Mission

The Southern Workers Opportunity (SWO) Fund is a time-limited program of the LIFT Fund to better understand and improve the conditions of workers in the US South in order to create sustainable opportunities for prosperity. It is the first-of-its-kind fund dedicated to: 

  1. Increasing philanthropic and labor investment and understanding of workers’ rights in the US South and helping funders better coordinate, share information, and elevate key organizations, labor partners and networks in the American South; 
  1. Supporting game-changing campaigns that build on labor, community, and worker center collaboration and fortify community and worker infrastructure, increase worker power, and better the economic livelihoods and social conditions of workers in low wage sectors and beyond.

Why Now?

W.E.B. Du Bois once said, “As the South goes, so goes the nation.” The US South is central in determining the fate of this nation — from civil rights, to political progress, to worker rights. To ensure we have better working conditions in this nation, we need to go deeper in the Southern United States. 

Decades ago, opponents of workers’ rights and democracy invested in a Southern Strategy that had dramatic and destructive national implications. The US South remains one of the poorest regions in the US, with a lack of legal protections that enable racial inequity and legislative measures that have historically undermined workers’ rights. At the same time, the South has come to occupy an important position within the US economy as domestic and foreign companies target the region for investment. 

Today, as industries continue to expand in the South, we have an opportunity to repair that destruction and ensure that Southern job growth is accompanied by adequate wages, quality benefits, and strong employment protections. We must now seize the chance that this moment gives us to launch a bold, democratic, and inclusive Southern Strategy of Worker Empowerment.

Long Term Impact Goals

The Southern Workers Opportunity Fund aims to move the worker, labor and economic justice movements, in the South and beyond, closer to accomplishing the following goals by 2023:

  • Strengthen the shared multi-racial infrastructure of labor, worker, and community base-building organizations to build power in the South.
  • Promote higher job quality and power for workers in the South across industries and locations.
  • Seed long-term partnerships between labor, worker centers, community base building groups, and philanthropy.

In order to accomplish these goals, the Fund will support the following strategies:

  • Collaborate with organizations designing and implementing key policy and sectoral campaigns that increase the power of workers and produce working conditions that push for increased accountability for corporate and political leaders. The Fund will look at opportunities at the sectoral, state and local level that could have regional implications.
  • Support stronger organizational ecosystems by building the capacity of labor, community and worker organizations through, for example, narrative capacity, organizational support, leadership training, and cross-leader alignment and cohort building, among others.
  • Help launch exciting, new or scalable innovations that create better and more equitable conditions for workers across sectors, including efforts that reimagine collective bargaining, worker organizations, revenue generation and neutrality agreements.

Governance

The Southern Workers Opportunity Fund is rooted in the values of collaborative grantmaking, shared learning through rich discussions, demonstrated agility to allow for maximized impact, and consensus-building in key decision-making. 

Funders will have the opportunity to engage at different levels depending on their contribution, willingness to participate, as well as expertise and relationships in the region. Engagement with and participation from Southern Funders and leaders is a key priority for the Fund.

A Steering Committee will lead and set the overall strategy for the Fund along with the LIFT Fund’s Executive Director and SWO’s Director. An Advisory Board will help determine the grantmaking strategy, suggest potential grantees, and approve grantee dockets. All other funders will join the Fund’s learning community and participate in learning activities throughout the year.

Learning

The Fund will engage in this work with a learning mindset and create the circumstances necessary to meaningfully engage with the local communities in determining a strategic path forward. To this end, the Fund will dedicate significant time in its first year to engage local leaders, whether funders, nonprofit representatives, labor representatives, academics and other experts. Throughout its lifecycle, the Fund will also leverage numerous methods to share lessons learned; from grantee briefings and learning days for funders to reports and newsletters for the field. 

Contact

Reach out to Nefeli Mourti, LIFT Fund’s interim managing director, at nefeli@theliftfund.org with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you. 

The LIFT Fund thanks the following funders for their support of the SWO Fund.