Theory of Change
The following is my personal theory of change, meaning, it’s how I approach my work with groups given my particular positionality and personality.
Who I work with
I bring energy to groups in the four wings of the “transformative justice butterfly” – those seeking to create a healthy world (BUILD), stop destruction of life and dignity (RESIST), dismantle oppressive practices (REFORM), and support resilience (HEAL).
Goals of my work
- Groups are effective with their mission
- Each person feels meaningfully engaged and supported
- The process is joyful and connective
What groups need
- Individuals need to feel like they belong, are trusted and have support
- The group needs to be guided by shared values and vision
- The organization needs clear processes based on respect, healthy communication and honest power/equity analysis
Why we’ve been stuck
For 500 years colonial thinking has shaped this country, seeping into most aspects of organizational process today. From the well known dynamic of having to beg for social support funding, to the more nuanced effects of individualistic business culture, to the rise of toxic “call outs,” systems of oppression are embedded in the daily lives of our organizations.
People are exhausted and confused
During the wave of great energy for organizational change led by the Movement for Black Lives in 2020, organizations across the country hurried to make a website statement, establish an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee and perhaps hire a consultant. Some progress was made and there was a flash of hope for real change. But then people began to realize that the real work was more complex.
Diverse leadership was welcomed in but not given support or actual power, white folks began squirming with fear of losing their comfort or jobs, proposals for more equitable strategies were seen as “outside our mission.” Infighting and overwhelm started taking hold. Everyone got frustrated.
I often reflect on this quote from MLK in 1963: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the White moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Since 2020, I have seen this quiet backlash from white people — a familiar yet still painful sting for People of Color.
Even outside EDI work, so many organizations are collapsing under the tensions resulting from the pandemic, economic uncertainty, call out culture and personal life stresses affecting the workplace. Now what?
Our opportunity: collapse and resilience
We are in a great reckoning: earth systems are collapsing, powers that be are terrified, more people are beginning to disbelieve in what has been considered “normal”… there are cracks in systems everywhere.
Whether or not these shifts seem good or bad, there is a tide of energy open to new ways of being and yearning for inspiration.
For organizations, there are great possibilities for integrating new levels of connection within a group and advancing our missions for societal change. There are wonderful opportunities for righting wrongs and walking nourishing, equitable paths.
Where there is oppression, there is resistance
Even with the current openings for change, systems of oppression will not be dismantled in a meeting, a strategy session, or a retreat. They will take generations to shift. So in our organizations, we must tap into something deeper. Connect ourselves to the larger fabric of movements for social change. We must remember that as long as there has been oppression, there has been resistance and progress. That every single interaction can get us one step closer, building energy, power, courage, creativity, camaraderie and momentum.
We can thrive in our groups!
The following are some of the elements that I bring to organizations.
Collapse is hard — it’s scary and people suffer, and many of the “cracks in the systems” disproportionately affect historically nondominant communities.
We need to bring voice to our grief, fears and lived experience. The layers of trauma – direct and indirect – around and within us are real and show up in our organizations.
Creating a culture of sharing emotions does not need to overpower the mission-centered work of an organization; rather, it can serve to connect, inform and motivate people further.
Building a trauma-informed organization includes:
- having awareness about trauma and triggers
- practicing empathetic communication
- planning for conscious conversations around complex topics
- creating time and space when hard things arise
- adapting to people’s needs
- offering support after emotional moments.
Shared language: systems thinking
Organizations today are finding the need to integrate the personal and professional in both internal processes and external strategies. With a systems thinking viewpoint, we can see that layers of our personal, interpersonal, organizational, systemic and cultural influences are present in every interaction. What we do in one of these layers affects them all. As adrienne maree brown says, “Small affects all.”
Organizations need to learn to see and elegantly put language to the interactions between these system layers, identify leverage points accessible to the organization, and move together from there.
Inclusive means great group process!
Evolved group processes — that invite reflection and silence, give information in multiple forms, allow people to participate before, during or after meetings, provide assistance to folks who might need more support to understand or offer ideas — are not only more inclusive but also fun and lead to creative and thorough results!
In addition, some key aspects of successful group process that build an environment of inclusion and belonging:
- Have serious and compassionate conversations about equity
- Treat everyone as a leader and encourage creative and tiered participation
- Facilitate dynamic and transparent decision-making processes and organizational strategy
- Create clear communication and conflict resolution practices
Joy, Meaning and Belonging
Humans are at our best when we feel like we belong and can contribute the best parts of ourselves. I call this work Leadership Development: when we feel like we have a role, are supported to succeed and know where we are going with a group.
We shine with joy and power when we see the spark of amazingness in everyone. Then we can work together to understand each of our personalities, positionalities and possibilities and coordinate to amplify the shared mission.
- I ask groups to walk a path of values and vision.
- I speak up compassionately about power and privilege. See more here.
- I encourage people to practice compassionate communication, reflective listening, acceptance of direct and indirect feedback.
- I create space for reflection.
- I bring the “YES” – an experience of being human, real, alive, playful, dynamic, joyful.
Everyone says to me: “YOUR ENTHUSIASM IS CONTAGIOUS.” So I try to use this energy to bring life-affirming, values-based integrity into groups and excitement for our work together!