Three Cheers! Shannon celebrates 10 years!

Three women smiling

Way-Ting, Shannon, and Jenni at Shannon’s 10 Year Celebration

If you’ve had the privilege of meeting Shannon, you know that she exudes joy, enthusiasm, and passion. (And that she curses like a sailor!) As Partner at Blue Garnet, she leads many of our client projects and helps manage the behind-the-scenes of running a small business. Shannon just celebrated ten years at Blue Garnet, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight her! I, Sofia Van Cleve—peep! I’m back part-time!— sat down with Shannon to reflect on the past decade…

Sofia: To start us off, could you share more about how working at Blue Garnet has shaped you? How have you changed or grown both professionally and personally during this decade? 

Shannon: I started off at Blue Garnet (BG) after finishing my MBA at UCLA Anderson. I was newly married and had no kids. My two kids have grown up with me working at BG! BG flexed with me through my personal life changes, in terms of having a family and moving to Seattle. Way-Ting and Jenni have really been steady partners throughout the last decade.

BG has made me a better person. Before coming to BG, I had only dabbled in social sector work. BG fulfilled my drive to find a more meaningful purpose in my work. It has taught me so much about the social sector, in terms of how it works, its challenges, and the people involved.

You’ve also grown a lot in your role at Blue Garnet, right?

Yep, I was a Senior Associate at first, then Project Lead, and now Partner. In addition to client work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn much more about relationship building, client and staff management, and how to run a small business. I quickly realized you have to wear the other “hats” of running a social enterprise at BG, like HR, talent management, business development, or ordering paper for the printer! This decade at BG has given me a much broader perspective of what it means to be a social entrepreneur.

Channel your younger self 10 years ago. How did you hear about BG? Why did you choose to work with us?

I heard about BG via Net Impact at UCLA Anderson. Working for BG was a “no-brainer.” The work was challenging and inspiring, and there was a kick-ass team.  I’m a big extrovert, so I need a team to interact with and learn from. I love that we push each other to deliver our best. I think TEAM is a key that sets Blue Garnet apart.

A group of 6 people posing in front of a Christmas tree

A holiday party many moons ago

I think you’re getting at an important point— what sets Blue Garnet apart. Could you share more?

We’re a group of learners, constantly geeking out with each other. And we are generalists – we don’t focus on one industry. I like the variety of solving different problems in different fields.  Every project has its own unique circumstances. It’s never boring work, and we lean on each other to make sure we’re delivering our best.

Along with that, what do you wish people knew about BG?

How much time we invest in our clients. We really care about our clients, and they often don’t have the budget to do the work that they really need to be done. We stretch our budgets so far because we really want clients to get what they need (even if they can’t always pay for it).

What’s one thing from “the Blue Garnet Way” that you’ve adopted into how you work?

I was a consultant before BG, so I didn’t think the learning curve would be too steep. I was SO wrong—  the “Blue Garnet Way” is a completely different way of working! Clients in the social sector are much more complex than corporate clients because they have so many more stakeholders to consider. And they have to do far more, with far less money!

One thing I’ve really adopted from the “BG Way” is starting with the end in mind, or the WHY. The focus is always on the North Star of impact. We push ourselves and our clients to get to the ultimate “so what.” We need to focus on how the community is different because of the work we’re doing; impact is not just the sum of all our programs. If, for example, you want to solve houselessness, you have to do more than meet an individuals’ immediate needs. You need to take a long-term perspective and define what it takes to make an individual self-sustainable. And don’t forget about systems change!

What’s something you’re really proud of having contributed to the BG Way?

For our services, I’m proud of building up our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expertise, as well as refining our thinking around organizational culture and the intersection with strategic planning work.

The paper airplane competition!

Internally, I always like to make sure we’re having fun! And I’ve contributed a healthy dose of sarcasm 😊. I like to boost team morale and create silly competitions. I organized a hot dog cooking competition, a paper airplane throwing contest, and a “best all-around person” contest with trivia, physical fitness, and creativity components. We also had a “Lincoln Lunch Experiment” where we tried a new restaurant each week on Lincoln Blvd next to our office! Even remotely, I could help organize some of these. One down-side of being the organizer is that I couldn’t participate, and I’m super competitive!

Describe one of your favorite project moments in 10 years at BG. What made this moment interesting and memorable? What were some key learnings, if any?

One highlight was working with a big corporate foundation and seeing the way they dug their teeth into the Impact Formula. They used it as an opportunity to challenge assumptions around their theory of change, and to get to the root cause of problems. With BG, they took time to reflect on how to best serve domestic violence survivors in a connected ecosystem. They also assessed their reputation in the community, creating a sophisticated new scale. Their curiosity really inspired me!

I learned the importance of an inclusive process that embeds change management. At first, we worked only with a small group of Senior Leaders to save others’ capacity, but then completely changed our process when Directors and others wanted to get involved in the Strategic Business Planning. It’s important to give people a chance to share their voice!


I hope you feel like you got to know Shannon a little better! If you have any questions for her, feel free to reach out at

Gems from my internship: reflecting on Blue Garnet

A black sign on a white background reads "Blue Garnet" and shows part of a brown wooden door.By Rebecca Castillo / July 2021

As I wrap up my internship as a Blue Garnet analyst/coordinator, I appreciate the chance to reflect on how much I’ve grown over the past seven months. At Blue Garnet, I had the opportunity to work on a new project every couple of months. I got to learn more about Southern California’s social impact landscape, hone my Excel skills, and meet so many passionate changemakers. As someone with interests in various industries, this was beyond exciting for me.

During my time at Blue Garnet, I worked on several client projects. On one project for a local nonprofit organization, I learned the process of strategic business planning and how to use data analysis to assess an organization’s impact. Another project—for a corporate client—was very research heavy, and I learned how to build hypotheses and test them with my research. We only had two weeks to work on that project, so it was a whirlwind! That project was really fun, as I got to experience first-hand the fast-paced nature of consulting. I spent several months working on an evaluation project for a funder, where I collected, cleaned, and analyzed the largest data set I have ever worked with. This project challenged me so much; looking back on it, I’m slightly blown away by how much I’ve grown through these various challenges.

It was always very clear to me that Blue Garnet cares deeply about its employees. During my spring semester, I was balancing part-time grad school, along with working part-time for Blue Garnet. After a particularly rough week, Way-Ting sent me a care package. It was such a sweet gesture, and not the first time she had done that.

More than anything, I’m going to miss the people at BG. While I never had the opportunity to work in the brick-and-mortar office, sit next to my coworkers, or bond with them in person, I’m so grateful for every virtual team meeting, lunch, and hangout we had together.

As you may recall, I am the co-founder of Storyboard: a digital media for social change initiative I launched during my sophomore year at Swarthmore College. I was recently offered a fellowship from Swarthmore to continue to scale my initiative, work with middle and high school students, and share diverse stories. While I am saddened that my time at Blue Garnet is coming to an end, I’m thrilled to continue my work in making digital media education accessible and increasing diverse representation in media.

Break out that library card, it’s summer reading season

Madeline Stewart and Way-Ting Chen / June 2021

Book cover of The Data Detective:Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of StatisticsSummer marks the perfect time to make progress on the nightstand stack. Ever eager to build our social impact skills, the team at BG will be getting together in a series of book club chats as we read The Data Detective by Tim Harford. A bit of a foil to the seminal book How to Lie with Statistics by Darrel Huff and Irving Geis, Harford’s book walks through some common ‘traps’ we fall into around statistics, and ways we can overcome them. (We won’t spoil it entirely, but curiosity plays a role!)

This month, our team launched into our second annual summer reading challenge, BG Reads. We set a collective reading goal, and any book completed by a team member during the months of June, July, and August will count toward the challenge. Last year we set a modest goal of just 10 books—and ended up reading 25 books by the end of August! Throughout the summer, we track our collective progress toward the goal in a shared Google slide, and share highlights from our favorite reads. All genres are welcome; books need not be work-related.

So far, we have a few books in our queues that we’re excited to dig into. Consider adding these titles to yours:

Let us know if you end up picking up one of these reads – and we’d love to hear your recommendations as well!

Team Spotlight: Rebecca Castillo

Rebecca Castillo / April 2021

Hi! My name is Rebecca Castillo and I’m an Analyst/Coordinator intern at Blue Garnet. I graduated from Swarthmore College in May 2020 with a special major in Education, Race, and Media Studies. Currently, I’m pursuing a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at USC Marshall School of Business. My goal is to learn how to use businesses to create long-term social impact in disadvantaged communities.

As a woman of color, I grew up watching people who didn’t look like me or share my lived experiences tell the stories about my community. I decided to address this during my sophomore year, when I received funding to start Storyboard, a summer digital media intensive for low-income high school students to learn storytelling for social change. I’m deeply passionate about accessible education, improving diverse representation in the media, and fighting income inequality. I was connected with Way-Ting during my last couple of years at Swarthmore and she always gave me incredibly valuable advice about building lasting social change. My conversations with Way-Ting about Storyboard were what led me to realize I wanted to work in social impact consulting.

I’ve wanted to work for Blue Garnet since my junior year of college and am so happy to finally see that dream come true. As a born and raised Angeleno, I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to spurring social change in my community. I’ve learned so much during my last three months at Blue Garnet. Some of my tasks have been pretty daunting, but always fascinating. I’ve learned so much about program design, data analysis, and evaluating social impact through working with clients all over Los Angeles.

Starting a new job during a pandemic isn’t easy, but the team made the transition smooth and painless, and I’m so lucky to work with such dedicated changemakers. Even in a virtual environment, everyone has still found a way to make me feel welcome and part of the BG family. From virtual happy hours to virtual team lunches to virtual check-ins, I have gotten to know my coworkers as some of the most dedicated, brilliant, and caring people I have ever worked with.

Feel free to send me a hello or any questions you may have about Blue Garnet. I hope to meet you soon!

On Being a “B”: Blue Garnet’s B Corp Journey

Rebecca Castillo / March 2021

Here at Blue Garnet, we are proud to celebrate B Corp Month as we enter our 9th year as a Certified B Corp. Certified through the nonprofit B Lab, B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. This month, I (Rebecca) chatted with Blue Garnet co-founder Jennifer Li Shen about the company’s journey to becoming a B Corp. 

“Way-Ting and I used to refer to Blue Garnet as ‘our grand experiment,’” Jenni recalled. “Could we take our business acumen, what we’d learned in serving for-profit companies, and build a firm with some of the similar aspects of strategy consulting?” When Blue Garnet launched in 2003, there were very few organizations doing similar work. “We got a lot of strange looks,” Jenni laughed. “The concept of a for-profit business exclusively focused on a triple bottom line or a double bottom line—the first line being social, the second being financial, and the third being environmental—was more of a rarity.”

In her first couple of years with Blue Garnet, Jenni attended a conference and overheard some lawyers talking about a new way to make businesses a force for good. From there, Jenni and Way-Ting watched as the B Corp movement grew and evolved. “We decided, ‘Maybe there’s something here. Maybe there are organizations like us out there.’” She was still a bit skeptical when she attended a B Lab retreat in Colorado. Yet as she met other passionate leaders and saw the types of companies involved, she quickly realized that this nascent movement had real potential. 

After that retreat, Blue Garnet made the decision to get certified. B Corps commit to considering the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment—something Blue Garnet had been doing from the beginning. Certified B Corps go through a rigorous application process with the B Lab where they must complete an assessment, change their bylaws, and achieve at least 80 points out of 200 possible B Corp verification points. The application process can take between 6 and 10 months, and in the end, only 1 out of 3 companies achieve certification. Our firm officially became a B Corp in 2012 with a score of 138.6. Every three years, we reapply for the certification, providing us the opportunity to benchmark our performance and reassess our goals.

Today, Blue Garnet is one of nearly 4,000 Certified B Corps dedicated to using business as a force for good. We have been awarded a number of distinctions; most recently, we were recognized as a “Best for the World Honoree” in three categories in 2019, meaning we were in the top 10% of Impact Assessment scores that year. 

“I’m very proud that we’re part of the movement,” said Jenni. “We are so blessed to be able to work with the leaders and teams that are doing the work of complex social change.” As we reflect on our B Corp journey, we count ourselves lucky to have joined such an incredible community working toward lasting social change.

Got questions about B Corps? Get in touch! Want to join us and “B” the change? You’ll find a directory of B Corps worldwide (and more about becoming a B Corp) at

B Corp 2019 "Best for the World" Overall HonoreeB Corp 2019 "Best for the World" Changemakers HonoreeB Corp 2019 "Best for the World" Customers Honoree

Overcoming inertia around racial justice

Way-Ting Chen / December 2020

(This is part 7 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our: introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals, taking stock as an individual and organization, and picking action lanes as an individual)

“The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line.” 

Isaac Newton’s first law of physics

So, what does this have to do with racial justice?

Inertia is an incredibly powerful force that centers on resistance to change in speed or direction. In our world, inertia comes at multiple levels: individual (think: starting a new exercise routine), institutional (building an anti-racist culture) and systems (changing perceptions of people with differing abilities). With inertia, the greater the mass you try to move, the stronger the resistance required to move it. Similarly, it can be incredibly challenging to make the changes needed to move people, collective efforts, and systems in a different direction.

Are you experiencing inertia at your organization related to racial justice? Maybe your organization has spent the better part of 2020 (perhaps prior years, too) learning about systemic racism in America, holding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discussions, assigning a DEI taskforce. You might even have released a statement and articulated your organization’s equity goals. But you still feel a bit stuck.  We hear several reasons that teams and leaders are feeling this inertia.

To start, your organization might not have clarity on your end goal for impact and equity. The first step to overcoming inertia is reaching consensus on where your organization is headed. Read more in part 4 of our essay series, where Madeline makes the case for starting with the end in mind and bringing your team together around a common dream. Effectively setting a shared goal for your organization starts to bring clarity and shared excitement that helps fight inertia.

Once your organizational goal is set, you might get stuck in aligning your organizational efforts in pursuit of that impact goal. What are the Means to your organization’s Ends? What is the unique role, or “action lane” your organization plays in the movement for liberty and justice for all?

Developing a strong sense of the Means-that-achieve-your-Ends pushes your organization to examine a set of core capabilities. These are not a long, overwhelming list of “to do’s.” These core capabilities form the unique building blocks that create your desired impact, by working in concert with each other. We find that they generally fall into 4 categories:

  • Programmatic: What your organization must do well to meet the unfulfilled needs of your community, given your desired impact. Getting proximate to true needs
  • Advocacy: How your organization works to dismantle oppressive systems that hurt your community members
  • Support Structure: How to provide the needed resources to deliver your programming, develop your talent and team, and ensure long-term financial sustainability. This is the underlying foundation for what makes your organization’s efforts successful
  • External Relationships: Understanding your role in the broader social change ecosystem, building relationships with partners working together for more equitable communities

Some teams experience inertia because they have not articulated and aligned their core capabilities, and bite off more than they can chew, as they try to do everything for everyone in their community. Knowing your organization’s Means frees you up to say No to opportunities that do not align with your core capabilities. Strong partnerships with others in the social change ecosystem can help you grow impact, without necessarily growing programs or budget.

Going back to Newton, inertia is not “bad,” per se. It is simply a force that can perpetuate both good and bad elements of strategy. Building an anti-racist organization is hard work. Developing core capabilities needed to achieve racial justice takes effort. Shifting organizational culture takes even longer. When you try to change direction of an entire organization, you will meet resistance. But inertia within an organization can be overcome— with intentional, inclusive design, and patience in implementation. Start to unlock forward movement by casting your gaze toward future equity goals, taking stock of where your organization is at now in terms of racial justice, then aligning your core capabilities toward this impact.

What about you— how are you experiencing resistance to change in your organization? Do you have an organizational culture where you can name and discuss this inertia explicitly? What ideas can you take from this essay to start unlocking forward movement today? If you need a thought partner for these important questions, or the journey of overcoming inertia, just jot us a line!

What’s my action “lane” for racial justice?

Sofia Van Cleve and Jessica Wong / October 2020

(This is part 6 in our racial justice series. Read more in: our introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals, and taking stock as an individual and organization)

Summer 2020 was heavy— full of lament, anger, and grieving injustice. We mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and so many others. Whether this summer was a wake up call for you, or you’ve been part of the racial justice conversation for a while, you know things need to change. You have passion and determination to make a difference. But, like us, you may be wondering what you should do. What is your role in the movement for Black lives (particularly as an ally)?

As we discussed earlier in Blue Garnet’s racial justice series, the first step in taking action for racial justice is to determine where you’re going, then to take stock of where you’re starting. Now, you need to decide which route to take to get to your destination. In other words, what means you need to reach the ends, or what strategies you should employ to accomplish your goals. That’s what we want to explore here— looking at individual action. (We’ll explore organizational strategies in our next essay.)

We’ve heard it said that “anti-racism is like a highway.” This movement has multiple lanes, entrance points, and speeds. But we’re all heading in the same direction—toward greater equity and justice for all. There are multiple “lanes” you could drive in, but some are more strategically aligned to your interests and skills than others. To figure out which “lane” you should take in the racial justice movement, ask yourself:

  • Where do I have influence and interest?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What is an ambitious, yet feasible, “lane” for me?

Firstly, you need to understand where you are interested in making change, and how you have influence in that area. In another Blue Garnet essay, we shared The Racial Equity Institute’s “Groundwater Analogy” to explain the disparate outcomes we see by race across systems in America. Recognizing that racism affects the “fish,” “lake,” and “groundwater,” there is work to be done at each level.  Do you act at the “fish” level, like feeding your houseless neighbors? Or do you work in advocacy for hiring reform, the “lake” level? Or are you addressing the toxic “groundwater” beneath, tackling racism across systems? Where do you naturally operate? Where does your organization work?

Consider where you are today, and where you want to be. What injustices make your blood boil? Where does your passion lie? Where do you feel most fulfilled when you serve others? If you love working one-on-one with people, you can meet immediate physical needs. There is a huge opportunity there. We do encourage you, however, to also support those working on policy change, so that there can be fewer hurting people in the future. While you may not be the one skilled in lobbying for changes in police funding, for example, you can bolster those who are “driving in the advocacy lane” and vote* for policy change. Also, look for ways to partner with people across the “lanes” of the social sector. Can you bring together players across issue areas? You can call someone working at a different level of systems change to get their perspective on your new program. As a funder, you can use your power and influence to create a space for dialogue between community leaders, churches, academic institutions, government, and nonprofits. As individuals, we need to work both in our individual lanes and partner with other lanes, to make this a lasting, sustainable movement for racial justice.

Secondly, your natural strengths should inspire and fuel your involvement in social justice. At Blue Garnet, we take a strength-based approach to our team development and client engagements. If you’re not familiar with the CliftonStrengths, learn more here. The Strengths themes are divided into four domains: Strategic Thinking,  Relationship Building, Influencing, and Executing (see below).

Source: Gallup, Inc.

We’ve been brainstorming how these Strengths connect to the racial justice movement, and have some suggestions.
For example, if your strengths are in…

  • … Strategic Thinking, you might naturally think big picture about structural racism, and help others do the same. You could also learn about the historical context of racism, and teach others. Dream about what a truly desegregated system might look like. Ideate with others on how to make that dream a reality
  • … Relationship Building, you are most at ease using your empathy to connect with people. You could sit with marginalized people and hear their stories. Volunteer as a tutor in an under-served school. Build connections across sectors; introduce people who can work together or help each other
  • … Influencing, you gravitate toward using your voice to speak truth to power. You might communicate to your network how you’re voting on a specific ballot measure, and why. Share your opinion at a public commissioner’s meeting, or use your social media to advocate for a specific petition
  • … Executing, your instinct is to make things happen. You might arrange the puzzle pieces amongst stakeholders toward a common social justice goal. Create a list of anti-racist goals for yourself, or rally others to help do so at your organization. Keep entities accountable to taking action on their DEI statement (whether your own org or tweeting at big corporations.) You could focus your efforts around one specific system or cause

These are just our initial ideas and one way of looking at Strengths. Let us know if you have more thoughts on how Strengths intersect with anti-racism!

Thirdly, be honest about what “lane” is aspirational, yet feasible, for you. You should feel challenged out of your comfort zone, but still be able to move at a sustainable pace. After all, anti-racism is a marathon, not a sprint. Your “lane” on this highway will inevitably look different than someone else’s. That is a good thing. We need all the lanes, and you have a unique role to play. Remember to check in with how you’re doing, too. You can’t keep driving if you run out of gas. This highway is challenging, winding, foggy at times, stormy at others, and full of roadblocks. You might be tempted to take an exit and go back to the comfortable side streets. Rest, then keep going. But keep driving—learning, advocating, donating, partnering, meeting needs, and voting*.

As you can see, there are many routes to take toward the goal of racial equity. For Jessica, she wanted to learn more about advocacy and policy change at the “lake” or “groundwater” level, after attending a Racial Equity Institute workshop last fall. She thought she could use her Activator, Futuristic, and Responsibility strengths in combination with her strategic planning experience from Blue Garnet to walk alongside an organization that was working in systems change.

The perfect opportunity and a natural “lane” arose for Jessica to join the Executive Council at the Children’s Defense Fund of California. She loved how CDF-CA envisions and works toward a future where “a child’s ability to lead a healthy and successful life is not determined by race, ethnicity, family income, zip code, gender, sexuality, home language, ability, health needs, immigration status, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice system” (Shimica Gaskins, Executive Director). That’s their ends. Their means? Advancing policies, serving children, and inspiring activism. (You can learn more and support CDF-CA’s systems change efforts here.)

We hope these ideas and examples help narrow down the myriad of “lanes” for you. If you want thought partnership on finding your role in the racial justice movement, just ping us. We’d love to chat!

Let’s keep driving for justice together.


* Here are a few of the California ballot guides we’ve been using: CalMatters, League of Women Voters, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, and Voter’s Edge

Taking Stock: Turning Inward on Your Racial Justice Journey, Part 2

Shannon Johnson / September 2020

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Welcome back to Part 2 of this “Taking Stock” essay. Part 1 focused on taking stock as an individual. Now that we’re all self-aware leaders (ok…at least have started our personal journeys), we are better equipped to lead our organizations through the transformational change to center racial justice.

“Taking stock” at the organization-level starts with addressing 5 key questions:

  1. How has systemic racism impacted your organization?
  2. Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?
  3. [For philanthropies] Who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?
  4. How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?
  5. How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

One quick note before we dive in. Think about who needs to be “at the table” when you’re answering these questions.  A poll during NP Quarterly’s “Beyond the Board Statement: How Can Boards Join the Movement for Racial Justice?” webinar showed that while 70% of participant organizations had issued a public statement addressing racial equity since the murder of George Floyd, only half (52%) of those organizations involved their board in framing it.  Your organization cannot make transformational change without the support of your board. They need to be involved of the process if you truly are going to center racial justice. Ok – back to our five questions:

Q1: How has systemic racism impacted your organization?

Even if your organization’s mission does not explicitly tackle racial justice, look at your mission, programs, and history through a “racial justice lens.” Ask yourself – how has systemic racism played a part in our history? How has it impacted our constituents? Staff? Leaders? Who has benefitted and how? Involve your board and staff, and acknowledge that searching for this truth is going to get uncomfortable.  Once you’ve acknowledged this history and context, you can start to figure out what to do about it.

A good example is The National Park Conservation Association. Last year, it published its Statement of Intentions which included: “We also know our visionary founders marginalized certain people. We were not always on the right side of justice; we helped pioneer the concept of public lands but excluded important voices in the creation of national parks and our organization. And many of our national parks and public lands were created by forcibly removing those who called them home. That history cannot be unlived, but facing these difficult truths allow us to do our best work going forward.”

Let’s be honest about our history, then commit to changing the path of our future.

Q2: Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?

Who is more equipped to fight for racial justice than those who have experienced the trauma of systemic racism firsthand? Moreover, there is a multitude of studies showing the benefits of workforce diversity, including increased innovation and financial gains. Having a diverse workforce (or at least adopting policies to work towards increasing diversity) is also a tangible symbol of your authentic commitment to centering racial justice.

One way to get real data and hold yourself accountable to equitable hiring practices (and funding practices, too!) is to conduct a “Diversity Audit.”  In order to do so,

  1. Articulate who your constituency specifically is (e.g. all African American youth in the City of Los Angeles).
  2. Beyond your constituency, discuss other ways is it important for your organization to be diverse, including – but not limited to – race/ethnicity, gender, age, income level, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive abilities, religious beliefs, immigration status, etc.
  3. Gather your “baseline” diversity data for how many of your board, management, and staff fit your prioritized diversity/social justice categories.

Beyond recruiting a diverse board or hiring a diverse workforce, you need to think about retaining them. Will your culture and norms allow Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) members of board and staff to bring their authentic selves to work, or will they be required to adapt to a white-dominant culture, or serve as the token voice for their entire community? Do your salary and promotion policies ensure equity across marginalized populations? In answering these questions, check your retention numbers. Without realizing it, you may be struggling to retain diverse talent with valuable perspectives and ideas that you worked so hard to bring in. If you do happen to lose diverse team members, be sure to conduct an exit interview to better understand why.

We know that collecting sensitive information like this is not easy. It may help to keep the data anonymous, share only consolidated totals, and communicate that the purpose is to promote racial justice.  Or you can hire a third party like Blue Garnet to help collect and draw insights from this information for you.

Once you know the “baseline,” set diversity targets for where you want your organization to be in the future. Then make an action plan for how to get there, and hold yourself accountable to results.

Q3: For philanthropies, who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?

“Fund us like you want us to win” was a rallying cry to philanthropies from South Los Angeles community leader Gloria Walton, at a Southern California Grantmakers conversation we attended back in June.  This quote really hit home for us. While the social sector may be well-intentioned, philanthropic redlining exists. A recent Bridgespan report found that organizations led by People of Color win less grant money than those with white leaders. And budgets for white-led organizations were 24% higher than those led by People of Color. We want to lift up Ms. Walton’s rallying cry to every philanthropic ear. It’s time to do the work – to transition your DEI statements to grantmaking decisions.

Start by taking inventory of your past grants. What does board and executive leadership look like at the organizations you fund? How does that compare with the communities the grantees serve? And how do you make it easier (or harder) for organizations led by community leaders to access and ensure your partnership? This simple step can help open eyes to implicit biases that exist in your organization’s grantmaking.

Similar to Q2 above – once you know your funding diversity “baseline” – review and adapt your policies, set future diversity goals, and develop an action plan to achieve them. (Pro Tip: You can conduct a diversity audit for your grantees using the same approach above).

Q4: How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?

As we all know, transforming your organization to center racial justice takes significant time and resources. If you are making a genuine commitment, you need to allocate appropriate staff capacity and budget to support the process of transformation. Think of your budget as a “moral document,” as it illuminates your organization’s true priorities. Take a look at yours and consider if you’re “putting your money where your mouth is:”

  • Do you have funds for emergent, equity-focused strategies (e.g. programmatic changes, advocacy)?
  • Where are the funds for on-going equity training for staff, leaders, and Board members?
  • Take a deeper look at your compensation across gender, race/ethnicity, age, and other social justice characteristics. If you find implicit bias in your compensation practices – do the work to make it right.
  • Do you have funds to hire people or consultants to help inform and execute this transformation? Most organizations are stretched thin already. Simply adding these responsibilities to someone’s already full plate will reduce the likelihood of achieving your results.

Question 5: How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

For most organizations, centering racial justice is a significant, foundational change that will require thoughtful, strategic change management. Every organization will encounter resistance and roadblocks, because change is hard. Each individual transitions at their own pace, “letting go” of the way things used to be. Kotter’s 8-step process (see visual) is a helpful framework to execute transformation. Additionally, working to create shared leadership and an inclusive culture will provide a stable foundation to see this change through.

We know that “taking stock” is just the first step in a long journey to center racial justice. Blue Garnet is on the same journey. Though we may have started our journey earlier, we’re still learning, too. What steps have you taken (or want to take)?  Let us know if you need a strategic thought partner to take steps towards racial justice and to manage this change at your organization.

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.1.

Taking Stock: Turning Inward on Your Racial Justice Journey, Part 1

Shannon Johnson / September 2020

(This is part 5 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals, and taking stock Part 2)

The Blue Garnet team is encouraged that a large number of people and organizations have been sparked into action in response to the current racial justice movement. We’ve seen numerous organizations publish “diversity and inclusion” statements, or share their ideas on how to make their organization more equitable.  We think this is a great first step – in fact, our last blog focused on developing a long-term vision for racial justice.

Yes – we are encouraged…or maybe cautiously optimistic is more accurate. We don’t want this racial justice movement to mirror what happened last year with the Business Roundtable’s “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” When 187 CEOs of major public corporations promised to “deliver value” to all STAKEholders, not just SHAREholders, it was considered a major milestone in corporate social responsibility (also noted in another BG blog). However, just one year later, the statement has been called a scam and “should be viewed largely as a PR [public relations] move rather than as the harbinger of a major change.”    

Please don’t let that happen here – this moment is too important. We need to hold ourselves accountable to doing better for racial justice. It’s time to transition from PR statements to action, and every journey starts with a single step.

In our experience, your first step should be to “take stock,” starting first with yourself, and then for your organization. As an individual— you need to understand the facts and history around systemic racism in the United States, recognize unconscious or implicit biases you hold (we all do!), and address your relationship with our racist systems. These are critical steps in mitigating our individual attitudes and actions. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, we all have implicit biases and the vast majority of us are racist to some degree. And while structural racism may not be our fault, it falls upon us to address it and its impact on our community. A higher level of personal preparation better positions you to lead any transformational work on racial justice in your organization.

Taking stock individually often involves turning inward with a few questions:

  1. What is my personal relationship with systemic racism and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) populations?
  2. What are my own implicit biases and blind spots?
  3. How does this show up in my life? Through my (implicit and explicit) attitudes and actions, how have I contributed to, or alleviated, the impact of systemic racism?
  4. What antidotes and changes do I need to take on, so that I might be a more effective leader in my organization and change agent in general?

This deep reflection is a journey, and it’s not easy – it will cause discomfort, but we need to forgo the right to comfort. Tema Okun, social justice advocate and facilitator, writes:

 “Understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can; deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture; don’t take everything personally.

At Blue Garnet, we’ve made some space for members of our community (clients and fellow team members) to take on this self-reflection. Here are some recommendations for how you might support this deeply personal, and profoundly important, journey:

  • Be humble and acknowledge that there is a lot that you don’t know. Take this Harvard assessment to help uncover your implicit biases.
  • Do your best to actively listen and learn. Review and reflect on Tema Okun’s characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (note these are applicable to all dominant and existing systems, not just for white individuals). Some of our other favorite resources include Racial Equity Institute Phase 1 training, the “Seeing White” Podcast, Awake to Woke to Work training, and Community Coalition-South LA activist training.  Looking for more? Check out Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation-Los Angeles and Racial Equity Resource Guide to find additional racial equity organizations, guides, workshops, and resources.
  • Be vulnerable and open to feedback. While it may be uncomfortable, encourage a trusted friend (or, to avoid tokenizing, find an “accountability partner”) to illuminate your blind spots. Ask clarifying questions to understand. Speak for yourself and share your experience with others.
  • Expand your “community” and connect with people that are different from you to broaden your perspectives and get external feedback; get plugged in.
  • Know that you can change your personal (and eventually, organizational) behaviors and practices, as Dr. Bryant Marks, Sr. encourages leaders through his training efforts nationally. 

Self-reflection and learning are ongoing disciplines, and the Blue Garnet team is right beside you. What self-reflection tips or resources would you add? If you need a coach or accountability partner during this journey (or just have some questions), please don’t hesitate to reach out.

As a leader in your organization, your individual journey will ultimately cross into your organization’s journey. When it does, don’t forget to “take stock” there, too. We know the asks above are a lot to process, so we’ve broken this blog into 2 parts. In Part 2, we’ll turn to “Taking Stock” at your organization. Sneak peek: we share perspective and resources on these 5 questions:

  1. How has systemic racism impacted your organization?
  2. Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?
  3. [For philanthropies] Who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?
  4. How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?
  5. How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?


For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.2.

Defining the Dream

Madeline Stewart / August 2020

(This is part 4 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, taking stock)

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King’s compelling dream, as shared with thousands of people on the National Mall that day in August 1963, helped so many see the future he described. His powerful imagery both harkened back to our country’s founding principles and passionately painted a vivid goal: a future in which, Dr. King envisioned, his own children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We still aren’t there yet. In 1963, Dr. King’s dream was bold and brazen. It inspired those fighting for civil rights and called out to those who benefited from our country’s status quo. In 2020, new voices are envisioning a future that is possible if we can acknowledge and address the systemic forces that got us to where we are now. This current movement for racial justice includes calls for re-imagining nearly every sector of our society—from housing to health care, from education to community safety, policing, and criminal justice.

Today’s leaders, like Dr. King, are raising an inspiring rallying cry, a call to action. Yet, for many of us, there is not an easily discernible path forward. In my time at Blue Garnet, I have grown to respect the process that it takes to put structure around this kind of ambiguity. In the movement for Black lives, we are witnessing (and participating in) that messy and uncomfortable, yet beautiful, process of defining a dream for racial justice and working toward it.

When inspired to work for change, how do we move forward toward action? How do we enter into the process?

One of the first steps is to define the future that want to see. We need to get specific. At Blue Garnet, we aim to “begin with the end in mind,” referencing one of business icon Stephen Covey’s core principles. “To begin with the end in mind,” according to Covey, “means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.” For an organization, a clear definition of their DEI and other racial equity goals—rooted deeply in their mission and work—will empower members of the organization to navigate toward that more equitable future.

Today, many are looking to take action for racial justice in a way that is grounded in their own organization’s mission. Let’s take the example of increasing the diversity of your organization’s board of trustees. While a worthy goal, simply aiming to “diversify the Board” is not enough. We must drive to clarity on what achieving this goal would look like. What elements of diversity are we talking about? (Race, gender, age, representativeness of the population served, etc.?) If we aim to increase the racial diversity of the board, what is the numeric, measurable goal we hope to achieve? By when?

The goal itself will determine what strategies and actions are needed to bring that goal to life. Consider what it would mean to build a board comprised of 50% Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)—versus a board comprised of 10% BIPOC. While either of these may be an increase from the present board representation, the effort and action needed to achieve the former goal may be quite different than the strategies to achieve the latter.

To help you begin with the end in mind and define your organization’s dream for equity, start by asking questions such as:

  • What would racial equity look like for, and at, our organization, in light of our mission?
  • How will we know when we’ve achieved it?
  • With our mission in mind, what outcomes and real impact will serve to move the needle on racial justice?

As a reminder, your Board and executive leadership should not define your organization’s dream in isolation. At Blue Garnet, we seek to include the voices of all stakeholders when setting organizational goals. Once the goals are clarified—with buy-in from the community and other partners—you can then turn to implementation, or what we refer to as “making it real.”

Your vivid dream of increased equity will be a galvanizing force at your organization and for the people whom you serve. With a distinct target in mind, you can work to map out the various steps and interim milestones needed to achieve the overarching goal. With those in place, you can then define the tasks and people who need to be involved to make each step happen. Please reach out with your thoughts and reactions, or if you would like our help articulating your organizational goal and navigating the changes that it may bring.

This is your moment—our moment—to define a more just future for your organization, your community, and our country. “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness,” as Dr. King intoned in his Mountaintop sermon. “Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”


For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out these other posts in our summer blog series.

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