Episode 64, 47 min listen

For those of you who are already doing advocacy and coalition work in your communities, this episode is for you. If you are trying to find a way to ensure your community’s needs are respected in the face of significant building and development, this episode is for you. We’ll hear how to use coalitions to build power and how neighborhoods and communities of color can come together to advocate for what they need. Join us as we welcome Joo Hee Pomplun, the executive director of The Alliance, a coalition of community based organizations working in the Minnesota Twin Cities region and beyond.


You can access this episode wherever you listen to podcasts via our pod.link.


At the State of Inclusion, we've spoken with other coalition leaders and explored how they used the power of coalitions to advance equity and justice in their community. You can listen to those episodes here.


Joo Hee Pomplun serves as Executive Director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a multi-organization coalition building power across the intersections of geography, race, culture, and issues in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota to eliminate systems of oppression and advance our collective liberation. They have been impacting community development through organizing for nearly 30 years, and currently leads the Equitable Development Principles & Scorecard learning table at The Alliance. They are inspired by the intersection of community development, racial equity, and spiritual health & belonging.



Ame Sanders  00:11

This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better. And we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders.  Welcome.

For those of you who are already doing advocacy and coalition work in your communities, this episode is for you. Maybe you're trying to find a way to ensure your community's needs are respected in the face of significant building and development or major projects, then this episode is for you. We're going to hear how to use coalitions to build power and just how neighborhoods and communities of color can come together to advocate for what they need. 

Before we start, a small aside. You know our guests freely share their stories with us, so we make the podcast, our newsletter, and related content free as well. However, if you'd like to support us, help us grow our work, and help to offset some of our production costs, you can find a link to our Support Us page in the show notes. We're happy that you found us. We're grateful that you listen. And we would be thankful for your support. 

Today, we are happy to welcome to Joo Hee Pomplun. Joo Hee is the executive director of The Alliance. The Alliance is a coalition of community-based organizations and advocacy groups that are working to eliminate systems of oppression and advance collective liberation in the Minnesota Twin Cities region and beyond. Welcome Joo Hee.

Joo Hee Pomplun  02:00

Hi, Ame. Thanks for having me.

Ame Sanders  02:02

So, thank you so much for joining us. You know, I've really been looking forward to this discussion and diving in a little bit more into the work that you and your team do. So, maybe you could just tell us a little about The Alliance, you know some of the challenges that your organization and your coalitions work to address. 

 -The Alliance

Joo Hee Pomplun  02:20

Sure, yeah. The Alliance, we are a nearly 30-year-old organization here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. We build power by building coalitions to address racial justice in community development. We really started as an organization that was in response to urban sprawl. We wanted to really address the fact that urban sprawl one, obviously, it has an impact on our environment, as cities sprawl unnecessarily, but then also that it was taking away investments from the inner cities, where a lot of our communities of color and definitely low-wealth communities live. So, we saw the disinvestment to the city cores. 

So, The Alliance was created really in response to that, and trying to bring that investment back into the city. A few years into its existence, I recognized that as was for investments to come back into the city core that in and of itself, the organization was a really white mainstream lead organization. Even though it was grassroots groups, representation wasn't of those communities that they were advocating for, right? So, a few years into The Alliance's existence, it actually took a pause and took and looked at itself in that way and pivoted to towards being a racial justice organization. Perhaps maybe not pivot is the right word, but really became intentional in becoming a racial justice organization. From there, we have worked on issues of housing, affordable housing, tenants’ rights, small businesses, transit, transit corridors, and their impact on communities. So, we really are a community-driven organization. We have over 30 community-based and advocacy organizations as members that keep us accountable. Then we have our coalition--it's a coalition of partners. So, we really have relationships with over 100 organizations that we work with throughout the year.

 -Selecting Areas of Focus 

Ame Sanders  04:38

So, you mentioned some of the areas that you focused on: on housing, on tenants’ rights, on small businesses, on transit ,and transit corridors. How do you choose the areas that you're going to focus on and that you're going to build a coalition around? How do you decide that? 

Joo Hee Pomplun  04:54

Yeah. Great question. You know, The Alliance, as to be true to it being community driven, Alliance typically only works on issues that we get invited into. So, it's an issue that is happening in community organizations and community members are already working on it, and they want to take it up a level. They didn't recognize that they needed to be building on a broader base. And Alliance has that reputation and to do that effectively, and so we get invited in to support and strengthen grassroots efforts. I would say that's how we typically have been, but that's also caused us to kind of ebb and flow and create different identities as different issues come around. We were once very much identified with transit and transit corridors and then we became very recognized with housing.  

So, when I became the director a few years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was to be much more intentional about how we affect our communities. Because even when we address, you know, the impact of a transit project in our communities, if we're not addressing the commercial corridors that represent our communities, if we're not addressing housing, if we're not addressing jobs and economic development, then to advocate for the transit corridor without affordable housing loses the purpose, right? So, wanting to make sure that we're being much more intentional and comprehensive in our approach. Our partners also work on these issues, multiple issues as well, because the people that they work with--their grassroots communities and constituents--are obviously affected by these issues. So, we have grown to have multiple coalitions now. 

Ame Sanders  06:38

Do you keep multiple coalition's active at the same time? That is what I hear you saying and that you're working on multiple issues and the intersection of those issues. Is that right?  

Joo Hee Pomplun  06:47

Exactly. Thank you, Ame. 

 -Benefits and Challenges of Coalitions 

Ame Sanders  06:50

That's good. I just wanted to make sure I understood. So obviously, working across multiple coalitions at the same time, with so many coalition partners and organizations with which you engage, that has to have some unique flavor to it. So, maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the things that you like best about working as a coalition and what really works well. And then some things that you see as challenges in working as a coalition.

Joo Hee Pomplun  07:20

I mean, obviously, the model of coalition is power and numbers, right? So, it's the way to build a base around an issue quickly. So, coalitions are a powerful tool for change. What is really fantastic about it, what I love about coalition work is you're able to bring a lot more diversity to the table as well. Because each organization that is at the table has their own constituency, has their own communities, has their own expertise, lived experience. So, then when we are talking about an issue like small businesses, we're not taking it from one specific community perspective. We're having a conversation across our communities, across the region, to think about what systemically can we affect together that benefits us all? And, not only that, it also allows us to have conversations about lifting up specific communities. 

So, perhaps an issue is affecting, like in the case of one of our transit corridors, affecting one of our neighborhoods more drastically or dramatically than other neighborhoods that are along the line. So, those communities can be in conversation and be supporting each other rather than in competition with each other. So, when we build coalitions, at The Alliance, we are very relational. We believe in that more narrow but deep kind of relationship building. Even though we have a lot of partners, we do believe that it's important to have that relationship in working together. So, as opposed to other coalitions that are designed to be more transactional. Coalitions that are just really focused on getting the job done, and then they dissipate afterwards. But in that, they are negotiating their communities and the communities needs to get that one objective done and it becomes very transactional rather than deeply relational. 

 -Coalition Principles

Ame Sanders  09:32

So, that's a good place to, to kind of do a check in for a minute. Are there principles that you follow? I kind of take the idea that this deep relationship is one of the principles that you might follow in coalition building and in managing these coalitions. Are there other principles like that, that we should think about?

Joo Hee Pomplun  09:50

Yeah. Actually, The Alliance has been asked to put our model onto paper. I think that what we do is unique. It's what we do, so I never really realized it was unique until people were like you need to share this with people. So, on our website ,we just put up a coalitions organizing principles document that lists out our values and coalition organizing, which is, you know, kind of what I've talked about. Rejecting silos--we believe in the intersectionality of the issues, the holistic-ness of the people that are living there. So, the need to work across silos, both culturally and issue wise. Leading with racial justice and a power lens. Again, we're not looking to have a change in outcomes that aren't centered on racial justice, because, of course, we know a lot when decisions are being made that aren't centering our communities, that harm can definitely be done– indirect and directly. 

 -Power-Shifting Narratives

So, we are constantly centering racial justice and power within the work that we do. When we talk about power, we're also talking about shared power, right? It's not about The Alliance amassing power by building these coalitions. That is not at all how we would ever talk about it. We are convening leaders to collectively build our power, lift up each other's bases, and be able to advance change for all of us. We also have a principle around co-creating a liberatory culture, which, again, is about centering the community, about moving a process at the speed of relationship, as I think Adrienne Maree Brown has a saying. Then, building power-shifting narratives. 

When we talk about shifting narratives, we're talking about owning the narrative, right? So, when somebody wants to talk about an issue, it's the left versus right, who's creating the narrative? Then, whoever sets the narrative really sets the tone and the issue and how the issue gets discussed. So, with the narrative building that we do, we really want to have it driven by experiences of the communities that we work with. But then also, we're trying to be pointed with what the actual issue is. So, in some of the fair housing work that one of our coalitions did, instead of areas of concentrated poverty, talk about areas of concentrated wealth to really focus on the fact that policies and systems have concentrated wealth. So, take the focus off of our communities, but the bigger factor, the bigger issue of how wealth is protected. Then another community member with that same concept of ACP (area of concentrated poverty), renamed it as areas of concentrated power, right? Because that's also how our districting happens. So, it actually creates power for our communities too in some ways. So, that's the way that we tried to shift narratives in our work. 

Then finally, just bridging grassroots and coalition organizing in the work that we do. We don't want to forget about the base, which the base is who and why we do the work. It's not about a bunch of coalition organizers coming together and talking about issues, as fantastic of synergy as can be created. It's really about the communities and the people that we all represent.

 -Finding the Point of Advocacy 

Ame Sanders  13:45

I'm really glad that you dug in a little bit on the narrative piece because I had a question about how you did your work on narratives and how you used it to advance your work, and that was a good description of that as well. So, one of the things that I found--well, one of the reasons I found your organization, and I wanted to talk with you as because I do think your approach is somewhat unique from the folks and communities that I've seen. I also think it's interesting that you work at different levels in your organizing. So, your organization is established at a regional level, as I understand, but you also work at a local level. Then, also, sometimes, you swim upstream and work at the state level. And you have some initiatives that go beyond that, I know. So, maybe you can talk a little bit about these different levels of your work and how you move between them, and how you think about those different levels. 

Joo Hee Pomplun  14:40

Yeah, I mean, that really goes into the analysis of the issue. We're very focused on the outcomes and benefits for our communities of color here in the Twin Cities region. Most of our partners are going to be based in the core cities in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and in our suburbs. So, we often work at the city level to address issues such as rent stabilization campaigns. We actually worked in coalition with others to do ballot initiatives around rent stabilization because of some weird state thing we had that cities couldn't just go ahead and establish that. So, that was a city level. 

Then, with small businesses during COVID, small business relief money was running through the counties. So, we partnered and worked with the county to get those small business relief dollars out into BIPOC entrepreneurs and business communities. Then, through that advocated for new ways that they supported and partnered with our businesses. It actually really did reform how both the Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, where Minneapolis and St. Paul sit, really did transform how they support small businesses in the counties now. We have been going to the state level on quite a few things lately because there's been so much federal dollars running through the state to address things on the local level. So, we've been advocating at the state level as well. 

You know, it's all driven by what the issue is and where we feel like that the important advocacy point is for it. Whether it be federal dollars affecting federal policies, I think we did that with transit lines, to how it trickles down into the local eventually. 

Ame Sanders  16:42

I think that that is so important for us to think about. I think it's really sort of brilliant organization practice that you guys have, which is to bring your local people together, but then collectively to decide where the point of influence that you can have is really located, and then to go after that point of influence. So, I found it interesting in looking at your work. At first, it took me a while to get accustomed to understanding that about you--that you work at these different levels and why you do that. But I think it's really a smart strategy and one that because it's driven in the issue and driven out of the local community to start with, I think it's really brilliant strategy for you guys. 

 -Example: Business Resource Collective

You know, you gave us some good examples, as we've talked along, but it still may not be concrete enough for people. So, maybe we could dig a little deeper into a specific initiative as a way to help us understand your work a little bit more concretely. So, could you talk a little bit about your equitable development principles and your scorecard, or if there's another initiative you'd rather talk about? Something that gives us some real sense of how you go about this.

Joo Hee Pomplun  17:55

The equitable development principles and scorecard is a little different because it's a resource tool than a campaign and coalition. Would you like me to talk about both of them? Because I can speak very clearly about the Business Resource Collective because I was involved with getting that going. Again, you know, if you recall, I said that at The Alliance, we usually wait to be asked to be involved with a campaign before we get engaged. With the Small Business Research Collective, that's true, but not in a typical way. COVID was happening. The results were out for initial small business relief nationally that it was not reaching BIPOC small businesses. 

So, Hennepin County, with whom we already had a relationship for other things, wanted to do it differently. So, they knew that The Alliance has relationships across the different racial and ethnic communities. So, they reached out to us to see if we would be willing to bring together a cohort of small business entities to be able to help them reach BIPOC small businesses for the relief dollars. Alliance was like, "Well, we don't really do that kind of work. We don't do service. We don't contract to do service for counties." But we did have those relationships. And, we saw the opportunity that by having this contract to bring communities together, that as a result, we would be able to transform that effort into a coalition. So, and in the Twin Cities there was not a coalition that represented BIPOC small businesses. So, it was an opportunity. So, we did it. We reached out. We had over 20 organizations that were working with businesses in their cultural community and effectively created a coalition. The partners had no choice but to be a coalition, because the way things were being handled by the county was, you know, good intentions, but still being handled by the county. They automatically began to advocate about how those programs got implemented to ensure that then once they connected those entrepreneurs to those resources, they would be able to access them truly and get the relief that they needed. So, from day one, we were a coalition without people even realizing that. 

Then, from there, we brought in the big picture of what the state really needed. We established a vision for an equitable small business ecosystem in the Twin Cities region and state. Because our communities, our cultural corridors, and our small business entrepreneurs do not meet the typical models that SBA would look for, that state programs are already set up for, and our communities need something different. So, they had been suffering, being underfunded, under-supported, and COVID and the resource infusion that happened with that showed what could happen if you did a little bit of international investment, right? So, we took that and blew it up into something more realistic and have a whole vision for a statewide ecosystem.

Ame Sanders  21:46

So, you're still following that. Is that coalition still operating? Sure. I have one question before we do. Maybe it's a pre-question for your talk about the scorecard. Because the question I wanted to ask is, so, after you guys have done this, you went through COVID, you have this coalition. Do you feel like or have you been able to demonstrate that this has made a difference for your BIPOC small businesses? Are you seeing more capital flow into and more support for those businesses as a result of this work? 

Joo Hee Pomplun  21:51

The coalition is still operating. They work with DEED (our state Department of Employment and Economic Development), work with our counties, and a little bit with our cities, and continue to advocate for more funding and better structures that understand our businesses and entrepreneurs. Because a lot of entrepreneurs are sole proprietors, home-based businesses. The definition of small business really doesn't include them--traditional definitions of small business, and how programs run and how funding and lending happens. So, we are working to change that so that we can have more BIPOC small businesses, support our cultural corridors. Because the cultural corridors are a central piece of our communities as well. So, I can actually just kind of transition into the scorecard with that, if that's okay.   

As you know, change is slow. But what I can say is that the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the State Department, they actually created an executive director of small businesses position. I really think it's as a result of a lot of the advocacy we did. Because one of the things that when we were pushing on DEED previously for small business, they were like, "We don't really have a lot of resources for small businesses. We're really focused on workforce." So, I think that we were able to show a gap in what they were doing and serving Minnesota. So, they invested in it and are investing in small businesses now. They are having conversations with us about how that happens. Ramsey County, they used to contract with one organization to provide the entire county--small businesses period, but BIPOC small businesses being included in that I suppose--and now they really understand why it's important for them to have relationships with a variety of cultural organizations to serve the variety of communities in Ramsey County. So, they actually advocated for federal funding, $1.5 million, for them to revamp how they do work with small businesses in Ramsey County. Our coalition is involved in innovating that. It's called the Reimagination Fund. 

Then in Hennepin County, as a result of wanting to also have more opportunities and access for small businesses, created an online platform called Elevate that is a way for small businesses to access TA (technical assistance). They are contracting with a lot of the different BIPOC TA providers. That's a big deal because not long ago, technical assistance, people would be pointed to organizations like SCORE. I can't tell you what SCORE stands for, but it's a volunteer base of people that support and help small business entrepreneurs. But that volunteer base tends to be older white men from a corporate background. I'm confident they know a lot, but they don't know our communities and don't know, small business, let alone micro business. So, it just was not a match. So, it's really exciting to see the counties adapt.

Ame Sanders  25:59

I think your point that change does take time is important for us to keep in mind so that we know we don't immediately change metrics. However, the things that you describe– the changes that the counties are taking on in going about their work with small business is an important precursor to really long-lasting change. So, I think those are good examples of things that you've seen shift as a result of the work you've done with the coalitions. So, I know I interrupted you. You were about to talk about your scorecard and some of that, so I'll let you get back to that. 

 -Example: Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard

Joo Hee Pomplun  26:32

Yeah, the equitable development principles and scorecard is a tool that Alliance and a number--like a dozen plus--community organizations created back in 2015. It was in response to what everybody was experiencing. Investments that don't match the communities that they're in, and so are really threatening gentrification and displacement of where our cultural communities and low-wealth communities live. So, as grassroots organizations, you just end up fighting. You're constantly fighting. Sometimes you don't even have the solution right away. You just know that this project is not going to serve your community.  

So, they wanted to be proactive. They wanted a tool that would create a framework for them to be able to push back on development projects. They looked across the country and couldn't necessarily find something that worked for what they were hoping for. So, they set out to do it on their own. The equitable development principles and scorecard is what came out of it. The tool, I am not going to say it's the end all be all. But what is fantastic about the tool is that it creates intentionality. How we talk about and think about, not only development, but investments, right? The tool was created really to react to or to respond to brick-and-mortar type of projects, but it has grown to be really meaningful for conversations of equity and investment in policies as well. 

What the tool does, it has six principles to it, of equitable development that community defined. They are around transportation, housing, economic development, environment, community power, and livability. The tool creates a framework for our equitable development with those six principles. I also advocate that the tool is not intended to be taken apart. So, you have the six principles, you're doing a housing project. I highly discourage and tell people it's not intended to be taken like you just take the housing section, right? The tool is about equitable development, and equitable development is a comprehensive approach to development. It takes a comprehensive approach.  

So, if you're doing a housing project, you need to be thinking about how does transportation interact with it? How does economic development interact? Environment? Livability? Community power? It's not just about engaging communities ahead of the project. It is about that, but it's also about after the project. The projects live on. Just because the project team is done with it once it's built doesn't mean that the responsive, their responsibility, or the responsibility of the project is done. Can this project continue to create jobs? What is the built environment of that project for community? They have to live with it. Does it have mural art that reflects the community? Could there be a green space, private public screen space for people to sit during the day or whatever? Do they take care of the boulevards and landscaping? So, the equitable principles of scorecard is a comprehensive approach to development. What other people have been doing with it is then thinking about investments and thinking about equity and what is equitable within investment? What is equitable within a policy? You can hear conversations that are taking into account these different facets, beyond just maybe what's in front of them.

Ame Sanders  30:55

Who uses this set of principles? Is this something that a project sponsor or proposer, or leader would do and present that along with their plan for the project? Does the city or the county bring this to bear? Or does your coalition hold this up as a mirror to a project? How does it work? 

Joo Hee Pomplun  31:16

I mean, it's a scorecard, right? Some people don't like being scored. When we try to advocate for a city to adopt this as a part of their development process that that developer would have to fill it out, the number one pushback that we get is that the developers don't like being scored. What if the project gets scored zero? What I say is that if a project gets scored zero, it just means that there's a lot of opportunity to partner. It's not the end all be all of a project. It's a baseline, right? 

Another question that comes up is, who should score it? Should it be the developer, the planner, the community? And again, I will say that, it doesn't matter who scores it as long as it's transparent. So, then the developer who scores that and gives themself 100 out of 100 then has to explain to community, how did they meet these different principles around housing and economic development and community power? The community can accept it or push back on it or hold them accountable. If they're saying they're creating 50 jobs, then the community says, "Okay, let's see those 50 jobs." Conversely, if community scores it, then a developer can say, "Well, how do I do that? How would I achieve that?" So, the score is important, but it's a starting point for a conversation to create a stronger and more community-centered project.

Ame Sanders  32:58

So, it sounds like you see it happening in all different ways. Communities using it to react to or hold up a mirror to development that's coming in. Cities adopting it to use it as part of their routine practice and requiring it from developers. But I love the way you express that at the end, which is it's really a jumping-off point for a conversation about understanding what this project is going to mean to the community that it's going into and how the groups that are involved in it see that. And then how it can be made even more positively impactful for the community.

Joo Hee Pomplun  33:33

Yeah, exactly. It is also an organizing tool. Like I said, it's a framework. So, the tool is not intended to be taken straight off the shelf, but it's intended to be adapted by the community who's using it. So, with that West Side Community Organization on the west side neighborhood of St. Paul, they did a stellar job of that in really building community leadership and community buy in. It's a vision that was set by community that got documented or codified into their equitable development principles and scorecard. Then, the community continues to own it. They're the ones that meet with the developers to talk about how the project is going to meet the community's vision for the neighborhood. So, it's really an organizing tool as well. 

 -Example: Stops For Us Transit Campaign 

So, another example of the work that we've done is with the Stops For Us campaign, it was the light rail project that was connecting Minneapolis to St. Paul, the downtowns. Eight miles stretch. For our transportation project, they used the data of the communities that it's going through to justify it. So, they use the data of our communities, communities of color that are right on the route, to say that these communities are low-income. These communities are transit-dependent. So, therefore, we need this light rail line to go through here.  

When the plans went forward, there weren't any stops. So, they're using our communities to justify the line, but they made the stops one every mile. So, that's effectively skipping our communities. So, obviously, people were outraged, because this is also the community that was affected by the highway expansion projects of the 60s. So, it’s a community that already has trauma due to transportation projects. Now they're building a light rail through their community, and you're not planning for them. So, communities came together and created a Stops For Us campaign, which is what they called it, and advocated for additional stops. The project team would just come back and say, "Well, if we add more stops, it's going to add too much time to the trip between the downtowns." So, they were looking for the commuter’s convenience and not our communities, right?

Ame Sanders  36:11

I thought it was incredible when we talked about this before, that in this example, you told me your team even reached out to Peter Rogoff, the Undersecretary of Transportation Policy in the US Department of Transportation, and that ultimately, he was on your side and found it ludicrous not to have the additional stops that your communities needed. That's great. 

Joo Hee Pomplun  36:35

Yeah. So, we got two additional stops as a result that allowed for new investments into the community for our businesses. 

Ame Sanders  36:46

That's a perfect example. I think it's a very concrete one and one that many communities who are dealing with transit or transportation issues can take note of. So, thank you for adding that example. If we move beyond this for a minute, we talked about the different levels that you work. One of the things you do is you also work beyond Minneapolis, which I was surprised to learn. So, maybe you can talk about the group that you bring together of people across the country. 

 -Example: Equitable Development Enthusiasts Community of Practice Table 

Joo Hee Pomplun  37:15

Yeah, so the equitable development principles and scorecard was created here in the Twin Cities by communities for the Twin Cities region. Then, we created this community of practice table. Because you have this hard and fast tool, or what looks to be a hard and fast tool. People were just kind of like, "Well, how do we do this? How do I get my community to buy into it? How do I get my institution to adopt it?" What I wanted to do is to create a community of practice table so that people can start to see the flexibility of the tool. So, it's not so rigid, but it's more now malleable to the needs of the community, but still stays centered in equity. So, there was a table that was you know, 20 people might attend. 

Then, when COVID happened, it I went online. We had some champions that did consulting across the country who started sharing it with communities that they were talking to across the country. We had the opportunity to just share it at a couple of conferences. So then when COVID happened, people reached out and said, "Hey, how do you use this tool? We're having these issues." And I'd be like, "Talk to them, and then invite them to be part of the enthusiasts." So, now we have a list of over 300 some enthusiasts from largely the Twin Cities, but I would say, a quarter of that list could be from across the country. There was a student project in Detroit. There's a student project in North Carolina. There are communities in Denver, and Austin, and Nebraska. All communities are trying to wrestle with this issue of displacement. It's exciting to see the relevance of this tool and helping those conversations. 

 -Advice to Aspiring Organizers

Ame Sanders  39:20

That's excellent. So, I'm guessing that if we have listeners who are listening and they would like to join your communities of practice, I can get you to send me some information so that they will know where to go online to be able to connect with you guys. I'll include that in the show notes. So, you may have some people out there who would find this to be interesting and relevant for their work. So, thank you for sharing that. So, maybe as a way to wrap up here is, you know, you've been doing community organizing for a while and in different areas and in different ways. Would you be willing to share a few of your lessons learned in this work or a few bits of advice that you might give to communities or aspiring organizers?

Joo Hee Pomplun  40:08

Yeah. One of the things that I like about organizers is that as an organizer, you have to be curious and nosy. You have to be willing to ask questions, right? So, if you hear about something going on in the community, you have to be bold enough to say, "Tell me more." Then, you know, be curious. Then ask, "Well, what do you think needs to happen? What's the solution to that?" Then you start asking other people those things. What I say is, "Have you heard? I heard somebody talking about this, what do you think?" It's all driven by curiosity, but it's all driven by curiosity about what is wrong in the community and what can we do about it? 

Then, lifting up people to be the leaders of that work. As an organizer, we organize people, but we don't lead people, right? The people lead themselves. So, creating that kind of space. One of the things that I did want to share, I suppose, is what drives me, what I think is kind of interesting about my career, because I've had a somewhat varied career, but the common thread in it was always community. It's always about lifting up a community of voices and amplifying them for more systemic change.  

I had the opportunity to work in health and health equity at one point. I did this like very mini project around mental health in our Southeast Asian refugee communities and talked to various leaders in the community about mental health. What was really phenomenal and then what struck me about that was that the idea that--well, I mean, there are many things--but I think what I want to talk about is within the Cambodian community, what the elder told me was that in his community, that his elders, were in a place of limbo. They were in a place of limbo, because they were refugees. They were refugees from the war. They never expected to make home here. So, they're not grounded here in America, but if they were to go back to Cambodia, it wasn't the Cambodia they knew. So, they're in this limbo. They're displaced, and they don't have a sense of home. This was a common theme that I heard, this feeling of displacement and not having a home, and that is really what drives me in the work that I do within community development. 

I'm a public health person by training. I think that a sense of place, a sense of spirit, spiritual health, and connection are the things that drive me in the work that I do. That's why I believe so strongly in the work that we do with the equitable development principles and scorecard. Because I believe in the end, that's what we're trying to create. It's a place where people can feel home, feel settled and at peace, and be connected not just to their neighbors but to themself.

Ame Sanders  43:30

Wow, Joo Hee. That's a beautiful way to wrap this up. Thank you so much for sharing that and for sharing your experiences with the Alliance and your the work that you do. I'm so happy that you were able to join us. Thank you.

Joo Hee Pomplun  43:44

Thank you.


Ame Sanders  43:45

Joo Hee reminded us of what a powerful tool coalitions can be, whether in advocating for inclusive and equitable development, making sure that communities are at the table for large projects that impact their neighbors and community, or influencing policy that determines who receives funding or opportunities. Joo Hee also reminded us how critical it is that coalitions are comprised of members from the communities for whom they advocate. It is through the creation of these types of diverse coalitions that a richness and a diversity of perspectives can also be shared. Coalitions are about lifting the voices of community members. There truly is power in numbers.  

Joo Hee also gave practical examples of how the Alliance has worked at a local, regional, and state level, even sharing how they have, on occasion, used federal influence to get what their communities needed. We heard it's all about deeply understanding the issues and finding the right place to apply pressure. However, we are reminded that achieving significant results over time needs a relationship focus versus a simple transactional focus. Then that allows work at the intersection across multiple issues, and also allows communities to shift their narratives over time and advocate together for one another versus competing. This challenging work and progress is slow. However, through the examples we heard, we can see that every positive process change, policy change, organizational change, and project adjustment, shows that it is working and their voices are being heard. 

A piece of advice that Joo Hee offered was to stay curious. Phrases like "Have you heard?" and "What do you think should happen?" are opening and engaging ways to enter and begin advocacy. As Joo Hee described, it's ultimately about focusing on community and preserving and building a sense of place where people can feel connected to one another, feel at home, and find their own sense of spiritual health.

This has been the State of Inclusion Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share the podcast or discuss these ideas with others. If you'd like to hear more about the practice of building an inclusive and equitable community, head over to theinclusivecommunity.com and sign up for our newsletter. Also, feel free to leave us a review or reach out we'd love to hear from you. 

Thanks so much for listening and join us again next time.


Guest: Joo Hee Pomplun

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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