Other Group

Social Change Initiative (SCI)




Non-Profit Activist Consulting Organization




Martin O’Brien


1 Lanyon Quay
Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Social Change Initiative (SCI) is a consulting organization based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that supports left-of-center immigration policy in Europe and the United States. SCI advises left-leaning organizations on ways to maximize the impact of donor funding to influence immigration legislation. SCI designs and evaluates grantmaking programs, provides training services for activists, and connects donors to left-of-center immigration organizations. 1


In 2015, Social Change Initiative was created by Atlantic Philanthropies, a Bermuda-based collection of organizations founded by billionaire businessman Charles “Chuck” Feeney in 1982. 2 Atlantic Philanthropies operated for 38 years as one of the wealthiest liberal foundations, donating over $70 million to influence U.S. policy between 2004 and 2014. 3

In 2012, Atlantic Philanthropies commenced a spend-down process following Feeney’s instructions to give away his assets during his lifetime. The organization made its final grants in 2016 and closed its doors in 2020. 4 As part of the spend-down process, Atlantic Philanthropies donated over $21.6 million to establish and fund the Social Change Initiative. 5

In 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies transferred its leadership to the Social Change Initiative, including the company’s senior vice president, Martin O’Brien, who works as director of SCI, and former country director Padraic Quirk, who is the deputy director of SCI. 6 7

Activities and Funding

Migration Learning Exchange

The Social Change Initiative received a grant of $2.4 million from Atlantic Philanthropies to fund its Migration Learning Exchange program, which brings together and educates international activist organizations on advocacy tactics to “accelerate change in migration policy.” 8 9

In 2016, the Social Change Initiative hosted a learning exchange in Washinton, D.C., in partnership with America’s Voice, a liberal expansionist immigration advocacy organization. 10 The seminar hosted representatives of prominent liberal organizations to teach activists how to target and influence the “persuadable middle,” or those who are uncertain where they stand on migration policy.  11

Celinda Lake, a Democratic Party strategist, spoke on the merits of changing word choice when advocating for illegal immigration, such as changing “undocumented workers” to “aspiring citizens, and switching “illegal aliens” to “new Americans.” 12

Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, spoke about methods of building political power by working with allies in Congress to sway voters. 13

The seminar trained activist organizations to recruit “unusual allies,” or those in groups who tend to lean more conservative, such as police officers, pastors, and businesspeople, to persuade voters to support liberal immigration policy change. 14

Migration Narrative Project

The Social Change Initiative launched the Migration Narrative Project, which was funded in part by a $3 million grant from Atlantic Philanthropies and consisted of two campaigns in Europe. 15 The project was created in response to an influx of refugees and a series of terrorist attacks in Europe, which according to SCI, created negative attitudes toward Muslim migrants. 16

In 2019, SCI launched a campaign in Germany to change the attitudes of German citizens towards Muslim immigrants and migrants. The campaign featured videos and posters of Muslims and non-Muslims working together, interacting, and taking part in shared activities, which were disseminated via Facebook and Instagram.  17

According to SCI, the campaign did not achieve sufficient reach, and the positive responses and engagement were not high enough, claiming that the campaign’s time constraints and the Facebook algorithm downgrading posters for containing too many words were to blame. 18

In 2020, SCI launched a second campaign in France, targeting Catholics in attempts to change their views of Muslim migrants. According to SCI, France’s immigration policies and legislation reflected a far-right shift in public attitude, and French Catholics are vulnerable to these far-right narratives. 19

SCI first facilitated a study to gauge Catholics’ attitudes toward migrants by polling two samples of the French population, Catholics and non-Catholics. The study revealed that Catholics “feel generally more positive about migration than the rest of the French population.” 20 SCI decided to target “ambivalent Catholics,” most of whom are women, over 50 years old, and believe they share similar values with Muslims but are anxious about the consequences of mass migration. 21 SCI created a guidebook featuring fictional stories of Catholics that illustrate various Catholic personas, that are “often caricatural in nature” and designed to expose the contradictions of Catholics who feel hesitant or unsure about the influx of Muslim migrants into France. The campaign trained 90 volunteers at various Catholic organizations to disseminate 15,000 guidebooks to the public. 22


In addition to Atlantic Philanthropies, Social Change Initiative is funded by Unbound Philanthropy, the Human Dignity Foundation, and the Oak Foundation, and generates income from consultancy services. 23


  1. “What We Do.” Social Change Initiative. Accessed February 5, 2024. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/what-we-do
  2. “Our Story.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 6, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/our-story#:~:text=The%20Atlantic%20Philanthropies%20were%20founded,the%20world%20during%20their%20lifetimes.
  3. “Advocacy, Politics, & Philanthropy.” Atlantic Philanthropies. May 2015. Accessed February 4, 2024. Page 4. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/advocacy-politics-and-philanthropy-report.pdf
  4. “Our Story.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 6, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/our-story#:~:text=The%20Atlantic%20Philanthropies%20were%20founded,the%20world%20during%20their%20lifetimes
  5. “Grantees: The Social Change Initiative.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 3, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/grantees/the-social-change-initiative
  6. “Team.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 2, 2024. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/team
  7. “Introducing the Social Change Initiative.” Atlantic Philanthropies. August 5, 2015. Accessed February 5, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/videos/introducing-the-social-change-initiative-2
  8. “Grantees: The Social Change Initiative.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 3, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/grantees/the-social-change-initiative
  9. “Grants: Migration Learning Exchange.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 5, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/grants/migration-learning-exchange
  10. “Honing the Message in Washington DC.” Social Change Initiative. May 2016. Accessed February 4, 2024. Page 1. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/migration-learning-exchange-reports
  11. Ibid, page 9.
  12.  Ibid, Page 5.
  13. Ibid, Page 3.
  14. Ibid, Page 9.
  15. “Grantees: The Social Change Initiative.” Atlantic Philanthropies. Accessed February 3, 2024. https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/grantees/the-social-change-initiative
  16. Cassehgari, Roxane. “Together Human: A Public Campaign to Move the Middle.” Social Change Initiative. June 2020. Accessed February 5, 2024. Page 4. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/gemeinsam-menschlich-together-human-a-public-campaign-to-move-the-middle-a-case-study-b40bddd6-8165-454d-9f64-c9397b21ba73
  17. Ibid, Page 3.
  18. Ibid, Page 16.
  19. Cassehgari, Roxane. “Influencing Catholic Attitudes to Migration in France: Engaging the Ambivalent Middle.” Social Change Initiative. June 2020. Accessed February 5, 2024. Page 3. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/influencing-catholic-attitudes-to-migration-in-france-engaging-the-ambivalent-middle-a-case-study-174c2708-bfc9-45f8-9413-47c82e8ca3c2
  20. Ibid, Page 8.
  21. Ibid, Page 9.
  22.  Ibid, Page 16.
  23.  “What We Do.” Social Change Initiative. Accessed February 4, 2024. https://www.socialchangeinitiative.com/what-we-do.
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