Leaving a meeting at The California Wellness Foundation with my colleague Safi Jiroh, we walked out of the building onto Market Street to catch a Lyft and witnessed a young Latina mother with her toddler and infant sitting on the sidewalk begging for help. Initially, we walked by her. Realizing we become part of the problem if we normalize this reality by just walking by, we turned around, went back to her and searched our hearts and purses for solutions. Albeit, our ‘solutions’ did not target the root cause of why she was on the street with her young children, it only provided a band-aid approach to her current situation. This all happened against the backdrop of a conversation about priorities of health and wellness for Bay Area communities.
As an intermediary organization, we do not work on the front lines directly combating issues that are by-products of oppression. So how does leadership development and the work of LeaderSpring target the root cause of homelessness, unemployment, gentrification, and other social inequities currently affecting our societies? We support the understated (s)heroes and endless warriors who do. They are part of an amazing network of LeaderSpring alumni. Our commitment to leaders is to work with them to build a strong path towards building a healthy and equitable society. To help build this path, we base our service on five instrumental and equally important values:
1. Leadership – taking responsibility for what matters. Leadership is an on-going practice at all levels of an organization and community, transcending title or position. LeaderSpring trains emerging, mid-career and senior leaders, and helps them foster leadership in others.
2. Community Well-Being – a balanced satisfaction of personal, interpersonal, and collective needs. LeaderSpring helps leaders strengthen skills and relationships so they may create something more meaningful and lager than the sum of their parts.
3. Equity – the elimination of racial, economic, and social disparities. LeaderSpring strengthens social sector leaders and organizations committed to fostering equity in their communities.
4. Collaboration – integrating services and leveraging resources toward a common goal. LeaderSpring fosters agency collaborations toward transformative impact in community.
5. Head and Heart – an integrated, holistic approach to leadership development. LeaderSpring’s learning communities of practice blend rigorous standards of performance, reflective learning, trusting relationships, and personal renewal.
Our hallmark methodology for service accessibility is centered on an asset-based approach and a belief in the strengths of leaders and organizations. We posit power as developing from a place of strength, capacity, and talent, as opposed to allowing the often prevalent perspectives of deficiency and weakness to frame relevant discussions, positions, and decisions negatively impacting our communities. We understand deeply the traumatic impact of institutionalized racism and systems of oppression on people of color and organizations, which they lead. As a result, we operate from a culturally competent and equity-driven approach to strengthen individual and organizational capacity to achieve greater impact.
“When you are doing social justice work, or maybe in any nonprofit, but when you deal with trauma and pain in a community – sometimes you are in the crosshairs – where you care for the community you are charged to serve and you are also dealing with resources that want to support you but the places that want to support you were built on some of the very things that are contributing to the problems/challenges you see in community. When you talk with people with resources, when you go deeper you hit that sensitive spot where what you say could be seen as criticism. Going through LeaderSpring allows you to practice the vocabulary and figure out how to frame it as a both/and – where you can be the voice of people being traumatized or impacted and holding that firm and resolute but also letting resources know how they can be part of the solution as well. You might not be able to fully convey that and transform resources – you have to kind of accept that you might not solve everything – but you can move the needle and you can raise things.” Participant from Retrospective Evaluation: LeaderSpring Fellowship June 2017
We strongly believe in the promotion of human dignity and community potential because therein lies the key to building a more equitable society. And as such, we are committed to serve as a catalyst for change towards this pursuit. Our acknowledgement of oppression emboldens and builds the capacity of leaders to take agency at the personal and organizational levels to eradicate systems of oppression and in doing so to become the leaders and facilitators of collective impact directed at these oppressive systems. We focus on leaders and organizations in the social sector because this is the area where we want to build capacity.
LeaderSpring strives to empower leaders and their organizations to be more effective at combating poverty, homelessness, violence prevention, mass incarceration, and to find solutions to society’s most intractable problems. We will also look inward at our own organizational structure and do the self refection needed to properly assess who we are after 20 years, how we offer and deliver services, and what are best practices needed to do this work based on the current political climate and basic human needs in the sector. For this reason, LeaderSpring will take time to engage in introspective work to effectively build our own capacity. At the core of our planning process, initiated in September 2017, were numerous conversations discussing priorities for the coming year. The theme that has emerged for 2018 is slowing down to speed up, and we identified the following priorities:
1. Define our product—LeaderSpring has largely relied on legacy and reputation. In the first quarter of 2018 we want to evaluate and articulate our value in order to better communicate what we do moving forward.
2. Develop our business model—clarify our hybrid structure in order to identify earned revenue targets and cultivate new clients.
3. Leverage the Alumni Network—our alumni network is our greatest asset. We want to reconnect and strengthen these relationships.
4. Boldness in what we stand for—we want to be clear in how we define social justice, equity and how we espouse those values in action.
In order to make progress on these priorities we will be shifting our resources into reflection, research, and development in 2018. This means that a few things will be different, namely: 1) the Fellowship program will have one cohort, East Bay Class of 2018; 2) LeaderSpring will move into a new office as a first step in creating a learning center; and 3) we will explore partnerships with research institutions to strengthen our collection and analysis of the impact of our work. LeaderSpring’s 2017 strategic initiatives included a number of special projects, which have been executed successfully, (e.g. the executive search process, launching a new website, and conducting a retrospective fellowship evaluation.) As we slow down to speed up in 2018, the staff is focused on building and strengthening internal capacity.
We enter into a new decade of serving the most under-resourced communities through supporting leaders and organizations working on the front lines. We pledge to develop a bolder voice in leadership by advocating for the elimination of various systems of oppression within the social sector that are barriers to long-term, positive social impact outcomes for communities of color and poor communities. We will work to build and support an active coalition within our alumni base whose advocacy work specifically targets issues of economic injustice in the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area. Our alumni are currently working on these issues and we intend to help build stronger connections among these leaders and organizations.
For those of you who have supported us through donations, funding support, volunteerism, and other ways—I want to offer my deepest gratitude and thanks. I look forward to connecting with more of you in 2018. On behalf of the LeaderSpring family I wish you Happy Holidays. May your season be blessed with good fortune, lots of love and never ending happiness!