At the Architecture Foundation of Oregon, we believe that architecture and the built environment can address our most challenging problems, and that Oregon is stronger when more people from diverse backgrounds participate in designing the places that shape our world. We believe that design should consider diverse points of view, and reflect these views, in a built environment that provides access and equity for all.
We design our dynamic programming and internal operations to welcome and celebrate the perspectives and lived experiences of all individuals. We recognize that our historic legacy in the state of Oregon, and the city of Portland, has oftentimes perpetuated the inequities that continue to exist in the built environment. In an effort to recognize our role in these inequities and work to truly fulfill our mission of inclusion for all Oregonians, we commit to the following.
In our programming, we commit to:
- Remove systemic barriers to participation in the AEC professions for people from diverse backgrounds
- Raise awareness within those professions about the need to elevate the voices of those who have been historically under-represented
- Work in partnership with other nonprofit, corporate and government organizations to align our community-building work with that being done in other sectors
In our internal policies and operations, we commit to:
- Ensuring that our staff, board, and volunteer base are representative of our community
- Continuously evaluate our policies and operations with the most recent equitable practices and tools to ensure that the organizational systems are equitable
AFO was founded in 1983, by a group of Oregonians who believed that if more people recognized the importance of architecture and design in their lives, it would improve the quality of life for everyone in our state. Over the years, we’ve pursued this aim, and the AFO community has come to understand that if we want our state to be a place where everyone can thrive (and not just those in the majority), the inclusion of more diverse experiences is needed to inform the architecture and design conversations taking place.
AFO has worked toward mission fulfillment through our programs and initiatives centered on education, inspiration, and engagement. Specific programs include Architects in Schools (AiS), the Oregon Student Opportunities Hub, multiple scholarships and fellowships, and community events for professionals in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry and beyond.
In 2020, the onset of the global pandemic fundamentally altered the lives of those in our communities. While we were able to successfully pivot almost every program, we came to the conclusion that AFO needed to rethink strategies around outreach and programming. To that end, we enlisted the help of Wilner-Nugent Consulting to create and deliver a series of listening sessions to help us better understand what our broad range of constituents wanted from AFO. Participants from across our member list were gathered including teachers, nonprofit professionals and architects. We discovered that, while our strategic goals were in line with what our constituents wanted, they also expressed a passionate desire for AFO to have a measurable impact on access and equity challenges in the AEC field.
By listening to AFO supporters, we learned the following:
- AFO has a long list of partners that need to be connected
- Our AiS program is effective and has a broad reach, and we can now target our outreach to specific schools based on need
- We can leverage our partnerships to increase access across the AEC community and drive change for Oregonians from kindergarten all the way through their professional careers
For these reasons, AFO’s latest strategic plan centers on the development of relationships with people from diverse racial and ethnic identities, gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, geographic backgrounds, and stages of life.
As we follow this strategic direction, it’s important to ensure our programming and leadership plans align. One member in our focus group declared, “AFO needs to transform itself from the inside out, not the outside in.” This is exactly where we are at this moment in time – transforming our organization from the inside out. This capacity building demonstrates that we are not only focused and targeted in our outreach and mission, but we are putting the pieces in place from an operating standpoint so that the work can continue to grow.
As we continued to examine our mission and case statement, we worked with a strategic planning consultant to help us begin to ask basic but important questions about our service and our impact. Ultimately, the board articulated three overarching goals for AFO:
- To be sustainably funded to carry out our purpose amidst a changing business landscape and economic uncertainty
- To broaden our reach and attract future generations so that our mission remains relevant into the future
- To ensure that programs educate, empower, and engage people with the design of their communities and environments; Equity, inclusion and access guide our programming choices
The strategic planning process has crystalized our belief that for our shared built environment to effectively serve our citizens, all users must have opportunities to play an active role in its creation.
Updated July 2021