How to (Re)Frame Your Conversation to Achieve Greater Impact


How to (Re)Frame Your Conversation to Achieve Greater Impact

Despite my best intentions and having prepared in advance with a detailed agenda and a plan for facilitating for this meeting of concerned citizens seeking to improve the quality of life in their community, the conversation didn’t go as planned.  Instead of progressing towards a collective decision, the group became mired in a conversation that seemed to circle away from, instead of towards, a decision.  It was only later that I realized what was missing – a frame.

Just as a picture frame establishes a clear boundary and provides a supportive structure for art, a frame can help the group agree upon what issues and concerns receive attention as part of advancing its purpose.  As organization development consultant, Russ Gaskin, explains in his article on collaboration patterns, a benefit of this approach is that it enables the group to move forward with an agreement that works for everyone instead of getting sidelined by issues or concerns that may be perceived as falling outside the primary focus of working together.   

If you’re part of a group that is struggling to make progress because it has an unclear focus (what the group agrees to achieve) or is lacking a frame (issues to be tracked and paid attention to), consider using these tips:

1)    Be aware of signs that the group is struggling: Effectively working with groups and teams requires an awareness of what’s going on.  Use observation and active listening skills, such as providing our undivided attention and checking for understanding, to tune in to what is being said as well as non-verbal cues, like body language.  Some examples that a group may be struggling are discussions that drift away from the topic, lack of participation in the conversation, or avoidance of decision making.  In addition to focusing on what is being said and how messages are communicated, it’s also important to be able to “read the room” through an awareness of group dynamics.  This involves noticing and understanding interpersonal interactions in addition to the impact of each person’s behavior on the whole group.

2)    Find out what’s really going on: Some problems are easy to solve and others are more complex.  Without digging beneath the surface to better understand the underlying causes and checking out our assumptions, it can be difficult to know which is which.  The ability to quickly “read,” assess, and respond to a situation as it unfolds is a skill that is developed over time with practice.  For example, upon noticing that a conversation is lacking a clear and mutually agreed upon direction, you can mention this observation and invite others to comment on whether this is an accurate assessment of the situation.  If there is widespread agreement that the group is struggling, this can serve as an opportunity to move into collective problem solving.      

3)    Support the group in addressing the situation: Depending on the circumstances it may be appropriate to set a focus that can serve as a collective goal, a frame that can guide the conversation in moving forward, or both.  One way to help the group put a focus or frame in place is using inquiry, advocacy, or a combination of the two.  Inquiry involves asking questions that move the conversation in the appropriate direction.  Open-ended questions can be a powerful way to encourage deeper thinking and stimulate problem-solving, such as: What would it take for us to make satisfactory progress in resolving the problem we’ve come together to address?  If the questions being asked don’t seem to advance the conversation or if group is short on time, another approach is to make a suggestion for the group to react to, like: These are all important factors to take into account.  Can we agree that the first one is the most relevant to the issue we’re working on?  Can we also agree that this will be our primary focus for the time being and that we will come back to address these other factors later on?

Helping a group get unstuck, particularly when a focus or frame is lacking, can be difficult, especially if you’re unfamiliar with group dynamics and processes.  In such instances, it can be useful to get help from a member of the group who is experienced with working in teams or a professional facilitator.  It’s also helpful to keep in mind that it’s up to the group to set a focus or frame based on what works best for them and is mutually agreed upon.

What stands out for me in reflecting on the incident mentioned at the beginning is the importance of not only framing group conversations, but also the internal conversations that take place as part of this process.  Fortunately, a member of the group stepped in to propose a frame that was agreeable to the other members, which got the conversation back on track and generated momentum towards a decision that was becoming long overdue.  Although I was grateful to this person for getting the group unstuck, I was also upset with myself for not coming up with the solution.  With the support of a close friend I reframed my internal dialogue from failing in my responsibility as “the expert” to creating the space to learn from what others have to offer.

Published by SEE Change Magazine on December 4, 2017. 


Being an Effective Changemaker Means Knowing How to Get Out of Your Own Way


Being an Effective Changemaker Means Knowing How to Get Out of Your Own Way

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned as an organization development practitioner is how to get out of my own way. This means being aware of and managing behaviors that hold us back from fulfilling our intention. An important part of my work as an organization development practitioner is helping clients get out of their own way. If they’re not aware that they are tripping themselves up, I have a responsibility to bring this to their attention and help them build the skills needed to get better results. To be helpful to them I also need to get out of my own way.

As someone who is more prone to doing than being, patience is not my strong suit. Over the years, I’ve learned some hard lessons about when to push to get my needs met and when to let things come in their own time. One evening I returned to my apartment after a particularly difficult day where a technology failure ruined what, at the time, had seemed like an important opportunity to market my company’s services. I stopped by the front desk and ended up chatting with the guy who normally worked there. As I shared the details of this situation he gently reminded me that I was devoting more attention to this setback than it deserved. 

After reflecting on his comments, I realized that fatigue was preventing me from fully processing what had happened. I also realized that in this instance coming back to this situation later on when I was rested would enable me to come up with a better solution instead of rushing to fix it in that moment. Although self-awareness becomes easier with practice we still need the support of people who can shine a light on our blind spots.    

Just as we can get in our own way as individuals, the same pitfalls exist for groups seeking to bring about positive change. Through an acquaintance, I heard about a social justice group and decided to attend their next meeting. At the meeting were seasoned activists and people who, like me, were curious to learn about their work and explore opportunities to get involved. However, by the end of this meeting my initial enthusiasm had significantly diminished along with my motivation to stay involved.     

Despite my genuine interest in social justice issues and having attended numerous gatherings over the years, I have yet to develop the kinds of meaningful connections that I’ve made in other communities of changemakers. It’s likely that a different approach, and perhaps even greater persistence, could change this outcome. At the same time, I think that the social justice community could also benefit from making more of an effort.

In considering what troubled me about this meeting I recognized some recurring patterns. At this, and other social justice gatherings I’ve been to, I’ve felt like a visitor to a relatively isolated community. While the people I met seemed pleasant I didn’t feel especially welcomed, and in some instances, I also felt like my status as a newcomer was met with suspicion. In looking at this situation from an activist’s perspective, it’s understandable why this is so. 

Having participated in a number of protests I’ve experienced it means to challenge the status quo, which can be dangerous when there are powerful groups that have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. As someone who has also studied social change, I also know that for a movement to succeed it has to reach a tipping point in terms in getting a critical mass of participation. This creates a dilemma for change agents that want to attract people to their cause and, at the same time, minimize infiltration by those who oppose their efforts. There doesn’t appear to be an easy solution to this dilemma since it’s up to each group to determine how to attract supporters to advance its goals versus its risk tolerance for detractors.

For many social justice activists, especially those who are marginalized, being heard and actively contributing to decisions that affect them are core values. To address this need, some groups make decisions by consensus. While consensus enables different perspective to be taken into account and can sometimes lead to better decisions, this approach also significantly slows down the decision-making process, particularly if negotiation and compromise are needed to reach full agreement. This leads to another dilemma, which is creating the space for people to participate in decisions that affect them while also making enough progress so that people remain engaged over the longer-term. Patient urgency, coined by school reform leader Howard Fuller, offers a solution to this dilemma through a process of continuous calibration between engaging supporters and generating urgency for action.

Getting out of our own way, as individuals or social change movements, begins with being clear about our intentions and desired impact. Being open to receiving feedback helps us become aware of whether we are on track towards fulfilling our intention. With this information, we can choose whether this feedback is worth paying attention to. If we choose to pay attention, we’re faced with another choice- whether or not to act upon this information. This choice can be difficult, especially if we learn that our actions are moving us further away from our intention, such as making it harder for people to join and stay involved in our cause. Systems thinking, which is about seeing beyond isolated incidents to recognize deeper patterns, can be useful for building awareness about recurring issues or behaviors that can cause us to get in our own way.    

For those times when I’m aware that my intention is disconnected from my impact, I draw inspiration from Alain de Botton’s quote: “We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.”

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on August 29, 2017.


How to Build Effective Teams for Social Impact: In Convo with the founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting


How to Build Effective Teams for Social Impact: In Convo with the founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting

While much attention is given to developing the business, technology, and leadership skills needed to succeed as a social entrepreneur, team building is less often touched upon. The irony is that it’s the quality of the relationships of the people we work with that ultimately determines our progress in generating social impact.  

We recently had the chance to speak to Kimberley Jutze, Founder and Chief Change Architect at Shifting Patterns Consulting, about how her company helps social entrepreneurs and other changemaker leaders overcome the stumbling blocks that prevent effective collaboration.

Why is team building a critical and, yet, often overlooked skill for social entrepreneurs?

Although the dedication, perseverance, and sacrifice made by social entrepreneurs is worthy of admiration, this can lead to hero worship. The reality is that addressing the underlying causes of society’s most pressing problems is a team, not an individual effort. In fact, the bigger the change we seek, the more people we need to engage in our cause. When I think about social impact, I’m reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s quote: “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.”

Most social entrepreneurs understand the value of investing in technology to increase efficiency and productivity. However, few also make it a priority to invest in the improved performance and well-being of their teams. Just as we maintain IT systems to prevent them from breaking down the same is also true for human systems. This continuous investment requires making sure that teams not only have the resources needed to accomplish their tasks, but also the structure, work processes, and relationships that can make the best use of these resources. With effective solutions to social, economic, and environmental challenges so urgently needed, we can’t afford to neglect the collaborative effort that is essential for catalyzing these solutions.    

What are the biggest challenges that typically get in the way of effective teamwork?

One reason why most teams struggle to achieve their goals is that they don’t consistently use systems thinking, which is seeing beyond isolated events to identify deeper patterns. Another reason is not putting a system in place to effectively support each other. These challenges are typically manifested in a variety of ways, such as an unclear purpose, uncertainty about what is expected of ourselves and other team members, important decisions not being made, interpersonal conflict, lack of accountability, and not giving enough attention to assessing the impact of team efforts. While it’s common for teams to experience bumps as they work towards their social impact goals, what separates those who overcome these obstacles from those who remain stuck is knowing when they are off course and supporting each other to get back on track.

What advice do you have for helping virtual teams improve teamwork?

Collaborating in a virtual environment is especially challenging. Since most communication takes place non-verbally it’s important for team members to meet in person, at least periodically. Although nothing can replace being in the same room with your colleagues, video conferencing is the next best thing. Nowadays there are a number of free or low-cost options, like Skype or Google Hangout.

Regardless of whether meetings take place in person or virtually, it’s also important to make time for team members to get to know each other. Trust, which is essential for effective teamwork, can only be established by getting to know each other. If there isn’t a tight schedule, encourage team members to get to know each other through informal conversations before or after meetings. Even with a packed agenda, it’s possible to take a couple of minutes at the beginning of a meeting to ask how everyone is doing or perhaps even an icebreaker question, like which social entrepreneur do you most admire?

What was your most memorable experience working with a team that was struggling to achieve social impact?

My most memorable team building experience occurred when I facilitated a workshop for a nonprofit leadership team that works closely with social entrepreneurs. This experience helped them better understand their own and their colleagues’ default styles for giving and receiving support. To build on this understanding each person took a turn asking another member of the team for support to address a problem they were having. The team realized that the benefits of asking each other for support extended beyond the process of asking for help. It also created the space for important conversations that were not taking place. As a result, the leadership team agreed to meet each week specifically to ask each other for support which continues to this day. Some of the leaders also decided to incorporate asking for support into the teams they manage.

How can social entrepreneurs get help to address collaboration challenges?

I’ve found that there is a benefit to working with an organization development consultant to address challenges related to forming a new team or improving the performance of an existing team. Not only is it useful to have the support of someone who understands team dynamics, but there is an added benefit of an outsider’s perspective. Oftentimes when we’re in the midst of a problem it’s hard to view it objectively. It can also difficult to be open to the perspectives of our team members if we think we already know what the problem is and how to solve it.

My company works closely with social entrepreneurs, as well as nonprofit and socially responsible business leaders, to help them understand what’s really getting in the way of effective teamwork, build the skills to address these challenges, and put a system in place to maintain improved performance. In addition to offering consulting services, my company is launching a group coaching program that will begin in mid-September in Washington, DC for leaders who want to learn how to improve their team building skills. For more information about these services, check out:    

This interview was published by SEE Change Magazine on July 23, 2017.



5 Steps to Greater Accountability

My heart sank as I heard the news.  I sensed that not much had happened since the board retreat I facilitated for a nonprofit some months ago, and my follow-up call with the board chair confirmed what deep down inside I already knew.  Despite the fact that the board continued to meet on a monthly basis, the good ideas that were raised during the retreat and had made their way into a plan were yet to be acted upon.  The board chair seemed to be genuinely perplexed that even though board members were unanimous in expressing their commitment to advance the nonprofit’s mission and to hold each other accountable for doing so little, if anything, seemed to be happening outside of their monthly meeting.

If this scenario is familiar to you, then you’ve likely experienced a common stumbling block that people encounter when working together, which is accountability.  According to management consultant, Patrick Lencioni, in one of his most influential books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, accountability involves setting clear expectations and being willing to call each other out for the good of the team when someone’s behavior contradicts these expectations.  Accountability is also a measure of our willingness to have difficult conversations about enforcing these expectations. 

The Irony of Team Relationships

Accountability can be tricky, even in the best of circumstances, such as when team members have a history of working together, get along well, and regularly interact face-to-face.  Relationships, regardless of whether they are personal or professional, require regular attention so that they continue to grow and strengthen over time.  However, when teams are under pressure to demonstrate social impact, oftentimes with limited time and funds, this is when there is a tendency for relationships to be neglected.  Insufficient attention to relationships can make it harder for teams to overcome challenges, particularly if there is an escalation of unhealthy conflict and an erosion of trust.

For teams that work together virtually, as volunteers, or perhaps both, holding team members accountable can present an added challenge, particularly if team members don’t know each other well, rarely interact face-to-face, and have other commitments that interfere with the work of the team.  To illustrate this point, I was introduced to a business leader who expressed interest in joining a working group I’m a member of for socially responsible businesses.  Since we’re all volunteers I thought it would be fine to have some additional help.  I reached out to my colleagues thinking that this was something that could be easily decided via e-mail prior to our next monthly meeting so that the new member, if approved, could attend.  What seemed like a simple, routine matter soon became more complex.

One of the working group members responded to my message by questioning whether we needed to expand the size of our group.  She also suggested that we allocate some time for our next meeting to discuss criteria for adding new members and having term limits.  After I was able to process my gut reaction, which was not positive, I realized that she was right to question how our group was functioning and that her remarks were not intended to be critical, but to serve the best interests of the team.  Having known this person for a while and being accustomed to her personality as a challenger made it easier for me to recognize the intention behind these remarks and to appreciate her perspective. 

Putting Accountability into Practice

Here are some tips that can help you and your fellow team members build greater accountability:

·      Set Clearly Defined Expectations: High-performing teams not only focus on what gets done, but how these tasks are completed.  This involves setting expectations, shortly after the team has been formed, about how members will work together.  Expectations can be explicit, such as requesting punctuality for meetings, or implicit, like beginning meetings on time.  What is important is that team members understand what is expected of them.

·      Commitment: Expectations are more likely to be followed when there is not only clarity about what they are, but also ownership of them.  This means that team members take responsibility for setting expectations and voluntarily agree to them.  Closely related to this idea is that members are committed to acting in the best interests of the team.  This involves a willingness to prioritize collective over personal interest.

·      Clear Communication: Fundamental to accountability is clear communication.  This not only pertains to setting and enforcing expectations, but includes all team interactions.  Although misunderstandings are common in relationships, taking the time to check in with yourself about your intention as well as paying closer attention to how your messages are delivered and received can help minimize miscommunication. 

·      Take Care of the Small Stuff ASAP: When misunderstandings, conflicts, or other issues that negatively affect the team arise, it’s usually better to address them early on.  A consequence of holding back is that problems can fester and ultimately become more complicated and time consuming to resolve.  Sometimes the benefit of speaking up about a small issue that gets resolved early on is that this can make a big difference.

·      Make Time for Relationship Building: Even the best accountability process can fall apart if relationships are not in place to support it.  This means valuing the importance of getting to know your team members, such as allocating extra time in meetings for informal conversation, incorporating team building into your work, or organizing social activities.  The more familiar we are with our team members, the easier it is to build trust and demonstrate the vulnerability needed to enter into difficult conversations about accountability.         

Much like relationships, accountability isn’t easy.  It requires communication, commitment, and consistency.  The reward for making accountability count is that teams are not only higher performing, but also more enjoyable to participate in.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on April 24, 2017.



How to Balance the Demands of "Go Slow" with "Go Fast"

“Go slow to move fast.” Depending on your perspective this saying could mean a variety of things, such as: rushing can result in missed opportunities and mistakes, our productivity and efficiency increase as our skills develop, or resistance is less likely to be encountered later on if we take the time to get people on board. If you’re like me, and have dedicated your career to bringing about positive change, then perhaps all of these meanings resonate.  

As a facilitator of collaborative action, I’ve confronted a tension between the urgency to act and a desire for shared understanding and collective support prior to taking action. This tension is aptly described in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article as “patient urgency.” This is about balancing demands to “go slow” (understand the context of the challenge to be addressed and build community support to sustain change over the longer-term) and “go fast” (address problems that require an urgent response and sustain momentum to move forward). In my own work helping changemaker leaders navigate this tension, I’ve wondered how to satisfy these seemingly conflicting demands.

One experience involved facilitating a meeting for changemaker leaders about building a stronger local economy where consumers are incentivized to purchase more of their goods and services from local businesses. In “taking the pulse” of the participants towards the end of the initial gathering it was clear that there was a divergence in the room between those who favored better understanding the problem and those who were ready to develop a prototype and pivot as needed. Both opinions have their merits, so which path do we take?

The “Build a Shared Understanding” Path to Collaboration

Collaborative action requires not only understanding where we’ve been, but collectively deciding where we want to go. For people who are context-oriented, collaboration begins with developing a shared understanding of the problem or issue to be addressed. This involves discovering the root causes of the problem and how these underlying issues are interconnected. Equally important is finding out who is already working on this issue and identifying gaps that can be addressed. This information can help us clarify our purpose and the scope of collaborative efforts, which can be used to develop a purpose statement to enlist the support of others who care about this issue. The upside of this approach is gaining clarity about where the group can have the greatest impact and knowing where and how to take action. The downside is that if too much time is spent collecting and analyzing information critical decisions are not made resulting in analysis paralysis, which can lead to ineffectiveness, loss of motivation, and disengagement.

The “Learn by Doing” Path to Collaboration

For those who are action-oriented, collaboration begins with identifying opportunities to work together to address a common challenge. Developed by Purdue’s Center for Regional Development, Strategic Doing is an approach to collaboration where groups evaluate and prioritize opportunities to work together, begin taking action steps, and re-convene to determine what worked and make adjustments as needed. Similar to rapid prototyping, strategic doing enables groups to transition to collaborative action in a matter of hours. The advantage of this process is that after one session, groups come away with an action plan that they can begin implementing. A potential downside is that if insufficient attention is given early on to building relationships grounded in trust and establishing an effective process for working together, collaborative efforts can begin to unravel.

Choosing a Path Forward

Just as there are different types of collaborations there are different ways of working together to achieve social impact.  So, how can we satisfy collaborators who are context- and action-oriented? 

Here are some tips for navigating the “patient urgency” tension:

1)    Take the “temperature of the room.” This is about obtaining feedback from the people you’re collaborating with. There are a variety of ways to solicit input. Some of the most common methods are polls (a response to a single, simple question) surveys (responses to multiple questions), interviews (exploration of a topic that allows for follow-up and clarifying questions), and focus groups (an interview with a group of people). It should be noted that obtaining feedback is not a “one and done” that takes place at the beginning of a collaboration. It’s important to have access to accurate and up-to-date information about the quality and progress of collective efforts all the way through.

2)    Allow for engagement that is varied and coordinated. Flexibility is an inherent part of collaboration, particularly as participants’ interests, desired involvement, and benefits received are likely to vary over time. One approach is to identify the assets (e.g., knowledge, skills, relationships, technology, and funds) participants are willing to contribute to the collaboration and match them to the support that is needed. Equally important is putting tools, like a team charter, and a process, such as regular check-ins, in place to clarify participants’ roles and how the group will work together.

3)    Maintain regular communication. Critical to successful collaboration is keeping everyone informed and up-to-date throughout the entire process. A consistent and regular flow of information enables people who are working together to know what others are doing. At the same time, those who are waiting for the right opportunity to participate are kept in the loop about what is going on. Being regularly kept informed about collaborative efforts can help sustain interest over the longer-term as well as offer opportunities to celebrate milestones achieved along the way.      

Moving at the speed of social change is ultimately about recognizing that, like these tips, the work of collaboration is inter-related and non-linear. Successfully working together requires acknowledging and addressing the tension that can exist among participants who have different ideas about what constitutes an appropriate pace. Perhaps what it really comes down to isn’t selecting the right path, but agreeing upon the destination and keeping everyone focused on getting there.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on December 5, 2016.



Making the Case for Collaborating for Change

Like other transformational moments in my life, it was a confluence of events that drove my attention to a repetitive theme: How do we “sell” others on the idea of collaboration?  Depending on your situation this could involve persuading a busy executive (perhaps your own supervisor) to invest in the processes and systems that enable people to work together more effectively or encouraging family and friends to support a cause you’re involved in.  If you’re a consultant, like me, “selling” is used literally, and involves convincing a client why they need your services. 

The “selling collaboration” theme emerged from conversations that took place around the same time with people who were seeking my advice on collaboration and guidance I sought from other consultants about growing my consulting practice.  As someone who has worked hard at being self-aware, when a pattern emerges I know it’s time to pay attention to it.  Regardless of how you define selling, the tips provided below are intended to help you convince others to collaborate to achieve a meaningful purpose that is greater than what you could accomplish on your own.

Tip #1: Begin with connection

It may seem obvious that the first place to begin in making the case for collaboration is by getting to know the person you seek to influence.  However, how many of us spend just as much time and effort on building relationships as we do on getting stuff done?  If you invest in maintaining good relationships with others, how well do you really know the people you collaborate with? 

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had building connection with others occurred during my training as an organization development practitioner.  On the first day of the program we began with “The Big Share.”  Cohort members and faculty took turns answering questions about their background and the transformational experiences that shaped their development.  As an introvert I dreaded having to open up to a group of strangers, but the experience of sharing our life stories helped us to identify with each other and form bonds that facilitated collaboration on group projects throughout the program.  While I’m not suggesting that you share your life story with everyone you meet, it’s important to keep in mind that collaboration requires trust.  Trust is formed when we’re fully present to each other and allow our true selves to be seen.     

Tip #2: Listen for opportunities and resistance

Before we can work together, we need to meet the people we want to collaborate with where they are.  This requires using our active listening skills.  It means giving the speaker our full attention and showing through our words and behavior that we understand what is being said.  It also involves checking the stories we make up based on our interpretation of what the other person is saying.  Without fully understanding who we’re communicating with, we risk misunderstanding the real reasons why the people we seek to influence may be reluctant to collaborate.  We may also lose sight of opportunities to meet mutual goals.      

I once met with a client who requested help forming an association that was intended to improve the quality of life of its members.  The client was eager to move forward, and it was clear from our conversations that this person had spent a lot of time thinking about how the association would form and eventually scale.  As we discussed my role in facilitating a meeting with a core group of members, there appeared to be a disconnect between the client’s expressed desire for a collaborative process and an attachment to how the association would be structured and operate.  Before we formally agreed to work together, I met with the client to check out the validity of my assumptions.  By exploring the client’s willingness to accommodate different perspectives about what the association could look like, I discovered that what had been a perceived reluctance to genuinely collaborate with other association members was my own misunderstanding.

Tip #3: Focus on what motivates others

When we attempt to convince others to collaborate there is a tendency to focus on our own motivations.  However, this approach only works when the people we seek to influence share the same intentions.  Instead we need to understand what motivates the people we want to collaborate with by getting beyond their stated position to find out what beliefs drive their behavior.  Practicing inquiry (asking questions that allow others to reach their own conclusions) and advocacy (promoting your position) can help us be in touch with our own and other’s motivations.  Once we understand what motivates others to collaborate we can help them get on board by providing opportunities to participate that match their interests and skills. 

I joined the leadership group of a local association whose members have developed good relationships that have enabled us to work well together.  However, development of the association has been hampered by our status as volunteers, limited resources, and lack of a clear strategic direction.  As one of the founding members of this association, early on I mentioned the importance of determining our purpose and how we would work together.  However, the reaction of the other leaders made it clear that there was more enthusiasm for organizing community events than for strategic planning.  Realizing they weren’t ready to take this on, I waited for a more opportune time.  This occurred after some successful events were held and the leadership group expanded to include new members.  When some of the leaders suggested doing other types of activities, I connected these ideas to the need for a larger conversation about what it would take for them to be executed.  This led to a collective agreement for a strategic planning session.  

As the last example illustrates, our ability to influence others to collaborate can sometimes involve a decision about whether to hang on or let go.  In situations where the answer is unclear, we can reframe our approach to "selling."  In To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others, Daniel Pink states: "In an age of information parity, the services of others are more valuable when we are mistaken, confused, or clueless about our true problem.  In these situations, the ability to move others hinges on problem finding rather than problem solving."  Pink's comment encourages us to examine how we approach "selling."  In other words, is our intention to serve as an extra pair of hands or to strengthen the capacity of our families, organizations, and communities?     

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on August 4, 2016.


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8 Tips for Collaborating to B the Change


As the owner of a B Corp that helps changemakers build connection and engagement to advance social progress, I engage in a good amount of collaboration. Sometimes it’s rewarding but sometimes, it borders on downright painful. The factor that makes the difference is the quality of relationships between the people involved.

In my work, I see a variety of collaboration situations. Depending on the day, I might find myself

  • discussing partnership opportunities with a fellow consultant,
  • helping to form a team that’s organizing a crowdfunding campaign, or
  • facilitating a dialogue between businesses, citizen groups and social activists about transitioning to a sustainable economy.

While coordination between two parties is enough of a challenge, it's at the multi-organization level that the complexity associated with collaboration comes into sharper focus. Below I've detailed two different multi-org collaborations and good practices that emerged from each experience. 

 Building Connection within the B Corp Community

The Discover Doing event I co-organized with my fellow B Local: Mid-Atlantic steering committee members began as an opportunity to promote the B Corp movement in the Washington, DC area. Ultimately, it was this project that transformed us from a bunch of unacquainted people on a brand new committee into a team. 

Discover Doing - How People Like You Are Changing the World was an event in DC last July that told the stories of people using business as a force for good. Guest speaker Max Wohlgemuth Kitslaar, recounted his motorcycle journey from Chile to New York City and shared inspiring stories of people he met along the way who realized their bold ideas for positive impact. Several B Corps from within – and outside – the Mid-Atlantic region generously served as event sponsors and donated an array of specialty food and beverages.

One of my most important takeaways from this event is that what happens behind the scenes is just as important as the results that are achieved. For Discover Doing, it was Max’s visit to DC that prompted us to form the bonds needed to organize and execute an event. Among the factors that contributed to the success of this event were:

1) Commitment to achieving a common goal.

Our shared dedication to increasing awareness of the B Corp movement inspired everyone to allocate the time, funds and other resources needed to make the event a success.

2) Frequent communication about hold-ups and progress. 

One party might have resources or expertise that can help another address a specific challenge, but it's impossible to recognize that opportunity without communication. This kind of communication is only really helpful when collaborators are willing to pitch in to help one another. Luckily our shared commitment established a team mindset that encouraged mutual support. 

3) Empowering each communicator to play to their strengths. 

Each company on the steering committee brought different resources and skills to the table. One team member had access to the perfect venue, another had the capital to pay for drinks, a third had the marketing chops to create attractive promoting and a fourth had the time and charm to recruit sponsors. Teams achieve more when collaborators are forthcoming about their strengths and empower one another to assume the roles they fill best.

4) Ensuring follow through on multiple levels.

Collaborative efforts have the advantage of creating external accountability - it's easy to put off internal deadlines but when others are counting on you, you can't afford to drop the ball. We all had a good sense of follow-through, but we also helped keep each other accountable with gentle reminders. Especially on non-hierarchal teams, everyone should assume personal responsibility and chip in to keep their teammates on track.

Ripples of Change Beyond the B Corp Community

Initiated by Steve Shaff, Founder of Community-Vision Partners and Founding Executive Director of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, Better Economy for All is a movement that aims to mobilize the public, private and plural sectors to address problems negatively impacting quality of life in the Washington, DC area.

About 30 people representing responsible business and citizens' groups came together in September 2015 to discuss what a more equitable economy might look like on a local scale. Getting key players in the same room to discuss specific challenges was an accomplishment in its own right, however more work is needed for us to sustain this collaborative effort in its infancy. Next, we have to map out activities underway and mobilize resources.

The main outcome of the meeting, which I co-facilitated with Jeremy Grandstaff, Co-Founder of S&G Endeavors, was consensus to establish a team of diverse representatives from the Washington, DC area to help to design a summit. The summit will bring together stakeholders to further the establishment of a shared sustainable economy by: 1. Creating a concrete and actionable strategic plan for transition that’s supported by the community and 2. Establishing a backbone organization that can support the implementation of this strategic plan. Participation in this movement provides an opportunity for Shifting Patterns, as a B Corp, to “B the change” by working alongside the public and plural sectors to support the transition to a new economy.

Some of the valuable lessons I learned facilitating and participating in this effort include:

5) Successful collaborations start with intention. 

This means taking the time to consider whether collaboration is needed, and if so, whether it is worth the time and effort to work with others to achieve the results you’re seeking. If collaboration is appropriate and necessary, intention also requires developing a clear and compelling purpose that unites everyone involved. This means developing a purpose statement that is mutually understood and collectively owned.

6) Process matters as much as task.

When a group is formed there's often a tendency to get right to work. While it may be expedient in the short-term, this approach is unlikely to succeed in the big picture. Without taking the time up front to determine where the group is headed (purpose) and how to get there (process), challenges that occur along the way can be harder to navigate and take longer to resolve. Creating a team charter the explains how everyone will work together (i.e., how often you will meet, how you will communicate between meetings, how decisions will be made, etc.) can be a great way to establish shared expectations and cement a solid plan for accomplishing your purpose.

7) Put supports in place early on.

Collaborations are more likely to succeed when there's a support system in place. From a structural perspective this means ensuring that there are sufficient resources to sustain collaboration over time. Depending on the scale of collaboration, resources can range from a dedicated conference call line or meeting space to the establishment to of a backbone organization to assume administrative functions. Support at the individual level takes place when participants are empowered to ask for and provide support to each other. This involves building relationships that are grounded in trust, mutual respect and open communication.

8) Team building isn't just about feeling warm and fuzzy.

Making time for participants to get to know each other helps form bonds that result in productive and healthy relationships. These relationships are crucial for shared success.

We live in a world of seemingly insurmountable challenges like economic inequality, social injustice and climate change. Although collaboration comes with its own set of risks (you could take on more than you bargained for, squander resources or end up damaging your reputation) it also has the potential to create enduring solutions on a bigger scale.

For me, being part of something greater than myself and getting to know people who share a common interest make the rewards of collaboration much greater than the risks. After all, isn’t it what “B(ing) the change” is all about?       

This post was published by RoundPeg Communications on May 18, 2016.





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Asking the Right Questions Can Lead to Purposeful Collaboration

Sometimes the trickiest part of collaboration is knowing where to begin. For those of us who are doers, it’s the substance of the collaboration and defining what we want to achieve together that comes first. Collaborators who are relational begin by assembling a core group of people they want to work with and together they determine the specifics of the collaboration. While both of these approaches have their merits, how often do we begin a collaboration not by asking who or what, but why? 

As a collaboration participant and facilitator I’ve found that when the purpose is not explored early on or if insufficient attention is given to making sure that it is clearly articulated, mutually understood, and collectively owned that this has the potential to derail a network or movement.  As difficult as it may be to take the time to explore why we want to collaborate with each other, sometimes the real challenge is resisting the temptation to go straight into action and ask the fundamental questions that aren’t being addressed. The questions we ask at the start of a collaboration can help or hinder our efforts to advance social progress.

Ask why is it important for us to collaborate instead of what could we do?

Members of a socially responsible business association that I joined met informally to discuss the possibility of collaborating. While some good ideas were mentioned about what this could look like, months later this remains a good intention that has yet to be followed through. Before developing a consulting practice that helps changemakers collaborate more effectively, I experienced meetings that generated little more than good feelings because no one stepped up to take the ideas that were discussed forward. Although I was unable to attend this particular meeting I’ve had conversations with the organizers about the possibility of re-engaging participants in a process that can begin to generate the commitment needed to move forward.  

Instead of beginning the conversation with what could we do together, another approach is to begin by asking why should we collaborate? The former question leads to responses about activities, which may be premature for those who are not sure if they want to collaborate. The latter question may be more suitable for helping potential collaborators decide whether the effort of working together is worth the reward for achieving their individual goals. Where the “what” question creates an assumption that we already want to collaborate, the “why” question leaves the door open for people to opt in or opt out. If participants decide to opt in a “why” question can build commitment for collaboration that facilitates an exploration of other questions, such as: Who do we want to work with? What could we do together?

Ask why are others missing from this conversation instead of how will we move forward?

I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of asking the right questions at the right time while working with a client who was eager to launch a movement with a bold vision for improving community members’ quality of life. Instead of making sure that others who expressed interest in participating in this movement were fully on board, I accepted the assurances that my client made about collective readiness to transition from talk to action without examining the extent to which there was a shared understanding of this situation. The result was that I participated in designing a meeting that attendees were unprepared to participate in. Fortunately, as the meeting unfolded, my co-facilitator quickly recognized that a different conversation was needed and made the space for it to happen in collaboration with the client. This change met the participants where they were in that moment and enabled them to explore questions that they had not yet answered about what the movement was really about and who else should be participating in this conversation.

This experienced helped me realize that collaboration has its own rhythm where the pace is determined not by the client’s timetable, but by the speed at which relationships are formed, collective understanding is developed, and trust is built. Even in cases where there is a collective readiness to proceed with building a network or movement, changes, such as the addition of new members or policies that impact the issue being addressed, can signal the need to revisit the purpose for collaborating.  

Ask why are we working together instead of what will we do next?

I joined the leadership committee for a group that raises awareness about responsible business and encourages others to join this movement. While members of the leadership committee recognize the importance of clearly defining our purpose, the scope of our work, and how we will work together, having this conversation has taken a backseat to responding to opportunities that have emerged for increasing visibility and community engagement.

On the one hand organizing community events on an ad hoc basis offers the flexibility of selectively pursuing opportunities based on interest and availability of resources. Organizing events has also provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other and form relationships based on mutual respect and trust. At the same time, it is unclear whether the committee will fulfill its purpose if attention continues to focus on event planning without also taking the time to explore whether this approach is leading to the results it wants to achieve.

Each of these examples illustrate the different kinds of challenges that can emerge when the propensity for action takes precedence over developing a clearly defined purpose or when the purpose for collaborating is not mutually understood or collectively owned. The lesson that has emerged from these experiences is that while "doing" can generate results, particularly in the shorter-term, there is just as much or perhaps even greater value from "being." When we collaborate we have a responsibility to be purposeful. This means having the courage to be honest with ourselves about why we are collaborating and whether our expectations are being met as well as speaking up if this is not the case. It also means having the courage to initiate the conversations that aren't taking place about the "why" behind what we're doing and who we're working with.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on April 25, 2016.




3 Ways A Changemaker Can Transition From “I am a Martyr” to “I am Enough”

Getting the Message

I knew something was terribly wrong when I could barely summon the strength to get out of bed to use the bathroom. For the next two days I remained in bed hoping that I had a bad case of the flu and that my illness would pass. Unfortunately, it didn’t.  Shortly thereafter I was admitted to the hospital with a case of double pneumonia.    

The week I spent in the hospital would have been a good opportunity for me reflect on my life and evaluate the choices that led me to being in this situation. Instead, all I could think about was how far behind I was falling in my work and getting back to the office as soon as possible.  Because other people were depending on me (or so I thought), my well-being came second to the program I was responsible for managing for an international aid organization.

Guilt about getting sick towards the end of an extended family visit and a desire to get back to work prompted my return to the office shortly after being released from the hospital. I was unprepared for the reaction I received from my supervisor and co-workers. Instead of being glad to have me back, they were genuinely concerned that I hadn’t fully recovered from my illness and had returned to work too soon. It was when I was lectured by a senior leader about the dangers of being a workaholic that I started to connect the dots between taking better care of myself and “being the change.”

Learning the Lesson

After my alarming wake up call, I took self-care a lot more seriously. Although my life changed for the better (or so I thought), I found out that there was more to learn about self-care beyond eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting more sleep. Although my activities had changed, my mindset about self-care was largely the same. It was only when the next crisis hit that I became more fully aware of the lesson I needed to learn.  

Several years and a career change later I found myself on the verge of a melt down. On the surface my consulting practice seemed to be going well with several projects underway. The trouble was that in wanting to please my clients I had agreed to multiple deadlines that coincided. I found myself struggling to keep all of my commitments, especially since some of the projects were taking longer to complete than I had anticipated. 

Thankfully, I had a call scheduled with my coach just as I was feeling like a candle burning at both ends. Through our conversation I learned that by failing to consistently take my own needs into account, I had become a martyr again only this time instead of for a cause it was for my clients. In working with my coach I learned that I needed to value myself as much as my work and others in my life. This transition in perspective required being open to the possibility of “yes and” (figuring out how to get my own and others’ needs met) instead of being stuck in the limiting belief of “either or” (you win, I lose). More importantly, I realized that to “be the change” I needed to change my relationship to self-care to embrace wholehearted living.

Passing on the Message

In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown discusses what it means to live wholeheartedly, which is a reflection of our worthiness for love and belonging as well as demonstrating the courage to show up and allow ourselves to be fully seen. Among the qualities that constitute wholehearted living are cultivating self-compassion by letting go of perfection, cultivating play and rest by letting go of productivity as self-worth and exhaustion as a status symbol, and cultivating calm and stillness by letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle.

Brown’s invitation to live wholeheartedly is well suited to changemakers who are struggling to consistently practice self-care because they value their cause more than they value themselves. If the usual self-care tips aren’t working perhaps the start of the New Year is a good time to reflect on the quality of your life and whether this is helping or hindering your efforts to make a positive difference in the world.

The following tips are intended to help you develop the self-care practices that contribute to wholehearted living as a changemaker.        

·      Develop and maintain a self-care mindset: Being an effective agent of change involves adopting a mindset that is useful for achieving your goals. The first step is to become aware of your beliefs by paying closer attention to what you think and say. With self-awareness comes the opportunity to challenge beliefs that are inconsistent with self-compassion by reframing them. This could include viewing challenges as opportunities and failures as steppingstones to success. A coach can help you increase your self-awareness and challenge beliefs that get in the way of self-care. 

·      Set intentions and build a support system for self-care: Change begins with setting and following through on your intention. For example, making more time for play and rest could involve setting a timer for taking a stretch break during the day, scheduling time for going out with friends, or instituting a policy of not checking e-mails after working hours. The key is to develop a support system, like a friend or colleague that can hold you accountable for promises made, to ensure that intentions are fulfilled.

·      Make self-care a regular practice: Just as we apply our talents to bringing about positive change, we can also fully bring ourselves to the practice self-care. This could involve increasing our self-awareness through reflection and journaling. We can also bring more calm and stillness into our life through meditation.

My passion is helping changemakers build support systems, which leads to healthier and more productive work environments, which means that they are better positioned to achieve social change goals. By following my passion, along with the help of coaches and organization development training, I’m more aware of my learning edge when it comes to self-care. The challenge is maintaining my belief when the going gets tough that I am still deserving of self-care.

Where are you on your self-care journey?

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on January 21, 2016.



Collaborative Action for a Local Sustainable Economy

The nation’s capital can be viewed as a microcosm for the drawbacks of capitalism where a high cost of living, gentrification, and socio-economic inequality combine to widen the gap between the “haves” and “have nots.” There are residents, civil society organizations, and local businesses in the Washington, DC area who refuse to accept this situation and are coming together to bring about a new economy—one that is more livable, equitable, and environmentally sustainable.

This blog post highlights the progress of this conversation, thus far, and explains how collaborative discussion and action planning is used as a tool to drive changing the economy to better serve all stakeholders. Read on for more details and to find out how you or your organization can play a role in this transformation.

Beginning with a bold vision

Drawing upon an eclectic background in affordable housing, community organizing, the green economy, and political advocacy, Steve Shaff is combining his broad skills and diverse networks to catalyze a movement for positive social and economic change. This movement stems from a belief that collaborative action offers the potential for getting beyond talking about the problems that are impeding the quality of life in the DC area to mobilizing the public, private, and plural sectors to collectively address them.

What began as periodic gatherings of local business leaders, social activists, and forward thinking public officials to discuss opportunities to bring about progressive policy changes is taking shape as an effort to transition to a new economy that serves the needs of everyone. The platform for the development of this movement is Community Vision Partners (C-VP), a social enterprise Steve Shaff founded, whose mission is to “initiate, facilitate and agitate for the common good.” C-VP’s flagship project is the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council (CSBC), where Shaff also serves as the Founding Executive Director.  CSBC is a business-led organizing and advocacy organization whose mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable business in the Chesapeake region.

Laying the groundwork for collaborative action

Recognizing the challenges of transitioning from talk to action, especially when it comes to mobilizing numerous organizations across various sectors with different interests and agendas as well as limited resources for collaboration, Shaff turned to Jeremy Grandstaff, Co-Founder of S&G Endeavors, and Kimberley Jutze, Founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting, for support. Following their initial meeting with Shaff, organization development consultants, Grandstaff and Jutze, agreed to facilitate a process for collaborative action that blends Whole Scale Change, Whole Systems Transformation, the DVF Model, and Appreciative Inquiry.      

In September 2015 C-VP and CSBC hosted a strategic action meeting that was co-facilitated by Grandstaff and Jutze. About 30 people from the plural and private sectors with a shared interest in transitioning to a better economy for all attended this half-day session. 

Key issues identified by the participants for further discussion were:

·      Defining what a better economy for all means 

·      Mapping organizations and informal groups that are working on issues related to a shared economy, environmental sustainability, and economic justice

·      Determining whether a separate organization or entity is needed to drive the transition to a shared sustainable economy

·      Exploring opportunities for collaboration across sectors that involve taking effective collective action

·      Ensuring that future discussions fully represent the diversity of the people and groups who will be impacted by the transition to the new economy

The primary outcome of this meeting was consensus for establishing a design team, which would be responsible for working closely with Grandstaff and Jutze to define what is meant by “a better economy for all” (encompassing social and environmental factors) and design a summit that is inclusive and diverse as a next step. Participants expressed interest in having a design team that is reflective of the diversity of the Washington, DC area. The design team, which will be comprised of volunteers, will be responsible for working on the issues identified above that will result in a framework for a summit. The summit aims to bring stakeholders together around an inspiring vision of a shared sustainable economy that works for everyone; create a community-supported concrete, actionable strategic plan to transition to a better economy for all; and establish a backbone organization that can support the implementation of this strategic plan.  

Creating a future distinct from the past

As a next step, Shaff is reaching out to various stakeholders to assess their interest in joining a host committee that will jointly sponsor the summit and help identify members of the design team. Critical to developing a sustainable movement is ensuring that efforts are not duplicated. To this end, Shaff is also meeting with representatives of organizations that are contributing to the development of a sustainable economy in the Washington, DC area to identify opportunities for collaboration that can strengthen this movement and accelerate to the transition to a local economy that is socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable.

If this movement stays the course, relationships will be established among groups who don’t normally work together, resources for collective action will be shared, and voices to effectively challenge the status quo will be strengthened. Transitioning to a new economy for Washington, DC area residents requires additional resources, such as people who are willing to contribute their time as host committee and/or design team members as well as in-kind and financial contributions for hosting a summit and developing a backbone organization that can support collaborative efforts.

For more information or to get involved, contact Steve Shaff at

This post is co-authored by Jeremy Grandstaff, Co-Founder of S&G Endeavors, and was published by Collective Impact Forum on January 19, 2016.


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Collaborative Action For Social Impact

As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, I witnessed one of the main ecological attractions in Ixtapa, Mexico-- the release of baby sea turtles into the ocean. This experience is imprinted on the females, of whom less than 5% reach adulthood, who return to the very same beach to lay their eggs. As one of 400 Opportunity Collaboration delegates working on poverty alleviation, my experience with collaborative action while in Ixtapa was similarly imprinted on me. 

Opportunity Collaboration is an annual convening of social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, impact investors, academics, and other poverty alleviation actors from around the world. Recognized as an “un-conference,” delegates are largely free to set their own schedules where some of the most rewarding conversations are as likely to take place in a planned meeting as by chance encounter. The intent is to provide a space where delegates can reflect on their experiences with poverty, learn from the successes and failures of other delegates, and build collaborative relationships that can continue to be developed beyond the event.

Opportunity Collaboration’s motto “convene, connect, catalyze” is analogous to the process of forming a network, as described by Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, and John Cleveland in Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact. In this book the authors describe connect-align-produce as a sequence for developing the capacity of networks to take collaborative action. Opportunity Collaboration is reflective of a global network of changemakers that are committed to amplifying efforts to alleviate poverty where collaboration emerges from fragmentation, diversity leads to greater unity, and cross-fertilization of ideas generates innovation.

Phase 1: Connect

During this phase participants are introduced, exchange information, and build trust. Conveners, such as Opportunity Collaboration, create a venue for participants to meet each other and begin to develop relationships that can lead to collaborative action. In this case, a four-day retreat provided the space where delegates, who were removed from the pressures of daily work, could share their experiences with poverty alleviation as part of getting to know each other. 

Throughout the week there were numerous opportunities for connection with other delegates. Structured activities, such as the Colloquium for the Common Good, enabled us to examine our personal relationship with poverty, grapple with the root causes of income inequality, and explore social change efforts, such as civil rights movements. It was in this safe space that I got to know other members of my small group on a deeper level. During these daily gatherings we shared our reflections about poverty as well as the challenges that are holding us back from achieving our intended impact.

Equally valuable were the one-on-one conversations with delegates I wouldn’t ordinarily have had the chance to meet. A fundamental value of Opportunity Collaboration is to approach delegates in the spirit of being helpful. Unlike traditional conferences where relationships tend to be transactional (i.e., what can you can do for me), I learned that being relational takes care of the transactional. In other words, people are more willing to help once they like and trust the person they’ve gotten to know.  

Phase 2: Align

During this phase participants capitalize on the connections made and begin to explore possibilities for taking collaborative action by aligning around shared goals. Deepening relationships can generate interest in working together on issues of common concern. For example, an unplanned conversation with a delegate led to an offer to connect me with an organization whose work is critical to a new network I’m helping to form.

Power dynamics can get in the way of alignment if a participant has greater authority or more resources. In such instances it helps to create a level playing field where everyone can actively participate. Some examples include requiring members to contribute resources that are of equal value or proportional to their participation in the network and ensuring that all members have a say in how decisions are made, such as one member one vote.

Rather than bring in outside speakers, all delegates were involved in Opportunity Collaboration activities. One of my roles was to facilitate a workshop for delegates about a process for mobilizing support to achieve poverty alleviation goals. Aside from fostering active participation, the Opportunity Collaboration organizers provide nametags where only the delegate’s name is written. This helps to minimize power dynamics by making it harder for delegates to seek out people based on their stature.

Phase 3: Produce

During this phase participants build upon the alignment that has been generated and organize to take collaborative action. Once there is a genuine interest in working together and relationships are sufficiently developed, the focus transitions to designing and implementing projects that can be jointly implemented. For the production stage to be successful, members must be willing to collectively make decisions and honor commitments made.

As a first-time delegate I’m grateful to have formed relationships with people who share my interest in helping social enterprises and social justice organizations become financially and organizationally sustainable. I’ve also appreciated getting to know some of the delegates I met before coming to this event on a deeper level. However, as I learned from veteran Opportunity Collaboration Delegates results from new connections may emerge over multiple “un-conferences” as relationships continue to grow.

Shortly after the female sea turtles hatch their eggs on the same beach where they entered the ocean, they are collected by the resort staff and kept safe from predators until the young turtles are ready to be released. Similarly, Opportunity Collaboration delegates come together each year within a supportive environment to form relationships and hatch ideas for taking collaborative action to alleviate global poverty. Like the young sea turtles, time will tell which relationships ultimately thrive and prosper.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on October 29, 2015.

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Want to Be the Change? Build a support system.

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Want to Be the Change? Build a support system.

From July 9-10 I’ll be attending Mentor Capital Network’s (MCN) Annual Gathering in New York City. This is an event that I look forward to and have attended each year since I became involved with MCN in 2011 as a contestant in their annual business plan competition. One of the reasons why I’m an ardent supporter of this network is that unlike other business plan competitions, it offers a global community of support to startup social enterprises where experienced professionals in a variety of fields, such as impact investing, social enterprise, law, marketing, and organizational consulting, serve as mentors to entrepreneurs of early stage businesses that are solving the world’s toughest social and environmental challenges.

Not only is MCN good at helping social entrepreneurs who are often just starting out, it's also good at asking for support. I can attest to the effectiveness of their appeals, which has prompted me to contribute as a prize sponsor, donor, and mentor. One thing I've learned in my own experience, as well as working with changemakers is that building a support system and consistently using it isn't as easy as this may seem.

Why do support systems matter and how do we build them?

I recently sat down to prepare for a session that I’ll be co-presenting at the Annual Gathering with my colleague, Sarah Brooks, on “Martyrdom in Social Charge: How to avoid burnout and build a support system.” Our interest in leading this interactive discussion stemmed from a concern we share that social entrepreneurs are prone to martyrdom. I admire people who have the courage to dedicate their lives to a cause they personally identify with and appreciate all of the sacrifices that come with this decision. However, the pressures they face in terms of quickly demonstrating results that can be scaled to address a seemingly insurmountable challenge with minimal resources puts them at risk for burnout, especially if limited attention is given to their own well being and that of their organization.

The theme of our presentation is that regardless of whether you’re seeking to change a habit or change the world we all need support. Since nothing of any consequence can be achieved on our own, it’s in our best interests to build support systems at home and in the workplace. A support system consists of the people who help us. The key to a robust support system is variety in terms of the types of people in your life, like cheerleaders and critics, and different ways support is provided, such as serving as a sounding board, offering guidance, and providing hands on assistance. The quality of our relationships also contributes to the health of support systems.

Interestingly, the experience of preparing this presentation has offered valuable insights into some of the challenges faced in building a support system. As I wrote about some of the factors that prevent us from developing a supportive work environment, I noticed that some of them were also hampering my own productivity. Metaphorically I was being absorbed into an energy sponge where my anxiety about delivering an excellent presentation was causing procrastination, and these feelings were taking up considerable time and energy without producing any meaningful results. Aside from feelings of martyrdom and energy sponges, not asking for support or doing so in a way that makes it difficult for others to provide help can also get in the way of building a support system.

How can we use support systems more consistently?

Instead of spinning my wheels by continuing to soak in these energy sponges, I reached out to my mentor for advice. It turns out that what he had to say was a reminder of what I already knew. The best ways to drain energy sponges are to shift our mindsets to more positive ways of thinking (particularly if we’re prone to martyrdom), keep our egos in check by not letting them get in the way of asking for help, and contract for support. Support systems are especially important to maintain if we’re having difficulty managing our egos and mindsets.

In this instance, a contract for support is a verbal agreement I have with my mentor that I can reach out to him whenever I need help. In addition to listening to what I have to say by making it clear that I’ve been heard and understood, he offers guidance for addressing my situation, and holds me accountable for taking action. I’m also fortunate in having a mentor who knows when I need to be cheered and when to be challenged. As in this example a contract for support is not a legal document, but a clearly articulated and mutually understood agreement that can be made between two people or by a group.

While contracting for support is important, it’s only useful if we’re open to receiving help in the first place. Once I recognized that energy sponges were getting in the way of finishing the presentation, I made the choice to activate my support system instead of continuing to soak. Just as in any relationship, it’s important to maintain your support system so that it continues to be available when you need it. Using a support system is similar to developing other skills in that the more you practice, the better you get.

The better we are at giving and receiving support, the more likely we are to be successful in being the change we wish to see in the world in addition to having more satisfying relationships.

Let me know how your experiences with support systems have helped or hindered your efforts as a changemaker.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on July 8, 2015.

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On the Front Lines of Social Change

Credit: Art Killing Apathy

Credit: Art Killing Apathy

What does it feel like to stand up for what you believe in?  It’s exciting, exhilarating, and scary. While there’s a part of me that takes pleasure in challenging the powers that be, my experience participating in a social action was a powerful reminder of how much courage it takes to be the change, and not just occasionally, but on a daily basis. After being confronted with the difficult choice of standing my ground and risking arrest or staying safe by not rocking the boat, I have a much deeper respect for the people who’ve chosen to dedicate their lives to making the world a better place for all of us.

The erosion of democracy is an issue I care deeply about. For me, democracy means more than periodically going to the voting booth to choose a political representative. It’s an integral part of my daily life—from the petitions I sign, to the causes I donate to, and the products and services I buy. All of these acts, as small and insignificant as they may seem, matter. Like many Americans, I’m also concerned about the strong influence that major corporations have in our political system. 

It is for these reasons that I chose to participate in an action organized by Popular Resistance (think Occupy Movement 2.0) to halt an attempt by the U.S. Congress to approve fast track of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). For those who are not already familiar with this issue, the TPP is an international trade agreement, which has been negotiated behind closed doors, and is believed to be more far-reaching than NAFTA in terms of the power provided to multinational corporations. Fast track gives President Obama the authority to sign this treaty before it goes to Congress with limited time for review and no amendments. 

For the “Flood Congress to Stop Fast Track” action a group of us dressed in blue and silently walked through Senate office buildings wearing signs that stated how fast track silences democracy. As the owner of a consulting practice, I chose one that said fast track silences the voice of small businesses. One of the things that stood out for me about this action was that although the media was present none were from the American press. I also noticed the relatively small size of our group, about 30 people, which was surprising considering the broad impact that the TPP will likely have on issues that civil society groups care about, such as the environment, labor, public services, and civil rights. Despite multiple threats of arrest by the Capital Police we accomplished our objective, which was to express opposition to fast track to members of Congress.

Beyond “speaking up” for what I believe in, I also experienced what it is probably like for some of my clients who are on the frontlines of social change everyday. I now have a better understanding of what it’s like to confront a system that is resistant to change and with forces firmly in place to keep it that way. I can also personally identify with the optimism and persistence needed to keep moving forward in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles as well as the importance of celebrating small victories.

Coming away from this social action I’ve identified some insights that may be of interest to changemakers, whatever the type of movement you’re building: 

  • Widen the tent: Actively seek out opportunities to connect with and enlist the support of other groups that are related to your cause. This could involve sharing information about activities, co-hosting events, and developing strategic partnerships. For example, Popular Resistance has organized a cross-movement group to organize and coordinate actions to stop TPP and similar trade agreements.
  • Get on the same page: Connect the dots by clearly explaining how movement actions contribute to the achievement of overall goals. Regularly solicit input from your supporters as they may have a unique perspective on the situation and can offer good ideas. Before we went to Congress, the organizers explained the purpose and plans for the action. They also solicited input from the group to ensure that there was a shared understanding and consensus.
  • Plan tight, hang loose: Have a back-up plan for when things don’t turn out as expected. Because the action was planned in advance with the input of everyone involved, we were able to adjust in the moment when circumstances changed by shortening the duration of the action while still accomplishing the objective.
  • Express gratitude: Make it a regular practice to show appreciation to the people who support your cause. At the end of the action the organizers thanked everyone who participated, including the media who covered the event. Beyond good manners, expressing gratitude is a way to recognize the sacrifices people make to support your cause. That day I met a woman who traveled hundreds of miles just to participate in the Flood Congress action.
  • Stay in touch: Follow-up to let people know the outcome of their support. Staying in touch and keeping your supporters informed can sustain momentum over the longer-run in addition to attracting new supporters over time. Later that day I received a message from the organizers thanking me for my participation in the action that also included links to a published story along with photos and a video to share with others in my network.   

As a result, I feel greater solidarity with those who are on the frontlines of social change everyday. Participating in a social change movement has also strengthened my commitment to support changemakers within and beyond my consulting practice. 

What are you doing to advance the causes that matter to you?


This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on April 15, 2015.


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Certified B Corp Authors Guide for Startup Changemakers

credit: Yvette Perullo

credit: Yvette Perullo

Washington, DC, February 26, 2015— Shifting Patterns Consulting, LLC is pleased to announce its contribution to the education revolution for changemakers with the publication of the “Nonprofit Funding and Long-Term Sustainability” Social Good Guide. Filled with practical advice, tips, and resources this publication offers a fresh perspective by combining the art of fundraising with developing the organizational capabilities that make the best use of these funds.

Authored by Kimberley Jutze, Founder and Chief Change Architect at Shifting Patterns Consulting, “Nonprofit Funding and Long-Term Sustainability” explores what first-time social entrepreneurs need to know in order to obtain funding for their nonprofit.  More than a fundraising primer, “Nonprofit Funding and Long-Term Sustainability” also discusses how to put the people and processes in place that can sustain social enterprises beyond their launch.  

“Nonprofit Funding and Long-Term Sustainability” is one of a series of 20 guides published by Social Innovators Collective. Authored by industry experts, the Social Good Guides are a collection of free subject-specific publications created for startup changemakers. The collection offers guidance on a variety of topics, such as communications, strategy, accounting, legal issues, branding, and marketing.  

“The Social Good Guides grew out of a vision for connecting, educating, and providing resources to startup changemakers who often struggle to get the support they need to bring their ideas to fruition,” commented Shana Dressler, Founder of Social Innovators Collective and Creator of the Social Good Guides. “As lack of funding is a common challenge that startup changemakers face, our Nonprofit Funding and Funding Your Startup Social Enterprise guides are essential reading.” 

The publication of the “Nonprofit Funding and Long-Term Sustainability” Social Good Guide follows the certification of Shifting Patterns as a B Corporation. Becoming a certified B Corp propels the company’s efforts to build a stronger changemaker movement by working alongside social enterprises to develop the people and process capabilities needed to address the underlying causes of larger-scale challenges, such as improving education in under-resourced communities. Shifting Patterns joins a growing community of more than 1,200 B Corps in 38 countries and across 121 industries that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

“It’s gratifying to be publicly recognized for living up to the social and environmental performance standards that many of are clients hold themselves to,” said Ms. Jutze.  “The B Corporation brand enhances our efforts to build trusting relationships at the outset.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Shifting Patterns Consulting has the distinction of being the first B Corp in Washington, DC that supports social enterprises in the United States and around the world to strengthen their organizational capabilities.

About Shifting Patterns Consulting

Shifting Patterns facilitates social change by working alongside social enterprises and other changemakers to mobilize resources for addressing today’s most pressing challenges while developing the internal support systems needed for longer-term sustainability.  Resource mobilization, institutional support, and partnership development services are tailored to the needs of each client.  What separates Shifting Patterns from other consulting firms is an exclusive focus on changemakers, ability to establish working relationships grounded in trust and mutual respect, and a consulting model that strengthens organizational capacity through knowledge and skills transfer thereby reducing the need for external support.

About Social Good Guides

The Social Good Guides are a series of small-business guides created to support early stage social entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders, and individuals working on social impact projects. The goal of the guides is to centralize general knowledge and equip changemakers with information about the essential skills founders need to be familiar with in order to achieve success during the startup phase of their venture building. Each guide has been authored by a distinguished professional with sector expertise in the social impact space, designed by a seasoned graphic designer, and brought to life by a dedicated team of volunteers. 

About B Corp

Certified B Corporations meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability as well as legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests and build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. A preliminary step for obtaining B Corp certification entails scoring a minimum of 80 points on the B Impact Assessment and includes categories for governance, workers, community, and the environment. B Lab, which administers the B Corporation assessment, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

This press release was published by Triple Pundit on February 26, 2015.

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Prioritizing Social Enterprise Sustainability

Networking is an important part of my work as a consultant, which often includes attending or speaking at events in the social enterprise community. As is typically the case, the question: “What do you do?” appears early in the conversation. My answer to this question has changed based on what I’ve learned working with changemakers. I used to tell people that one of my roles is helping social enterprises, which solve social problems by building or transforming social institutions in ways that benefit people, obtain funding. I’ve realized that this response does not serve the best interests of my clients nor does it fully represent the value of my work.

While money is the lifeblood of any organization, there are other factors that also contribute to success. At the end of the day, money doesn’t do much good if the people and work processes are not in place to make the best use of these funds. This is what motivates my work and is the reason why I’m a strong proponent of building organizations that not only have sufficient resources for achieving their goals, but also the systems and skills to deploy them effectively. If social enterprises can benefit from diversifying sources of income, building high performing teams, and developing strategic partnerships why isn’t this happening consistently?  

It’s hard to get what you don’t ask for

In my experience with changemakers investing in organizational capacity tends to be an afterthought if it’s even thought of at all. There are a variety of reasons for this situation, which are not intended to disparage changemakers or discount the difficulty of changing behaviors as part of the widespread adoption of social innovations while generating an income. These reasons include a passionate commitment to a particular cause that preoccupies the attention of changemakers, pressure from funders to demonstrate results as soon as possible, and bootstrapping until sufficient resources can be obtained. 

To address this situation there is a need for greater awareness among changemakers about giving as much attention to how the organization is operating as to the work it is doing. However, awareness needs to be followed up by action, such as allocating time each week to focus on strategic, talent, or operational issues. Action is more likely to take place if there is commitment and support for following through. Changemakers can be supported in prioritizing institutional strengthening by increasing access to funding and other resources. This could involve educating funders about the importance of investing in the organization and not just its mission. Changemakers can also enlist a staff member, trusted advisor, or consultant to support them in improving organizational performance.

Limited support available to changemakers

Despite the conventional wisdom that organizations that invest in developing a robust infrastructure are more likely to succeed and recognition of financial support for capacity building as a philanthropic best practice by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, social impact funders have yet to collectively make a substantial financial commitment to building organizational capacity. In an article published by Stanford Social Innovation Review, Paul Brest, former president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, stated: “Although the interest in social entrepreneurship has grown, the sector is still lacking in patient capital to build, sustain, and grow promising nonprofits.” This may stem from a desire to invest in strengthening the operations of social enterprises that funders know well and are comfortable working with, particularly after they have demonstrated results. However, this can deprive organizations that are just starting out of an opportunity to produce the kind of results that funders look for. In weighing the opportunities and risks of funding it may also be helpful to also consider the quality of the idea and leadership as well as the potential for success.

In cases where technical support is combined with funding, there is a tendency to support social enterprises in operating like a business, such as developing a business plan or preparing pitches to investors. In some instances, an arrangement is made with a large consulting firm to provide pro bono consulting, which tends to be limited in terms of resources and scope, or a capacity building grant is awarded with the expectation that the recipient will hire a consultant for a short-term project. To have maximum impact, capacity building should extend beyond leaders and specific tasks to encompass the entire organization.

Hired hand vs. capacity development partner

Unfortunately, some consultants are contributing to an unflattering image of the industry, which can make it harder to win the trust of social enterprises that are able to invest in institutional strengthening when they treat clients as a problem to be solved. This typically involves “diagnosing” a client to find out who or what the problem is and then “prescribing” a solution, typically in the form of a report, that the client is often left to implement on their own. 

There is also a tendency among consultants to be used as hired help to carry out tasks for clients that don’t have the expertise or time to address on their own. While this can save time and money in the short run it ultimately does a dis-service when clients are not supported in developing the expertise to address their own needs. It also perpetuates reliance on outside support, which is inconsistent with changemaker efforts to create an empowering environment in the communities where they work.       

My intent here is not to criticize social enterprises, social impact funders, and consultants. It is to make the point that investing in organizational capacity is not “nice to have” when the situation permits, but a “must have” if we are to sustain social innovations and the organizations that are driving them. 

This post was published by CSRwire on February 5, 2015.

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Why Change is Difficult (especially if you’re a changemaker)

credit: Schick at Morguefile

credit: Schick at Morguefile

My new year’s tradition involves reflecting on what transpired during the previous year and making plans for the new one. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from listing my accomplishments over the past 12 months and setting new BHAGs (big, hairy audacious goals). Less enjoyable, however, is evaluating my performance according to benchmarks I set for my business, especially if my results missed the mark. While it’s natural to feel disappointed, I choose to focus on the lessons learned and what can be done better the next time around. 

The point here is not to endorse or criticize new years’ resolutions since it’s up to each of us to figure out what works best. Instead it’s about recognizing what makes change difficult and what we can do to better navigate this process. While the level of complexity may vary, from modifying a personal habit to transforming a social institution so that is more inclusive and just, there are certain factors that contribute to successful change efforts.   


As Alfred Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To put a finer point on this statement, my organization development colleagues and I are often fond of saying: “How is that working for you?” If the answer is not so well, perhaps it’s time to consider who or what is preventing you from getting the results you want and try a new approach. Through personal experience I’ve learned that when I set an intention and clearly articulate it in the written and spoken word that it is more likely to come to fruition.

One challenge that can get in the way of setting intentions is being on automatic. This is a state where our thoughts and actions are governed by established patterns of behavior, such as a routine. Automatic behavior is often useful in our daily activities in that it can save time and free up our minds to focus on other things. However, being on automatic can also prevent us from being aware of the choices we’ve made or from realizing that there are other options. Alternatively, conscious use of self requires being fully aware of our choices and selecting those that are aligned with our intentions. For example, I consulted with a nonprofit that developed a culture that manifested the problem they sought to address. When I pointed out the contradiction between their behavior and mission, it prompted a conversation with the staff and board about the desire for change.


One experience that contributed to my decision to transition careers from international aid to social change occurred during a field posting in a post-conflict region. I was working on a project that was funded by an international donor and was intended to support the re-integration of ethnic groups that had a long history of conflict. The goal was to resettle families in their original homes in ethnically mixed communities. While the nonprofit I worked for may have met its target for helping to return a certain number of families, the project ultimately failed. This was primarily because younger returning families were not convinced that conditions were conducive for remaining in their communities of origin and subsequently returned to displacement. 

In our enthusiasm to address a problem we may overlook the needs of those who are directly impacted by the change we’re seeking to bring about. Even when we take the time to involve others who are affected in the change process, it’s important to make sure that we have sound and current data. This refers to obtaining information that is accurate, reliable, and timely from everyone involved, and not just the key players. It also means challenging our assumptions about what we think we know and operating from the basis of new information rather than past experiences. In this example, my colleagues and I were so focused on meeting the donor’s expectations that we neglected to fully engage returning and receiving populations in a meaningful conversation about the kind of future they wanted and their willingness to bring it about. 


An important part of change is sustaining the momentum to see it through to completion. Launching straight into task without taking the time to make sure that goals, roles, and responsibilities are clearly defined and accepted by everyone involved can cause change efforts to grind to a halt. 

I was once hired to facilitate a team building process for a social enterprise that had a newly formed group. The business owner understood that building effective working relationships was essential for completing the project and agreed that one of the first steps was to develop a charter that explained the goal and how everyone would work together to accomplish it. I also helped the team establish a timeline and an accountability mechanism for completing tasks where commitments were made and progress was reported on in front of the whole group. 


To sustain change intentions, commitment, and accountability are insufficient without a support system in place. This is especially true when it comes to changing our behaviors. In my work with changemakers I’ve often found a tendency to take on too much responsibility and as a consequence their personal life suffers. In an extreme case this can lead to burn out.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with a social entrepreneur that I had helped to launch nonprofit. While a board had been put in place it was clear that the founder was still doing almost all of the work. Factors that contributed to this situation were a lack of clarity among board members about expectations and responsibilities as well as members who were not necessarily the right fit. However, what was most concerning was the founder’s unsubstantiated belief that support from the board was contingent upon reaching a certain level of success rather than inviting members to be part of achieving it. 

At this point you may be wondering, given all of the difficulties in leading and facilitating change, why would anyone choose this as a career? For me, the answer is with risk comes reward. It’s more than the satisfaction of a job well done. In helping social entrepreneurs lead change within their organizations they are better positioned to do the same in their communities.    

What have been your experiences with leading or participating in change processes? Let me know what you’ve learned from using these or other approaches. 

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on January 14, 2015



Being the Change We Seek through Sustainable Practices

credit: JDurham at Morguefile

credit: JDurham at Morguefile

Election Day is around the corner. Like most Americans, I’m not excited about this year’s crop of candidates. Unfortunately, when it comes to civic engagement, disengagement seems to be a norm among a population that is increasingly disenchanted with our government. I’m especially troubled by what appears to be a viral spread of apathy among Millennials who represent the newest generation of changemakers. 

This was the topic of an event I recently attended in Washington, DC. “Still Bowling Alone: Trends in Millennial Political Participation and Engagement” that was co-hosted by Raise Your City, Impact Hub DC, and One DC. Inspired by Robert Putnam’s best-selling book, Bowling Alone about the linkage between declining social capital and increasing disengagement, this event explored the challenges the nation’s capital faces in engaging a Millennial population that is often challenged to identify with a city that has a higher cost of living and may serve as a pit stop in their careers.  

As I listened to the views of local politicians and civil society activists, I was reminded that there are no spectators in a democracy. By this I mean that civic engagement is more than casting a vote during an election. It’s the actions we take everyday to create the kind of society we want. Whether it’s signing a petition, joining a march, or volunteering for a cause we believe in, our daily activities speak volumes about our values. 

The same is true for other matters that impact our daily lives. Oftentimes when we hear the word “sustainability” we automatically think of the environment. While this is certainly true, there is more to this concept than how we go about inhabiting this planet. My own definition encompasses having a positive impact on society (sustaining our relationships with the people who matter) and earning a living (sustaining the ability to provide for ourselves and our families) in addition to the environment (sustaining the planet).    

As the owner of a newly certified B Corporation, these multiple dimensions of sustainability are woven into the fabric of my company. As a consultant I work closely with changemakers, typically social enterprises and social justice organizations, to help them obtain funding and develop the people and process capabilities needed to achieve their social change goals. In essence, my work involves helping clients become financially and organizationally sustainable so that my services are no longer needed. Helping my clients become sustainable also prepares them to have a lasting positive impact on society whether it’s mobilizing a community to turnaround underperforming schools or promoting healthy fitness behaviors among people who do not have access to exercise facilities.

My effectiveness as a consultant also depends on having a sustainable business behind me. This means paying attention to the backend of my business by choosing vendors, such as a bank, an accountant, and an office supplier that walk the triple bottom line talk. One thing that is particularly troubling is the misalignment I often see between espoused values and actions. For example, it doesn’t seem fair or even make sense to work with an organization that helps disadvantaged women achieve self-sufficiency and then use some of the earnings from that assignment to purchase a product made by a company that exploits women. What is the net impact of my actions? Whose values am I ultimately supporting?

Profitability is also essential to sustainability. Failing to provide sufficient value to my clients makes it likely that my business will cease to exist. As a small business, it’s difficult to maintain socially and environmentally conscious values and minimize costs. One way this plays out is a willingness to pay a slightly higher price for a product that is sustainably produced. It also involves making a conscious effort to financially support other B Corps and keep informed about the practices of businesses that don’t already have this certification. 

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of applying a multi-dimensional approach to sustainability is questioning my assumptions. This is easier said than done since it involves making a conscious effort to consider the consequences of my actions before making a decision instead of being on autopilot. A good example is resisting the temptation to propose a solution before fully understanding the situation, which often leads to better communication and stronger working relationships with my clients.  Most of all, applying a multi-dimensional approach to sustainability requires having a clear intention to consistently do right by my clients, the environment, and my company. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, especially as mistakes offer learning opportunities and new practices are developed that evolve into higher standards for sustainability. 

If your organization is already using similar sustainability practices perhaps it’s time to consider them from a broader perspective. Challenge yourself to come up with new and better ways of applying sustainability practices within and outside the workplace. If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to start giving it a try. Let me know what you learn from this experience and if there are new ideas that you come up with.

It’s been said that we get the government that we deserve. The same applies to changemakers—when our values and actions are closely aligned we’re more likely to get the results that match our intentions.

This post was published by CSRwire on October 28, 2014.



Transitioning to Social Enterprise 2.0

credit: Hotblack at Morguefile

credit: Hotblack at Morguefile

What else needs to happen for social enterprises to move in the direction of networks? This provocative question, posed by Elisa Birnbaum, Co-Founder, Publisher and Editor of See Change Magazine, during the publication of my previous post, “Linking the Future of Social Change to Networks,” prompted me to think more deeply about the evolution underway in social enterprise and my role in this transition. Elisa had a good point; it’s one thing to predict a future where the formation and expansion of networks to advance social change goals is commonplace, and entirely another to explain what needs to happen in order to bring this future about. 

To answer this question I’ve drawn inspiration from the words of an ethicist, a poet, and an African proverb.

“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone” – Reinhold Niebuhr

1)  Shift from Silo to Systems Thinking: Niebuhr’s words remind us that change at any level requires support. In working on large-scale challenges, such as environmental sustainability or increasing access to economic opportunities, there is a tendency to function within mental and socially constructed barriers. This includes viewing a situation from a single perspective or neglecting to take into account how solutions impact the broader system. System thinking offers an opportunity to overcome these limitations. In The Art of Systems Thinking, Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott view this process as “seeing beyond isolated and independent incidents to recognize deeper patterns.” It is this ability that enables us to better understand and influence events. 

A good example is Partnership for Possibility, the flagship program of Symphonia for South Africa, which is addressing the country’s education crisis by placing schools at the center of community. This unique model, which I came to better understand during a short-term assignment, helps improve learning outcomes for South African children by partnering school principals with business leaders to mobilize youth, parents, teachers, businesses, civil society, and government to work together to improve the education environment. By broadening the focus of education to include what occurs outside as well as inside the classroom and extending the commitment for achieving positive results into the community, Partnership for Possibility has succeeded in spreading its model to nearly 200 schools across South Africa.   

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can happen” – Mattie Stepanek

2)  Build a Sustainable Network: Beyond the considerations of whether and how to form a network, some of which are addressed in my previous post, new networks are more likely to emerge when existing ones are sustainable. A dilemma that has occurred in my efforts to strengthen a mature network is where to draw the line between investing in the organizational capacity of members that are struggling to survive and letting go of those destined to fail. While it is tempting to triage members according to their capacity for survival, deliberations with the network’s leadership have prompted an examination of its mission and values in relation to capacity building. As this organization charts a path forward solutions to this dilemma can be found in good practices for network strengthening, such as setting clear expectations of all members, holding members accountable for meeting these expectations, ensuring that the network’s values are aligned with its mission and operations, creating a structure and securing resources for supporting the work of the network, and providing incentives (like capacity building grants) for members to improve their operations.

“It takes a village to raise a child” – African proverb

3)  Cultivating a Supportive Ecosystem: For networks (especially ones intended to tackle the magnitude and complexities of social change) to thrive, a supportive environment is needed. In addition to capacity building, which takes place inside the network, there is also a need for an ecosystem that can foster the conditions within which new networks emerge and existing ones can be sustained. A supportive ecosystem includes forums where changemakers and stakeholders can meet to discuss the interconnections between the issues they are working on and take collective action, regulatory frameworks that make it easier for networks to operate and share resources, allocation of resources (like the Social Innovation Fund) that are dedicated to the development of networks, and impact accelerators that provide business development guidance and access to investors. 

A good example of an emerging ecosystem is groups of impact accelerators that are meeting to discuss ways to support social enterprises. I recently attended one such meeting that took place during a conference for early stage social enterprises. In addition to exploring opportunities for collaboration participants discussed balancing the demands for rigor in demonstrating results with the resource intensive nature of data collection.  

Transitioning to social enterprise 2.0 where networks are ubiquitous in bringing about social change requires shifting how we approach social challenges, strengthening the capacity of networks to operate effectively, and creating a supportive ecosystem where they can thrive.

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on September 17, 2014.



Why the Future of Social Change May Depend on Networks

credit: PSchubert at Morguefile

credit: PSchubert at Morguefile

Like many entrepreneurs I’m cautious when it comes to taking risks, which means I don’t make a habit of predicting the future. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and state what I believe is the future of social enterprise based on my experience and identified trends: As the field grows and matures we will see a shift from social enterprises working individually and through one-off partnerships to innovate solutions to large-scale social and environmental challenges to strategically spreading the adoption of proven approaches through networks.

“Go slow to go fast” is a well-known adage in my profession. In the context of organization development it refers to building relationships with the people you work with and figuring out how the work will get done before doing the task. In other words, taking a step back to figure out the best process can help improve performance. Similarly, social enterprises are better positioned to pursue transformative and lasting change when they take the time build longer-term relationships with organizations that share a common purpose and act in collaboration. 

In this sense, a network is akin to a coalition or alliance where members agree to work together to advance common goals. Developing a network is a complex process that requires a significant investment of time, labor, money, and other resources. Forming a network requires thoughtful consideration as to whether this approach is best suited for what the social enterprise wants to accomplish and assessing preparedness to fulfill the commitments of a collaborative relationship. Once a decision is made to move forward with forming a network, the next steps are to identify organizations that are critical for achieving collective objectives, bring them together to discuss establishing a network, and create structures and processes for collaborative action. After the network is up and running members will need to work together to carry out jointly planned activities, ensure commitments are fulfilled, maintain relationships, and assess performance. 

My involvement in collaborative relationships has spanned different stages of the development process from deliberating whether to form one, to maintaining an existing network, and merging coalitions. Earlier this year I was invited to a meeting that brought together advisors for an early stage social enterprise to review its mission and think through opportunities for carrying it out. An opportunity that was discussed was how to support civil society groups, activists, and businesses engaged in collaborative action, such as raising the minimum wage or preventing fracking in their community. It was agreed that there are benefits to collectively acting on a single issue, such as having a clear purpose and attracting people who care enough to get involved. However, for actions involving a longer timeline there is the risk that the movement will dissipate early on if there is insufficient momentum or resources to continue to drive it forward. To extend its impact beyond a single issue and ensure consistent support to groups that are limited in their ability to participate due to other obligations, the social enterprise is considering the possibility of becoming a backbone organization that fulfills operating functions and orchestrates the work of the movement.   

I have also worked with a more mature social justice network that is figuring out how to grow and support the work of its members while financially sustaining itself. As it begins to diversify its sources of funding, the network is considering how to attract donors that are willing to invest in strengthening the organizational capabilities of its members. Attention is also being given to ways in which to support members that are at various stages of maturity depending on when they were formed, level of funding, and ability of their boards to govern effectively. Although it’s an exciting time for this network as it transitions from surviving to thriving, success will depend on balancing the demands of its own operations, addressing the needs of its members, and ensuring steady growth without sacrificing the quality of social services provided and advocacy efforts. 

I once worked with a coalition that began as an initiative of its parent organization, became an independent nonprofit, and later came full circle when the board decided that it was in its best interests to merge with a larger advocacy organization. In this case, the narrow focus of the coalition’s mission and an environment of fiscal austerity made it difficult to retain existing and attract new members. Exacerbating this situation were challenges related to board engagement. As senior leaders of organizations that were members of the coalition, getting and sustaining board members’ attention proved to be an arduous task given the demanding schedules of their day-to-day jobs. These factors contributed to delays in making critical decisions about the coalition’s governance and missed opportunities to adjust its operations to new realities. Since networks may not be able to survive independently over the longer-term it’s important to recognize the warning signs and plan for transitions in organizational structure and operations.   

Beyond these examples there is other evidence of the growing frequency of networks as collaborative approaches for achieving social impact. “How the Hub Found its Center,” a case study by Michel Bachmann in the Winter 2014 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review chronicles the transition of the Impact Hub from an informal ad hoc structure to a more formal network that blends business with a social innovation movement with over 50 hubs on six continents. In March 2014, FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions launched the Collective Impact Forum as a global online community that supports organizations practicing collective impact, which is an approach used by organizations across social sectors to solve a specific social challenge, such as affordable community housing. Forum members include funders, backbone organizations, and partners.

I look forward to the time when we not only celebrate social entrepreneurs for coming up with game changing ideas, but also laud networks for their role in carrying the ball further down the field in advancing social change.
This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on May 29, 2014



Getting Ahead By Investing From Within

“Keep your eye on the prize” is a common catch phrase that for the social enterprise community has come to mean staying focused on achieving your social change goal. Oftentimes the decision to become a changemaker, and accept all of the sacrifices that come along with this choice, is driven by a life-changing experience that has altered how social entrepreneurs see the world and prompted them to take action. From this perspective, it is understandable why social entrepreneurs are so passionate about their cause and devote so much of their attention to it. However, there is a downside to being so strongly focused on achieving social change goals. 

I recently became involved with a social movement whose mission is to transform the city where I live into a vibrant, thriving community where all residents have a better quality of life. An important part of this work is reaching out to marginalized populations to enlist their participation and support. The movement has been fortunate to attract members and other resources in support of its cause. Despite this good fortune, leaders have not demonstrated a willingness to widen their focus beyond the immediate goals to address communication challenges that have been raised. An inattention to process issues that affect how work gets done have led to missed opportunities to build a stronger team and effectively plug volunteers into the network. Unfortunately, this is a situation often encountered in my work with changemakers where social change activities become the dominant priority, and the needs of the organization and the people who work for it tend to fall by the wayside.

There’s no denying that social change work is and should remain a high priority. However, paying attention to the people and processes within the social enterprise is just as important. This raises the challenge of giving sufficient attention to what is happening within and outside the social enterprise without losing sight of the social purpose that drives this work. As my experience with the social movement illustrates, it’s easy to become so focused on goals and the day-to-day work that supports their accomplishment that issues that aren’t seen as being directly related are crowded out from this narrow focus. There are a number of reasons why this happens, such as a passion for doing social change work that pulls attention outside the organization, work-related deadlines, the urgency of providing sustainable solutions that address the needs of the population served, pressure from financial supporters and other stakeholders to show results, and a lack of resources extending beyond social change activities.

Savvy social enterprises understand the importance of investing in the organization behind the social change mission. Blessed Coffee, which is a company that sells premium, single origin organic coffee and supports coffee growing regions and communities where coffee is sold, incorporated organization development services into the development of its Brewing Change crowdfunding campaign to open a local café. I worked closely with Tebabu Assefa and Sara Mussie, husband and wife Co-Founders, as well as other Brewing Change members to provide backbone support. Having a dedicated resource for team development, information flow, meeting facilitation, and task monitoring enabled Brewing Change members to concentrate on the design and execution of the campaign. Each campaign meeting began with a check-in and ended with a checkout as a way for team members to feel supported and get to know each other better. In addition to directly benefitting from this experience, Blessed Coffee’s Founders have shared what they’ve learned with other community groups, such as facilitating effective meetings. 

Investing in organizational capacity is not only limited to businesses. LDI Africa is a nonprofit social enterprise that builds the capacity of African organizations to compete in the global marketplace through the service of young professional volunteers. Gbenga Ogunjimi, LDI Africa’s Founder and CEO, understood from the outset the importance of building a solid foundation that would enable him to bring his idea to fruition. This involved working together to prepare a social impact strategy and develop a nonprofit board and partnerships. Although Gbenga was eager to begin LDI Africa’s pilot fellowship program, he recognized the importance of taking the time to think through the resources needed to carry out the program, how success would be defined and measured, and preparing a solid pitch to partners and financial supporters. A detailed planning process and support from the board has enabled LDI Africa to implement a successful pilot program, develop partnerships with major investment firms on the African continent, and expand its fellowship program to send African professionals to the United States.

Establishing the conditions to operate effectively better prepared both social enterprises to pursue their social change goals. In the case of Blessed Coffee, attention was given to the organization of the Brewing Change Campaign and creating an environment where members felt supported. For LDI Africa, thinking through its operations and establishing an internal support system positioned it for a successful launch. The benefits of these investments have extended beyond the founders and their social enterprises to also include the communities where they work. Tebabu, Sara, and Gbenga exemplify what it means to be a change agent by taking the responsibility that comes with creating a better life for themselves to help members of their African communities of origin tap into their personal power to do the same.

Blessed Coffee and LDI Africa were fortunate in recognizing the need to strengthen their organizational capacity and obtaining the support to do so. Recognizing the need for organizational support is only half the battle; the other half involves taking action. Some of the reasons why social entrepreneurs fail to invest in strengthening their organizational capabilities are not viewing it as a significant priority as well as lack of time, money, and human resources. Social entrepreneurs who choose to make this investment may wish to consult with a skilled organization development professional to better understand challenges faced and options for addressing them. Social enterprises that do not have the resources to hire a paid organization development professional can consider approaching financial supporters for capacity building funds, entering into a bartering arrangement, or recruiting a pro bono consultant.

For social entrepreneurs, the “prize” ultimately goes beyond the joy of working on a meaningful cause and making a positive difference in the lives of marginalized populations. It also includes a social enterprise that is well-resourced, operates efficiently, and offers a place where staff are motivated to give their best effort because they are making a meaningful impact in terms of advancing the cause they believe in and the organization they work for.  

This post was published by SEE Change Magazine on March 10, 2014.