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Taking Back the Work: A Cooperative Inquiry into Leaders of Color in Movement-Building Organizations

July 1, 2009

Through the Leadership for a Changing World Research and Documentation program, a group of leaders of color committed to social justice came together to reflect on the specific obstacles leaders of color face as they engage in movement building and to find ways to overcome these barriers. Together they asked: How do we build, strengthen and sustain movement-building organizations led by people of color? In the report, the group has identified four strategies to help community-based leaders of color engage in "taking back the work," with examples of each based on their successful work in communities.

21st Century Women's Leadership

November 1, 2008

The 21st Century Women's Leadership Project was a Cooperative Inquiry designed in collaboration by the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service's Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) and The White House Project (WHP). Launched in 2007, the project was designed to explore what it takes to create a shift in the discourse about leadership --from a heroic, masculine, often white view, to a more collective, relational and inclusive view. Over the seven-month inquiry, the participants focused on the influence of these mental models on professional and personal life, among themselves as well as in the lives of their peers, senior supervisors and junior colleagues.This project was structured as a Cooperative Inquiry ("CI"), defined in the literature as a "systematic process of action and reflection among co-inquirers who are tackling a common concern of burning interest." CI "gives equal value to learning and research in the service of action, giving primacy to practice as a source of knowing."[1] Cooperative Inquiry is embedded with the belief that theory and practice are inextricably linked. As such, the process was well suited to participants in the 21st Century Women's Leadership Project who agreed to explore their own "practice" as leaders through CI's repeated cycles of action and reflection.The participants in this Cooperative Inquiry were women leaders in very high-level positions with considerable responsibility and authority over large areas of their organizations. They were drawn from the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Two-thirds of the participants were white; one-third were women of color. Their ages ranged from 40 to 67. For the WHP/RCLA Cooperative Inquiry, the participants considered the influence of gender on perceptions of leadership and jointly engaged in reflection about their experiences as leaders. The co-inquirers developed the central question of their inquiry as follows: What would it take to transform the mental models held about women and leadership? The women met three times in 2007 to explore this question from their multiple perspectives as individuals and as leaders in their sectors. Each meeting started with an evening session of three hours followed by a morning session of three hours. Between meetings, the participants were asked to observe their own behaviors, experiment with new behaviors and bring their observations back to the group for synthesis.

Arts, Creative Practice and Leadership

January 1, 2008

In October 2005, seven people met in New York City to explore the central inquiry question, "How can I claim my own power as an artist/cultural worker, and in that, help create more vital and respected space for artists and cultural workers in society in general and in the work for social change in specific?" The participants represent three of the the five cohorts from the Rockefeller Foundation's Next Generation Leadership (NGL) program, which ran from 1997 to 2002.

Lideres Campesinas: Grassroots Gendered Leadership, Community Organizing, and Pedagogies of Empowerment

May 29, 2007

The roots of Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas (Lideres Campesinas) are farm-worker women who create a better future for themselves and their communities. The organization is based on the idea that farm-worker women are leaders that can be empowered to solve the problems of injustice in their own lives and communities. This ethnography addresses three areas of research, including Lideres Campesinas's history; changes in terms of leadership, empowerment and community organization; and documenting the organization's pedagogical model. The ethnography chronicles Latina farm workers in California who have developed programs recognizing campesina expertise and nurturing leadership among campesinas who organize their families, communities, and workplaces. These narratives speak to the new forms of empowerment created by Lideres Campesinas and new tools the women have obtained in creating new kinds of community by taking action in their twelve local site committees.

"It's Hands-On...": Cultivating Mentors and Emerging Social Justice Leaders through Shared Project Development: Documenting the Intergenerational and Community Dialogues: A Leadership for a Changing World Initiative

May 9, 2007

The Leadership for a Changing World (LCW) program seeks to transform the public perception that the U.S. is facing a shortage of leaders to address social, environmental, and economic issues within communities. The program asserts that leadership does exist, albeit in a form that is different from traditional understandings of leadership. LCW shifts the conversation about leadership to include leaders known in their own communities, but not known broadly. Over five years (2001-2005), the LCW program recognized 92 individual leaders and leadership teams based in organizations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. As the program began to come to a close in 2005, the partners developed the idea of a regional forum, the Intergenerational and Community Dialogues, to address recurring concerns that award recipients identified: leadership development, succession, and the creation of sustainable community collaborations. The forum brought together LCW award recipients and emerging leaders from the Pacific Northwest to investigate and explore the challenges and opportunities of intergenerational leadership and community collaboration. This report documents the main ideas that emerged from the conversations of forum participants who explored their experiences cultivating mentors, leaders, and collaborative relationships. It is our hope that this document captures the perspectives, concerns, significant accomplishments, and energetic spirit of the initiative's participants.

Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers: An Ethnographic Study

April 11, 2007

In the context of the developing generational divide in contemporary African-American social life, this study examines the not-for-profit organization, Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers (AIM), and its successes and challenges in transitioning youth to leadership. I examine AIM's organizational culture and its ability to transition youth -- its staff, volunteers and clients -- into leadership in partnership with the adult leadership of the organization. The mission of AIM is, "To inspire hope and empower children of incarcerated mothers through programs and services that lessen the impact of the mother's incarceration." Implicit in this mission is the development of leadership and decision-making skills of the participants in the program as essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration in the families and communities of the participating individuals. While the generation gap within the African-American community is one specific issue in the contemporary social context in which AIM operates, other issues such as negative social forces that reinforce a cycle of incarceration and poverty, as well as the educational and socio-economic gap between service providers and clients, also challenge its goal of meeting its mission. Children of incarcerated parents generally live in environments where substance abuse and criminal activity are common. With an incarcerated parent, the family unit is weakened in its ability to shield the child from factors that negatively the child's social development. AIM attempts to provide guidance and social support for the participants in its program to break the cycle of incarceration in the family and the community.

Can the Arts Change the World? The Transformative Power of the Arts in Fostering and Sustaining Social Change

January 1, 2006

A group of nonprofit leaders working in the arts, advocacy, political organizing, social services, and education explored the connection between community organizing and creative expression by engaging in collective activities, including visiting various examples of community arts, and experimentation with their own practice. Through this process, the group concluded that arts could be socially transformative; that community arts can create a safe space that allows people to trust and be open to changing; that art can help people reflect together and not talk past one another; and that the process of creating together can be healing and sustaining.

Building Alliances: Collaboration between CAUSA and the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon

January 1, 2006

This ethnography examines the components that allow quality solidarity work to happen between organizations with leadership and constituencies that are primarily people of color and primarily white, respectively. CAUSA (an immigrant rights coalition) and the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) of Oregon have developed a working relationship over ten years that has contributed to numerous victories for immigrant and farm worker rights, as well as greater consciousness among white rural activists of what it means to provide support as anti-racist allies. Because Oregon has a relatively small population (three million), and progressive organizations tend to know each other, the relationship provides an opportunity to study how such organizations manage power and historical inequalities in a manner suited for success. Ethnographer Lynn Stephen has conducted in-depth interviews with organizational leaders and members as a way to explore the history and lessons learned from the collaborative work between the two organizations. Key findings include the importance of both in-depth and sustained dialogue around the key values of work, and staff training around the issues involved with connecting to the other organization. The organizations use these techniques to build common ground. Hence, collaborative capacity can be mobilized quickly to support each other's actions as needed.

Piecing Together the Fragments: An Ethnography of Leadership for Social Change in North Central Philadelphia 2004-2005

January 1, 2006

The Village of Arts and Humanities has initiated a collaborative community planning process entitled 'Shared Prosperity' in North Philadelphia. This initiative engages neighborhood residents, business owners, community groups, and other organizations in revitalizing North Central Philadelphia by recognizing and strengthening the community's existing assets and leadership. The Shared Prosperity model radically refigures the expert/client relationship. Professional planners drawn from the University placed their students in the position of having to learn from members of a steering committee drawn from the neighborhood. This ethnography explores the ways in which the resident-driven steering committee built community around the work of mentoring student planners and volunteers, reclaiming and beautifying neighborhood spaces, utilizing volunteers to survey the community, retrieving memories of community elders, and reinhabiting the public space of the streets. In this model, economic revitalization grows out of the revitalized life of the community, which leverages recognition and support from the larger polities of metropolis and state.

Quantum Leadership: The Power of Community in Motion

January 1, 2006

When we think about 'leadership,' we usually think about an individual. But a new understanding of leadership is rising, especially in circles where 'widening our circle of compassion' is a basic value. There, people are beginning to see some of the remarkable implications -- and amazing results -- of thinking about leadership as something that comes not just from a single individual, but from the community. For all those with a stake in this kind of leadership -- people who work for the betterment of communities, and the funders and thinkers who support them -- this book is for you.

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: Helping Others Become More Strategic, Conceptual, and Creative: A Cooperative Inquiry

October 24, 2005

How can we be more effective in helping others become more strategic, conceptual, and creative in their thinking? This group was motivated by the realization that as organizers, they could teach organizing, but were not good at getting people to think strategically. Doing cooperative inquiry gave them a space to challenge each other's assumptions about organizing, ask provocative questions and learn from one another. During their inquiry, the group started to change the way they worked in their organizations, trying new methods to engage people, such as story telling, metaphors, and other methods that allowed them to encourage participation and reflective practices. In the words of the group ""a gradual, but profound, shift occurred in our assumptions about developing leaders for our organizations."" Through their inquiry the group began to understand that the key issue is to engage others in the experience of strategic thinking. ""We realized order to help people learn to be more strategic, creative, and conceptual, we would have to be intentional about being more strategic, creative, and conceptual in our relationship with them.

A Dance That Creates Equals: Unpacking Leadership Development

October 21, 2005

Our cooperative inquiry focused on the question "How can we create the space/opportunities for individuals to recognize themselves as leaders and develop leadership?" Early on, our group realized that we were not referring to leadership as an individual act as is traditionally the case. Instead, most of the stories we shared throughout our inquiry dealt with the details of close working relationships with people in our organizations and communities.Exploring what must happen for leadership to be shared led us to see the need to encourage a genuine shift in the leadership relationship, in which someone steps back (whether they do it consciously or not) and someone steps up. (In our conversations we've termed the latter crossing over.) We are very clear that these two actions are linked but are not necessarily sequential.