There is no single path to change. Each organization has a culture, a history, a staff, a set of spoken and unspoken values, a way of communicating and a system that reinforces all of these things. By following the links below you will read about five different organizations and our process together. You may find yourself on these pages or you might simply get a sense of how flexible and adaptable the work can be to your organization and your situation.
I have worked with many different kinds of educational organizations from institutions of higher education, to K-12 schools, to community-based education. One K-12 project involved working with a collaboration of thirteen different school districts that had come together to actualize the goals of state mandated desegregation in a large metro area, and decrease the achievement gap for students of color across their districts.
The collaborative supports two Alternative Learning Centers which are focused on developing a rich multicultural curriculum and inclusive learning environment for their diverse student body. For the last four years, I’ve been part of a multi-racial team leading comprehensive inservice training for the staff in these schools.
We began our process with an overall assessment of the schools, examining the intercultural competence of the staff and exploring variables such as attendance, discipline, grades, family involvement, staff diversity, and so on. This assessment led to a multi-year training strategy focused on providing all the staff with a shared foundation of intercultural competency.
Every year, the team grows stronger in their trust of each other, their degree of cultural knowledge, and their intercultural skill set. In addition, the team members have also deepened their understanding of the factors contributing to the achievement gap, and they are working together towards a broader vision for addressing this gap.
This work includes focusing intensely on curriculum development, intercultural communication skill development, and classroom management strategies which honor the diversity of the students in their classroom.
While we were conducting these staff development efforts in the collaborative’s two schools, the team of diversity leaders from each of the thirteen districts realized that it would be useful to create a common theory of change as a way to improve their collaboration, and consider best practices for their work together. The group negotiated a shared understanding of the collaborative’s desired outcomes and the various pathways, strategies and practices which would produce their envisioned change.
This work helped the collaborative define their best practices in a way that strategically linked their practice to their overarching goals. As a result, a number of districts began to position their work in a much larger context of social change in public education as connected to the issues of race, culture, class and community development.
A local nonprofit organization working in the mental health field called to ask for training for their staff so they better serve their increasing diverse constituency.
Their clientele now included the communities they had always served plus an increasing number of new immigrant communities who had different definitions and approaches to mental health, illness, seeking professional help, and the role of the family and community in achieving wellness. I coordinated this project in partnership with my colleagues at One Ummah Consulting.
Our first step was to conduct an organizational assessment that included analyzing the organization’s goals, their staff composition, their history in recruiting and retention, clientele demographics, and the Intercultural Developmental Inventory.
Based on the assessment, we recommended a series of developmentally appropriate staff trainings to take place over the next year to increase their staff’s cultural self-awareness, intercultural communication and conflict skills, and ability to work in multicultural teams.
These trainings provided staff with a mindset and a skillset from which they could understand various cultural understandings of concepts like health and mental health specific to the communities they serve and then apply this new knowledge and skills to case management, the role of family in mental health treatment, and so on.
In the second year of the project, we designed and implemented a series of workshops for the organization’s management and supervisors in order to better equip them to recruit, hire, and retain a more diverse staff, as well as supervise multicultural teams, and manage performance for intercultural competency. Finally, to build the organization’s ongoing capacity, we conducted a process of training for trainers internal to the organization, and we assisted the organization’s human resource staff in revising their policies and practices to anchor and support the organizational changes they were making.
Once this final stage of the project was complete, we stayed engaged in the organization through repeating a foundation session once a year for the organization’s new employees to bring them into this new organizational culture. I also provide coaching as needed to support ongoing integration of the work throughout all the organization’s systems.
With each passing month, the changes are becoming institutionalized and are now becoming the organization’s culture and its way of working. While specifically designed for this organization, the process described above is typical of the kind of intensive and engaged relationship we built with organizations.
I was asked, by an organization whose mission it was to build the infrastructure of a progressive movement in the upper Midwest, to facilitate an assessment of lessons gained from their first ten years of operation. The goal of the assessement was to explore how these lessons might inform further organizational or infrastructure development for future progressive movement building in the region.
At the outset of the assessment, the organization was open to considering whether it was, in its current form, the right vehicle at this movement moment to continue to advance its vision and mission. The project included interviews with key stakeholders and political leaders, online surveys to their broader community, analysis of the data, and facilitation of all decision-making meetings connected to this process.
As a result of this thorough and thoughtful assessment, a Task Force, which included organizational, community, and political leaders, concluded that while the organization had made significant contributions towards progressive development in the region, its future impact would be limited.
Based on the Task Force’s recommendation, the Board of Directors decided to cease the organization’s operations and undertake an intentional process to close the organization in a way that could potentially continue to build a progressive movement in the region. The Board adopted the phrase “closing forward” to describe how they would distribute the organization’s assets, including its database, organizational information and files, and any remaining funds to others working towards a shared mission.
The final part of their “closing forward” process is currently underway in the form of an article I am co-authoring with the organization’s former Executive Director. In it we frame the lessons this organization has learned from its ten years of work, as well as its intentional “closing forward” process, in the context of social movement theory, in order to ensure that their ten years of activity will continue to impact a progressive movement for social change.
When working with foundations my focus is on three different layers of interaction and impact: the foundation sector as a whole, the foundation client’s internal organizational goals and culture, and the foundation’s interaction and impact on the nonprofit sector that their funding impacts. The more that foundations understand their own internal culture and the nature of the change they want to produce in the world, the more they can target their funding and therefore extend their funding in a way that positively impacts the nonprofit sector.
An example of work with the philanthropic sector is our design and facilation of a foundation sector learning community focused on developing intercultural competency. The learning community consisted of six to eight foundations that agreed to work together specifically on this issue of multicultural institutional change and how it impacts its organization and work in philanthropy. The action learning community was based on Mahatma Gandhi’s premise that in order to be an effective agent for change, individuals and their organizations must become the change they want to see in the world. This project created an action learning community to help foundations identify action steps to address racism and other forms of institutionalized forms of oppression within their own organizations and how it impacts their relationships with their communities.
Action learning is a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with the intention of getting things done. Through action learning, individuals learn with and from each other by working on real problems and reflecting on their own experience. Action learning is specifically well suited to increasing participants’ ability to contribute to successful completion of complex projects, involving multiple constituent groups, with multiple necessary and sufficient outcomes.
Given the complexity of tackling institutional change in philanthropy, an action learning approach was well suited to address the needs of this learning community. In addition, the developmental nature of our approach allowed us to mix challenging content that helped participants learn new content with active experiential learning techniques that challenged participants to develop new skills and competencies in a way that comfortably made participants feel uncomfortable enough to stretch, challenge, and grow. A number of new organizational policies, practices, and programs resulted from the projects the action learning teams completed as a result of their participation in this year long program.
A faith-based organization with a mission of building a more inclusive church asked me to facilitate their strategic planning process to intentionally transform their work from providing spiritual sanctuary and denominational policy revision into a broader context of building a faith-based movement for progressive social change.
I began the process by interviewing key stakeholders including church leaders, congregants, and community members to reflect on and give input to the organization’s explication of their theological and values-based worldview that would underlie all of their future activities.
A report summarizing these results was then utilized by the board and staff of the organization at a multiple day strategic planning retreat. This retreat produced commitment to a new organizational mission, vision, and core strategies that resituated the organization within a broader social justice movement.
Finally, I worked with the staff to create a step-by-step implementation plan that translated the new mission, vision, and broad strategic directions received from the board into an actionable community organizing workplan that included measurable outcomes and benchmarks. I continue to support this organization through coaching on the workplan’s progress. Because the organization’s new strategic plan was integrally connected to the core faith principles and deeply held values of their church, the mobilization potential of the organization’s strategies increased significantly.
A large corporation’s Financial Services group asked me to help them understand how to best serve the diverse consumer groups who visit their urban retail sites. They were aware that their informational and marketing materials about their financial products were written from a predominantly white and/or mainstream understanding of financial service. They also understood that mere translation of their material into other languages would not suffice to serve their consumers’ needs and drive business.
To address this issue, I designed an intercultural action-learning project. Action learning is a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with the intention of addressing real problems facing an organization and getting things done.
The project began with a team assessment that included the Intercultural Developmental Inventory (IDI) and market and consumer research that included exploration of specific cultural meanings of concepts such as purchases, cost, value, money, credit, and debt in a number of targeted market segments. The teams also conducted site visits to particular geographical areas to gather insights through community visits and consumer interviews at a number of their urban retail sites regarding consumer interests, their buying habits and the kinds of financial services that would best address their needs. In processing the interviews, team members examined their own value systems, assumptions, and explored some of the differences they encountered and the information they gathered.
This project led to the creation of new financial services products aimed at more thoughtfully and respectfully engaging with the range of consumers the corporation is hoping to reach.