What have I learned in my first 3 months as an MCN VISTA?
Many of the trainings, workshops and events I’ve been able to attend for free through MCN have helped me see why the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) is where it’s at. Here’s why:
1. Community engagement is in HAFA’s DNA
In our first cohort retreat with our placement site supervisors we learned about community engagement and relationship building as essential tools to “impact multiple levels and systems, and to create sustained change that lasts beyond a project or campaign.”
While completing the handy community engagement assessment tool with HAFA staff that was developed by the partners in the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative, we realized that community engagement is in HAFA’s DNA. Building long-term, transformational relationships with farmers who have interest in becoming is why HAFA exists.
HAFA started in 2011 after a group of Hmong farmers started talking after a panel they were on and decided that they didn’t want to wait around for other people to help them, they needed to come together to build the future they wanted to see.
While specific goals like getting access to land for farming may feel more transactional, HAFA understands that achieving these smaller goals is necessary to connect farmers’ self-interest and bring farmers together in ways that build the kinds of long-term relationships that create space for shared learning and emergent, long-term outcomes that might build institutions that support equity.
Fakequity True innovation
My personal highlight from the MCN Annual Conference earlier this month was Vu Le’s keynote address titled “Equity, Capacity, Collective Impact and Other Shiny Objects and Their Effects on the Nonprofit Sector.” Vu critiqued what he calls “fakequity” and asserted that all these nonprofit buzz words become stand-ins for true innovation.
True innovation is fundamentally about investing in people. Equity requires actually being willing to change the ways we hire and invest in more young leaders of color, especially when in the U.S. almost 40% of people are of color and only 10% of nonprofit executive directors are people of color. We need more organizations like HAFA who understand that when those who are most affected are leading the change we need, the solutions will be better for everyone.
3. Putting the COMMUNITY in community wealth building
From my first day at HAFA, I’ve felt a sense of welcome and teamwork. And I’ve been amazed to see that HAFA is so intentional about cultivating relationships with everyone from politicians to people of faith to preschoolers to farmers of all kinds, with over 1,000 visitors to the HAFA Farm just this season.
Every day I see HAFA practicing the power of bringing people together from all different backgrounds to do everything from painting signs and building sheds to changing systems and building community wealth.
If that was enough to get you as excited as I am, sign up for HAFA’s quarterly e-news HERE.