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

Goodbye traditional evaluation, hello real-time learning

Shannon Johnson

February 2020

What comes to mind when you hear the word “evaluation?” Dense, punitive, and not timely? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While there is a time and place for traditional evaluation, we think most of us could make better use of real-time learning.

Developmental or “real-time” evaluation is focused on learning and provides you actionable recommendations on how to improve your initiative or effort along the way. Even more, at Blue Garnet, we adapt the focus of the evaluation as your initiative or program (and what you care about) grows and evolves over time. We like to think of it as “just-enough” evaluation so you can learn what you need and most efficiently use valuable resources.

Want proof? You can read this Foundation Review article we co-authored:  a case-study of a Blue Garnet 5-year developmental evaluation of the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative (NSI) supporting strategic nonprofit partnerships. Our evaluation evolved to align with NSI as it transformed from a “start-up” idea with 3 funders, to a mature, sustainable Initiative pooling funds from 17 foundations across Los Angeles. Our learning questions transformed from focusing on direct outputs and grantee feedback, to how we should define and measure success—for grantees, the Initiative, and finally in normalizing the nonprofit strategic partnerships itself.

Developmental evaluation (with Blue Garnet) allows you to maximize your impact in 4 ways:

  1. Build clarity and confidence by defining and measuring success
  2. Enable you to learn and “course correct” in real-time – tweaking and refining your approach to make the most of your (and your beneficiaries) limited resources
  3. Strengthen ownership and buy-in for the initiative and its results; via our inclusive process that integrates multiple perspectives, including grantees or beneficiaries
  4. Document and institutionalize what is working so these learnings can be applied to future Initiatives and projects.

So, the next time you think about evaluation – start with what you really want to learn and let your curiosity guide the way.

Have a question? Leave a comment or contact us at hello@bluegarnet.net

Blue Garnet Alumni Spotlight: Giselle Timmerman

By Jessica Wong

December 2019

Curious about what Blue Garnet “alumni” are up to? We’re thrilled that most keep working for meaningful social change, often around the world! Today we want to highlight Giselle Timmerman, who joined the BG team in 2007 and continues to work as a Blue Garnet affiliate with positive psychology and strengths-based coaching. In 2012, Giselle moved to Barcelona, Spain with the love of her life. I (Jessica) caught up with Giselle at the end of October where she and her family were celebrating the castañada (chestnut festival) instead of Halloween!

Q: What have you been up to recently—besides raising two girls and exploring Europe?

A: Outside of being a wife and mother, I wear three additional hats. Globally, I’m an executive coach for Fortune 1000 companies whose headquarters are located all across the globe. I love using my gift of coaching to connect with managers and VPs from Silicon Valley, Boston, Taiwan, Australia and Ireland. Locally in Barcelona, I facilitate team development trainings on resilience skills, thriving through change and communication skills for managers. I also teach two classes at a local business school. For my “Managing Change and Organizational Health” class I was able to create my own curriculum and come up with new ideas on how to keep college students awake at 8:30 a.m.!

Q: Like us, we know you think of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) as including strengths. Could you share more about how you think strengths play into the role of DEI in an organization?

A: It’s nearly impossible to be inclusive without appreciation of diversity. Diversity in background, education, gender, ethnicity, nationality, immigrant generation, working + thinking styles, religion/spirituality, skills and strengths.

To me, inclusiveness is leveraging differences to achieve better performance results. Our strengths are a natural way where uniqueness of thinking, feeling and being are valued. Fostering a sense of belonging starts with creating inclusive behaviors within a team that clearly magnifies a person’s uniqueness. “What is the purpose of my role in the team? What are the strengths I bring to the team? When have others noticed me using my strengths?”—questions like these can help an individual feel seen and connected.

All of this culminates into a better understanding of how individuals contribute to functioning as a well-rounded team.

 Q: We’re also thinking a lot about gratitude at this time of year. What advice do you have for practicing gratitude in your daily life?

A: I have a journal next to my bed where I often write down three good things that happened. There are oodles of research on the importance of gratitude for our daily and long-term happiness. The research tells us that the frequency with which you write in a gratitude journal isn’t so important, but that it’s more impactful if you write down why the good thing happened.

At “Friendsgiving” this year, I’ll bring out my vase full of “gratitude questions” (printed onto little pieces of paper). We pass this around at some point and everyone shares their answers out loud. It’s interesting to have specific questions and it’s fun to see how different cultures and nationalities respond to the questions (there are at least five different nationalities at most of these meals).

Q: What are you currently reading (or listening to)? Any recommendations for our fellow social impact geeks?

A: Other than SSIR, other resources I enjoy are: Work Life TED podcasts by Adam Grant, Berkeley’s Greater Good Center Newsletter and Squeezing the Orange podcast by Professor Dan Cable and Akin Omobitan.

Q: What do you miss the most about LA?

A: Mexican food and flip flops!

Q: Looking back, how does your time at Blue Garnet impact you today? What were some of the biggest learnings or takeaways from working at BG?

A: There are so many! One of the first things BG taught me was to ask the “so what?”  Now, within my work I’m pushing further to ask “now what?” Now, after a strategy has been decided upon, internally I’ll ask myself, “How can I help enable a behavior change within my clients that propels energy and commitment forward?”

At Blue Garnet, I also learned how to be more strategic with my thinking. I coach my clients to think through the big picture, connect the dots, and balance thinking about the short term versus the long term.

 


We’re thankful for Giselle, who significantly impacted the DNA of Blue Garnet by introducing us to positive psychology and the use of strengths back in 2007. We continue to engage Giselle in our existing work on culture with our clients. She also helps sharpen our practice around leveraging our individual strengths and working collaboratively as a team with diverse strengths. We’ll keep crossing our fingers that she’ll move back to Los Angeles someday soon. Until then, I think it’s time to visit her and explore Spain ourselves. Who’s in?

Feel free to reach out to us at hello@bluegarnet.net if you’d like to connect with Giselle and the BG team! Or feel free to comment with a note to Giselle and we’ll make sure it gets back to her.

Also, as we’re heading into the holidays, we encourage you to take some time to reflect on a couple of Giselle’s “gratitude questions” (BG has made our own vase of “gratitude questions” now, too!):

  • What about today has been better than yesterday?
  • Who has helped you become the person you are today, and what’s the top thing you’d thank them for?
  • What’s the best thing about your home, and have you taken time to enjoy it recently?

Making business work for everyone and for the long haul

by Way-Ting Chen

It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together about the BCorps Champions Retreat, which took place in Los Angeles in mid-September. My teammate Sofia and I have mulled over ideas and opportunities from the Retreat, and even started to carry forward some of them. Now, I’m finally ready to sit down and share some reflections.

I think the experience of attending a global gathering in your hometown lends an interesting perspective. In straddling the “getaway” with the “day-to-day,” I stepped in and out of the energy and momentum of the event. Each day, I had the chance to be attentively present during the BCorps discussions, AND then step back during my commute and consider new learnings from Blue Garnet’s cross-sector perspective.

With this, I think my biggest reflection is that it feels like this community is at the cusp of something. That the sectors (business, philanthropy, social impact) are blending in ways that accelerate positive change like never before. As a committed, “Best for the World1” BCorp, Blue Garnet is proud to be part of this global movement and excited about the direction the business sector is heading. And here’s why:

  • Valuing strength in diversity. It’s funny—while we literally depend on others to complement our abilities in just about every aspect of our lives (e.g., food, transportation, education, sports, government), we somehow need to be convinced that having varying perspectives at the table produces better outcomes. Props to B Lab (the nonprofit behind the B movement) for very consciously putting on an event that models what diversity and inclusion could look like in a global community. Almost all of the people on stage were people of color and/or non-North Americans. There were breakouts for people of color to enable conversation that did not include the majority, and a session on how to be a white ally. We’ve been having lots of conversations like these in our nonprofit and philanthropic work, and it’s exciting to see B Lab taking on the mantle of driving this for our B Community.
  • Focusing commitment to our collective “So What?” B Lab is leading and has invited BCorps to declare goals aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It is critically important to our planet and to our collective future that we commit and hold ourselves accountable to defined impact. Blue Garnet works with individual organizations to develop Evaluation & Learning Frameworks to measure their impact over time and build accountability. But the SDG framework brings tracking outcomes to a global, collective level. We are excited to join this global SDG movement (one of the only things the world has agreed upon in the last few years is these Sustainable Development Goals, so let’s work toward them together!) In aligning with the SDGs, businesses can work together with government and nonprofit sectors to move the needle on the most pressing societal and environmental issues of our time.
  • A modernized standard for corporate responsibility is emerging. There are now more than 3,000 certified B Corporations in 50 countries. B Lab is also seeding this movement in economies all over the world. In August, the Business Roundtable (comprised of CEOs of leading US companies) announced a new Statement of Purpose of a Corporation that moves away from shareholder primacy and toward commitment to all stakeholders– customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. Wow. Clear evidence that the principles of the movement are gaining traction beyond our BCorp community!

Are you as excited about this as we are? Join us— and add to the energy that is (we hope) permanently shifting our economy that works for everyone, and for the long haul. Here are just a few ways to do so:

  • Get smart: If you’re just hearing about the B movement, B Certification, or SDGs for the first time, we encourage you to learn more
  • Vote Every Day: Make decisions every day that reflect what you care about, including buying from and doing business with BCorps (look for this logo!)
  • Look out for the 2020 BCorp Champions Retreat in Mexico! They have opened up the conference to a broader “business for good” audience, so consider attending if you’re leading a social-purpose business and considering applying for BCorp certification or getting more involved in the movement.

As the motto of the Vote Every Day campaign goes, “Let’s get to work!”

 


1) Note: For those of you not as familiar, the BCorps Champions Retreat is annual gathering of certified BCorps from across the world. BCorps are purpose-driven businesses that commit to balancing profit, people, and planet, and undergo a rigorous process of certification by the nonprofit B Lab. I’m proud to say that Blue Garnet has been a certified BCorp since 2014, and a “Best for the World” honoree 6 years in a row! That means we scored in the top 10% of BCorps worldwide in the annual Impact Assessment. This year, we were Best for the World in 3 categories: Overall, Customers, and Changemakers. Click here to see our scores!

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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Millennials, the Future, and your Workplace

By Sofia Van Cleve and Shannon Johnson

At Blue Garnet, we have a motto: Think long-term, plan for the short term. We want people to think about strategies and solutions for not only today’s needs, but also needs in the future. To what extent do you know the future needs of your team? Your clients? Your community?

It’s a heady question, but we are here to help. While many people tend focus on the tech changes ahead— like the double-edged sword of innovation, technology, and Big Data— we urge you to also consider the changes in people ahead. Namely, Millennials. We think it’s worth your time to learn about this generation, so we compiled some of our learnings and takeaways from recent market research for a corporate strategy project, culture assessment for a regional nonprofit, and “DEI” discussions and workshops.

Millennials are already the largest generation in the labor force and they will become the future leaders of our organizations and our country. Millennials are:

  • Those born between 1981 and 1996*1
  • Now largest generation in the labor force—over 56 million working or looking for work2
  • More educated and racially diverse than previous generations1
  • Urban: they flock to urban areas for the lifestyle benefit and job opportunities, despite higher cost of living3. Also, more Millennial families live in cities than in suburbs4
  • Purpose-driven: companies that prioritize innovation and societal improvement via their business lower Millennial employee turnover and increase loyalty5

And they value…

  • Inclusion and diversity emphasized in the workplace—(including perspective, culture, and lifestyle)5
  • Flexibility: many attracted to the gig economy for flexible schedules and lure of supplemental pay5
  • Experiences: Several successful brands appeal to the younger audience using experience marketing, creating physical spaces for connection and community6

What does all this mean for your workplace? Between volunteers, board members, leaders, and staff – workplaces often are comprised of 4, if not 5, different generations. It can be challenging to work across them to create shared leadership. Be honest, have you ever heard or thought: “Ugh! Millennials are taking over!,” “Why do Millennials feel entitled to such extreme work flexibility?” or “Why can’t Millennials get off their phone for a second?”

It’s important to acknowledge (and even say out loud) that different generations have different norms, values, and “pet peeves”7. However, you can equip yourself and your team to work through the conflicts and determine how to best engage and employ workers across all generations.

Here are some questions7 to mull over at your next coffee break (or matcha break, in true Millennial fashion):

  • How can you expand your conversations to prepare for the future? By focusing and aligning discussions around your organization’s desired future impact, individuals across generations (not just Millennials!) are more likely to be engaged and motivated to make it happen. Pro Tip: make sure you start with together defining a common language about impact.
  • What does the future look like for the people you serve? How will you listen to, learn from, and include your constituents in addressing their changing needs? And what does this mean for your team?
  • To what extent have your leaders evolved their leadership styles? Emerging norms are for leaders to champion change and build a purposeful culture. Sometimes that means creating space for younger people to challenge, innovate, and teach.
  • How do your culture and services factor in generational preferences? How often do you look without blame from different perspectives at your strategies and workplace? In what ways do you seek, listen, and learn from the input of others? How do differing perspectives come to a decision in a healthy way?

We hope this entry sparks some creative thinking on building a healthy cross-generational culture at your organization. Let us know your reactions and experiences related to these questions?

 


Notes:
* According to Pew Research Center, though exact cutoff birth years for Millennials is contentious in generational theory
Source 7: “When Your Normal is My Trigger: Working Successfully Across Multiple Generations in the Workplace and the Link to White Privilege;” 5/21/19 presentation by Barbara Grant and Linda Nageotte at Washington Nonprofit Conference

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