Driving social change for marginalized populations with community activism and support
The YWCA of Greater Austin is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families and strengthen communities. Here, MissionBox founder and CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with YWCA executive director Angela-Jo Touza-Medina about her work to understand the causes of refugee migration and forces behind vulnerable populations.
You work extensively with refugees and marginalized populations. How do they fit in with your work at the YWCA?
I knew I wanted to work for social good. In college, I chose to focus on political science and got masters’ degrees in international cooperation, and humanitarian law and criminal. Eventually I started work at an agency, where among other things, we helped to resettle refugees.
Working with refugees, immigrants and vulnerable populations is in many respects like development work on a national or internal, domestic scale. And issues related to migration represent development gone wrong.
There are multiple factors at play with forced migration. Food insecurity, war and civil conflict are all factors in what drives people to migrate to different areas. With economic migration you realize it reflects development gone wrong — people are unable make it in their country of origin because of a lack of opportunity and they seek opportunity elsewhere.
What kind of outreach and services does the YWCA offer to the community to further its goals?
One of our primary goals at the YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women. That is very linked to marginalization and to vulnerable populations all around the world. If you think about the percentage of individuals that are marginalized, the vast majority of them are women.
What is most meaningful to me about what we do at YWCA is our training institute because it exists to address the root causes of racial and gender-based inequity. We have training on how to be an immigrant ally, which is a lot like being an ally to anyone else. You have to realize that if circumstances were different, you could have been that marginalized person.
We also provide culturally competent mental health services at the YWCA (and thanks to a grant can offer this for free to victims of crime). Mental health is at risk when people are forced to migrate and experience marginalization.
Who attends the training institute?
We serve the community at large. Training is available to anyone that comes in and is interested in learning how to be an immigrant ally, or how to intervene when they see someone being harassed or mistreated in the street. Or perhaps it’s a clinician who wants to learn about eliminating bias they may inadvertently bring to sessions with individuals from different backgrounds.
The training institute is the nearest and dearest to me because it helps build capacity in young and developing professionals to provide culturally proficient and culturally competent services to diverse communities.
How do the training and workshops drive social change?
When you build capacity in the community to address inequality and marginalization, you build capacity for equity. During my interview for this position they asked me, “What’s your goal?” and I said, “My goal is for this nonprofit to eventually not have to exist.”
My goal is for every nonprofit to eventually go out of business because there isn’t a need, because we live in an equitable society where people aren’t marginalized, where people have equal access to opportunities or the barriers that they’re born into are removed. I would like to see everyone live full and plentiful lives, both personally and financially.
What else would you like us to know about the YWCA?
We’re one of the oldest nonprofits in Austin. We’ve been around for 110 years. From the start, we have been the new radicals that have made history to encourage connection and change. There are tons of local nonprofits that have spun off from the YWCA that spun off and grew into their own organizations.
I think that this moment in this country’s history speaks to the need for our mission, a mission that realizes that race and gender are at the center of most of the oppression and inequity that happens here. Participating in or supporting our programs is being a new radical, part of a movement and part of a mission. Our efforts aren't just a drop in the bucket.
Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela-Jo Touza-Medina, M.A., LL.M., has made social change her life’s work. Angela-Jo is a MissionBox Visionary because of her work and dedication at the YWCA to help eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families and strengthen communities.