Networks, Alliances, and Coalitions

Black Lives Matter caught momentum when co-founder Alicia Garza posted a love letter to Black people on Facebook, in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Alicia Garza knew that it was not the hashtag that ignited the movement. Only people, organized en masse, can inspire and sustain social change.

Networks, alliances, and coalitions are the backbone of all social movements. These people-powered structures help identify immediate and long-term campaign goals, timelines, targets, and outcomes. Imagine the power and reach that is possible when a network, alliance or coalition is aligned around advancing a policy initiative, versus just one organization.

The resources below demonstrate examples of diverse organizations coming together, based on geography or issue. [...]

Case Studies

Bridges Puentes: Building Black-Brown Solidarities Across the U.S.
Manuel Pastor, Ashley K. Thomas, Preston MIlls, Rachel Rosner, and Vanessa Carter
Equity Research Institute (ERI), USC Dornsife
Across Races and Nations: Building New Communities in the U.S. South - Conflict and Collaboration
Barbara Ellen Smith, Susan Williams, and Wendy Johnson
Center for Research on Women; Southern Regional Council
African American - Immigrant Alliance Building: Five Case Studies
Andrew Grant-Thomas, Yusuf Sarfati, Cheryl Staats, and john a. powell
Kirwan Institute
Building Panethnic Coalitions in AANHPI Communities: Opportunities & Challenges
Traci Endo Inouye and Rachel Estrella
Social Policy Research Associates
Coalitions for Social Change in the Deep South
Brock Grosso and Tylelr MacInnis et al.
MS Center for Justice
Crossing Boundaries, Connecting Communities: Alliance Building for Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice
Rev. Deborah Lee et al.
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Distributing Leadership, Promoting Stewardship
David Nee and Curtis Ogden
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Shifting Power from the Inside Out: Lessons on Becoming Member-Led from Mujeres Unidas y Activas
Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA); RoadMap Consulting, The Beacon Project
The Right to The City: Reclaiming Our Urban Centers, Reframing Human Rights, and Redefining Citizenship
Connie Cagampang Heller and Gihan Perera
Tides Foundation
Toward 2050 in California: A Roundtable Report on Multiracial Collaboration in Los Angeles
Julie Ajinkya
Center for American Progress; PolicyLink; USC Program for Environmental & Regional Equity (PERE)
Within Our Lifetime Governance Structure
Within Our Lifetime National Network

Collaboration Resources

Concepts and Analysis

Building Diverse Community Based Coalitions
The Praxis Project
How Social Transformation Occurs - Class 5: Role of Individuals and Organizations
Daniel Cooper Bermudez, Margaret Flowers, Roni Murray, Emanuel Sferios, and Kevin Zeese
Popular Resistance
Structural Racism and Community Building
The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale
Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze
The Berkana Institute

Network Resources

Network Toolkit
Converge Network
System Weaving During Crisis
Bruce Evan Goldstein
Social Innovations Journal
Building an Ecosystem of Support for Local Governments to Advance Racial Equity
Julie Bosland
Living Cities
“Lean Weaving”: Creating Networks for a Future of Resilience and Regeneration
Curtis Ogden
Network Weaver
Network Governance as an Empowerment Tool
Blythe Butler and Sami Berger
Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ)
Decentralized Networks and the Black Radical Tradition
Jayme Wooten and Kei Williams
Network Weaver
Creating Culture: Promising Practices of Successful Movement Networks
Mark Leach and Laurie Mazur
Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ)
Fuzziness of Inclusion/Exclusion in Networks
Karine Nahon
International Journal of Communication
Human Factors in Regenerative Networks
Curtis Ogden
Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC); Network Weaver
Invisible Walls: What Keeps Working-Class People Out of Coalitions?
Linda Stout
Class Matters
Leadership and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World
Deborah Meehan and Claire Reinelt, et al.
Leadership Learning Community
Leading Culture and Systems Change: How to Develop Network Leadership and Support Emerging Networks
Leadership Learning Community
Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change
Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor
Network for Transformative Change
Olivia Araiza et al.
Othering & Belonging Institute
Network Toolkit for Network Weavers
June Holley
Network Weaver
Network Weaver Learning Lab: Feasibility Study
Network Weaver Learning Lab (NWLL): Change Elemental and CompassPoint
Seeking Everyday Opportunities To Be Network-Like
Miriam Persley
Leadership Learning Community
Well-Being and Equity Bridging (WEB) Network
Leadership Learning Community; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder’s Guide
Diana Scearce et al.
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations; Monitor Institute

Partnerships Resources

20 Ways Majority-White Nonprofits Can Build Authentic Partnerships with Organizations Led by Communities of Color
Vu Le
Nonprofit AF
Bridging Differences and Movements
Sean Thomas-Breitfeld
Building Movement Project
Community Participation: A Self Assessment Toolkit for Partnerships
Caroline Clark et al.
Engage East Midlands
Crossing Organizational Boundaries to Build New Partnerships
Caroline McAndrews, Hai Binh Nguyen, and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld
Building Movement Project
Multi-Racial Partnerships and Coalitions, Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building
Maggie Potapchuk
MP Associates
Nuts and Bolts of Building an Alliance
Jidan Terry-Koon and Kimi Lee with Kristen Zimmerman
Movement Strategy Center (MSC)
Perfect Fit or Shotgun Marriage?: Understanding The Power and Pitfalls in Partnerships
Xavier de Souza Briggs
The Community Problem-Solving Project; MIT

“The world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what's possible. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections.”

~ Margaret Wheatley


Executive Directors of Color Relationships and Resilience Collective – State Voices

Also in this section:
  • Individual Transformation

  • Community Change

  • Leadership for Racial Equity

  • Accountability

  • Organization Change

  • Movement Building



In the context of racial equity work, accountability refers to the ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions, and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible.

To be accountable, one must be visible, with a transparent agenda and process. Invisibility defies examination; it is, in fact, employed in order to avoid detection and examination. Accountability demands commitment. It might be defined as “what kicks in when convenience runs out.” Accountability requires some sense of urgency and becoming a true stakeholder in the outcome. Accountability can be externally imposed (legal or organizational requirements), or internally applied (moral, relational, faith-based, or recognized as some combination of the two) on a continuum from the institutional and organizational level to the individual level. From a relational point of view, accountability is not always doing it right. Sometimes it’s really about what happens after it’s done wrong.

SOURCE:  Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work, Bonnie Berman Cushing with Lila Cabbil, Margery Freeman, Jeff Hitchcock, and Kimberly Richards (2010). 

Related Resources:  Accountability

Location: PLAN / Change Process

Black Lives Matter

A political movement to address systemic and state violence against African Americans. Per the Black Lives Matter organizers: “In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. [Black Lives Matter] members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” 

SOURCE:  Black Lives Matter, “Herstory” (accessed 7 October 2019).


When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression. 

Example: Able-bodied people who object to strategies for making buildings accessible because of the expense.

SOURCE:  Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin (Routledge, 1997).

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color.


  • Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as “red-lining”).

  • City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.

SOURCE:  Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Racism (scroll down alphabetically to the box for “Institutional Racism”)

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

Movement Building

Movement building is the effort of social change agents to engage power holders and the broader society in addressing a systemic problem or injustice while promoting an alternative vision or solution. Movement building requires a range of intersecting approaches through a set of distinct stages over a long-term period of time. Through movement building, organizers can:

  • Propose solutions to the root causes of social problems.

  • Enable people to exercise their collective power.

  • Humanize groups that have been denied basic human rights and improve conditions for the groups affected.

  • Create structural change by building something larger than a particular organization or campaign.

  • Promote visions and values for society based on fairness, justice, and democracy.

SOURCE:  Julie Quiroz-Martinez, From the Roots: Building the Power of Communities of Color to Challenge Structural Racism (Akonadi Foundation, 2010), citing the Movement Strategy Center, which offers these further definitions.

Related Resources:  Movement Building

Location: PLAN / Change Process


The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following 4 conditions are found:

  • the oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others,

  • the target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them),

  • genocide, harassment, and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going, and

  • members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct.

Oppression = Power + Prejudice

SOURCE:  What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Racial Inequity

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing, such as the percentages of each ethnic group in terms of dropout rates, single family home ownership, access to healthcare, etc.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Racist Policies

A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between or among racial groups. Policies are written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. Racist policies are also expressed through other terms such as “structural racism” or “systemic racism”. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Related Resources:  Laws and Policies

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / History of Racism and Movements

For specific topics, also see PLAN / Issues


States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

SOURCE:  International Center for Transitional Justice.

Related Resources:  Reparations

Location: PLAN / Issues

Structural Racism

  1. The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of White domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.

  2. For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural, and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared to white men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress, and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access, and quality of care, and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things.


  1. Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities by Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change, and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center, for the Race and Public Policy Conference (2004).

  2. Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Structural Racism

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

White Supremacy

The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.

SOURCE: “What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Related Resources:  System of White Supremacy and White Privilege and Addressing Hate and White Supremacy

Locations: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts and PLAN / Issues