for people and communities who are new to the formal work of government, and to ensure that those who do outreach on its behalf are also working for the benefit of their communities. Cultural training by DCL program staff, relationship building across bureaus, and fee-for-service contracts or small grants from bureaus to community partners are examples of strategies the City has used to build its capacity for engagement.

  • Allow community members to determine their own needs and priorities

While it is vital to work with community leaders, there is no organization that represents everyone. The essential first step for all the DCL partners was to organize within their own communities, bringing many individuals and groups together. The point of engagement is to allow people to speak in their own voices about what matters to them. At times these voices may sound different than those of organizational leaders. It also became clear early on that some communities cared deeply about issues that could most effectively be addressed at the county or state level, and that the most appropriate use of DCL funding for advocacy campaigns would not necessarily be focused on city government. At the same time, organizing based on State and county issues also affects quality of life measures within the City of Portland. The lesson is that the direction of community efforts and determinations regarding the issues people care about should be left open until the community is engaged.

  • Ensure that communication and outreach strategies are widely accessible

Successfully engaging communities in public policy deliberations is always challenging, but it is especially difficult with constituencies that speak 25 languages, face a digital divide, and are increasingly scattered geographically by gentrification. The DCL organizations have consistently pointed out to the City that engaging their constituencies is hard work that requires significant staff time and resources – to contact those who are hardest to reach, provide language interpretation and translation, offer child care while adults attend meetings, underwrite bus passes for volunteers, etc.

This is a notable lesson for City agencies that have grown accustomed to relying primarily on emails in English as their primary outreach tactic. While the DCL organizations are creative in using a range of new media to engage young people, they universally report that person-to-person outreach via phone and house calls, and nurturing personal relationships with members and volunteers, remain their most effective means for mobilizing their base.

  • Target engagement to outer East Portland to address growth and gentrification

As the DCL program was evolving, in 2009 the City of Portland adopted the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP), the outcome of a series of community meetings convened by city, county and state leaders, and based on an outline of 268 action items identified in a Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) report. Funds and staffing for the EPAP project were coordinated through ONI.

Several DCL partners engaged actively with EPAP and the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO) to expand their work to outer East Portland, an area of the city where they had not typically organized but which was facing growth, demographic changes, and displacement of communities of color. The collaboration of the DCL partners, EPAP and EPNO has helped build the voice and organizational capacity of communities of color in outer East Portland, and to redirect City resources for infrastructure to this historically underserved area of Portland.

  • Recognize that community organizations approach the work differently

In particular, there are notable differences in the approaches of organizations that primarily provide social services compared with those that focus on social justice and community organizing. Groups that are accustomed to organizing and movement building are designed to maintain relationships with people who go through their programs, and to channel new leaders into new campaigns for social change. Groups that provide direct services are generally limited in the time they can engage community members based on funding or legal processes.22  It may be more challenging for service providers to maintain longer relationships beyond the term of service, and to connect trained leaders to advocacy opportunities.

The balance between social service and social justice orientations is not the same for all DCL partners, with most having both roles to varying degrees. This results in different approaches to the DCL work, but each has an impact on the community. For groups familiar with relationship building and issue campaign organizing, DCL funding helps them expand their impact and work more effectively with the City. For social service providers, DCL funding provides resources for activities that supplement core services, and creates opportunities for collaboration with organizations that are more oriented toward community organizing.23

  • Support research and reports that identify community needs

DCL organizations have been effective in highlighting community needs and making recommendations for change in published reports. Action-focused research helps to guide advocacy and organizing efforts, and is a strategy that was not anticipated in the original design of the program.  Research reports included NAYA’s “Making the Invisible Visible,” CIO’s “Uniting Cultures in Portland,” Urban League’s “The State of Black Oregon,” IRCO’s exhaustive survey on civic participation followed by a series of “Hear Our Voices” roundtables, and the seven “Disparity Reports” produced in collaboration with the Coalition of Communities of Color.

Though the ONI grants have not been the primary source of funding for most of these research projects, the expanded staffing afforded by ONI’s grants has allowed the partner organizations to survey and engage their constituencies in a way that maximizes the impact on media and community education, public and leadership opinion, and government action.



1  See Looking Back in Order to Move Forward: An Often Untold History Affecting Oregon’s Past, Present and Future. Timeline of Oregon and U.S. Racial, Immigration and Educational History. Elaine Rector, Coaching for Educational Equity, May 16, 2010.

2   For reports on the disparate benefits of local growth and prosperity, see Urban League’s State of Black Oregon (under publications) and the Coalition of Communities of Color’s An Unsettling Profileseries

3  For more detailed account of early efforts to expand participation see excerpts from Paul Leistner’s doctoral dissertation, The Dynamics of Creating Strong Democracy in Portland, Oregon – 1974 to 2013 (especially Chapter 6, pages 472-496), for a discussion of efforts in the early 2000’s to focus the City’s attention on “communities beyond neighborhood boundaries.”

See also From Neighborhood Association System to Participatory Democracy – Broadening and Deepening Public Involvement in Portland, Oregon. Amalia Alarcon de Morris, director, City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, and Paul Leistner, Neighborhood Program Coordinator, City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

4  The primary benefits of this official recognition were listing in the City’s neighborhood directory, and receiving public notices and mailings from City bureaus and neighborhood organizations. No organization ever requested formal acknowledgement.

5  ONI manager Brian Hoop recalls that both he and Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong of Southeast Uplift, who had participated in Interwoven Tapestry, continued to work together and advocate for culturally specific funding on the Task Force, and later helped facilitate a citywide approach with the Diversity and Civic Leadership Committee.

6  Participating organizations included African Refugee and Immigrant Network of Oregon, Asian-Pacific American Network of Oregon, Central Northeast Neighbors, Environmental Justice Action Group, Independent Living Resources, Montavilla Community Association, Native American Youth Association, Neighbors West/Northwest, Oregon Multicultural Education Association of Oregon, Southeast Uplift Diversity and Representation Committee, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, REACH Community Development, and ONI.

7  The DCLC identified underrepresented groups as people of color, renters, immigrants, refugees, low-income individuals, homeless individuals, people with physical and mental disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and youth.

8  Among the proposals not funded was a “Cultural Congress” to build relationships between the City and underrepresented groups in parallel with the neighborhood system. In addition to $6,500 for cross-cultural organizing, each district coalition received new funding of $50,000 for additional staff support. Some coalitions – notably Central Northeast Neighbors and East Portland Neighborhood Office – used this funding primarily to build stronger ties with diverse communities.

9  Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy RFP, December 6, 2006.

10  Jeri Williams, an experienced community organizer and nationally renowned expert on environmental justice, was hired to coordinate the program. She was recruited by the City for her skills and credibility within the community, and has been the only DCL program coordinator through 2014.

11  For the request for proposals for the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy (December 6, 2006), the first RFP soliciting proposals from community organizations to develop a leadership training program, see

12  Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing Project RFP, August 6, 2007.

13  For the request for proposals for the Diversity and Civic Leadership Organizing Project (August 6, 2007), the original RFP soliciting proposals from community organizations to develop a leadership and organizational capacity building program, see

14  Funding in the first year of the Organizing Project was designated for IRCO’s ENGAGE program, Latino Network’s Puedes program and Academia de Líderes, NAYA’s Youth and Elders program, and Urban League’s Social Justice and Civic Engagement training.

15  ONI’s civic engagement goals emerged from Community Connect, a process initiated under Mayor Tom Potter in 2005 to develop recommendations for strengthening ONI’s community engagement programs resulting in City Council adoption in February 2008 of the Five Year Plan to Increase Community Involvement in Portland.

See also the Office of Neighborhood Involvement’s mission, goals and values developed between 2008 and 2010.

16  Quarterly performance reports of DCL grantees and annual compilations of all grantee organizations’ accomplishments from FY 2007-08 through FY 2012-13 available at

17  It is not always possible to make strict comparisons of quantitative data across programs or over time. The methods and extent of data collection can vary across organizations and in different years for the same organization. The charts in this section give a sense of scale for those years when data were systematically collected, understanding that the data may not be precisely comparable for all partners in all years. In particular, the charts that represent ongoing relationships or activities (partnerships with other groups, participation on boards and commissions) may include some data duplication when quarterly grantee reports are summarized annually.

Annual summaries of quarterly performance reports of DCL grantees' accomplishments from FY 2007-08 through FY 2012-13 available at

18  For example, more than twenty-five graduates of DCL programs have applied for jobs within ONI and several have been hired by the City.

19  For instance, it is common today for staff and consultants with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to work with DCL partners to engage underrepresented groups in a way that was less common before the program existed.

20  There were, of course, precedents for non-geographic structures of representation within the City, specifically as programs managed by ONI. As noted in the FY 1989-90 City Budget, “The youth, aging and human rights constituencies are a natural complement to the neighborhood network in that they serve as a vehicle for citizen participation and advocacy on social issues of concern to neighborhoods” (City Budget FY 1989-90, p. 134).

21  These were lessons learned prior to the DCL program. Leistner reports that Amalia Alarcón de Morris, who led the Interwoven Tapestry Project for ONI, “said Interwoven Tapestry helped reveal that before immigrants and refugees can integrate with mainstream structures and processes they first need to organize within their own communities; then they need to build relationships and work with other similar groups; and then they can engage much more effectively with mainstream society” (p. 493).

22  For example, groups that work with refugees typically have a limited time by law to provide services and resources before mutual assistance organizations assume the role.

23  It is not uncommon, for example, for graduates from one DCL partner’s leadership training program to work on another DCL partner’s issue campaign.