At IISC, we are guided by a Collaborative Change Lens of Love, Equity, & Networks. During these unsettling and challenging times, what are you thinking about how we can live into love, equity, and networks? Please share what you’re doing and learning in the conversation that is unfolding below.
It’s deeply important right now to be gentle on each other and show compassion in your actions and policies. Ask people when you talk to them how they are doing, look them in the eye, and smile into their humanness. Be kind and patient with your co-workers, your boss, your partner, children, mothers and fathers, and customer service representatives. Be good to the people you live with, including your roommates and family members. You will be stressed. You will want to fight each other. Give grace and learn to work through conflicts. Breathe and love.
Be creative and resourceful and, above all, share resources. Remember that some people, families, and organizations already have less access to resources such as money and food. Listen to the ideas coming from people who need resources. They know what they need and can teach us best. Design strategies to ensure your actions, policies, and protocols design for the margins, are non-discriminatory, and have no undesirable impacts on specific groups. Equality assumes that everyone needs the same thing right now. People don’t necessarily need the same things; some may need different things, and some may need more of some things than others.
Now is the time to create a resilient network in your community. Create channels of communication and share resources, whether that’s food, community gardens, or technology. Networks are also helpful with finding those trusted sources that can give you good reliable information amidst all the noise and confusion. In the case of organizations and social justice organizations, now is the time to create resilient networks of your stakeholders and partners so that you can easily collaborate for change.
Constitutionally, I tend toward
remaining calm and seeing possibilities. This might not be true for everyone. I
do know, however, that there is clear evidence that what we talk about
influences our moods.
With that in mind, I am sharing a list of
things I have seen amplified in the last week – things that contribute to
social health and well-being and long-term survival, even as we adjust to a
world that feels topsy turvy.
Some people are taking this moment to
recognize that the Coronavirus, like all things, affects us differentially.
There is some attention to the fact that those who are already burdened because
of chronic health issues, or because fewer resources are invested in their
communities, or those who experience racism day in/day out, are experiencing
this moment on top of these existing inequities. And it is important to see the
resources and resilience that these highly impacted communities do have!
We are reminded that, in fact, there are
people who have lived through similar times of epidemics and uncertainty and
lack of attention. How can we turn toward those who lived through and created
through the start of HIV/AIDS? What can we learn from disability rights
activists and people living with chronic illness? How can we use this moment to
honor the wisdom of those who have related life experience….and pay them for
Many of us experienced an extra busy week—our regular work and then we’re being called to use our personal or work leadership to think well about others, to plan for drastically different economic models, and to attend to family and colleagues. Amidst that, I also experienced a sense of radical slowing as I realized that my current pace of life is changing. I had a long business trip planned for March that would have allowed for slowing and I know I was craving that. I am going to ask myself how I can get that need met while staying put. This weekend, I let myself wake when I needed to wake rather than setting an alarm, and I then settled into each day at a slower pace.
There are people who are able and willing
to lead with generosity. I spoke with a stranger yesterday who said she had
purchased two rolls of paper towels so that she might share one with someone
who needs one, even though she had been laid off recently. I’ve asked a family
member if he would be willing to help parents working at home with baby sitting
if doing so can be done safely for all.
What are the ways that we can continue to
connect even if we are not in proximity? What are the ways that we can look at
those maps of disease spread and vectors and use it not to become fearful but
to see how we are connected globally?
Within a work sphere, we are connecting
with others in similar work to share best thinking and talk about everything
from joint responses to pooled resources. We are looking at networks that we
support and seeing how they are activating for mutual support and for the
sharing of ideas. We are asking how we can support one another as colleagues in
an increasingly virtual workplace. More on this as it emerges.
Care for our planet
Is there a way to live through this public
health moment and not be more aware that our planet needs our attention and
love? We should all know about the climate crisis and that shifts in behavior
on a massive and structural scale are needed to heal. And, I believe that this
global pandemic is a concrete example of what climate crisis in an
interconnected world looks like.
Laughter is curative! I have been relaxed
and relieved this week with humor, from hilarious memes about bras as masks and
lesbians with lanyards solving the world’s crisis to silly jokes about farting
in public as a way to mask a cough. And laughter on the phone with friends and
colleagues about the absurdity of the moment. It is helpful that I live with a
very funny human being (thank you,son!).
There is a lot we do know and yet COVID-19
is surely a reminder that so much is emergent and not known. We are reminded
that knowing can only happen collectively—from decisions about whether and when
to close an office to determining how best to support an organization through
challenging times and how best to support hourly workers, many of whom
have no access to benefits. We must think together, more than ever, during
these challenging times. I’ve experienced the power of this all week at work as we navigate in this
moment, asking what individuals need, how we can support networks of leaders to
think together, and – all along the way – as we remember to admit what we don’t
Here at IISC we have been interacting
virtually more and more over the last two years, facilitating meetings and
connection through video applications. Colleagues are generating a lot of ideas
and willingness to share knowledge with one another and more broadly with the
world. Let’s be creative and equitable, thinking well about how to connect and
how to support those most vulnerable in this moment.
And, given that words matter so much, I am
adopting a rephrase that I heard this morning from my daughter: Let’s practice physical
distancing. Socially, let’s work, think, laugh and slow down together,
albeit remotely! Let’s be hyper-connected, spending time with one or two
people in our households or our apartment buildings or neighborhoods,
connecting by phone and text, with video when possible, and by taking walks and
smiling at others along the way
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love– for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
By the time you see this post, you will no
doubt have read a lot of reflections on this time of uncertainty. In a recent
IISC staff check-in, we lifted up several principles and practices to support
our community as we, like so many other organizations, move to largely virtual
work. We hope these ideas will provide some comfort and guidance to you, as
Lean into relationships.
The COVID19 crisis brings into stark relief an
awareness that we’ve long held dear. We are all connected and the well-being of
each of us is important to the well-being of all of us. So, first and foremost,
we want to lean into our relationships, engaging with our colleagues, clients,
and partners as people first. If ever there was a time for people to know how
much you care, it’s now. You can
demonstrate that care in very practical ways.
Pause and connect. Whether it’s a one-on-one
conversation or a meeting, make space to find out how folks are doing before diving into what they are (or should/shouldn’t be) doing.
Think respect. Knowing what we know about
human differences and structural inequities, expect that people will have
different perspectives and experiences of these uncertain times. Respect will
look different for different people. So, upgrade your Golden Rule (do to others
as you’d have them do to you) with the Platinum Rule (do to others as they’d
have you do to them). Find out what respect and support look like from their
point of view.
If in doubt, communicate. Connect with people
more, not less. Be as clear as you can about actions, risks, policies, and open
questions. Be clear about how decisions are being made and when/how contingency
plans might go into effect.
Pick up the phone to handle tough or emotional
conversations. Enhance that with video conferencing whenever possible so folks
can see one another.
Minimize unnecessary emails to leave room for
Be a spirit, not a ghost. In other words, let
folks know that you’re available. Don’t let virtual work turn into a
disappearing act. Reach out to colleagues through whatever communications
mechanisms you have at your disposal.
Now is a time for us to deepen our trust in
both people and the process. When we know who’s around us and what they are
about, and when we have confidence that they operate with integrity,
transparency, and skillfulness, it’s much easier to trust leaders and the
processes that they facilitate.
Continue to tap into one another’s strengths as
individuals and as a collective. Remind yourself of what you and others are
good at. Connect to folks within your network who are good at different things
Trust the process. This is often easier said
than done. It’s easier to do work in community when we trust our leaders and
have experienced their commitment to transparency and to our core values. Here
are some of IISC’s core values:
Shared power: People have a right to be
involved in the decisions that affect them so they have influence over the
quality of their lives
Love: We believe in the dignity of all human
beings and in taking care of each other and of our planet. Love is a force for
Accountability: We align our work with
frontline and grassroots communities of color most impacted by racism in
general and this crisis in particular.
Take appropriate actions.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of people around you. If ever there were a time to “put on your own mask before helping others,” as the airlines advise in an emergency, it’s now. Everything we can do to stay healthy makes us able to resist the virus, reduce the likelihood of spreading it, and be in a position to support others at work, at home, and in our communities.
Take risks for what we might do. As a small organization, we face economic and other risks, just like every other nonprofit, foundation, and small company. We may need to take some financial or other risks in order to support our colleagues and serve our clients in these times.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. While it’s important to be prudent and thorough, we don’t want to be immobilized by a false expectation that we can act with perfection. In fact, that expectation is a marker of white supremacy culture that we’d do well to abandon in general, and especially in these times. Let’s figure out what “good” looks like and move forward.
An addendum: Given the specific conversation we were having as a staff, we didn’t discuss several very common sense and justice-oriented actions beyond our work community. Here are a few other important actions that we can take as individuals and as a society.
Keep yourself informed about how to avoid spreading the virus. The CDC’s guidance for individuals and businesses is a good place to start. If you see something in social media that’s hard to believe (or if it’s new, outrageous, and too easy to believe), be sure to fact-check it before heading the advice or sharing it with others. Start with the World Health Organization’s Myth Busters page and sites like Snopes.com.
Support the hourly workers in your life and community. “Tip outrageously if you are out. Say, ‘This is for the tips I know you’re missing right now.’ Call your hair stylist if you’re not coming in like usual. Ask how they are doing. Send your tip or the cost of your haircut via Venmo.*
Advocate for government action. Remember that our government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. Let your local, state, and national representatives know what you and your community need. Advocate for school districts to keep feeding children even if schools are closed. Insist that evictions be halted during the emergency and help people find support if they face eviction. Insist that water and utility shut-offs be halted during the emergency. Help people connect with legal aid if needed in these situations. Support efforts to provide economic relief to hourly workers and small businesses. Insist that everyone needs access to health care and all workers needpaid sick leave. “Call and … talk as long as you want. Tell whoever answers the phone that you think healthcare should be for everyone. Now more than ever.”* See this list of demands from organizers for even more concrete things to demand from the government to protect the public and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities in these times.**
** Thanks to our friends at Change Elemental for this. See more ideas in their message, With Care.
Cultivate a strategic, collaborative mindset.
Human actions are driven by a complex set of
factors, including how we are thinking, how we are feeling, and the
relationship between the two. In times of uncertainty, we want to lean into a
few essential aspects of the collaborative mindset.
Assume the best. Without overlooking the
difference between intent and impact, we also want to make the generous
assumption that everyone is doing their best to show up and contribute.
Offer and receive grace. If people make
mistakes, offend, cause harm, or miss opportunities to do good, we want to
offer grace and forgiveness. This isn’t an effort to erase the harm or error.
Rather, it’s an offer to see the whole person and support them as they correct
or repair. If we are the ones making the mistakes or causing harm, we invite
ourselves to be gentle with ourselves, avoid self-shaming, and graciously
receive grace that is offered by our colleagues.
See challenges as opportunities and growth.Like “trust the process,” this is not
new advice. And yet, in these times, it’s especially important to look for
opportunities as we survey the landscape. We’re asking questions like: How can
we move important work forward without face-to-face gatherings? How can we
share our particular strengths in this moment? How can we repurpose “found
time” that will no longer be used for workshops or convenings so that we can
advance projects that have been waiting for time and attention? How can we
improve our communications and deepen our relationships?
When we introduce IISC’s Dimensions of Success framework, we point out that the goal is for leaders to balance their attention on results, process, and relationship over time. The corollary is that sometimes, as collaborative leaders, we need to focus more heavily on one dimension than the others. In these times, it’s hard to overdo the focus on relationships. And, if we’re going to achieve the results we are seeking to manifest in the world, it’s essential that we build or strengthen our processes so that they are sturdy enough to carry us through these tough times.
So, as you go about your day-to-day work, and even as that work is interrupted and transformed, we hope that you’ll hold tight to the people around you, stand firm on your values, and take the actions you can to mitigate the crisis. Let’s all strive to water seeds of hope and nurture the seedlings of possibility, wherever we find them.
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 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
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
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
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
To silence the frenetic finger on the text and keyboard
To engage in single task to explore our natural focus
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
has been a remarkable year with impact, learning, and growth all the way
As IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden was scrolling through 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.
how our team responded:
@adamkahane tweeted on Jan 7, 2020
Five simple (but not easy) practices for Breakthrough Facilitation from Adam Kahane
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
On June 11, 2019, IISC successfully celebrated twenty-five years of
building collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity. It was a
beautiful and soulful party with over 200 supporters at the historic Hibernian
Hall in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a largely Black and working-class community in
the heart of Boston. It was IISC’s first time planning an event of this
magnitude, let alone celebrating such a major milestone as our quarter-century
As you know, part of IISC’s core and signature contribution to the
field is that we bring people together to collaborate, lead, and design processes
for social change and racial equity. Therefore, like a true IISC’er, I have
been pondering some questions. What did
we learn about collaboration, racial equity, process, and leadership through
this event? What did this event teach or re-teach us about collective planning
There are five observations that come to mind. Not so much about the mechanics of the event (get a great event coordinator is the short answer to that!), but rather about the important intentions around the event.
Clear collaboration got us through every challenge. It was important for us to have a clear purpose for our event, a set of shared values to guide our planning, and a collective vision for our success. Our willingness to share leadership brought wisdom and effective action to our task. We also understood that our collaboration could be efficient. At IISC we remind people that not every decision needs to be made by consensus and this was true in our process. In the case of our event, we delegated the role of planning the event to a committee of diverse stakeholders by role, age, and race that could work nimbly with a relatively small number of constraints such as budget. Other than that, the sky was the limit. We solicited input from each other and other stakeholders as we went along so that we could harness the collective genius and perspectives needed to make this a truly special and unique event. When we hit a block or wall, we would ask the group, what do you think?
Women of color leadership makes the difference. At IISC we are challenging our clients and ourselves to make and honor spaces for women of color to share their voices, to lead, and to flourish. Our event coordinator was a Black woman and at any given time, 70% of the event committee was comprised of women of color. These women of color brought intersectional approaches to everything, making connections between IISC’s equity values and our event vision and execution. We ensured that we had diverse voices on our event stage, and that we hired people of color, women, and Boston residents as vendors. Women of color have often had to make do with very little and to work on every task from bottom to top. With that, our skills kicked in, helping us to nail the small and big details. Collectively, we turned over every stone to solve every challenge along the way.
Set an inspiring goal. At IISC, we promote facilitative leadership, and a major facet of this kind of leadership is inspiring people with vision. We decided to set a fundraising goal that was a stretch but not one that would strike fear in us if we didn’t meet it. We chose a goal that if reached, would allow us to accomplish what had otherwise seemed impossible: a goal that would provide long imagined funding for innovation and product development. And we not only met our fundraising goal, we shattered it!
RPR works. At IISC, we talk about the three dimensions of success in any collaboration. Tending to relationships, designing artful and meaningful process, and achieving results. At each stage of our work as an event committee, we made space for each event committee member to personally check in about their lives and to learn about non-IISC interests and pursuits. We made sure to have focused and detailed meeting agendas with strong facilitation so that we could process all the event details before us and achieve our desired outcomes. We focused on achieving results. We set targets of $125,000 in fundraising and 150 event participants, and we exceeded both our goals. All three dimensions were essential to our event’s success.
5. Speak and show your values. At IISC our values include equity, networks, shared power, and love and we made sure our event program directly reflected these values. Event participants not only walked away knowing something about IISC’s historical accomplishments and what we do here at IISC, but also about the values that hold our work. Our special 25th anniversary video and program speakers spoke to racial equity, the value of networks, and of love as a force for social change. We had three tiers of event ticket prices along with scholarships, so that we could meet our fundraising goal and still make the event accessible to everyone. Our values were also displayed by hugs, laughing, dancing, and making connections between people around the room. It’s no fun to work on racial equity and social justice if you don’t get to live out and experience those actions and values.
There are many more lessons to learn, but this I know: love, commitment, collaboration, adaptability, connection, and ambitious goals had everything to do with our success. It’s actually hard to accept that our planning has come to an end. Our event planning committee members loved working with each other and experienced a sense of accomplishment that we hope to replicate throughout the organization in the next twenty-five years!