Friday, August 30, 2013

An Interview with David Inocencio of the Beat Within

We're pleased to re-post Katy McCarthy's recent interview with David Inocenio of The Beat Within, which appeared in Juvenile In Justice. TWI has been supporting The Beat since 2007.

“The Beat Within” by Casper.
Image courtesy of The Beat Within.
David Inocencio is the coolest. He’s one of those guys who starts talking about his passion — bringing a voice to the voiceless incarcerated masses — and you think to yourself, “Why can’t everyone be such a badass crusader for human rights and the arts?” But that’s just what David does. As founder of The Beat Within, David Inocencio works to bring a crucial expressive outlet to kids behind bars. The Beat Within is two things: a biweekly publication of writing and art from inside juvenile halls and prisons, and a workshop program inside juvenile halls across the U.S.  It all started in 1996, when David started facilitating writing workshops in San Francisco juvenile hall. What he found was staggering, that young people behind bars had so much more to say than was perhaps revealed in a police report or psychiatric evaluation. He found that what he could provide them with, a voice and a place to air it, was critical to their self-esteem and ability to feel connected to the outside world. 

A San Franciscan born and raised, David always knew he wanted to make a difference in his community. “In the late 80s/early 90s I saw the drug (crack) epidemic, rising youth violence and the decline of the public schools and I figured that I needed to connect with this population because their truth wasn’t being told,” he said. “I knew it was important to tell their story to their peers and also to those outside the system.”

The writing and art produced by young TBW participants is poignant and tragic. Each piece — be it a poem or a drawing — paints a humanizing and complex self-portrait of a young person’s life history. Oftentimes, that is a history riddled with abuse, neglect, poverty, drug abuse and violence. The writing is also deeply insightful. Every piece I read is a reminder that these children are just that — children, with sorrows and hopes and dreams that need to be expressed and listened to.

Today, 17 years since their humble beginnings, The Beat Within has expanded exponentially to serve over 5,000 youth annually through workshops operated in 13 California county juvenile halls and at facilities in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon and in Washington, DC. Good news for you, they are always accepting donations and volunteers! But if you’re not convinced yet, read on. You will be.

Katy McCarthy: So, how did The Beat Within get started?

David Inocencio: I saw a need for it. I was working at the juvenile hall in San Francisco and through that work I recognized a real need to give these young people a voice. They were being unheard in every aspect — everywhere from the courtroom to their day-to-day lives. In the work I did prior to The Beat Within, I did a great job of building relationships. So, when I approached the juvenile hall in San Francisco about starting writing and conversation workshops there was no red tape — with open arms they embraced my visions. I didn’t know I was going to start a publication. This was January 1996. I just knew the importance of listening to human beings and building trust. I saw what you got out of that. You got young people hungry to connect. That there was more to their stories than a police report, a psyche evaluation, etc. Little did I know at that point that my colleagues from Pacific News Service and I, especially Sandy Close (who believe in my work and my vision), were creating the template of The Beat Within, which would become what it is today.
Art from youth in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.
Image courtesy of The Beat Within.

Nine months later Tupac died and around the young people I was working with came an outpouring of response, and it was so moving I knew I needed to publish this writing quickly so that people could know how they felt. It was shortly thereafter, in September 1996, that we committed to being The Beat Within — a weekly publication of art and writing from inside the hall.

TBW is more than a publication. It is truly organic and has organically grown. It has moved beyond the city and state. There is a lot of hunger from other counties to be a part of this form. They see it as truly a lifeline for these young people — giving a voice to the voiceless. I am blown away by how many counties have embraced TBW and our work. We’ve been able to connect with so many institutions. People really feel a connection with the work.

A judge in San Francisco told me once that the TBW publication was a real window into the world of these young people. Young people who are up against it dealing with hard choices and raising themselves. We need to pull them into the conversation. It’s an amazing resource guide if you use it that way, a great indicator of what the struggles are. A lot of the same issues keep popping up. Issues of family, dysfunction, addiction, and above all a hunger to connect and be heard.

K.M: What is the most important issue TBW is working on today?

D.I: Giving a voice to the voiceless. Empowering these young people to realize how important their voices are and that there is a platform and a place for them to be heard. They have to make the ultimate choice — low road high road: do I abuse my body or feed it with knowledge? So we do our program, and they need to realize it’s their choice to change their lives. That’s a lot for a young person. They also have this amazing opportunity to tell the system (and their peers) where it’s broken and what it needs. We encourage them to be teachers and to share their truths.

K.M: I’m sure in your work you have encountered people with amazing/heartbreaking stories about their experience with the juvenile justice system. Can you share one with us?

D.I: There was a fourteen-year-old boy, James, charged with a double homicide for gang related killings. He raised himself in the youth system, before being sent off to adult prison where he would serve 30-years to life. James is someone I worked with closely. The juvenile hall feared him in a sense. They wanted to segregate him from his peers, because of the high profile nature of his case, so they kept him in isolation for long stretches for a couple of years. He should have been put in the maximum-security unit with others, yet they isolated him from everyone, so he wasn’t in our weekly writing workshops, but afterwards I would always stop by his cell and talk to him and give him a prompt and a copy of the beat. The facility administrators kept him disconnected, but they allowed him a pencil and paper. He would give me these amazing writings. He also, at that time, was a new father. Fresh out of 8th grade he and his girlfriend got pregnant. So he’s coming to terms with being a father. I worked with him over time, and he delivered some of the most powerful, eloquent writing I’d ever read at that time. I was able to watch him grow from a 14-year-old wanting to be the biggest, baddest gangster to an 18-year-old realizing he had thrown a part of his life away. It’s the whole idea of seeing him grow and how powerful an outlet The Beat was to him. He ended up with this amazing following because the facility allowed me to publish his work. Writing was his way of communicating with his peers, and it was so respectful that all of us could embrace it, despite the sign on his cell door saying that no one should communicate with this minor.

There are so many stories of young people learning how powerful their voices were after working with us. In some cases there have been lawyers and advocates using TBW as a character witness in helping shed light that this young person, their client, has grown up quite a bit in the system and is not the same person who initially walked in, thanks to their writing. Of course, action speaks louder than words, but these young people have only their words until they are given, if they are lucky, a chance to put their words into action. The Beat is consistent in their lives when there isn’t any consistency, so these kids trust and share with you. There is so much more to them.

K.M: What are TBW’s goals for the future? Where do you want to see TBW go?

D.I: I want to take care of funding for the next year. We still do workshops EVERYDAY, but I had to cut the publications back to two double-issues a month. It’s just a matter of getting the word out, being the face in the community, and building relationships with folks that can share the vision. This year I’m blown away by how many folks in the Midwest want to get involved and get their kids involved — Illinois, St. Louis … We are also connected with a juvenile hall in El Salvador, where two Fulbright Scholars are working so we’ve been able to feature those kid’s writing for the past couple of months. I aim to see that The Beat Within is alive and well in 10-20 years, staying true to our mission of giving a voice to the voiceless.
Artwork by Rhonda Jones.
Image courtesy of The Beat Within.

When the initial workshops happened in 96’ I stressed to the kids that “no matter where you go, just keep on writing—whether it’s prison, a solitary housing unit, or freedom.” We publish works from those who have moved on beyond juvenile hall and want to stay connected and share their stories: The Beat Without. They want to reach out, to donate their words to help break the stereotypes. That prison isn’t cool. These stories speak to the youngsters. It’s important to get the elders to be a part of the conversation and to include that in our publication.

K.M: How is TBW distributed to those on the inside?

D.I: When we had money, we had an out-of-control mailing list of prisoners who wanted it and couldn’t afford it and we would send a copy to them. Now, things are tighter. Everyone who gets published gets a copy of it in the mail, and kids in every workshop take away a copy. At a workshop on Tuesday night, all 150 kids walked away with a copy to read in their cells.

K.M: What does a workshop look like?

D.I: Workshops are all one hour — they all have the same writing prompts, no matter where you are (D.C., S.F., N.Y.). The leaders give the kids the prompts, they discuss them as a group, the leader shares a passage, and then we all share our stories. Once we exhaust the 3-4 prompts we break off into writing groups. Ideally there are 2-3 facilitators per class and we walk around and check in, helping with grammar, sometimes checking in to talk about the stress of court tomorrow and just listening. Maybe there is another kid who can’t write, but wants to be in the publication… we may be helping him or sitting with him penning his story. They know its cool because it gets published and goes to all these interesting institutions — more than 25 — beyond their own. I want them to feel an ownership. The other night I told kids, “I spoke at SF State and told them about the success of our project and your writing.” It takes a whole community to pull it off. At the end we open it up for them to read what they’ve written aloud and we all clap. The counselors and the guards standing nearby are always blown away when they hear these kids talking about longing for the touch of their mothers, the fear of the unknown, saying “all I want to do is be home with my mom and I cry in my pillow.” When these kids write, a lot of pain and weakness comes out. And then we make sure that every young person walks out with a publication. Speaking of the publication, we also make sure that every entry that is published in The Beat Within has a response from us adults. We want the young person to know at least one person is paying attention to what it is they are writing about.

K.M: What is the best thing that a concerned citizen can do today to get involved in your work?

D.I: Donations of any size are always needed and appreciated and can help us with our printing costs for the 60-80 page publication. We are always accepting volunteers. We have monthly training sessions. We have over 200 volunteers, all just trying to touch lives. All it takes is an individual with an interest in wanting to touch lives. All ages are welcome, though you have to be at least 21 years old to go into juvenile hall.

Thanks David! 

Stay connected with the Beat Within!
Also: through their website you can get access, with a small donation, to most of their publications!

Friday, August 23, 2013

From The Kids’ Table To The Adults’ Table: Taking Relationships Seriously in a World of Networks

By John Esterle, Malka Kopell & Palma Strand 

Thanks to all our colleagues who shared this story! Thanks to PACE for making it available to its members and to Cindy Gibson who sent it to her national network. 
Follow the links to read the insightful introduction to this article from Niki Jagpal on NCRP’s Blog, the kind words of the NCG and Phil Buchanan's highlight on The CEP blog.

You can download the article on The Whitman Institute's website.

In recent years, funders, practitioners and academics have been paying increased attention to the key role social networks play in addressing issues of public concern. Collective impact, funder-supported grantee networks, and cross-sector collaborations all reflect this trend. 

Our own experiences—in philanthropy, consulting, and academia—lead us to applaud the network “crescendo” and join the chorus. We want to pause the music for a minute, however, to issue a challenge. 

Networks are made up of people—people who are in relationship with each other. But we’ve noticed that paeans to networks do not always encompass lifting up the importance of relationships. For networks to fulfill their promise, that has to change. 

It’s hardly news to say that personal relationships built on trust, respect, and empathy are an important factor in creating resilient, adaptive, and innovative organizations and communities. Indeed, people working in a range of contexts and settings often say that personal relationships are foundational to their work. Why is it then that when it comes to writing grant proposals and measuring impact, relationships - and the processes involved in building them—too often recede into the background? 

The need to start prominently raising this question is what moved the three of us to write this article. Our operating assumption is that taking networks seriously means that we all—especially funders—must take relationships seriously. Devoting adequate resources to building and sustaining authentic relationships is key to greater progress on a wide variety of fronts. 

From the Kids’ Table to the Adults’ Table

Photo Credit: Evil Erin on Flickr
There is often an awkwardness in taking relationships seriously. Particularly when it comes to funding decisions, relationships have been seated, so to speak, at the “kids’ table.” We think that it is time to bring them to the fore, to invite them to the “adults’ table”—even though this may entail a gawky “adolescent” phase. Identifying sources of discomfort will help. 

Four sources of discomfort are immediately apparent. First, our society has traditionally seen the cultivation of relationships as a “soft skill,” a manifestation of heart rather than head. Heart and head are understood to be two distinct aspects of the human experience, and Western culture reveres the head, the cognitive. As Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Recognizing both that the dichotomy between “hard skills” and “soft skills” is false and that “soft” and “hard” skills are equally essential moves us toward taking relationships seriously. 

Second, we live in an individualistic culture. Independence, personal autonomy, and freedom have historically been our most cherished values. Networks and their relationships, however, embody interdependence. Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee has described the African concept of “ubuntu” as capturing an awareness that “I am what I am because of who we all are." Recognizing that the individual and the social are inextricably intertwined supports taking relationships seriously. 

Third, we lack agreed-upon criteria for measuring relationships and their quality, perhaps because of our historical and cultural inattention to and undervaluation of relationships. With increased attention to and respect for relationships, progress on this front is already evident. For example, work on “Emotional Intelligence” (Daniel Goleman) and on increasing the vocabulary of emotion (Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication”) helps us assess and measure relationships. 

Fourth and finally, relationships take time, yet our culture focuses on the short term. Impatience is not simply an individual characteristic; immediacy is institutionalized. We discount the value of future costs and benefits in public and organizational decision-making in favor of those closer to hand. Countering this pull means intentionally lengthening our time horizon and allowing the time for relationships to grow. 

“Soft” relationships for “hard” problems 

But what do high-quality relationships really bring to the table? For one, they often bring a new perspective. According to Martha McCoy, Executive Director of Everyday Democracy, an operating foundation that focuses on community change, “if you and your network partners aren’t in a good relationship, you don’t listen to each other. And more important, you don’t have the potential to change each other. This inhibits problem-solving.” 

McCoy adds that high-quality relationships “have the power to disturb the status quo. Some people think that relationships are all about not rocking the boat – i.e., “can’t we just all get along?” But an authentic relationship can provide the catalyst and the support for difficult change.” 

Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, a national network of civic engagement and democracy-building organizations, emphasizes that strong relationships open up perspectives on community problems: “Current problem-solving structures in communities are often fairly narrow. People in issue-based institutions don’t see the relevance of other issues or citizens with broader interests. Holistic, sustained networks of relationships help get past these silos.”

Funder Support for Relationships

These benefits aside, you can see how the sources of discomfort about relationships play out in terms of funding. Foundations can be notorious for their short attention spans. In the drive toward measurement and metrics, talking about relationship-building as a measure of impact may seem suspect, so it’s safer not to go there. Finally, if relationships are important, might that not apply to funders too? If they’re asked to walk their talk, what might that mean for their relationships with their grantees? With other funders? Exploring those questions asks a risk-averse sector to enter risky territory. 

Fortunately, we are seeing concrete examples of what can happen when funders recognize relationships as having a place at the theory-of-change table—when funders support strengthening relationships where they are weak … or absent. The Barr Foundation’s Fellows Program, for example, supports the “nurturing” of cooperative relationships among Boston’s non-profit leaders over time with the identified purpose of encouraging the emergence of a more “collaborative culture. “ (Stanford Social Innovation Review Summer 2012) 

Peter Pennekamp, President Emeritus of the Humboldt Area Foundation on California’s northern coast, describes a very intentional and strategic relationship-building initiative that addressed a stalemate between oppositional networks that pitted the timber industry against environmentalists. “By facilitating the development of relationships between local timber and environmental leaders, the existence of which at first had to be profoundly confidential due to both sides’ perceived risk in meeting, a third network, based on concern for a shared community, was born.”

Funders and non-profit leaders in relationship at TWI's 2012 retreat.

Funders as Community Members 

When funders support relationships, they open themselves up to becoming part of the relational web of their communities, which can provide additional opportunities for positive change. Leslie Medine, Executive Director of On the Move, an incubator for community initiatives driven by young leaders in Napa, California, attributes the effectiveness of a neighborhood initiative to create opportunities for Latino youth to this mutuality: “In this network, more than any other that I’ve ever been a part of, all the partners involved – the school principal, the local hospital outreach director, the primary funders and our key young leaders – all of us understand that our work is totally interdependent. To each of us this means that I literally can’t get my work done without you.” 

Similarly, Lyn Wallin Ziegenbein, Executive Director of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, a private independent philanthropic trust in Omaha, Nebraska, says, “We place a high priority and value on building enduring relationships with our grantees. That aspect of our work transcends individual grants and moves our entire body of work toward Mr. Kiewit’s fundamental goal for his philanthropy: to build and sustain the communities we share, literally and figuratively. As we see it, the Omaha community is relationships.” 

This true interdependence – including funders in the mix – paves the way for the kind of deep collaboration and problem-solving that is necessary to tackle complicated community problems.

The Civity Networks Project—Taking Relationships Seriously

Photo credit:
We are currently working together—John as funder, Malka as lead practitioner, and Palma as advisor—on a networks project that takes relationships seriously: The Civity Networks Project. Using Silicon Valley as a test site, and partnering with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Project seeks to build the social trust that enables regional problem-solving by strengthening civic networks in the region. 

Rather than creating a new network, the Project is designed to “tune up” the networks that currently exist in the region. As a first step, 50 leaders are chosen strategically to represent a wide range of issues, groups, sectors, and geography. Then, a deep, individualized intervention invites each leader to see him or herself as a regional actor and to align his or her work with the good of the region as a whole. 

The centerpiece of the intervention is a one-on-one in-person meeting with each leader. The intervention focuses on crystallizing each leader’s intent to build relationships that enhance “civity”—the kind of cross-cutting social trust that underlies the region’s capacity to address regional challenges and seize regional opportunities. From that first one-on-one meeting grow additional opportunities for each leader to deepen his or her self-reflective experience and to take additional steps to act on that experience. 

The theory of change envisions these network “tune-ups” leading to “butterfly effects” that contribute to regional resilience by instigating small but important improvements in how each leader operates within his or her own networks. When key leaders pay attention to, cultivate, and enrich the location and quality of the relationships within their own networks, “civity” and social trust increase and regional problem-solving improves. 

The Project includes an evaluation component to both assess Project results and gain information about existing civic networks and the relationships within them. We believe that the relationship-focused Civity Network Pilot Project will enhance our understanding and therefore our ability to harness the power of networks. Taking relationships seriously, in our view, entails the kind of rigor the Project embodies.

Relationships in the Foreground 

The Whitman Institute, the independent foundation that John leads, periodically gathers its own “network” to build and deepen relationships and to cross-fertilize stories and ideas. After its last retreat, Jon Funabiki, the Executive Director of Renaissance Journalism, an interdisciplinary center in San Francisco that identifies and sparks new journalistic models that serve communities, wrote: “Relationships have been important to me for many years. Yet they have always been in the background, rather than the foreground. I will work harder to nudge them forward from now.” 

It’s time for all of us –in our various sectors—to move relationships to the foreground to enhance our picture of social change. Let’s begin; let’s experiment; let’s share what we learn. 

About the Authors 

John Esterle is the Executive Director of The Whitman Institute, an independent foundation that invests in the power of relationships, constructive dialogue and the connections they generate to trigger problem solving and creative approaches required to achieve a healthy, peaceful, equitable and sustainable world. As President Emeritus he serves on the board of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement, is a member of LeaderSpring’s Leadership Council and Active Voice’s Advisory Committee, and co-chairs Northern California Grantmakers’ Organizational Effectiveness and Professional Development Committee.

Photo credit:
Malka Kopell is an expert in the field of civic engagement and collaboration. In 1990, she founded Community Focus, a non-profit that works with local governments to develop and facilitate cross-sector collaboration to address tough problems in communities. She served as a program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting civic engagement and conflict resolution programs around the country, and she was the first managing director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University. She currently assists governments, non-profits and foundations to develop and support stakeholder networks.

Palma Strand is a Professor of Law at the Creighton Law School, where she is associated with the Werner Institute of Negotiation and Dispute Resolution. She teaches Civic Organizing and Democracy, Local Government Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and Street Law among other courses. Prof. Strand has done extensive civic engagement work in metropolitan regions including Washington, DC and Omaha, NE. She has ties to the creators of the civic organizing approach and developed the concept of “civity.” She is the current Chair of the University Network for Collaborative Governance.

For more information about the Civity Networks Project, contact Palma Strand at and Malka Kopell at

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Purpose & Passion: 3 Stories

By John Esterle

Jon FunabikiIn our summer newsletter, Jill Blair framed TWI’s theory of change as dialogue + connection + relationships = impact.  How to capture that equation in compelling and creative ways is an ongoing question for TWI – as it is for many who participate in gatherings that open up spaces for meaningful conversation and connection. 

Jon Funabiki, Renaissance Journalism’s Executive Director admirably meets that challenge with his recent posts about  “Purpose and Passion,” a storytelling retreat for journalists that RJ organized – and that TWI was pleased to support. I urge you to read all three.

In his first post, Jon provides a thoughtful overview of what transpired and some of the people involved.

His second explores the metaphor of wearing a mask and the question: “What does it mean if we can’t be our “authentic selves” with our colleagues?” Certainly, this is a question that applies to all of us no matter what field we are in.  I was in a small group conversation just this week that asked: What does it mean if funders and grantees (or grant seekers) can’t be their authentic selves with each other?

His third post, “Listening for when the bow string sings,” offers some wisdom and a lovely metaphor that emerged from their discussions.

Taken together, Jon’s three posts paint a powerful picture of what can happen when we create the time and space to share stories and engage in deep inquiry and reflection.  One of the journalists who participated wrote, “It is so rare to be able to connect with colleagues in this field in such a personal human way.” With more reporting like Jon’s, I think such efforts might indeed become less rare.  And if they become more commonplace ( a guy can hope!), who knows what might happen?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Be the Cheetah! Nonprofit Leadership For Our Time

CJ Callen

By CJ Callen

While recently scanning The New York Times I came across this promo for the article “Cheetahs’ Secret Weapon: A Tight Turning Radius”:
“A study shows that the large feline’s key to hunting success is not its speed but its skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly, and slowing down quickly.”
Perhaps no truer set of words capture what it takes to effectively lead a nonprofit organization in 2013. In the past, I have observed a reverence for powerful organizations that move quickly (though not necessarily adeptly or with finesse). Accelerating at their rapid pace they tend to catch the attention of investors, which fuels the cycle of speed and power. Of course, when things unexpectedly get in the way and impede progress, they are often not able to adapt and their fall can be a hard one.
I’m a firm believer in a different approach, one that honors power and control – and adaptability, and which will ensure ongoing success even when roadblocks pop up. As a nonprofit leader at the helm of an organization that is over 20 years old, I don’t think power alone will do. Because we are older we can’t move with the speed that comes from being the new kid on the block. We are mature and, so, more complex, which tends to reduce our MPH. But we have self-knowledge that we have learned in our journey coupled with some interesting moves and the flexibility of a studied yogi. This has helped our organization to stay focused and remain alert, to spot opportunity and pursue it, and to slow down quickly to seize opportunity and make forward progress. Like the cheetah, our success lies in our ability to adapt to what’s happening around us and to recalibrate our path accordingly. No time for strategic planning here but this approach reflects a deep appreciation of strategic thinking coupled with immediate action.
So how can we build organizations that can turn on a dime? How can we build in our board cultures a reverence for power combined with dizzying control? These are the true moves needed to ensure meaningful systemic impact. And just to be crystal clear, when I say to my fellow nonprofits, “Be the cheetah,” I don’t mean be predatory but, rather, use your skills in surprising ways for far superior results. Work in ways that build your “flex” muscles. Have fun with your new dance moves.
Image: Mara 1
Here’s my story of turning on a dime. Our organization was approached to support the work of the White House Council for Community Solutions my third day on the job. We had to shift course quickly and demonstrate extreme flexibility in order to take on this new area of work on a national stage. It has had its ups and downs but I am glad that we embraced the risk and took on the work. We have learned so much that will only make us more limber when the next opportunity rolls around and we need to leap sideways, change directions abruptly, and slow down quickly.
Ok, so now that you’ve got this concept flowing in your nonprofit executive blood stream, what do you do with it?
  • Use it to help your board understand how the strategic planning work you are doing will help you have the clarity and internal capacity to turn on a dime.
  • Use it to reassure yourself when others think that the way to the Golden Fleeceis a fast straight run for the goal and you’re the lone voice for growing something slowly and thoughtfully.
  • Use it to become a more adaptive leader who is not afraid to turn on a dime because you are confident that it is the key to success.
  • Use it to jump-start a conversation among funders and nonprofits about the adaptive approaches needed to build strong social justice movements. (For my action step on this, please see the invitation below.)
In closing, with the cheetah analogy in mind, I offer you a couple of resources that I continue to revisit because they help me build my flex muscles. They are ones you may be aware of, yet they are always worth another visit.
  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – I’m a student of big ideas and how change happens. This book helps us think about how to make our ideas sticks. It challenges our thinking in the best of ways and builds our “flex” muscle to make us better, more adaptive leaders.
  • Tribes by Seth Godin – My last blog was about the importance of finding your tribe and this book is all about that. Every leader needs to find the tribe that will give her the support to try new things and to move with power and control.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine Saint ExupĂ©ry – This is one of the most popular reads in the entire world and no surprise why. It inspires us to be our best, most creative selves and strikes at the heart of what it means to be a leader who is both adaptive and true. It is a reminder that when I say, “Be the cheetah” I don’t mean “Be the predator” but, rather, “Be your best self.”

An invitation: Let’s learn together about movement building

On a related note, I want and need to be in conversation with others who are committed to and want to be better at building a movement for social justice and racial equity. By “others,” I mean activists and funders alike because we both play critical and complementary roles in building strong and effective social justice movements. On the one hand, my glass is full: I have change agent colleagues whom I can talk to about our work – the good, the bad, and the ugly. On the other hand, my glass is empty: I don’t have a group of funders whom I can meet with to discuss our mutual leadership roles in movement building. I want to bring together funders and nonprofit leaders who are ready for regular, open, and honest conversations so that we can engage in playful inquiry, learn from each other, and stretch our thinking.
In my last blog post I invited new nonprofit executives to join me in forming a conversation group; I was able to form a group that continues to meet and grow in numbers. My new invitation is a seemingly more difficult quest given the power dynamic that often exists between funders and nonprofit staff. But I am up for the challenge and have in my back pocket a few strategies for diminishing the dynamics – trust me, I’m a funder and a nonprofit leader. Wearing those hats has afforded me plenty of empathy to spare for both.
So donor or funder, if you are interested in joining in conversation, please let me know. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because I want a conversation and am tired of the dance. :)  I’m sure there are like-hearted funders out there who want the same. I look forward to meeting you.
You can reach me at or