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Confluence 2017: Valuing Humanity

Earlier this month, I was honored to join the Management Assistance Group’s Confluence: A Sharing Of Learning, Questions, & Dreams in Chicago, in Illinois. The Confluence centered around creating and exploring deep equity. We explored how to create Leaderful Ecosystems with the premise that this cannot happen without: 1. Engaging/Cultivating the the Broader Spectrum of Leadership; 2. Advancing and Intentionally Embodying Equity; 3. Flexing Across The Leadership Spectrum by Influencing Complex Systems Change; 4. Valuing Multiple Ways of Knowing; and 5. Creating the Space for Inner Work.

Given that participants, as a group, were already strong in embodying racial equity, our work focused on creating spaces for inner work. We dove deep into self-care and beyond that to what generates resilience in this work. In these conversations, we explored how this work is sustained, given life and endurance through love, equity, and justice.

Together, we envisioned what communal care, rather than self care, could be; we practiced care towards ourselves and each other; we created liberated spaces; and dove deep into what love, dignity, and justice for all would mean for all people. In my open space  group, we focused much of our time reflecting on childhood development and as we were reflecting on the needs of children and families, one of my peers asked: “How can some school administrators love the children but hate the parents?” As she shared stories of resilience and resistance to racist systems of inequity, it dawned on us that as a society we have placed an expiration date on humanity. It is easier (though not always easy) to find people interested in the development of children, yet as those children approach adulthood, that interest may wane and by the time they reach adulthood at 18, there is a clear societal apathy towards developing each other. This is most clear in the way that we do NOT fund leadership development.


Just this week, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a report on how scarce financial resources are for the nonprofit sector. They found that even the most successful programs are not consistently receiving funding for core functions and when funding is stressed, organizations Love is wanting others to be powerfulimmediately reduce operational functions needed for healthy growth, which are key to establishing healthy, enduring organizations. As we know in the leadership development field, when funding is scarce, leadership development is typically among the first to go.  SSIR states that from the 300 organizations Bridgespan reviewed, “More than half (53 percent) suffer from frequent or chronic budget deficits—defined as at least two of the past five years. And 40 percent have fewer than three months of reserves (specifically, liquid unrestricted net assets) in the bank to cushion financial shortfalls. In fact, 30 of the 300 organizations showed no reserves—making them technically insolvent.” These organizations are not able to invest in developing the skills of their people as part of their infrastructure, because they do not have the funding. We know this goes beyond this report, as a whole, the social sector is not investing in its own development and limiting the long-term Leaderful Ecosystems that could create endurance and resiliency. Though we value the needs of the communities served by the sector, unconsciously, the field values its staff less and at times expects sacrifices from its staff.


In Chicago, I heard stories from peers asked to do the work without pay and many times for less money than the work is worth, others paid for staff development out of pocket but most just missed opportunities. Commonly, some do not have access to healthcare through their employers, and some are hired as consultants rather than employees, though their work is full-time and heavily administrative. This is not news to me as I heard similar stories throughout the years and the patterns remain.


Bridgespan calls for organizations to look for cracks in their foundation and for philanthropic foundations to also give more to funding the structures of these organizations. We should not only look for these gaps where our values are not aligned in internal and external operations and address them, we should also hold each other accountable and continue to seek to develop Leaderful Ecologies within our own organizations for the field to succeed; this is the work of communal self care and love.