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February 17, 2020

The Evolving Story of a Network Innovation: FSNE’s 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

“I believe that the struggle for racial and social justice provides an unparalleled lens through which to visualize – and achieve – more honest, just, and positive interrelationships in all aspects of our lives together.”

– john a. powell, from Racing to Justice

On March 30, 2020, the 6th Annual Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge will launch. IISC is excited to continue our partnership with FSNE in offering the Challenge as a tool for advancing the conversation about and commitment to undoing racism and white supremacy in our food and related systems.

The FSNE Challenge is a remixed and more sector-specific form of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore (founder of the Privilege Institute), Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White), and Dr. Marguerite W. Penick-Parks (Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh). After FSNE formalized its commitment to racial equity in its sustainable food system work about 7 years ago (more on our journey in this article), a small design team saw the potential of using the Challenge to invite more widespread (networked!) conversation about the connection between race, racism and food systems and ultimately greater action for racial and food justice.

We also see the on-line version of the Challenge as a way of creating “network effects” around the justice work that many are already doing in our region and beyond through small world reach, rapid dissemination, adaptation, etc. Participation in and the complexity of the Challenge continue to grow – in 2015 we had 200 participants, mainly from the six state region of “New England,” and in 2019 we had some 5,000 people participate from all 50 states in the US, Canada, Mexico and other countries outside of North America.

The point of the Racial Equity Challenge is not simply to spread but also deepen the commitment to racial equity and food justice. So we hope that participants return each year, and many do, and also continue the work in between. Because of this, we make sure that the Challenge continues to evolve in content and format, increasingly with a bias towards action. A couple of years ago, seeing how things were developing, we created the “ladder of engagement” below to think about how to continue to move people along a continuum from “not paying attention” to “organizing.”

It has been inspiring to see numerous organizations self-organize to take the Challenge in-house, convening colleagues, fellow congregants, community members and classmates to reflect together on learning and making commitments to action. This has included groups such as Health Care Without Harm; the Wallace Center at Winrock International; Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems; Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, RI); Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California-Davis, Georgia Organics and many others who have convened around the Challenge.

Last year we responded to these organic efforts and some specific requests by creating a discussion guide for facilitators to design and steward conversations in their organizations/communities. In 2019, the Challenge also went deep in the home institution of Food Solutions New England, the University of New Hampshire (the Sustainability Institute serves as the network’s “backbone”). With the support of a Professorship that I shared with Karen Spiller, we did considerable “in-reach” to staff, faculty and students, including a launch event and campus presentations, which resulted in more than 500 people participating in the Challenge from UNH. We also turned the Challenge into workshops that we offered at gatherings such as the White Privilege Conference.

Last year, we heard for months after the Challenge many appreciations from different parts of the country and how participation is moving people from learning to action

  • to create a community equity summit
  • to bring equity centrally into organizational strategy
  • to shift one’s job so that they can focus more centrally on issues of injustice
  • to bolster people’s courage to have courageous conversations
  • to bring an equity focus to food policy work

We hope these ripples will continue to be amplified this year!

So what exactly is the Challenge?

It is a self-guided learning journey examining the history and impacts of racism how it is connected to our food systems, examples and tools on how to undo racism and build racial equity and food justice.

How does the Challenge work?

People sign up (YOU can register here) and then starting March 30th, they receive daily email prompts focused on a different theme along with links to related resources (readings, video, audio) that take about 10-15 minutes each day. In addition, there is a robust Resource List for people to look through and continue their learning. Those who register also have access to an online discussion forum for those who want to talk and think out loud about the daily prompts and other learning along the way.

How is the Challenge evolving in 2020?

To meet the growing demands of participants and the expressed desire for many to go deeper and to replicate and extend the Challenge in different ways, we have developed a variety of additional supports.

  • In addition to an orienting webinar for participants, this year we will offer a webinar specifically for people who want to facilitate groups around the Challenge. This will happen on May 9th.
  • We will also offer a one day in-person training for people who are interested in facilitating groups to prepare themselves for that undertaking.
  • Another feature this year is a more robust Outreach Kit that has been pulled together by FSNE Communications Director, Lisa Fernandes. The Kit includes sample communications that can be used to recruit others to participate in the Challenge through email, social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook), as an outreach flyer.
  • Related to outreach, and a late-breaking development, a US Representative in our region (whose name we cannot reveal yet) has agreed to tweet out daily prompts to her constituents via social media. How about inviting your elected officials to do the same!
  • New this year – in collaboration with the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and the Garfield Foundation, we are excited to offer mini-grants up to $1,000 to organizations and groups based in any of the six New England states who need some financial support to meaningfully convene discussions or group conversations around this year’s Racial Equity Challenge. Funding can be used to cover expenses such as printing, room rental, refreshments, childcare and travel reimbursements for attendees of session(s), language translation/interpretation, etc. More information is available here.
  • Also new this year, organizations (such as non-profits, agencies, schools, businesses and other groups) can register to be listed as “organizational participants” of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge! Each individual should still register with their own email address in order to receive the daily prompts during the Challenge, but organizations can now indicate to the world their support for the work of building equity and dismantling racism in our food system! Contact FSNE with any questions about this.

All of this is in line with how FSNE sees itself evolving as a network into its next decade, creating accessible and supportive resources that might be shared and easily adapted through aligned, diverse and robust connections in the region and beyond.

What next?

Please join us, and spread the word, the invitation, the conversation and the commitment to others!

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February 12, 2020

Be Gentle

At IISC we believe that collaboration is possible if we focus on results, process, and relationships. We also understand that it’s hard to collaborate and do the work of racial equity if we pressure ourselves to work and “do” at a pace that depletes us and keeps us from experiencing our humanness and connection with each other. I offer this poem in that spirit to all our friends and visitors.

Be Gentle

Be gentle on yourself

Like lapping waters drifting to your toes

A kitten’s cuddle at your calves

The nestled warmth of glowing ember

 

We are stretching too hard

Too thin

Breaking spirits

Twisting lives

 

Northeast dwellers haunted by those that arrived at Plymouth rock

Who created an epicenter of work til you drop

And colonize til you drop

And enslave until you profit

Working working working themselves

Working working working stolen people

on stolen land

 

This we have inherited

A ceaseless mantra in our head that

More needs more

More needs to be created

And more needs to be sustained

 

And we get sick

And we yell at each other

And train our kids and workers to emulate the same

Hurting our hearts

Our earth

And our births

 

We need not look far for models to reclaim our humanity

The way we treated earth as wondrous toddlers

The circles of the Wampanoags and First Nations

Rituals and spirituals of Africans

Buddhists and indigenous religions

Peace makers

Healers

And lovers

 

To simply breathe

Walk slowly with intention

Hold each other in times of conflict in circle

Sing songs of cherishment and liberation

Listen until someone is truly finished

Share meals and libations

Till and protect our earth together

And fearlessly love

 

We are enough

Right now

Right here

 

To silence the frenetic finger on the text and keyboard

To engage in single task to explore our natural focus

To walk slowly

To lie down for rest and nap

To embrace a friend, child, elder or lover

To take stock of our mind and body

To eat well

Think well

And make brighter decisions

 

So we can turn around

And notice

this

beautiful world.

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February 5, 2020

Reflecting on 2019: A Special Year of Celebrating 25 Years of IISC Love

IISC excels at many things, but one of the things we don’t do as often as we might is to share our accomplishments and toot our own horn. In the spirit of collaboration, we rarely take credit; however, I do want to elevate and celebrate the special contributions IISC has made this year.                                    

As challenging as it was, 2019 was a successful year at IISC. We served over 70 client organizations and networks and trained over 700 leaders in the skills of collaboration and racial equity. We published sixteen blogs to influence our field and share learnings on the deep importance of empathy, equity, daring leadership, and networks.

We have shaped the field of racial equity and justice by combining our knowledge, experience, and skills with the likes of great organizations working for change like Race Forward, Building Movement Project, and Change Elemental.

We built tool kits for racial equity for United Way Worldwide and campaigns such as the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge used by networks all over the world! We started building a workshop curriculum for the breakthrough book Decolonizing Wealth by author Edgar Villanueva, which is shaking the philanthropic field to its core. We offered two well-attended webinars for current and aspiring IISC staff and affiliates on network practice and racial equity consulting at IISC.              

We celebrated our 25th anniversary with over 200 old and new friends and raised over $170,000 to fund our work, innovations to our products, and a video that displays IISC’s rich history.

Our team has been on the move upgrading the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change curriculum with a racial equity lens and frameworks. Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations (ARJ), our signature workshop to help leaders implement racial justice in day-to-day organizational life, will now be offered to cohorts of leaders seeking deep change for racial justice. Due to its popularity, we have also piloted an advanced ARJ workshop to take learning to the next level. We are developing a new concept for a workshop designed for people of color to support their leadership as they traverse the challenges of change in deeply racialized contexts. Freedom is calling!

Financially speaking, IISC ended 2019 in the positive. That’s IISC’s third year in a row of sustaining a healthy financial surplus; an accomplishment never seen in our 25 years. We are starting a reserve fund to help us through future difficult times and unanticipated needs.           

It has been a remarkable year with impact, learning, and growth all the way through.

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February 4, 2020

Twitter Talks Breakthrough Facilitation

As IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden was trolling on Twitter, he came across a post from Adam Kahane of Reos Partners who shared five practices for breakthrough facilitation. IISC enjoys teaching the tools of facilitation through our signature workshops. We offered additional ideas using our lens of equity to build on his ideas. 

See how our team responded:

@adamkahane tweeted on Jan 7, 2020

Five simple (but not easy) practices for Breakthrough Facilitation from Adam Kahane

1.     Listening – beyond providing expertise

2.     Cultivating – beyond producing an agreement

3.     Accompanying – beyond directing

4.     Pivoting – beyond following a roadmap

5.     Partnering – beyond standing apart or above

Cynthia Sliver Parker, IISC Senior Associate, added:

  • Unmasking – shining a light on power, inequity, and dynamics in the room
  •  Reframing – challenging unnamed assumptions, insisting on a systems analysis of the issues being discussed rather than blaming individuals
  •  Centering – putting the experiences, wisdom, needs, and aspirations of people suffering the effects of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression first

Melinda Weekes-Laidlow, IISC Affiliate Consultant, added:

  • Surfacing (beyond politeness, or emergence)
  • Sensing what is being experienced or felt but not acknowledged, named or legitimated

Kelly Bates, IISC President, added:

  • Sensing and surfacing the unnamed
  • Bringing out voice of those at the margins
  • Holding all people and complexities
  • Creating intentional and brave space
  • Raising up authenticity and transformative vulnerability
  • Modeling challenging power in the room
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December 16, 2019

Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations:

Equipping your Race, Equity, and Inclusion Team to Lead Organizational Change

Are you an “accidental equity leader” in your organization, or one that is regularly tapped on the shoulder to address equity and inclusion challenges? Ever wonder how on earth to get your smart, passionate collection of staff, board members, and other stakeholders on the same page about what racial equity means for your work? Ever wish you and your team had more strategies and skills for moving your organization from affirming racial justice values to adopting racial justice practices and pursuing equitable outcomes? 

IISC is delighted to announce a new cohort-based learning experience designed to equip existing or nascent equity teams. This experience builds on our workshop Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations, creating deeper opportunities for learning and action than are possible in the one-day workshop format.

We know that operationalizing racial justice values and pursuing racial equity requires not just insight and information, but also changes to organizational culture, systems, process, and practices. Whether you are leading a single organization or a network, and whatever issues you address, you need a carefully designed plan and process for making those changes together. And, in order to design and facilitate such a collaborative process, you need a team that is well-equipped to guide your stakeholders to learn and plan together. 

This cohort experience is an exciting opportunity to learn with your colleagues (you’ll come with a team of five or six people), leaders of other groups (the cohort will include four organizations or networks), and IISC’s team (an experienced pair of consultant/trainers). The experience includes: 

  • A detailed application process with prompts to guide your team’s thinking about organization’s readiness, assets, and challenges
  • In-depth pre-work assignments to continue exploring your organizational and personal strengths and growing edges
  • A webinar to establish shared language and analysis 
  • A two-day workshop to learn together 
  • A virtual peer coaching session 
  • Two virtual coaching sessions with the IISC team

You can download more information and the application here.

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December 2, 2019

As a Network Matures: Brushfires, Bake Boxes and (Calling) B.S.

A couple of months ago we had a meeting of the Food Solutions New England Network’s Process Team, and we spent part of our time checking in around our perceptions of where the network is heading in its next stage of development. For the past 8 years, FSNE has moved through a series of stages that have roughly correspond with the following:

  1. Building a foundation of trust and connectivity across the six states in the region as well as across sectors, communities and identities.
  2. Fostering alignment around a cohering vision (the New England Food Vision) and a set of core (non-negotiable) values, including a commitment to racial equity and food justice
  3. Facilitating systemic analysis of the regional food system, which resulted in the identification of four leverage areas where the network sees itself as poised to contribute most:  (1) engaging and mobilizing people for action, (2) connecting and cultivating leaders who work across sectors to advance the Vision and values, (3) linking diverse knowledge and evolving a new food narrative, and (4) making the business case for an emerging food system that encompasses racial equity and food justice, healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.
  4. Developing and beginning to implement a set of systemic strategies to encourage the continued emergence of this values-aligned regional food system, including a narrative and messaging guide; food, farm, and fisheries policy platform; set of holistic metrics to gauge the state of the regional food system; and people’s guide to the New England food system.

All of this effort, including the work of other regional networks (Farm to Institution New England, New England Grassroots Environment Fund, Northeast Farm to School Collaborative, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a community of practice of state-level food planning efforts, among others), has moved the region from a state of relative fragmentation, or disconnected clusters, to more of a multi-hub network.

With greater intricacy and diversity in this network of networks, the Process Team talked about the work of the next several years as being the following:

  • Continuing to support foundational connectivity and alignment
  • Moving from rooting to branching by creating more visible actions and assets beyond the underlying connectivity and alignment
  • Shifting and sharing “backbone functions” currently held by one entity (the UNH Sustainability Institute)
  • Cultivating a “brushfire approach” where, through greater density and diversity of connection, information and calls to action are spread in more timely ways
  • Making the periphery more of the norm, by moving from just bringing people into the network to making sure we support their aligned efforts “out there”
  • Moving from “seeding thoughts and cultivating commitments and leaders” to “managing the whole garden,” including supporting a growing team of people who are committed to creating conditions in the region for the Vision and core values to be realized
  • Creating “bake boxes” that can readily be used and adapted by people and organizations in the region (examples include the regional Vision, the core values, the recently endorsed HEAL policy platform, a soon to be launched narrative/messaging guide, racial equity design toolkit and discussion guide, etc.)
  • Calling B.S. on those who are “Vision and values washing” (saying they are aligned but acting in contrary ways) or are off point – see for example these recent letters in response to a Boston Globe editorial.

We also talked about what we see not changing:

And of course all of this is subject to adjustment and adaptation given complexity, uncertainty and the network nature of emergence. #humility

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October 28, 2019

A Taste of “Team Human”

I just finished reading Douglas Ruskoff’s Team Human and found it very provocative and timely. As I find myself in more spaces where it feels like there is a tendency towards breaking as opposed to bridging, I and others with whom I work are asking, (1) What is really going on here? and (2) What we can do to better hold things together, while respecting diversity and difference? Team Human offers some insights by lifting up how the digital-age technologies in which many of us are engaged are making dangerously simplistic abstractions of our world (and of people) and appealing to the worst of our humanity.

Rushkoff uses 100 aphoristic statements in what amounts to a manifesto that speaks to how forces for human connection have turned into ones of isolation and repression. This includes algorithms that constantly direct our attention to what outrages us and sound bite biased social media undermining democracy by encouraging people to spread incendiary partial and untruths (because they outrage us!).

The book is certainly a wake up call to understand the manipulation behind digital media and to go beyond false appearances and reductionist reactivity to embrace prosocial behavior and make contributions towards regenerative patterns and flows. I highly recommend the book and have pulled some of my favorite quotes, which you will find below:

“Whoever controls media controls society. … Social control is based on thwarting social contact and exploding the resulting disorientation and despair.

“Engineers at our leading tech firms and universities tend to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution.”

[Under capitalism] “people are at best an asset to be exploited, and at worst a cost to be endured.”

“We’ve got a greater part of humanity working on making our social media feeds more persuasive than we have on making clean water more accessible.”

“The internet reinforces its core element : the binary. It makes us take sides.”

“Memetic warfare, regardless of the content, discourages cooperation, consensus, or empathy.”

“If we don’t truly know what something is programmed to do, chances are it is programming us. Once that happens, we may as well be machines ourselves.”

“There is no ‘resistance’ in a digital environment/ only on or off.”

“We reduced ideas to weaponized memes, and humankind to human resources. We got carried away with our utilitarian capabilities, and lost touch with the reasons to exercise those capabilities in the first place.”

“The long-term danger is not that we will lose our jobs to robots. … The real threat is that we lose our humanity to the value system we embed in our robots, and that they in turn impose on us.”

“We must learn that technology’s problems can’t always be solved with more technology.”

“Might the apparent calamity and dismay around us be less the symptoms of a society on the verge of collapse than those of one about to give birth?”

“The first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport.”

“Happiness is not a function of one’s individual experience or choice, but a property of groups of people.”

“Evolution may have less to do with rising above one’s peers than learning to get along with more of them.”

“Challenging the overt methods of separation is straightforward: reject that hate speech of racists, zero some economics of oppression, and the war mongering of both tyrants and neoliberal hawks.”

“We can be utterly in charge of the choice not to be utterly in charge. We can be fully human without being in complete control of our world.”

“It’s neither resistance nor passivity, but active participation: working in concert with what’s happening to make it down river in one piece.”

“New experiments have revealed that after just a few moments of awe, people behave with increased altruism, cooperation and self-sacrifice.”

“True awe is timeless, limitless, and without division. It suggests there is a unifying whole to which we all belong – if only we could hold onto that awareness.”

“If we are not going to follow the commands of a king, a CEO, or an algorithm, then we need unifying values in order to work together as a team to work toward mutually beneficial goals.”

“Unless we consciously retrieve the power inherent in our collective nature, we will remain unable to defend ourselves against those who continue to use our misguided quest for individuality against us.”

“The future is not a discontinuity or some scenario we plan for so much as the reality we are creating through our choices right now. We just need to observe the flows, recognize the patterns, and apply them everywhere we can.”

“Find the others. Restore the social connections that make us fully functioning humans, and oppose all conventions, institutions, technologies, and mindsets that keep us apart.”

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October 11, 2019

Racial Imposter Syndrome

I have now sat in at least six meetings in which women of color leaders have talked about feeling like an imposter. My thinking is evolving, but I believe imposter syndrome in racialized contexts is the experience (almost like a deja vu moment), when people of color feel like a fraud or, worse, they actually believe they are not capable leaders.

Initially coined by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Imposter Syndrome is unique if you apply a racialized lens because it is so deeply intertwined with assimilation and racism.

Assimilation into white and male work culture was not something that women of color chose. We were forced to conform our way of dressing, speaking, working, and being so that white people, and men –  in particular – would accept us as leaders, good workers, and trusted friends. It was an olympic code-switching, and it was exhausting and soul depleting. But mostly, it was survival. Survival so we could ascend to positions of leadership, keep a job, and make enough money to support our families. Choosing not to assimilate came at a huge price.

When you assimilate, you lose a sense of self. You lose the parts of you that were the “original you,” the stronger parts of your identity and what made you unique and whole. And before you know it, you become another version of yourself – watered down, less happy, more anxious, and constantly questioning your abilities. It’s like catching a wicked case of internalized oppression in which we walk around feeling bad about ourselves or feeling like we fall short. It may be a feeling that lasts for a few seconds and we swat it off to move forward, or it lasts longer, causing serious emotional pain and worry.

This vice grip of assimilation and internalized inferiority finds us showing up as half of ourselves in the workplace. For example, we may have the best idea in a meeting at a particular moment, but we feel self-conscious advocating for it or even raising it. People may want us to take on leadership roles but we turn them down, either because we think we don’t deserve the role or we might fail. Racial imposter syndrome drains your confidence meter, and confidence is necessary to take risks, lead and collaborate with others.

One thought leader on this topic speaks to how there is the real you and then there are the masks we wear to hide our authentic selves.  

So what can we do about it? 

As women of color, I feel we need to embrace our real selves and discard the masks that assimilation requires us to wear. We have to surrender our perfectionist patterns and release the internal negative feelings that we have. We need and deserve a positive and healthy internal dialogue and stance.

Racial Imposter syndrome prevents women of color from taking on high profile roles such as executive director in nonprofits or elected office. I am  convinced as a woman of color that we must confront and conquer racial imposter syndrome to develop positive self-image and healthy confidence which will help us to accept and excel in our most desired leadership roles. Together, we can be free of our masks and lead boldly for racial equity and social justice.

Source: https://medium.com/datadriveninvestor/why-imposter-syndrome-affects-the-most-successful-people-d3e5c8bb977e
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October 7, 2019

Participatory Methods and Approaches for Equitable Food Systems Work

“Nothing about us without us is for us.”

South African slogan

“What is missing from the policy analyst’s tool kit – and from the set of accepted, well-developed theories of human organization – is an adequately specified theory of collective action whereby a group of principals can organize themselves voluntarily to retain the residuals of their own efforts.”

Elinor Ostrom (1996) Governing the Commons

“…there’s no real evidence that one can become expert in something as broad as ‘decision making’ or ‘policy’ or ‘strategy.’ Auto repair, piloting, skiing, perhaps even management: these are skills that yield to application, hard work, and native talent. But forecasting an uncertain future and deciding the best course of action in the face of that future are much less likely to do so. And much of what we’ve seen so far suggests that a large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled ‘decision maker.’”

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop for one of the sub-networks of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network focused on food access (including food justice and racial equity). Farm to Plate is moving into a second decade of work and looking to refresh its strategic work and structure (version 2.0). As part of this move, various members are interested in how they can engage others more robustly and/or responsibly in their work, including those who are negatively impacted by the current system (those living with hunger and in poverty, struggling farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, etc.). The workshop was designed around some core IISC collaborative frameworks, which participants applied to their work in pairs and small groups, and it also elicited different participatory methods that those in the room were already using or aware of.

One of the operating assumptions in the workshop was that engagement and participation can and should look different in different situations, and that more is not necessarily better. Rather, it is important to get clear on the aims of an initiative, carefully consider who the key stakeholders are, weigh various factors (time, complexity, readiness, power dynamics, etc.) and think about timing and different phases of the work. Doing this kind of due diligence can help to clarify when and where on a spectrum of engagement options different individuals and groups might fall (see below for some examples).

For the last segment of the workshop, we explored a variety of participatory models and methods, and here is some of what came up (specifically considering the context of Vermont food systems work).

Organizational/Network Models:

Tools, Techniques, Roles:

Governance/Decision-Making:

Participatory Planning and Assessment Approaches:

Of course there are many others out there. Please feel free to suggest additional models, examples, techniques and tools!

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September 12, 2019

Racial Equity Inside IISC: Doing What We Say We Do

I often think the biggest quest for IISC is to mirror our mission internally. We work to build collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity with our clients and partners in the field, but how do we practice that inside of our organization with intention and action?

Unconsciously or consciously what leaders show, allow, and choose to grow are the things that people either imitate or support inside their organization. IISC is a leader in the field of racial equity and social justice so it follows that we should mirror transformational practices for racial equity and justice at home. It’s not about being perfect but it is about taking deep ownership of our own racism and other forms of oppression. It’s about bringing to an end comments, behaviors, and practices that call into question even subtly the worth, intelligence, experience, and dignity of people of color or other targeted groups. It’s about making sure that all of our policies are informed by a racial equity lens by asking ourselves how a decision, policy, or practice negatively impact people of color or other groups at the margins.

This graphic builds from materials that were adapted by George Friday
from the Dismantling Racism workshop.

At different points in IISC’s history we have paid deep attention to our own culture and practices to align them more closely with the just world we want to create. In recent times that has meant examining the personal, interpersonal, and institutional interactions that may perpetuate racial inequity in our relationships and inside our culture and system.

We have examined and adjusted our pay scales to bring them more in line with our values and to ensure there is parity based on race and gender. We have restarted the practices of caucuses, in which white staff gather separately to learn about white privilege and fragility in our workplace so that they can support one another and take accountability for their beliefs and actions. In the people of color caucus, staff support each other around instances of racism by staff and clients and challenge each other to show up more fully at IISC so that we can challenge the status quo. Both caucuses then come together in staff meetings to explore our learnings, give each other feedback, and discuss our aspirations and challenges. We are constantly in dialogue and discovery.

As the leader of IISC, I have made it known that it’s not enough to do your functional job at IISC – the tasks of a particular role for example – but that it is equally as important if not more so to walk the talk of collaboration, racial belonging, equity, and justice.

In the future, we will be offering individual equity coaching to staff so that they can have a resource to impact and grow as leaders. We will also be deeply infusing equity expectations into our performance management process.

Some of the questions I think we need to explore going forward are:

  • How do we disrupt and interrupt unconscious and conscious racism in our organization? In our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions, and in those of others? And how do we still reach for each other to collaborate when we are in the middle of tough conflicts across difference?
  • How do we move this internal work into our relationships and practice with the board of directors and with our affiliate consultants? What is the most authentic and powerful way to do that?
  • In what ways we do expect our clients to treat people of color staff and affiliates with deep respect and on the same level as their white peers? There are many stories of white consultants working in client systems receiving better or different treatment than people of color.

Clients pay IISC to design and facilitate processes for racial equity change in their organizations. If we do that which we say we do, IISC will always be in an equity change process itself. There may be fits and starts, victories and back slides, but we will be in it.  Embracing discomfort like our clients, making changes despite setbacks, and taking on tough battles and decisions to uproot the influence of racism and oppression that surrounds and penetrates the IISC living system.

We will be undone as I shared in a recent blog, but we will be practicing what we preach and that alignment and clarity will give us the strength and resilience to keep transforming IISC and of course transforming ourselves.

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September 5, 2019

What’s Your Thread?

Over the past couple of months I have brought the poem below into a few different gatherings. Amidst flux, uncertainty, volatility, and pending collapse, it can be difficult to figure out how to orient, what to hold onto. So leave it to the poets to throw us a life line. Or in this case a thread.

William Stafford is a source of consistent solace and sanity to me, and “The Way It Is” I have found particularly grounding …

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Colleagues and I have used this as an opening check-in with various groups and then invited people to name their thread. Here is some of what has come up:

  • People, those that I care for and who care or me.
  • The moral arc that bends towards justice.
  • Courage to hold on to what is possible.
  • Grace.
  • Tenderness.
  • Imagination.
  • The fire of passion.
  • Love, love and love.

What is the thread you hold that guides and grounds you in these times?

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August 9, 2019

Leadership: Stepping Back to Let Others In

As I watch the Democratic Party presidential debates, I am particularly struck by the large number of white males and males of color who insist they must be candidates for president in November 2020.

Why do they feel it’s their time to step in when there are plenty of women – including women of color – who could lead this country as well if not better than they could? When do people with privilege understand and appreciate that they need to step back so others can step in? A defiant and powerful act against racism and sexism is to say to yourself, “I have experienced what it’s like to govern, to lead, and to hold power. It’s now time for me to support others who have not yet had that chance so we can experience a different kind of America.”

I have a fantasy that sometime in the fall of this year, all the male candidates – yes all – will host a press conference and relinquish their nominations. If the male candidates actually ceded power, it would change the course of this country because a woman would be elected as president of the United States for the first time in our history. Our culture would see power explicitly and transparently shift to those who don’t typically have it. Policies would undoubtedly look very different if approached through a gendered and intersectional lens.

But I don’t want to just make this a challenge to presidential candidates. It’s a challenge I want to make to us all, especially those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. There are many great leaders holding onto their positions, titles, or spheres of influence, not realizing that doing so comes at the price of denying others these opportunities.

Some provocative considerations include:

  • If you have been in your position for at least five to seven years and think it’s yours until you leave the role or retire, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
  • If you aren’t sharing your relationships with people who have power and resources with others who have less privilege, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
  • If you are reading this thinking you don’t have power, ask yourself if you have ever been in a position of authority or responsibility. Are you in one now? Do your decisions affect others as well as institutional or organizational policies? You may not feel powerful but chances are you have power.

There’s reward if we step back to make room for others to step in. We will get to observe and follow the leadership of others and learn new ways of doing things. We will know that we proactively and willingly contributed to shifting power unlike some of our ancestors or predecessors. We will feel the sense of relief and humility that comes from knowing that we are not the only ones who can answer the call of duty or lead an organization. And if we allow others to lead and to lead fully, we will be able to restore our energy for other ways we can contribute to the work that remains so important to us all.

I think about this as a woman of color leading IISC. Although I am female and a person of color, I am older and I have had the opportunity to hold many positions of authority. I think about how I can support younger people to lead IISC. It scares me to think about leaving my role one day, what I might do next, how I would make it financially. But then I remember all the privilege I have earned over my fifty years. I have gained connections to money, connections to recruiters and other opportunities, and I have many family members who love and can help me.

I breathe and I remember I will be perfectly fine.

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