/ By Debra Rainey /
Upswell is about imagining new approaches to difficult social challenges. It’s about fresh, innovative ideas that are working in local communities, and envisioning whether they just might work in the community you serve, too.
You’ll be able to do just that at Upswell during LA Inside and Out – “immersion tours” where you’ll not only see social change work “on the ground,” but also be able to chop it up with local sector and community leaders who helped make it happen.
And we’re excited that Vera deVera – a wonderful community organizer (among her many talents!) with strong LA community ties and extensive cross-sector experience — will be helping us make sure that LA Inside and Out showcases the city’s forward thinking and innovative neighborhoods that will inspire you to see the change that is possible where you live.
Vera deVera has deep roots in Los Angeles and a strong background in building community connections and empowering community residents through public-private-philanthropic partnerships. She recently directed the California Community Foundation’s Community Building Initiative in El Monte, a major partnership program with local residents and business, civic, and community leaders working to improve educational opportunities and health outcomes for children.
Having spent nearly three decades working in philanthropy, government and the private sector, Vera now works as an independent consultant, providing strategic thought partnership to foundations and nonprofits in Los Angeles. She also volunteers her time as a board trustee for the Durfee Foundation; as an advisor to Public Matters, a consulting group that works with communities on creative civic engagement strategies; and as a supporter of nonprofits that document stories of Los Angeles’ social history, such as the Southern California Library and Visual Communications.
We asked Vera to tell us a little about herself, and how she’s working with IS to give Upswell LA attendees an “up close” look at creative approaches to some of Los Angeles’ community challenges.
DR: We’re excited to meet you and hear about your involvement with planning for Upswell! Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your work with the charitable community particularly?
VdV: I am the daughter of working class immigrant parents from the Philippines, born and raised in Southern California and a first-generation college graduate. My lived experiences have definitely informed my work in community development in the private, public, and independent sectors. In particular, my work in philanthropy and my volunteer work with nonprofits has been driven by my personal connection to working class and lower-income families who work hard every day to navigate systems that often impede their struggle to create a better quality of life for themselves. The change I hope I contribute to on a daily basis is to help create more just and equitable systems for all individuals and families seeking to improve their lives and their communities.
DR: How do you see your work experiences aligning with Upswell’s focus on building a community of changemakers to create real change?
VdV: Real change is usually sparked from the ground, from communities demanding equity and justice. When nonprofits are the organizing vehicle for positive social change, philanthropy is often viewed as a necessary partner. However, most often “real change” also requires engagement and partnership with the public and private sectors. My work in each of these sectors helped me develop a better understanding of a broad range of perspectives in order to find the best opportunities for leverage that can effect real change.
DR: You’re working with IS to organize the Upswell immersion tours. Give us a sneak peek into the purpose of the tours, and your role in organizing them.
VdV: Many people do not know that Los Angeles is actually comprised of 88 cities and hundreds of neighborhoods within those cities layered with a diverse mix of cultures. The purpose of the tours is to give Upswell changemakers an opportunity to connect with Angelenos who are working to create real change every day in their neighborhoods and communities. Those who are close to me know that my dream job is to be a tour guide to show visitors the “real” Los Angeles. Helping IS organize the Upswell tours is the perfect intersection between my experiences as a native Angeleno, my skills as a cross-sectoral changemaker, and my tour guide aspirations!
DR: What impact would you like the tours to have on the Upswell changemakers who participate in them?
VdV: The tours will give Upswell participants a chance to visit neighborhoods in Los Angeles that are not the usual “tourist” destinations and to experience places where communities gather to work toward positive social change. I hope the tours help Upswell changemakers learn about the assets in these communities, what critical challenges still persist, who is working to effect positive change, and how folks can personally connect to and mutually support each other’s efforts.
DR: What are you most looking forward to about Upswell?
VdV: I look forward to the people-to-people connections that Upswell provides for changemakers. I also hope that Upswell participants will be inspired to think more creatively about their own changemaking work through their experiences here in Los Angeles.
Debra Rainey is the manager of grants development at Independent Sector.