May 18, 2021

New progressive social movements are driving a huge boom of new talent. But leadership development efforts don’t have the funding or scale to keep up. Our guests today are working to change that. 

In episode 2 of our second season, we’re thrilled to talk with Deepak Bhargava and Gara LaMarche, who seek to build a new leadership center at the City University of New York (CUNY) to support young activists — particularly those from communities of color and working-class backgrounds. 

Deepak comes from the progressive community organizing field, where he is best known for running the Center for Community Change (now known as Community Change). Gara comes from the progressive philanthropy field, where he has held executive leadership roles in the Democracy Alliance, Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Open Society Foundations. We discuss their career journeys; their new research; and their current endeavor. And we discuss why there is so little infrastructure to support the progressive nonprofit workforce, including the lack of investment from organized philanthropy. 

Guest Bios: 

Deepak Bhargava is a policy expert on issues of poverty, economic justice, racial equity, and immigration, and has extensive practical experience in community organizing, leadership development, social movements, progressive strategy, issue campaigns, coalition building and voter mobilization.

Deepak is currently a Distinguished Lecturer in Urban Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Labor and Urban Studies. Prior to joining CUNY, Bhargava was President and Executive Director of Community Change and Community Change Action for 16 years, two of the premier national organizations supporting grassroots community organizing in low-income communities of color in the United States. Deepak has trained and mentored hundreds of leaders who play key roles in progressive organizations and social justice movements, and worked to establish important labor-community partnerships at the national level on issues such as immigration reform, health care, and fiscal policy.

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Gara LaMarche is a longtime advocate for human rights and social justice. He is currently a Senior Fellow and Instructor at City College of New York’s Colin Powell School (part of the City University of New York). Since 2013 he has served as President of The Democracy Alliance, a group of donors and movement leaders who provide millions of dollars to strengthen progressive organizations, causes and campaigns. During his tenure, the membership of the Alliance has grown and the group has played a critical role in aligning donors to focus on economic inclusion, democracy reform, climate change and equity, and established funding collaboratives to advance civic engagement in states by communities of color and grassroots campaigns for economic fairness and a healthy environment.  He steps down from that post in June 2021.

From 2007 to 2011, Gara was President and Chief Executive Officer of The Atlantic Philanthropies, an international foundation focused on aging, children and youth, health, and human rights operating in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States, and Viet Nam. During his tenure at Atlantic, the foundation made the largest grant ever made by a foundation for an advocacy campaign – over $25 million – to press for comprehensive health care reform in the U.S., embraced a social justice framework for grantmaking, and worked closely with governments in several of its geographies to take advantage of opportunities to achieve changes in HIV/AIDS and nursing policies in South Africa, civic engagement and democratic reform in Ireland, a more secure peace in Northern Ireland, and many other areas.

Before joining Atlantic in April 2007, Gara served as Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Institute (OSI), a foundation established by philanthropist George Soros. He joined OSI in 1996 to launch its U.S. Programs, which focus on challenges to social justice and democracy. During his tenure there, OSI (since renamed the Open Society Foundations) became the leading funder of criminal justice reform, launched and supported a number of fellowship programs in justice, law, medicine and community engagement, established an office critical in the revitalization of Baltimore, and helped create and foster a network of urban high school debate leagues.




Resources related to the Episode: 

Links to the recording of the CUNY webinars to-date:

Leading for Social Change at a Critical Time: What do Leaders Need?

Lessons from the Frontlines of 2020 Fights for Democracy and Black Lives

Deepak Bhargava is Co-Editor (with Ruth Milkman and Penny Lewis) of the new book Immigration Matters: Visions, Strategies and Movements for a Progressive Future (New Press, April 2021)

Subscribe (free) to Deepak’s weekly-ish newsletter, The Platypus.

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