Social change leadership for collective impact: Lessons from the US


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By Sonia Ospina

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  • Brief story The research was part of the LCW program Ford wanted to change the conversation about leadership 20 groups per year, for 5 years, for a program of 2 years; received a grand and resources for personal development; program wide meetings to develop a network; opportunity to participate in research activities R&D component -Consistent with the philosophy of the program -Appealing to progressive, combative leaders with little time and complete distrust in academia Responsible, not just taking from communities, but giving back  not only rigorous research, but most importantly, relevant and useful Leaders as visible tip of an iceberg; Leadership as collective achievement; does not belong to individuals What happens when a group is able to find direction, commitment and alignment So to see it, we have to focus on the work the group is doing, not on what they say about leadership or on the leaders themselves It leadership is a construction acihivement that is constructed in the experience of doing the work, then as an experience, it has to be studied from the inside out  qualitative; and from as many angles as possible  multimodal And as an experience, it can only be understood by working with who are engaged rather than doing research about them Must have some degrees of participation; this has to be collaborative research
  • Community rooted A systemic approach to change Commitment to marginalized and low-income communities Commitment to democratic values Uncertainty, complexity, hostile environments & economic scarcity
  • Appreciative Leadership is the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power—to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance—to make a positive difference in the world. Leadership happens when as community uses its strength to: See abundance where others see scarcity Transform abundance into resources Use resources to leverage power Engage in changing structures, policies and thinking an explicit world view to bring the future into the present Core assumptions about the world core values of social justice Implications Principled use of power Living the change you want to see
  • At the core of our framework are leadership practices They do not represent techiniques or capabilities, but a type of work that is embedded in the particular context of the organization and the broader environment where change is intended Practices are different from the technologies of management (strategic management, budgeting, human resource management, fund raising, board development, etc Different from the core tasks associated with the organization ’ s mission, if a hospital, we are talking about core tasks associated with healing and caring, in this case social change core tasks include organizing, doing advocacy, developing community and offering services The practices are embedded in a broader context that is brought about because of the experience of a lived problem of systemic exclusion by a community, a diagnosis in that community of the root causes of this problem and the formulation of a vision of the future that drives the work The work is also anchored in a worldview, which we have called “ grounded humanism ” based on the recalcitrant oposition and interruption to any act that dehumanices or reduces the dignity of people, be it at the micro or macro levels Embeded in this vision and worldview are practices, technologies and tasks that produce intermediate and long term outcomes of change Buidlign collective capacity is viewed as an end as well as a means toward the goal of levering power The work aims to generate the conditions to grow leadership inside the organization so as to make people feel what the vision of the future fells like in the present and also to generate the collective capacity to leverage power; it wants to create organizations full of leadership Changes are about pushing the “ needle ” of power from one end where power is concentrated and excludes, to the other where power is shared, redistributed, enlarged and can be used to break barriers so as to generate more inclusion
  • While visions for the future share common features, we found distinctions that reflect variations in the underlying theories of change in SCOs. The extent of systemic change being demanded may range from “inclusion” to “transformation,” or the group may also articulate a parallel need for “preservation.” When the underlying theory of change is transformation, systemic change means replacing the current system with another one. This view sees “the system” as the source of the identified problem. The Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT), for example, works for land reform, which for them means changing the fundamental nature of land ownership in the United States. The group’s leaders disagree with the basic notion of private ownership of the land. “People should not think that they can own a piece of land and do whatever they want with it. They can’t own water. They can’t own air,” said one member. The group wants a change from individual to communal ownership of land, “That is the essential element of land reform: that land is owned in common. And individuals make use of the land as they need it…. But the land is ultimately owned by the community…” When the underlying theory of change is inclusion, systemic change means altering the current system so that its benefits reach everyone equally. SCOs holding this view recognize that some groups are systematically excluded from benefits such as adequate housing, clean air and water, and educational opportunities. New Road again provides a useful illustration. It does not envision a fundamental change as sought by BCLT, but is simply interested in gaining access for its community to the same resources and privileges held by other communities, like appropriate housing and home ownership. When the underlying theory of change is preservation, systemic change means stopping the destruction of traditional cultures by the great maw of American life. This view focuses on making room in the system for an independent cultural heritage that has been undermined or nearly eradicated.
  • While preservation is an end in itself, it generally accompanies an inclusive or transformational view of change. Groups can fight to preserve their way of life while also demanding the same benefits as other Americans. Or they can advocate for the wholesale replacement of particular systems, even as they struggle to preserve their own. The Gwich ’in Nation, a native tribe in the northern reaches of North America with members in both the United States and Canada, has seen massive changes over the decades that threaten their traditions and customs. To preserve their life, they are battling against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. This organization does not advocate for a whole new system; but that the current system should protect their human rights as it protects others, seeking inclusive rather than transformational change.
  • How is the work that Gwichin steering committee doing an example of reframing?
  • Nurturing networks are both strategic tools and a way to manifest community (instrumental and expressive dimensions of the work) Our networks shape our identities, our identities shape our actions
  • The third leadership practice is UHE It requires create the conditions for transformational learning So that each group member can reclaim his or her condition of huma being and recognize the power inherent to direct their live It is about creating conditions for a personal transformation by viewing oneself and one ’s conditions differently from you did before A new understanding of how systems affect personal circumstances offers new capacity and trust to believe that it is possible and worthwhile to fight and to win It also motivates to find new competencies and skills to be able to contribute
  • Consider the work of advocacy, key task for social change Advocacy means active participation of citizens who influence decision making authorities Who does this? The constituents themselves They require abilities and knowledge to do this; they must learn about structures of power they want to influence; must identify the actors and establish trusting relationships with them; must learn about the policy issue as it is defined and as it ought to be defined This requires more than traditional training: the point of departure is the idea that participants are experts in their own right because they have experienced the problem first hand; and they have legitimate knowledge that can be quite important to think about the problem So this expertise is used to generate new capacity; at the core is the idea from popular education and civil rights work that you learn by doing, participaitng in mobilizations and being supported, and doing cycles of action-reflection But the work is also based on an understanding of the vulnerabilities that exist due to oppression
  • “ the ‘when ’ of leadership has to do with when it feels real for each person” “ ..each person, in his or her own way, has something to bring to the work, and when each contribution is valued, people recognize themselves as leaders and change is possible”… Pablo Alvarado from NDLON “ People who have been oppressed hold inside them the answers to their own development. I believe that I am able to create a setting that legitimizes their thoughts and beliefs and validates their experiences . Once we have achieved this, we can begin the process that allows individuals to articulate their needs and begin to acquire power over their own lives”
  • SCOs represent an important subcategory of nonprofit organizations, and yet we know very little about them They provide services, advocate for reform, demand accountability  key actors of civil society!l They construct democracy at the local level! We know little both about the actual work that they do and how they are contributing to the solution of wicked programs, and we know little about the type of leadership that emerges from these less bureacratized and more community sensitive organizations The leadership literature has not drawn insights from the experience of people in these organizaitons, and in general, from the experience of people of color. – there is an amazing literature on black leadership that really teaches us a lot, but it does not make it to the mainstream leadership journals nor to the public service journals (mostly in educational journals) - In mainstream there are increasingly studies of black leaders, and yet, they are viewed as a special case from which it is not possible to generalize; unlike studies of white people who are the defaul from which to make universal statements - need to bring this voice and draw from the experience to THEORIZE ABOUT LEADERSHIP We can learn a lot Very imnportant: today ’s leading edge work in leadership studies: distributed, collective, shared leadership; relational leadership  discourse says this is the way of the future; but inp ractice people do not know how to do it; yet these organizations have been emphasizing the collective dimensions of leadership for a long time!
  • From the article Living within the circle: A native american relationship with our natural resources In Natural Rresources and Environmental Issues, Volunt 3 Page 33
  • Social change leadership for collective impact: Lessons from the US

    1. 1. Social change leadership for collective impact: Lessons from the U.S. Sonia M. Ospina NYU/Wagner Research Center for Leadership in Action Wise Practices in Indigenous Community Development Symposium THE BANFF CENTRE, Alberta, Canada 20121
    2. 2. Collective impact…collective achievements... 2
    3. 3. A collaborative research with 92 community-based organizations and 164 social change leaders
    4. 4. Indigenous organizations inthe LCW program (about 7%) of ) 4
    5. 5. Structure of my remarks1. What we did: a collaborative research with leaders in social change organizations2. What we found: leadership as collective achievement3. What we learned: Implications for theory and practice 5
    6. 6. Leadership for a Changing World: 92 SCOs, 164 leadersThe LCW program (2001-2007)Research & Documentation (2000-2009)
    7. 7. Community Voices Heard, CVH, New York City CVH is an organization of low-income people, predominantly women with experience on welfare, working to build power in New York City and State to improve the lives of our families and communities.
    8. 8. Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants (CAAAELI), ChicagoCAAAELI aims to strengthen diverse voices of inter-generationalimmigrant and refugee communities by building alliances through atransformative process to develop grassroots power that impacts publicpolicy
    9. 9. People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, PODER“We seek to empower our communities through education,advocacy and action. Our aim is to increase the participationof communities of color in corporate and government decisionmaking related to toxic pollution, economic development andtheir impact on our neighborhoods. 9
    10. 10. LCW organizations are social change organizations• A nonprofit or public service organization• Addresses root causes not symptoms of problems• Increases the power of marginalized groups, communities or interests• “a grassroots response to systemic social problems.” (Chetkovich & Kunreuther, 2006: 14) 10
    11. 11. How are SCOs distinct from other nonprofits?• Work in environments of uncertainty and scarcity• Work with constituency group, not on their behalf • Promote participant self-determination and autonomy • Engage participants in decision-making and governance  Transform constituents into stakeholders• Aim to transform unjust power relations that affect constituents 11
    12. 12. An ambitious research agendaCore research team members make Research Stream Participants Products meaning in conversation with members of a community (co-researchers) Ethnographic Inquiry: Collective Integration Looking at leadership from the In what ways do inside Up to 3 LCW •Continuity participants’ communities •Context communities trying to make •In-depth focus/thick descriptions Ethnographies social change engage in theLCW participants make meaning in conversation with core research work of Narrative Inquiry: LCW participants and leadership? Leadership Horizontal team members The LCW participants use representatives of their their own voices to reflect communities Stories Analysis In what ways can about leadership and academics and construct meaning. practitioners co- produce leadership Inquiry Reports research and Up to 2 groups of knowledge that is Co-Operative Inquiry: 6-8 LCW valid and useful tomeaning from practice Co-researchers (in an inquiry participants each both? participants make group) generate Selected LCW meaning/knowledge of leadership in action. 12
    13. 13. Structure of my remarks1. What we did: a collaborative research with leaders in social change organizations2. What we found: leadership as collective achievement3. What we learned: Implications for theory and practice 13
    14. 14. … Key findings• The work of leadership is about awakening the community to its own strength: • When community members see and feel abundance in the midst of scarcity they are ready to mobilize their collective energy 14
    15. 15. … Key findings: From scarcity to abundance“Collective” appreciative intelligence:“the ability to see the inherent generative potential in a given situation and act purposively to transform potential into outcomes” (Thatchenkery & Metzker, 2006)Appreciative leadership:“the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power…” (Whitney, Trosten-Bloom & Rader, 2010) 15
    16. 16. A framework of social change leadership in SCOsLeadership Strategic work to construct and drivers leverage power Change A lived Long-term problem LEADERSHIP Outcomes: Intermediate(systemic PRACTICES outcomes: Changingexclusion) Collective -Mental -Technologies Capacity: of -Individual modelsVision of - Policies Management -Organizawellbeing -Core - Interorg. -Structures and organizational social tasks -Relationships justice Basic assumptions: theory of change/ knowledge /human beings/power Social change values: equality; solidarity; inclusion; democracy: transparency W o r l d v i e w: “g r o u n d e d h u m a n i s m”
    17. 17. Variations in theories of social change 17
    18. 18. LCW Indigenous Awardees advanced change through the “preservation” strategy 18
    19. 19. In what ways do communities trying to make social change engage in the work of leadership? 19
    20. 20. The work of leadershipDeveloping many leadership practices that help the organization Reframe discourse Bridge difference Unleash human energies 20
    21. 21. Reframing discoursechallenging existing ‘templates’ and mental models that contribute to make up or reinforce the problems that the organizations are addressing
    22. 22. Gwich’in Tribes Steering Committee“The caribou is not just what we eat, but who we are. It is in our dances, stories, songsand the whole way we see the world. Caribou is how we get from one year to the other”.Sarah James 22
    23. 23. People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, PODER“…redefining environmentalissues as social andeconomic justice issues,and collectively setting ourown agenda to address theseconcerns as basic humanrights.” 23
    24. 24. Prompting Cognitive shifts (Foldy, Goldman & Ospina, 2008)• About the “issue” • How an audience views the problem and/or the solution• About the constituency (those experiencing the problem) • How the constituency sees itself • How one part of the constituency sees another • How an outside audience sees the constituency
    25. 25. Bridging difference…connecting differentworlds and worldviewsin ways that makealliance building andcollaboration possible Columbia River Inter-tribal Commission 25
    26. 26. The Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish CommissionThe CRIFC s mission is to ensure a unified voice inthe overall management of the fishery resources, andas managers,to protect reserved treaty rights through the exercise of the inherent sovereign powers of the tribes 26
    27. 27. Underlying assumptions of cross-boundary work• Recognizing the strategic value of difference • Difference: not a problem but a key resource; • (and managing the paradox of unity/diversity)• Balancing (real & pervasive) power inequities • commitment to try to “even the odds” (in favor of the vulnerable)• Leveraging the power of networks • Networks=strategic tools AND manifestations of community (and shapers of identity) 27
    28. 28. Unleashing human energies …creating the conditions to reclaim the right to selfhood and full humanity …and to recognize one’s power and expertise to direct one’s life…learning andunlearning … 28
    29. 29. How?Creating transformative learning spaces whereparticipants can build their strengths•Harness lived experience (and develop people’svoices)•Draw strength from culture and identity•Distill knowledge and practice skills 29
    30. 30. 30
    31. 31. Leveraging the power of all practices together: PODER goes to Court• “…there was a time that we were all sisters and brothers, the night sky our ceiling, the earth our mother, the sun our father, our parents were leaders and justice our guide…” 31
    32. 32. Leveraging powerReframing discourse + Bridging difference +Unleashing human energies = Preparedness, readiness, willingness to engage in action to bring the future into the presentLeadership practices  leadership capital 32
    33. 33. Structure of my remarks1. What we did: a collaborative research with leaders in social change organizations2. What we found: leadership as collective achievement3. What we learned: Implications for theory and practice 33
    34. 34. Distinct sets ofcompetencies 34
    35. 35. Implications for leadership theory• Few studies of SCO in the mainstream literature • Missing relevant voices (and stories)  people of color, low-income communities, indigenous groups… • We can learn a lot about the human condition from their experience!• New interest on “relational forms of leadership” and the collective dimensions of leadership • Leaders in SCOs have been doing it for years! • We can learn a lot about leadership from their experience!
    36. 36. Closing thoughtsFrom Peter Senge:“Ultimately, leadership is about how we shape futuresthat we truly desire, as opposed to try as best we canto cope with circumstances we believe are beyond ourcontrol.”“Look to the periphery, to people and places wherecommitment to the status quo is low and where heartsand minds are most open to the new.” 36
    37. 37. Donald Sampson’s words to young people …you are the ones who will lead us into the future. Open your hearts and your minds. Touch the earth, the mother of all of us. Begin to feel the beauty in the rhythm from a spiritual stance. Try to understand the land, the plants, the wildlife, not only from a scientific standpoint, but as your relatives, your brother and sister.I have hope for a new Native American relationship with this land and with ournatural resources, a hope that lies deep in the heart of our children and which willlie in the hearts of all of our future generations. 37
    38. 38. Thank you!Want to learn more? Research Center for Leadership in Action, NYU/Wagner leadership 38