Partner story

Q&A with Fuse Corps' James Weinberg

Over the years, our US grantees have had to be agile, courageous, intersectional, and collaborative to continually build new opportunities and futures for people fighting against oppressive and racist systems.  As we wind down our domestic work in the US by the end of 2023, we've asked our partners to share, in their own words, their plans for the future, learnings from the field, and how funders can support their continued progress fighting for social justice and equity.

By James Weinberg, CEO of FUSE Corps

1. What does FUSE Corps do?

FUSE is dedicated to expanding social and economic opportunities to those who have been most impacted by America’s history of systemic and institutional racism. We partner with local governments and communities to more effectively address pressing challenges by placing experienced professionals directly into municipal agencies. These FUSE Executive Fellows lead strategic projects with specific goals that are designed to accelerate progress on key initiatives. This work is focused around issue areas such as workforce development, affordable housing, public health, educational access, criminal justice reform, and climate resilience. Since 2012, FUSE has led 250 projects in 40 governments across 20 states, impacting the lives of over 25 million people.

The FUSE Executive Fellowship program is a one to two year full-time public service role in city or county government. FUSE Executive Fellows work alongside senior government leaders and the community to lead strategic projects, and Fellows have 15+ years of experience under their belt.

2. What are the greatest lessons you've learned over the past two years?

(1) Crisis Reveals Inequity – The pandemic and its resulting economic crisis laid bare racial disparities that have existed for generations. We see examples every day of how longstanding differences in employment, housing, or health can define matters of life and death. For many, this has served as a critical wake-up call, motivating our country to do better. At FUSE, it has compelled us to refocus all of our work moving forward around advancing racial equity. 

(2) Disruption Creates Opportunity – Within the chaos of a profound rearrangement of social and economic structures, there is also a once-in-a-generation chance to reimagine how things can work differently. To an extent not previously seen, the public, private, and social sectors have aligned in common cause, and governments have been forced to move beyond outdated bureaucracies. In this window of opportunity, FUSE has been working to accelerate progress and to codify change in new policies, practices, and partnerships that can be sustained over the long-term. 

(3) Recovery Demands Leadership – Various necessities have been in short-supply throughout the pandemic, with many cities worried that financial shortfalls would be their greatest challenge (until federal relief arrived). We heard from most city and county officials, however, that their most urgent need was for additional leadership capacity to manage constantly shifting challenges, responsibilities, rules, expectations, and opportunities. In response, FUSE doubled the scale of our Executive Fellowship Program nationally to provide cities with the talent needed to pursue a more equitable recovery.

Through education, representation, and the development of five pilot projects, FUSE Executive Fellow Danielle Elkins helped establish Minneapolis as a leader in new mobility technology, laying the foundation for a modern transportation system that better serves the mobility needs of all residents.

3. What opportunities do you see on the horizon and what are your plans for the future?

The federal government has committed extraordinary resources to help cities respond to the current crisis while also building jobs and infrastructure for the future. In many cases, however, progress is being slowed by a disconnect between federal and local agencies. FUSE is working with local governments to connect with these funding opportunities, maximize the impact of those resources, engage the community in strategy decisions, and support the implementation of action plans.

We also expect that work on climate change will represent an increasing focus in the years ahead. We are already working with governments across the country to prioritize racial equity in efforts such as developing climate action plans, expanding workforce training for a new green economy, reducing emissions and pollution in highly-impacted neighborhoods, and building infrastructure to better manage fires, droughts, storms, floods, rising sea levels, and other effects of a rapidly changing climate. 

Finally, FUSE is committed to disseminating the insights and innovations that emerge from our work with civic leaders around the world. We recently partnered with John Legend to launch HUMANLEVEL, a campaign designed to uplift communities disproportionately impacted by institutionalized racism. We are proud to have welcomed John to our Board, and we are excited to shine a spotlight on high-impact programs, practices, and policies being developed by FUSE throughout the country. 

4. How can funders support you right now?

We are in the process of raising our next $50M fund to provide American cities with hundreds of additional experienced, proximate, diverse, and community-based professionals. With support from major investors like Luminate, we can develop new programs and policies that will achieve long-term structural change on issues like jobs, housing, health, education, justice, and climate. 

Our philanthropic partners can target their support to underwrite select issue areas, designated regions of the country, individual cities, or even specific fellowship projects. In most cases, work that is initiated by philanthropy is then sustained through government funding, once we prove the degree to which we can accelerate progress on a given issue. Historically, FUSE has earned over 50% of its revenue through fee-for-service contracts with our host governments.

Finally, whenever possible, FUSE aims to build genuine, functional, value-added partnerships with our major funders. By leveraging the field-level perspective of national and local philanthropists, FUSE is always able to improve the focus and impact of our work. Reciprocally, where common priorities exist, we can help governments better align their efforts with funders and their grantees in order to create more effective, cross-sector campaigns. 

Read more Q&As with leaders of our US portfolio who are working to move the country toward justice in small and big ways.