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Loka Alert 9:2 (February 19, 2002)



Dear Friends and Colleagues,

There is good news and bad news at the Loka Institute, and we'll start with the bad. Since September, the funding climate for small non-profits like Loka has been harsh. Loka is experiencing a cash-flow problem. As Loka's Board of Trustees, we have decided that the most responsible thing to do is to stop incurring new costs. So we have temporarily suspended most of our office operations and have had to lay off most of our staff - an especially painful decision. Our executive director has also resigned.

But Loka, as a spirit, a community, and an organization, is still strong. Khan Rahi, the experienced and very committed coordinator of our Community Research Network, is continuing in that position and is now also serving as interim coordinator for Loka. We look forward with Khan to seeing as many of you as possible at our annual CRN Conference in June at Loyola University in Chicago.

We recognize, too, that our current financial challenge is also an opportunity. The board is strongly committed to raising $100,000 by August 1st - and $30,000 of that by May 1st. The board has already made commitments toward that goal ourselves of about $6,500. And we are working intensively to develop a strategic plan that will both strengthen Loka financially and expand our commitment to bring more democratic processes and grassroots participation into our own 

Recognizing and reaffirming that these are Loka's core values, we are turning to you, our partners and constituents, to include you in the larger dialogue about Loka's future.

Loka, in the past, has primarily relied on a few major funders. We seek to ground our future in a far broader base of popular support. We also intend to develop innovative ways to bring researchers, 
community groups, and advocates for social and environmental justice together to help shape Loka's priorities and programs. And we will develop methods to incorporate that wide range of voices into our critical analyses of new technologies. We need your support - ideas, 
money, and active participation - to make all of this possible.

Together, we can make Loka the leading model for the kind of breadth and depth of democratic participation that's appropriate for a national organization promoting social change. Help us bring our values more fully into our own internal culture. If Loka matters to you, please let us hear from you soon!

Loka's guiding vision is that people from all walks of life can together create opportunities for ordinary citizens to actively participate in research and in decisions about science and technology. We are convinced that this simple, powerful message remains unique and urgent -- especially in a world that lately seems to be changing before our eyes.

Recently, Loka has been especially effective in promoting this kind of democratic participation in research and technology. We have just led a successful campaign to include community groups as eligible partners in a new $160-million program for science and math education at the National Science Foundation. Loka also won one of CIO Magazine's coveted "CIO-100 Awards for Innovation" in 2001 - a testament to just how creative our work really is. Loka's Community Research Network, for example, represents the world's first effort to bring grassroots groups together with researchers, funders, policymakers, and others to promote community-based research. The network is stronger now than ever, with more than 2,000 participants. Loka is also helping build regional networks in the Northeast and in California. And just last month, the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, in its new report on technology literacy, listed Loka as an organization that can help the American public understand the role of technology in society.

We also have exciting projects in the works. We continue to experiment with promising new methods for helping communities and individuals assess the political, as well as the social, impact of technologies - including, for example, a Scenario Workshop in Lowell, MA, this spring with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. That work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. For the future, we envision Youth-Based Citizen's Panels and a Science and Technology Summer Institute. And we're helping the Annie E. Casey Foundation introduce the skills and ideas of community-based research to community groups and neighborhoods that are part of the foundation's groundbreaking "Making Connections" initiative, which strengthens families by strengthening neighborhoods. 

How could we be so successful and yet so short of cash?

Even in times of peace and prosperity, Loka's agenda has been daring. But since September 11th, the funding climate for small non-profits like Loka has been brutal. And we have an added challenge - we are working at the democratic frontier at a time when protecting security, rather than safeguarding our freedoms, has been uppermost in the public mind. Of course, that's also why Loka's survival is so critical right now. Also, we have chosen not to seek support from corporate sources. That's another limit to our fundraising. Our staff has been small, and our work has taken off so quickly, in terms of an enthusiastic national and international response, that we have been almost too busy to focus on fundraising. 

Of course, we are focused now. Loka has been extremely successful on the program side. The time has come for us to be much more assertive about raising money, given the tough funding environment. We now realize, for example, that we must communicate much more clearly and effectively to the large community of our collaborators, constituents, and supporters just how much we really need your financial support and direct participation in our work.

Our financial crunch is closely related to our limited attempts to seek your help. We ourselves need to become more democratic and participatory in everything we do. We want to greatly expand our financial base of support so that we no longer rely on a few, large funders for the bulk of our budget. Their generosity is, of course, much appreciated and still much needed. But we have come to see that we should also rely substantially on the people we represent. That includes, for example, the thousands of members of grassroots groups and researchers taking part in our Community Research Network.

More than money, however, is at stake. We also need your help re-imagining how Loka can create new ways for grassroots groups, local communities, researchers, and our other supporters and collaborators to participate in our work. 

Loka is still very much alive. But let's work together to make sure that Loka comes out of this short-term crisis stronger than ever. We invite each of you to become part of Loka's renewal. Whatever you can share with Loka will be appreciated. Please consider an immediate financial contribution of whatever amount you can afford - every $5 counts - or a pledge of support contingent on the board's reaching our goal of $100,000 in donations or pledges. We would also much appreciate the donation of access to conference-call services, frequent-flyer tickets, long-distance calling cards, printing services, introductions to donors, hosting a meeting for us, or your volunteer time, especially if you are near our office in Amherst, MA. 

If you have your own creative suggestions for how you can help Loka, let us know. And of course we welcome your ideas, advice, tips, complaints, or words of consolation. Letters of support that express what Loka means to you or your community would be especially helpful in our fundraising efforts. You may send e-mail messages to loka@loka.org, e-mail the board's co-chairs at the addresses below, or send checks and letters to The Loka Institute, P.O. Box 355, Amherst, MA 01004.

Finally, we gratefully acknowledge Loka's hardworking staff for their essential contributions to Loka's work, we apologize to them for the current disruption in their lives, and we pledge to them a fair and honorable resolution of all outstanding employment issues. The board is also united in our determination to honor the financial commitments that Loka has made and to proceed with Loka's vital mission.

Again, any personal gesture of support will be appreciated. It will also demonstrate to major funders and policymakers alike that Loka and the vision we all share - science and technology of the people, by the people, and for the people - still thrives.

With warm appreciation for your support,

The Board of Trustees for the Loka Institute:
Miguel Guajardo, Co-Chair mguajardo@utexas.edu
Colleen Cordes, Co-Chair ccordes@erols.com
Shirley Jones
Peter Levesque
Carolyn Raffensperger
Jeffery Scheuer
Larry Wilson
Langdon Winner



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