The Center to Support Immigrant Organizing (CSIO) was founded in 2000 as a result of an assessment by a group of longtime immigrant rights advocates. The organizers identified the multiple barriers immigrant communities face in their efforts to organize for their rights and develop their own leadership. The mission of CSIO is to support and help develop the work of individuals, groups, organizations and communities dedicated to organizing immigrants around the issues that affect their lives.
Since its founding, CSIO has been a Third Sector New England fiscally-sponsored organization. In the words of Co-Director Ann Philbin, “Being fiscally sponsored means that by-and-large we don’t have to worry about handling the administrative piece, which frees us up to focus on the meat of what we do. It would cost us more to build this administrative capacity in-house and would divert precious staff capacity away from our mission-related work.”
Helping Communities Discover Their Gifts
Such a strategy has paid off for CSIO. The nonprofit organization has carved out a critical and valuable niche for itself by focusing the three co-directors’ talents and expertise on supporting the efforts, dreams and desires of immigrant communities for self-determination. The visionary leaders are organizational capacity-builders, facilitators and movement builders.
“In all of our program activities, we strive to create and hold the space for immigrants to discover the gifts and talents they already have but which often lay buried underneath the layers created by the oppression and marginalization they have experienced,” explains Philbin. “It is in creating and holding that space that immigrants can experience their own power and worth, and so be able to see themselves as capable of bringing about change.”
Supporting Collective Leadership
The methodology that CSIO uses, which is participatory and firmly rooted in democratic principles, is consistent with its view of immigrants. The organization allows the voices of the leaders and organizations they work with to emerge and shape the work itself.
According to an immigrant leader whose organization is a member of the Immigrant Workers Center Collaborative (IWCC), a group that CSIO facilitates, the process has been “interesting and exciting. It took me a little while to realize that while CSIO convenes and facilitates our meetings, they are not in control of the agenda – but rather, we are. And as the process has unfolded, we have developed more and more a collective sense and ownership of what and who the IWCC is and what we are capable of doing together.”
TSNE is very proud to have CSIO as one of our fiscally-sponsored organizations. CSIO is an outstanding example of a non-profit organization that works everyday to “create a more just and democratic society,” as our mission statement reads. For Ann Philbin, respecting and valuing the voices of immigrant-led organizations and working with them to lift up their voices and gain a sense of their own power is “an opportunity to advance democracy.”