OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Social Justice Meet-ups

Opportunities for individuals to come together in a safe space to discuss and reflect on challenges impacting their community.

Photo of Gaby | Catholic Charities St. Paul & MSP
8 5

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Catholic Charities’ Social Justice Meet-ups are discussions with community members on issue based community work with the goal to inspire the community to create change. Meet-ups are an opportunity for individuals to come together in a safe space to discuss and reflect on challenges impacting their community and to identify actionable solutions through a racial equity lens. +We meet people where they are. We conduct Listening Sessions with our clients to listen and allow them to inform the issues addressed in Meet-ups. +We build relationships. Meet-ups are open to groups interested in building a two-way bridge of compassion and understanding between themselves and vulnerable individuals within the community. +We listen deeply. Our clients and participants identify topics and tools that will be most helpful for addressing and understanding local urgent needs. +We work with our community. We collaborate with clients, civic leaders, community individuals, and other community-based organizations to better inform ourselves and participants about our collective role in addressing community issues and creating systemic change. +We are responsive. Meet-ups end with a call to action, whether it be to advocate for change at the legislature or to build a network of leaders within the community and for the community. Our 3 goals to build capacity are: 1. To expand our reach to the business community. Efforts towards meeting this goal are already in place with our Sowers Assembly, an annual event where all Meet-ups participants come together to discuss, reflect, and network. Bringing participants together is essential to expanding our reach. 2. To have Meet-ups be standard training for county service workers to help build empathy within community systems. 3. To incorporate Meet-ups into college courses on social work, policy, theology, and political science, so that students can acquire the necessary tools to better understand their communities at an early stage.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are Meet-up participants and Catholic Charities’ clients. Up until now, our participants have come from religious congregations and faith-based groups. These groups already offer opportunities for social justice discussions, but they seek to take their discussions to an actionable level. Over the last two years, we have successfully partnered with 14 groups based throughout the Greater Twin Cities community. Catholic Charities’ clients are often the most vulnerable individuals within our community. Our programs serve nearly 20,000 people annually in three primary customer groups: people experiencing homelessness, children and families in need, and older adults and people with disabilities. Social Justice Meet-ups benefit our clients by allowing them to identify the issues to be addressed. As we build capacity and expand our reach with the Social Justice Meet-ups, we hope to benefit more communities and groups within the Greater Twin Cities community.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Social Justice Meet-ups are uniquely designed to give our clients a voice. Due to the nature of our clients, it is hard for them to have direct relationships with other community members, which makes it difficult for others to be empathetic to their challenges. We offer an opportunity to understand the issues impacting vulnerable individuals and to identify ways to advocate for them and with them for systemic change. The model addresses change on an individual level with discussions on privilege, power, and prejudice, as well as on the community level with actions towards a more equitable and just society. This year Meet-ups focused on homelessness, a community challenge identified by clients and participants. Using a narrative focus and incorporating real life stories, we developed a Youth Homelessness Experience Tool and a Family Homelessness Experience Tool to guide participants in discussions that are driven by our clients and that guide them towards a path of empathy and action

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis serves all persons, regardless of faith, with a range of services to help them overcome obstacles, such as poverty and homelessness, to reach both their individual goals and our vision of a community where there is poverty for no one and opportunity for everyone.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Belief in the inherent dignity of every person, regardless of race, faith, background or circumstance is fundamental to Catholic Social Teaching, which guides our work. Recent events and heightened attention to inequities and injustices, compel us to include racial equity as part of seeking social justice. We designed Meet-ups as a way to nurture grassroots advocacy and address our community’s most pressing issues through a racial equity lens to create systemic change for and with the community.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Persistent racial disparities in income, employment, educational outcomes rates of homelessness, and incarceration strongly influence peace and prosperity in our region. Belief in the inherent dignity of each person, regardless of race, faith, background, or circumstances is central to our work. We believe we have a moral obligation to actively achieve our goals through collaborative partnerships, engaged grassroots advocates, and material support to our clients. Within this context we frame our programs and work in a community vision of poverty for no one and opportunity for everyone. Though we have not solved poverty, we have developed an ever-learning process that informs our journey, grounded in compassion, acceptance, and collaboration, including grassroots advocacy and regular Meet-ups, aimed at building understanding of the social inequities that challenge our community. This work is critical to building bridges for peace and prosperity for and with the community.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

The project model incorporates efforts from community individuals and leaders, faith-based congregations, partner organizations, and our clients. Data collection and research on community issues is made possible by listening to our clients and community stakeholders, as well as through partnerships with organizations such as the Amherst Wilder Foundation and Interfaith Action Network – collectively, these individual and community partners work together to bring in a variety of voices to the table. The congregations and social justice advocates that participate in the Meet-ups are the ones who learn about the issues through the eyes and voices of our clients and who take their lessons and turn them into action towards systemic change. In the end, our clients are the ones who benefit from the systems change(s) and the advocacy of our participants. Our project works in conjunction and collaboration with the community as a whole – we know that we alone cannot accomplish our goals.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

A majority of our community are faith-based social justice advocates, individuals who advocate as an interest and consider working for justice and continuing their issue-education as part of a calling to live out their faith. “If you want peace, work for justice,” is a saying that rings true with our community. Some are moved by experiences with our clients when they volunteer, others want to take the next step from donating, and others are inspired by the work we do in our programs.

Geographic Focus

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro community

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

This is an ongoing, already implemented program that we are hoping to expand. Expansion of the program would take up to 24 months to develop, implement, evaluate, and improve.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

Attachments (1)


Sowers of Justice April 2018 Newsletter


Join the conversation:

Photo of Eric Wilburn

Hi Gaby,

I am a huge supporter of this effort! I'd love to hear how you start each meeting to create a safe psychological space for people to be able to be vulnerable and honest in discussing these challenging issues.

Thanks, Eric

Photo of Mike Rios-Keating

Eric, thanks for this important question. It is something we've discussed a lot over the last few years. We have learned a lot from our trainings and education in Circle Process--the dialogue process gifted from the first nations and native peoples of Minnesota to use around racial justice, equity, and healing. We know that we cannot promise everyone a "safe space"--this may mean something different to everyone--but we have constructed the meetings in hopes of creating a brave space rooted in respect, honesty, and compassion.

That being said, we certainly have some tangible discussion guidelines that we give to everyone; we ask if everyone agrees to these and if they have any other they'd like to add. These cover things like confidentiality, openness, listening, speaking from your own experience, etc. We also have constructed a format that we hope lends itself to vulnerability and honesty. We begin with introductory table time, for attendees to get to know those around them, and throughout the meet-up the discussions are either 1:1 with a neighbor or in small circles at round tables, with occasional (optional) sharing out to the large group. You are never forced to share, and if it is a particularly difficult or sensitive issue we may even have facilitators divided among round tables.

Photo of Eric Wilburn

Hi Mike, thank you for sharing this, would you be willing to share the doc of the discussion guidelines you use? I'd love to build it into some of our programming! ewilburn@stanford. edu.

Grateful for your openness and passion, Eric

View all comments