From our Executive Director Josh Lerner:
I’m writing to share exciting news about the next stage of growth for the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), and to share our 2017 Annual Report. We’re expanding our leadership, as our Director of Strategic Initiatives Shari Davis joins me as Co-Executive Director. We’re also shifting our strategy to focus more on making participatory budgeting (PB) better and bigger.
Before I share more, I want to highlight how far we’ve come. Fifteen years ago, I set out on a quest to open up new possibilities for democracy in the US and Canada. Few people had heard of participatory budgeting, and even fewer thought it was a good idea. Since co-founding PBP in 2009, I’ve worked with an amazing team to establish PB as a model for powerful civic engagement.
We’ve accomplished a lot:
- Launched and supported PB processes in over 29 cities, empowering 400,000 people to decide how to spend $299 million, funding 1,600 community projects.
- Created and curated dozens of videos, guides, digital tools, and reports that have been used around the world to build local democracy.
- Organized five international conferences, a North American PB Network, and dozens of webinars and trainings to build knowledge and skills.
- Convened a community of researchers, which created evaluation tools and demonstrated that PB disproportionately empowers marginalized communities.
- Earned recognition for PB as the top innovation in American government and the best innovation advancing democracy around the world.
- Grown PBP from a resource website into the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to participatory democracy.
We’ve shown that PB works. Now it’s time to make PB a core part of government. To make that possible, our organization is changing.
First, we’re building more balanced leadership by welcoming Shari Davis as Co-Executive Director, starting in April. Shari joined our team two years ago after nearly 15 years of service and leadership in local government. As Director of Youth Engagement and Employment for the City of Boston she launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth PB process in the US, which won the US Conference of Mayors’ City Livability Award. Shari first got involved in city government in high school, serving as the Citywide Neighborhood Safety Coordinator on the Boston Mayor’s Youth Council and working at the Mayor’s Youthline. Please watch this video to hear more from Shari herself:
Serving as Co-EDs will allow each of us to lean into our strengths. Shari brings deep lived expertise in local government and youth engagement, to complement my nonprofit and research experience. We’ll share some core leadership responsibilities and divvy up others – I’ll focus on fundraising and making PB better, Shari on management and expanding PB to more and bigger budgets.
I’m thrilled to support the continued leadership of an incredible young black woman. Together we will make PBP stronger, building the multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational leadership that our organization and our democracy need.
Second, we’re investing more in making PB better and bigger, to transform our democracy. Even during times of urgent crises, we need to invest in the long-term health of our democracy. We see this lesson play out now on a massive scale, as our dysfunctional democracy has undermined public trust, fueling efforts to dismantle democratic government. To prevent a downward spiral of constant crises, we need to rebuild the relationship between government and the people.
At PBP, we started out focused on winning short-term victories – launching and supporting new PB processes in individual cities. This established PB as a model for local democracy, but in the past two years we’ve seen declining revenues for this technical assistance work, and a growing need for better tools to win and run PB processes.
To address these needs, we’re shifting to focus more on developing new technology and tools to make PB easier and better, and on building new partnerships and resources to multiply the number and size of PB processes.
Learning from the past two years, we’re scaling back our technical assistance work and staffing to match its revenues. We’ll continue supporting PB processes across the US, Canada, and elsewhere, but prioritizing programs for larger pots of money and school budgets. We’re eager to partner with visionary leaders to democratize bigger budgets, like the 500 million Euros for PB in Paris and the national PB process in Portugal. And we’re committed to creating new opportunities for civic education and action through PB in schools, making space for the next generation of leaders.
For starters, stay tuned for the launch of PB in 600 schools across New York, thanks to commitments from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and the State Education Department. And follow our Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference this week in Phoenix, where we’ll explore how participatory governance can address big societal problems, from criminal justice reform to school safety.
We’re committed to fixing our broken democracy, so that millions of people each year have the opportunity to learn how government can improve their lives, to grow into community leaders, and to direct public resources to our greatest needs. Please read our Annual Report, in which we share victories from 2017 and big opportunities ahead. We hope you’ll support this work, and share this message with your friends.
And as you finish this long letter (sorry, so old school!), please take one minute more to get to know Shari, by video of course.
Executive Director, Participatory Budgeting Project