OFP Cohort Progress & Learnings - Year One

As part of our ongoing learning and broader community sharing, the NGEC staff would like to share a few key reflections about the 1st year of our capacity building approach, process and tools with the Organizational Fellowship Program cohort. Knowing that there isn't "one model" for change, we attempted to document the questions, processes and challenges of our cohort that offer "signs of progress."

 

1) Improving responsiveness to a community vision for cultural change

As part of their foundational work in the first year of the OFP, many cohort groups revisited their organization's values and identity to reexamine relevancy and overt commitment to social justice principles.  This transformational process for some groups has led to re-evaluating how their organization's work is aligned with their community's vision for change.

Many cohort members felt it was important to clarify the framing and language used to describe their values, while also examining how deeply those values actually permeate every aspect of their organization and work.

Groups highlighted many aspects of their organizational culture, such as internal decision making structures or processes and the involvement and buy-in of community. Specific organizations that combine social service work with organizing have found it useful to examine how strategies connect with each other under one political agenda or vision.

 


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2) Valuing the process as well as the product

Cohort members highlighted importance of taking the time and resources to create and maintain the organizations' internal processes of change. Those who have been able to create and value processes to support their transformation - carving out time, engaging in discussion, and involving a multitude of individuals - have been more successful in facilitating change within their organizations.

It takes tremendous time and resources to get to collective decisions about how to move ahead, not to mention the challenge of balancing the diverse perspectives and opinions of an organization's key decision makers among board and staff.

 

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3) Redefining organizational "sustainability" and "effectiveness" in the context of the social justice movement

Organizations recognized the inherent tension with how "success" is commonly defined in the nonprofit and philanthropic fields. Traditional indicators of organizational growth (e.g. expanding operating budget and hiring more staff), does not necessarily equate to deeper impact in community or greater sustainability.

Putting impacted community at the center of an organization's work in order to build power can be contextual, elusive, and hard to quantify in practice. Groups continue to grapple with how best to lift out the ways that their communities communicate and operate, and harness those assets to contribute to cultural change.

 

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4) Examining how patriarchy and other systems of oppression affect organizational values, analysis and strategies

Some organizations are exploring how patriarchal practices impact all facets of their work. Since "gender" is often understood to mean "women's concerns", it has been a challenge for groups to think about how the intersection of race, class, gender, and other kinds of oppressions can be addressed more deliberately in their work.

However, some organizations have pinpointed areas that they want to challenge within their organization. For example, organizations that feel bound or limited by hierarchal leadership structures and positional or representational power are attempting to chart out new ways of engaging in shared leadership and collective transformation.

 

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5) Value of peer learning / Charting your own path

The OFP has connected with innovative organizations across the country including: Asian Women's Shelter, based in San Francisco, CA, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, with work in Richmond, CA, and Freedom Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin.

These organizations have found unique ways to infuse the values of the community within every aspect of their organizations, including practices like:
• allocating organizational resources to provide support to other organizations;
• prioritizing hiring staff with deep knowledge and roots in community;
• consensus-based decision-making; and
• helping to foster and "make space" for new and emerging leaders.

Although peer exchanges have been reported as extremely insightful, organizations are also finding that they cannot look externally for the answers to becoming a more deliberate social justice organization. There is no "one formula" or set of actions that would achieve the "right" kind of organization.