Posts from the ‘Impact & Strategy’ Category

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.

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.

Just Ask: Going to the Source for Real Learning

Way-Ting Chen / July 2020

(This is part 3 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, defining goals, taking stock)

I have a postcard from 2008 that came with a book called Seeing Beyond Sight. It’s a book of photography taken by teenagers who are blind or nearly-blind. This postcard shares a simple, yet powerful, interchange:

Question to blind student photographer: How do you not cut people’s heads off in a photo?

Answer: Just ask the person where they are.

It’s as simple as that– you ask them. All the advanced technology and research analytics, the business theory and social work courses, the talk of growth mindset and emotional intelligence… It all comes down to this: You ask them.

Over the years, the power of this message remains strong, and is internalized in the way Blue Garnet pursues our work. We support our client and other community partners in asking questions to a full range of stakeholders– grantees, participants, beneficiaries, customers, staff, volunteers, etc. The purpose is always to learn, in a real and useful way.

So here we are. Society is at an inflection point, and I find this message even more resonant and relevant. Our sector is asking: What is the impact of systemic racism on those that we serve? On those with whom we partner? What biases do we hold and extend when recruiting staff and volunteers, including Board members? How do we ensure that our work goes beyond immediate service of our mission, and pivots toward antiracist, groundwater solutions? (see our last blog) Though our questions may have evolved, the way to find answers remains the same: You ask them. Or, as lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson puts it, you “get proximate.”

Effective learning requires being intentional about to whom and how we ask our questions, and also what we do with the things we hear. Getting proximate often means going beyond the first-level analysis (in the consulting world, sometimes called the “Survey Monkey summary”). To really learn and take action, it is critical to look deeper and disaggregate data. And be wary of stats that paint a broad picture for the whole population, like a country’s GDP, infant mortality, and unemployment, graduation, and literacy rates. When we dig deeper into the data, we often see different stories by segment—like how COVID disproportionally affects Black and Brown communities.

For various reasons, the social sector tends not to prioritize ongoing learning from primary sources. Or, perhaps more accurately, fails to allocate the resources needed to truly get proximate with critical issues and marginalized groups. In contrast, for-profit companies frequently and regularly invest significant dollars on “market research” and the “user experience” (UX)– to them, it’s a matter of keeping abreast of often-changing customer needs. Many in the social sector instead lean on ad hoc experiences and personal assumptions of community needs, or the ‘listening’ notes from a strategic planning process 5 years ago.

Of course, that is not true of the entire social sector. There are myriads of ways to get proximate. Below are just a few examples of how our partners have invested in engaging “the source,” and how their learnings helped them better their organizations and pursue their missions. (To prompt your thinking, I included a few pointed reflection questions.)

Here’s what getting proximate can look like:

  • A nonprofit serving people with disabilities, ensuring access was not a barrier to hearing participant voices. Their first client and patient survey in years was delivered in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc.) and modalities (electronic, paper, and person-assisted), accommodating various levels of ability.
    • How do you consider and combat ableism when developing surveys?
    • How far are you willing to go to ensure that marginalized voices are heard?
  • A funder supporting scholarships and career-development for first-generation college students, creating safe spaces for feedback on its program. Results from our focus groups with participating students directly clarified the theory of change, helped inform program ambition, and grounded funder and program partners’ expectations.
    • How do you ensure the voice of your beneficiaries are at the table, when evaluating program impact and refining its design?
    • How do you conduct stakeholder engagement in a way that is understandable and relevant to the audience, while yielding honest and informative feedback?
  • A regional funder under new leadership, establishing a baseline understanding of internal capabilities, culture, and challenges. By engaging a third party and offering creative incentives, their first staff survey secured 100% participation, allowing us to analyze the confidential results by departments, tenure, title, and other characteristics. Insights gathered helped focus and prioritize leadership’s internal work in the first year.
    • Where are potential pockets of both energy and dissatisfaction in your organization?
    • How do staff of varying perspectives experience your organization differently? To what extent do race, gender and other characteristics affect these experiences?
  • A local university, engaging formal partners and local neighbors to address a thorny town and gown issue. Gathering input from across the stakeholder spectrum, we conducted intercept surveys from surrounding neighborhoods. Disaggregating data geographically built a richer understanding of the impacts, challenges, and priorities of different areas.
    • What is the impact of your work on those around you?
    • Is it the same or different across stakeholders? How do you know?

Remember, going to the source is not a one-off thing. It takes genuine commitment, willingness to invest in the process, and discipline to follow through. It’s hard work, yet absolutely necessary to build buy-in and maximize your impact. So, let’s continue to invest in the process of learning. Let’s go to the source. Let’s make sure we are getting proximate. As the credo often used by disability advocates goes: “Nothing About Us without Us.” After all, democracy is a process, not an outcome.

Does this jog your thinking? Do you have more questions, or are you ready to get going? Please let us know at hello@bluegarnet.net! We’re just a (virtual) conversation away.

Groundwater problems, groundwater solutions

Sofia Van Cleve // July 2020

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

 

Icons from The Noun Project

Imagine you are walking in the mountains (as I was, on a camping trip in the Eastern Sierras last week). You come across a lake. Sitting down on the banks of the lake to take in the view, you notice a dead fish. You think to yourself, “Odd. What happened to this fish? Did he not eat well? Did he not exercise enough? Was he a lazy fish, who didn’t work hard enough to provide for himself?”

Puzzled, you keep walking along the same lake and find hundreds more dead fish. This is eerie. Now you may consider, “Huh, could something be wrong with the whole lake? This many fish don’t just die by coincidence. Maybe this lake water is poisonous? Is there an algal bloom? Or toxic fertilizer runoff?” The problem appears bigger than one individual fish’s actions.

You keep hiking and encounter multiple lakes. You’re hoping for a different outcome so you can sit down and eat your packed lunch in peace. To your dismay and discomfort, you see that all the lakes have dead fish littering their banks! Now you’re angry. “Why are all these fish dying? What’s wrong with these lakes? How are they all getting poisoned?” The root of the problem is deeper than individual fish or individual lakes—it lies in the groundwater that seeps into all of the lakes.

The groundwater. So deep that you do not even see it. Hidden, but toxic. Below the surface, but extremely powerful. Poisoning all our lakes and killing many fish.

There is racism in the groundwater of our American society.

I first heard this allegory (and I’ll elaborate more below) at a Racial Equity Institute (REI) workshop in September 2019. Although I am White, since I am half-American and did not grow up in the US, I did not previously see myself as complicit in racism in America nor responsible for helping end it. At REI, I recognized that I am, and I’ve continued pursuing learning and action since. REI’s framework and teaching helped me see this. Its groundwater story communicates a complex reality in such a simple way, and we at Blue Garnet have incorporated it into how we talk about systems change. As we continue in our blog series on racial justice, we wanted to share it with you, too.

Racism affects every level and segment of American society. REI uses the above allegory to illustrate how underlying racism (the “groundwater”) feeds into all our systems and institutions (the “lakes”), harming individuals (the “fish”). Across “lakes,” we see disparate outcomes based on race. This is consistent and pervasive, but we have different language for this disparity in each sector (e.g., “health disparities” in healthcare, “racial disproportionality” in social services, “disproportionate minority contact” in juvenile justice, and “achievement gaps” in education). But the pattern of “fish” wellbeing is the same—Black Americans fare the worst, followed by Native American, Latinx, and Asian Americans varying in the middle, while White Americans experience the best outcomes. This same pattern is seen across the health, wealth, criminal justice, educational attainment, and other lakes.

Because we see this phenomenon across the board, the differences cannot be attributed to individuals’ behavior. It’s not about a “fish’s” nutrition, or exercise habits, or level of resilience, or if they attend financial coaching. Socioeconomic status does not explain these differences, either. For example, “White women with a high school diploma have lower infant mortality rates than Black women with MAs, JDs or PhD’s,” (CDC, see REI for more examples). Rather, these differences stem from “a history of structuring opportunity for certain groups while denying others,” according to REI’s Reiney Lin. REI’s whitepaper goes in depth on the history and current reality of racism in America.

So how do we do something about systemic racism? Start by considering and working toward groundwater solutions, even as we continue addressing injustices on every level. As a society, we still need to support individual “fish”– people are hungry today, so we do need food banks and meal servings. Many people don’t have a roof over their heads, so we need shelters for the unhoused. At the same time, the symptoms and suffering we see in individuals often stem from a deeper disease that is generational, societal, and institutional. To ensure a thriving, healthier population in the future, we also need groundwater solutions. We can’t treat only symptoms when the sickness goes unchecked. We need food banks and fair wages and hiring reform. Whatever level and area of social change you work in, you cannot avoid the root causes of your community’s pain.

To further immerse yourself in “groundwater” thinking:

  • Start by tuning into an REI’s virtual workshop on “The Groundwater Approach.” Their sessions this week filled up quickly, but sign up for their newsletter to hear about upcoming events. You can also read their whitepaper, full of data and research
  • Practice drilling down to an issue’s root cause with the “The 5 Why’s” approach. This management technique asks “why” of every layer of a problem until you reach its origin
  • Consider your own organization, and ask yourself:
    • What root causes contribute to the problems I see in my community, and how does this relate to my organization’s mission?
    • What power, knowledge, resources, and strengths do I, or my organization, have to help solve that root cause? Which can we grow in?
    • If we don’t possess these, who can we partner with, fund, or collaborate with that is tackling the systemic issues?
    • Where can I transition part of my organization’s efforts to tackle systems change? Where can I engage as an individual?
  • Shameless plug: keep reading the BG essay series on racial justice! We’ll dive deeper into some of the questions raised here

What resources and frameworks have guided your thinking on racial equity and systems change? Additionally, if you want to chat more with us about our racial justice journey, or how we can partner with you in yours, please contact us at hello@bluegarnet.net


Sources: Specific articles and Groundwater allegory drawn from:
Hayes-Greene, Deena, and Bayard P. Love. The Groundwater Approach: Building a Practical Understanding of Structural Racism. The Racial Equity Institute. 2018

“Phase 1 Workshop.” Hosted by Racial Equity Institute in Westwood, California. September 14-15, 2019.

What BG has to say about racial justice

Way-Ting Chen // July 2020

(This is part 1 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: taking a systems view, defining goals, getting proximate, taking stock)

Welcome to the racial justice conversation.

Jenni and I launched Blue Garnet back in 2002, with a strong nod to our shared experience at a place steeped in the Quaker tradition of social justice and responsibility, and deep gratitude for the strong shoulders of brave mentors, who challenged the status quo to carve the path on which we now walk.

Over the years, we have been privileged to work with leaders and organizations that strive to achieve more just and equitable results for those they serve. For us, this has always meant supporting our client and ecosystem partners to take the long-view, while finding creative, data-informed solutions to a range of seemingly intractable challenges. We firmly believe that progress along the inevitable arc of justice requires a commitment to diversity in process and participation, equity in outcomes that matter, and clarity that these can only be achieved in an inclusive way.

We are proud to have spent nearly 20 years in the trenches of the movement toward lasting social change. We have integrated social determinants of health into the evaluation framework of a healthcare funder, helped a public agency understand how low-income housing residents value access to universal land lines, benchmarked outcomes for educational programs in a community with high-levels of poverty, defined the tipping point required to create a sustainable urban tree canopy, etc. (Can you tell we thrive on the variety of this work?)

Today, we as a society are witnessing flashpoints around underlying issues that have always been around. Of course, the pandemic has shown that our connectedness as humans makes us all vulnerable. However, while the virus is a great leveler, it has not been a great equalizer. We see the disproportionate impact on people of color and the financially poor. On top of this, the video of George Floyd’s murder forced us to confront and awaken our hearts to the systemic racism, and resulting injustice, that have always existed. We, as a society, are now primed to take the movement to another level – to make a lasting difference.

At Blue Garnet, we know the journey is paramount. As trusted advisors to our clients, and collaborative learners ourselves, we have been and are making space to process, learn, and engage on the topic of racial equity and justice. From my perspective, distilling all our reactions, thoughts, and ideas down to one simple statement risks “dumbing down” this deep topic. That’s why, instead of “issuing a statement,” I am excited to introduce a series of essays from members of the Blue Garnet team. We want to share in a way that honors the complexity and diversity of viewpoints on events in our current time, and set them in context of systemic challenges.

In the coming weeks, please look for these essays that reflect our team’s current thinking on racial justice. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ll:

  • Delineate terms that have entered the mainstream discourse, from our perspective
  • Highlight partners working in the cracks in our system long before the pandemic and protests
  • Share how we’re taking action as a team
  • Bring stories of hope, showing that real social change is possible in our time
  • And, through it all, keep our focus on solutions to root causes and how to make them real.

We hope you’ll find the time to sink into ideas and resources that we share, and hold them in your thoughts as you and your organization navigate through this multidimensional movement. And, this is more valuable as a dialogue, not a monologue. So, please reach out to me at way-ting@bluegarnet.net, and let us know how this series is landing with you, and how we can work together to advance the cause of racial justice.

Local Leader Spotlight: Beverlyn Mendez, Easterseals Southern California

June 2020 / Sofia Van CleveA picture of a woman, Bev Mendez

At Blue Garnet, we are honored to partner with passionate leaders who are working hard to tackle the most pressing social inequities of our time. In our Local Leader Spotlights, we celebrate one of these wonderful leaders. This month, I (Sofia) chatted with Beverlyn Mendez, COO at Easterseals Southern California. Easterseals (hereafter, ESSC) works to change the way people define and view disability, and provides services to people with disabilities. Blue Garnet has been working with Bev and her team for the past two years on strategic business planning and implementation. We are continually inspired by Bev’s kindness and wisdom, and we hope to share some of that with you today!

Blue Garnet (hereafter, BG): Bev, you’ve worked at ESSC for 30 years, which is truly remarkable!  What’s your WHY? What makes you get up and go to work every morning?A snapshot of ESSC services
Bev: The ability to contribute and lead at Easterseals is very fulfilling to me personally; it really is a tremendous organization. Our team here has a combination of heart and talent that is so unique. This also describes our participants and families. There’s such an incredible synergy that goes on within the organization that makes it an amazing place to work.

I am also passionate about our services! ESSC supports people with disabilities throughout their lifespan (see Figure A.). Personally, inclusion and community living for people with disabilities also drives me. I went back to complete my doctoral degree several years ago and wrote my dissertation on the role of disability advocacy in deinstitutionalization. (more on this in a minute!)

BG: ESSC is meeting this moment with COVID-19 head on (ESSC blog here). Could you share about ESSC’s approach and innovation responding to the pandemic? And challenges you’re facing?
All our services have continued in unique ways. Like all organizations now, we’re leaping forward with technology in remote services and telehealth, like providing Applied Behavior Analysis, Speech, and Occupational Therapies and Social Skills Groups remotely. Across sectors, barriers to remote services have eroded. We’re moving forward to fill gaps and meet people’s needs where they are. That means reaching out to people in their home environment, and in the case of our Child Development Services, also providing resources like food, formula, and diapers to families to help meet basic needs during the crisis.

It is harder to reach some individuals during this time, though, including those who live in large congregate settings. They are more intensely affected by the pandemic; they’re more isolated and at higher risk of infection. We usually support these individuals to be active in their community through our Adult Day Services. In the midst of the pandemic, people who live in institutional settings are the hardest to reach, and that’s heartbreaking.

We have learned a lot, though, during this time. As people begin to go back to their regular routines, we want to carry forward what we’ve learned in remote services and telehealth. We want to continue and build on this creativity and new ways of connecting.

BG: Like this example you shared, we’ve been talking at BG about how the pandemic illuminates cracks in our systems to a broader audience—surfacing inequities in technology access, job security, affordable housing, food security, etc. How else has the quarantine revealed systemic inequities for people with disabilities?
Isolation is a significant issue for people with disabilities across all age groups, and it’s further intensified by the pandemic. ESSC supports people to be a part of their community, to engage with others, find jobs, and develop friendships. Obviously, this has been a challenge for everyone under the safer-at-home orders. But that isolation is not new for people with disabilities, and it’s just further exacerbated now. Similarly, families who have children at home (with and without disabilities) have been under far more stress during this time, and this is even more of a challenge for parents who have children with disabilities.

BG: In a way, the rest of the world is experiencing a glimpse of the challenges people with disabilities face daily. With this new empathy, is there anything our readers can do to support people with disabilities now or post-COVID?
Yes! We encourage everyone to be inclusive and to make all opportunities as accessible as possible (
resource here), including book clubs, classes, or other activities you’re organizing. At ESSC, our vision is to make Southern California the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play. That means people can help make everything from schools, jobs, social experiences, and housing more inclusive.  We are passionate about what happens when people with disabilities are included.

BG: You just mentioned ESSC’s vision for impact developed last year: “By 2030, Southern California will be the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play.” (info video here) How have you seen that start to play out? What has been the initial reaction you’ve received?
We were just wrapping up our launch of our new vision for impact, then COVID hit! The initial reaction has been extremely positive. During the pandemic, our whole org needed to pivot to support people in new and dynamic ways. We quickly realized, though, that we were putting all the guiding principles and strategies from our Strategic Business Plan to good use. We were excited to tell Blue Garnet “The plan fits! It’s working even during a global pandemic!” We’re living out our plan to expand our services to more people, provide leadership in the disabilities field, share learnings with other organizations, and change the way people view disabilities. The plan continues to guide us, and has sparked even more creativity across the organization. If the plan got us through a global pandemic, we know it will continue to serve us well.

BG: Wow, that’s so exciting to hear! Thank you for sharing that. After working with Blue Garnet for almost 2 years now, what was the most valuable part of your experience?
Two things come to mind. First, your strengths-based approach of looking at the whole organization. As all orgs, we do have areas we want to improve, but the strengths-focus resonated with us because it mirrors how we approach working with people with disabilities. Secondly, your level of engagement across our organization. BG reached deep to connect with our participants, families, community members, and funders. That process of reaching all our key stakeholders was extremely helpful for us! This input guided our strategies, and continues to guide us to make sure we’re doing what is most important for people with disabilities throughout Southern California.


We hope that learning more about Easterseals and the challenges people with disabilities face moves you to greater inclusion in your personal life, and louder advocacy for equal access across all spheres of society. Let’s be includers!

For more info on Bev or ESSC, click here. To connect with Blue Garnet, feel free to drop us an email at hello@bluegarnet.net.

Planning for an Uncertain Future

Way-Ting Chen

April 2020

Only three weeks ago, we were holding in-person design sessions, meeting for coffee, and chillin’ out after work together. How quickly things have changed. Now, we live in a heightened state of physical isolation and general uncertainty.

When our “todays” are evolving so rapidly, it’s natural to ask questions about our “tomorrows.” What will happen to… our organization and its work? …the vulnerable we support and those in community with us? …the physical, mental, and financial health of our staff and volunteers? …this year’s grantmaking or programmatic budget and future sustainability?  Even… what will happen to me? How do I manage work and high-energy kids at home, in the small space we share? And for all of us: How long will this last? When will we know that the crisis is over?  When can we be in each other’s presence again?

Do you relate to (some of) these questions?? Though they can be anxiety-inducing, they are also real and valid. Our vulnerability in voicing them can be a powerful tool. In asking the question, we pinpoint issues of importance and highlight areas where we face the greatest ambiguity. Pandemic or not, we would never have the answers to all of these questions at once.

That said, one thing we CAN begin to address, is what MIGHT happen. And often, when we start thinking in terms of what MIGHT happen, we start to flesh out ways our tomorrows might transpire, organize them into related groupings, and spot areas where we have some degree of influence over the results. This is what we call “scenario planning.” 

Scenario planning allows us to imagine and consider multiple possible futures, then make judgement and plans for each, where possible. This strategic thinking helps to bring structure and focus to uncertain times and draw insights into how we deal with the future. Ideally, we all have the discipline and time to do this scenario planning in advance of a crisis (you know us, we’re planners at core!). That said, tackling scenario planning during times of upheaval builds clarity for us today and confidence to respond quickly as situations evolve.

To give you a sense for what scenario planning entails, we’d like to offer some big-picture questions that can help focus your path forward:

  1. What are 3-5 ways this year could unfold? This is a generative question, so don’t be afraid to think broadly. It can help to think in terms of best- and worst-case scenarios. Or feel free to adapt to options, or scenarios, that make the most sense for you.
  2. What are key implications for each scenario? If you go down each path, what might this mean for people, budget, operations, etc? What actions would you need to take, by when?
  3. How will you know what scenario you are in? What are the markers that trigger change, or indicators that point toward needed adjustment? Is it a demand level? Available staffing? Financial milestone?
  4. What is the likelihood of each scenario happening, based on what you know now? Start working toward the most likely scenario and be on the lookout for changes in those markers.

If the situation changes (which it likely will), you’ve already thought through what you need to do, and can transition to the more pertinent scenario. A few years into the Great Recession, we had a former client tell us that they realized they were in “Scenario B,” and in short order, the Board and staff leadership adopted “Plan B.” Past planning using scenarios with us allowed them to recognize the signs and quickly pivot with less anxiety.

If you’d like a little more reading on the topic, here’s a McKinsey article about scenario planning. While focused on the corporate sector, this article gives further language to the level of uncertainty we encounter and how to plan accordingly.

Finally, please remember that you are not alone in facing the challenges of today. Thousands of organizations and millions of individuals across the country are grappling with these very same questions – as are we at Blue Garnet. While we may not have all the answers, we are doing our part to support our community through this time, in the best way we know how.

With this, we want to try something new and host a virtual Coffee & Conversation on the topic of scenario planning. We’re gauging interest now, so please email us hello@bluegarnet.net to let us know if you are interested, then we work to find a mutually convenient date!

If you have other ideas for how we can be of help, please comment below our shoot us an email.

Be safe and stay healthy, everyone.

Best,

Way-Ting

On being a generalist in a specialist world

There’s a lot to be said about having deep, expert knowledge. And the world is on a trajectory that points to specialized knowledge as powerful and valuable.

Maybe it’s the liberal arts background in me, or the unquenchable curiosity that I have, but it’s hard for me NOT to take a blended, interdisciplinary approach toward most things – including social Impact. There’s power in combining the lessons we’ve learned from for- and non-profit sectors across all types of industries.

Being a social impact consulting firm, we at Blue Garnet are often pulled into discussions with organizational leaders regarding strategy and evaluation. The vast majority of the time, these are separate conversations:

  • Conversation 1: What can we do to take our mission achievement to the next level? How do we make the most impact?
  • Conversation 2: What is our “impact story”? How do we demonstrate the impact that we are having and/or can have?

In the social sector, we tend to pick up and put on our “strategist” hat or our “evaluation and learning” hat. And we start our conversation on one or the other. But the fact is, strategy and evaluation are, and should be, mutually reinforcing. They are the yin and yang of social impact. They are the same hat.

We recently listened to a webinar from CNM on their survey of the nonprofit sector in Southern California. Among their interesting findings, they found that one of the top five priorities for nonprofit leaders is to conduct evaluations and outcomes measurements. And as evaluation and learning partners to our clients, we are very excited to hear this! That said, organizations that align strategy and evaluation can create greater, and more measurable, impact. Blue Garnet strives to expand and guide our clients in broader discussion on how to best make meaningful change—integrating strategy and evaluation into one conversation from the start.

Of course, aligning strategy and evaluation can be challenging. These are distinct disciplines that are often siloed and need to be bridged. This work is also messy and non-linear, requiring patience and continued support.

But fear not! It is actually possible and, in fact, highly worth it. How? By starting with the end in mind and relying on a growth mindset.

Intrigued? Check out this video of a workshop I gave at UCLA Anderson. If you have a good chunk of time, I invite you to watch the whole thing (in my completely unbiased opinion, I think it’s pretty educational!) If you want to delve into some specific examples, the first example about a charter school system considering scaling starts at 26:55. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming blog on concrete tips for putting into action integrating strategy formation and evaluation and learning!

We need both generalists and specialists to solve our world’s complex problems; both bring unique strengths to the table. The good news – we make great partners!  We can bridge disciplines to make and measure more change, and you bring the deep knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to drop a line to talk more! way-ting@bluegarnet.net

 

 

 

 

A brief moment for reflection and encouragement

By Way-Ting Chen

My 25th year college reunion was a couple of weeks ago (those of you who know the Blue Garnet founding story know my business partner Jenni Shen also hails from Swarthmore, and she was lucky to attend the reunion). I was disappointed to have missed it, and all the fun and nostalgia that comes with seeing people for the first time in decades, and (re)discovering who they have become in the meantime.

That said, while I missed the in-person fun, I caught some glimpses of the reunion virtually. One post by an onsite classmate included a comment made by the president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (see right). And it gave me pause.

This call to action challenges us to turn inward and examine our own mindset, assumptions, biases and behaviors, even as we collaborate with others to make the world a better place.

Reading this filled me with pride at being part of an institution that would invoke this challenge. More importantly, it relates to an important point of view that Jenni and I intentionally built into our work at Blue Garnet:  No one goes at it alone. It’s the team’s blend of individual strengths that makes us powerful.

The work of social change asks a lot of each of us. And no matter how hard we may try, we alone are not the answer. It takes longer and more energy to do the internal homework that makes each of us comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, in order to effectively join forces with others in pursuit of social change. Yet, this is what we need to do – individually, as a team, and in collaboration with our community.

The process of effective systems change and business model transformations must be inclusive and can be trying. For me, when I am “stuck” in the struggle with no obvious way out, these words remind me that the conditions are ripe for creativity and, potentially, a new path forward:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Barry

This summer let’s make time for internal reflection and external aspiration, so we can break through the struggle, and in community with our partners, all be the better for it.

 


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