Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons from the Field: Inclusiveness

Article contributed by Mike Johnson, Executive Director of Project PAVE

I came to Project PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence through Education) in June 2006. I had spent 30 years in corporate America prior to that. During my corporate tenure, I attended several training sessions addressing Diversity, Racial Awareness, and White Privilege. Over time, you might notice a change in personnel, such as more women or more persons of color, but I did not seem to notice a change in the culture. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then I am a white male.

Previous to coming to PAVE, I had been part of a learning group called “Just Faith.” The study and focus of the group was centered on Social Justice. We spent 32 weeks looking at Poverty, Racism, Institutional Racism and a multitude of issues, which facilitate the imbalance of power in the world. One of the key pillars of social justice is ‘subsidiarity’ or the intentional effort to ensure that the people who will be most impacted by a decision have the greatest say in forming the decision. On the surface this appeared to be very logical; however, as I looked at my own behavior and experience I came to see this was very different.

During my first couple of weeks at PAVE, I spent a lot of time looking into the priorities and issues facing the Agency. One item I came across was The Denver Foundation’s Expanded Non-Profit Inclusiveness Initiative, a two-year grant to PAVE. I was excited to think we had an opportunity to be part of such a noble program. I thought I had something I would feel really comfortable with but over the next two years the feeling changed dramatically.

I approached our Staff and Board to form an Inclusiveness Committee, which would be the catalyst for the transformation of self, and the Agency. At that time, the Staff and Board had done an excellent job holding things together but problems had surfaced. There was more than one person who felt I had my priorities a little mixed up because the Agency had been operating with more than one critical position vacant. We were in the red in June 2006, and by the end of the year, we were $120K in the red. Morale was suffering, and there was concern over our community involvement and whether or not our programs were stable and consistent with our mission. These were obvious priorities, so we were faced with a decision of whether we give the grant back or move forward with what were obviously pressing issues.

There was something that kept coming back to us, however, and that is, Inclusiveness is not an agenda item, it is not just some big project that appears also to be well meaning. It is a life style, and for an organization, it is a new way of “doing business.” It wasn’t something we would start and in 2 years be finished. We started to come to the realization that Inclusiveness was the solution to achieving our priorities. We wanted to create a culture that people would feel good about being a part of. So we began our journey.

At first, it was very slow as we began to gather data on the Agency, Board and the community we served. We started to look at ourselves and began to overhaul our internal processes. We conducted training and sessions that revealed our own blind spots. Things we each assumed to be the “truth” became open to new possibilities. New opportunities started to open up for the people to be heard and enable them to be part of the solution.

Simple solutions started to be realized for what appeared to be complex problems. Implementing a process where no more money would be sought unless the Development and Program departments agree on strategic alignment, risk and value. This eliminated conflicts between individuals. Language for grants, marketing policies and operational infrastructure were all aligned with PAVE’s mission.

Our mission became the cornerstone in every aspect of our journey.

PAVE’s mission is to empower youth to end the cycle of relationship violence. We serve 4 to 24 year old children, teens and young adults impacted by domestic violence, sexual abuse and relationship violence. Our programs take two paths: Intervention/Counseling services and Prevention/Education services. We provide services at the Agency, as well as in the schools of the Denver metro community. Our ‘Inclusiveness’ journey has allowed us to make great strides in making our programs much stronger in realizing our mission.

We continually involve the people and community we serve in deciding what our programs should look like. This involves students, parents, teachers, business and faith based leaders. Getting ourselves out of the way and putting the people most impacted in the decision-making role has led to greater impacts and sustainable programs.

So, what has the journey provided in terms of measurable accomplishments? As stated before, PAVE had a $120K deficit at the end of 2006. At the end of 2007 the Agency was $140K in the black, a $260K swing in 18 months. In 2008, PAVE served more clients than in any of the previous two years. Each member of the Board serves on at least one committee and volunteer involvement has increased each year. Our programs have become stronger and have received national recognition. In August of 2009, Project PAVE was recognized by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce as “The Small Non-Profit of the Year”.

Then there are the intangible improvements. Each Staff member realizes the opportunity for personal and professional improvement. Personal transformation is embraced, and some level of discomfort is expected; however, when decisions are made, one of the first questions asked is who is not at the table that should be. The diversity of the team continues to change and the culture being created brings each person’s uniqueness and skills into play.

We understand the difference between Diversity and Inclusiveness. It is like comparing content to context. You can change the makeup of a team (content) but unless you create an intentional practice of fostering an atmosphere that is open and supportive to the full array of life experiences, backgrounds, and points of view, your culture will be to tough to change (context).

I would summarize my own transformation in one statement. I don’t know and I don’t have the answers. As a community, however, we can learn, grow and actually realize the change we dream about.

No comments:

Post a Comment