For Investors / For Startups / Open Call
July 14th, 2020

Responding to the Omni-Crisis: Updates from the Open Call

By Wes Panek

At NMV, we’ve been referring to the current moment as the omni-crisis*: an existing crisis of democracy and racial justice, with a new helping of public health crisis and economic crisis on top. These crises – caused and exacerbated by the political and economic elite – are devastating people’s lives. But we know that crises give rise to innovation, and that now is the time to invest in leaders with strong track records fighting for justice – especially BIPOC, LGBTQIA people, and/or women. That’s why we’re so excited about what we’re seeing in our 2020 Open Call.

By the Numbers

  • We now have ~1200 in-scope applications – compared to a previous record of just 525 (!). And that total doesn’t include pitches from groups that are already part of the NMV portfolio.
  • More than 80% of the founders are from groups we have never heard of before, so the Open Call is doing its job of surfacing new approaches and leaders.
  • We just finished interviewing the top 100 organizations and companies, and of those, 66% are led by people of color, 55% are led by women, 7% are led by genderqueer or nonbinary people, and 26% are led by LGBTQIA people.

Themes and Observations

On the organizing front, there is of course energy in the field around many issues and approaches, ranging from climate to housing to immigration. But here are some of the themes that we’re most excited about:

  1. There’s a lot of energy around ambitious racial justice and criminal justice organizing efforts – building new tools to hold police accountable for brutality, fighting to end wealth inequality, supporting women of color to run for office, campaigning to fight algorithmic bias, and more. We’ve found it especially interesting that the Open Call’s soft deadline was BEFORE Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd, but we’re still seeing more of this kind of work than ever before, and it’s an unusually strong array – ranging from brand-new startups to existing organizations we’ve talked to in the past that have scaled, pivoted, or evolved in impressive ways.
  2. I’m also excited to see bold worker organizing approaches. The urgency of new worker organizing models has never been higher, with union jobs disappearing at a truly alarming pace. We've got applications around organizing distributed workforces such as gig workers, organizing highly-paid tech workers for social justice, and more. These can be powerful during social distancing and beyond.
  3. We’re also seeing new phone banking, relational organizing, and other digital tools for mobilization and election campaigning in a physically-distanced world. Many of these also intersect with racial equity – e.g. many of the existing tools can’t handle names with characters like ñ. They may not handle scripts in multiple languages. Or they’re unaffordable for volunteer-powered groups. Some of the new tools we are seeing aim to solve these problems.
  4. We focus on projects with scalable models, but right now we’re seeing infrastructure and capacity building efforts (e.g. consulting shops, training organizations) that fill critical gaps in the ecosystem. These companies and organizations are uniquely positioned to drive more powerful messages, catalyze more strategic campaigns, and more.

On the media and narrative-building front, we’re seeing three very strong types of applications:

  1. First, media startups that aim to shift narratives around key issues. We’ve got amazing applications from media outlets that tell stories from the perspectives of Indigenous people, incarcerated and post-incarcerated people, trans people, and more.
  2. Second, local media platforms poised to facilitate sustainable business models for local media outlets and alleviate media deserts, which increase polarization and decrease civic engagement. We’ve been on the lookout for interventions like these for some time, but in previous years haven’t found models that were economically viable, ready to scale, and focused on serving the people and communities traditional media outlets tend to exclude.
  3. And third, cultural organizing efforts: cultural organizing has always happened at some level, but this year we are seeing a LOT of new and established groups take it seriously. We’ve gotten many more applications at the infrastructure level to embed narrative and cultural organizing efforts across the progressive movement. Applicants are going beyond PR as a narrative strategy to partner with artists and influencers, better understand the narrative landscape, measure changes, think about narrative frames rather than just tactical campaign messages, and more.

Other observations about gaps in the field:

  1. We received only a handful of strong applications for power-building in direct response to COVID-19 as a public health crisis. For example, doctors have a  unique opportunity to leverage their voice and power in this moment. However, we found only one group organizing doctors to drive voter engagement or campaign to improve our governments’ policy response. This bucket is smaller than we expected, and we see this as a gap in the movement that the Open Call has identified.
  2. Our internal scenario planning processes have surfaced the possibility of serious unrest, including potentially widespread violence, in the leadup to and aftermath of this year’s election. We also believe that the legitimacy of the election results themselves might not be clear – because of hacking, voter suppression, etc. We have interviewed several applicants tackling important pieces of these threats, and may end up funding one or more. But we are concerned that there is still a significant gap between the potential scale of these fundamental threats to our democratic process and the movement’s readiness to meet them.

Looking to the Future

The leaders who applied to this year’s Open Call are driving change today and laying the groundwork for progress in the years to come – but they won’t be able to maximize their impact if they don’t get the funding they need. If you’re interested in supporting this critical work and contributing to NMV’s Crisis Innovation Fund, please reach out.

*h/t Adam Elkus