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Launched in 2021, the Navigating Change initiative was developed by Aurora Commons and Change Elemental in partnership with the Ford Foundation’s Civic Engagement and Government program to explore how groups in the civic engagement field are building organizations that both advance and embody equitable democracy. The initiative convened nearly 200 civic engagement and democracy organizations who were already experimenting with ways to transform their organizations and their work, and who sought resourcing to deepen their mutual learning about what is working to advance change. Through this learning, they aimed to build the relationships and practices necessary for interdependent transformation that embodies an equitable, democratic future in the present moment and for the long haul.

Initiative Learning Areas

The Navigating Change Initiative worked to:

  • Seed the mutual learning and relationships necessary for experimentation and transformation within and across organizations to advance and embody equitable democracy in ways that meet ourselves, our organizations, and our movements’ needs. 
  • Ground in the key issues and learning areas for CEG groups aiming to create equitable, democratic organizations and movements by catalyzing leadership, bridging conflict, and evolving liberatory management and operations. 
  • Meet the moment of rising authoritarianism and the enduring impacts of systems of oppression that are creating crises in our movements and organizations related to conflict, leadership, and management.

Sharing the Initiative’s Learning

Interwoven Offerings

To share learning with partners, colleagues, and the broader field, ten leaders who participated in the initiative have developed rich offerings that illuminate some of the experiments, tools, and stories that can help us to create and live in democratic, equitable organizations that advance our vision for the future.

These stories amplify what is already imagined into being and support us in this syndemic moment to advance transformative change, prefiguring a different way of being and doing, together. From articles to poetry, from personal narrative to a podcast and a comic zine, in these media projects, we see how individuals in organizations are imagining and creating change across the field. 

The content fellows shared rich learnings that weave across the three learning areas mentioned above, and so, while individual pieces may include references to multiple learning areas, we have organized them by their leading theme. Click on the themes to dive into the full pieces and join us in reading an article by the initiative’s lead facilitators, Susan MisraMarcela Torres, and Tamitha Walker-McKinnis, that explores initiative highlights and lessons learned, and features experiences from the participants’ media projects.

Nurturing New Organizational Structures and Leadership Transitions

Jennifer Epps-Addison, former President and Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action, currently at Synergy Power Consulting Meeting the Leadership Moment” – Over three podcast episodes, Jennifer leads rich and insightful conversations with other movement leaders about their experiences and wisdom on leadership in times of transition and crisis. 

Yahya Alazrak, Resource Generation – Resource Generation: A Case Study in Collaborate Governance, tells the story of their journey from organizer to ED alongside the story of an organization moving from a traditional structure to one of decentralized leadership and democracy.

Alexis Anderson-Reed, State Voices – In “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: A Recipe for Building Strong Organizational Culture, Seasoned to Taste,” Alexis shares ten lessons from State Voices’ journey over the last 5 years—from traditional toxic nonprofit politics to a majority-women-of-color-led network with over 1,200 partners centering BIPOC political power in theory and practice.

Maria Ibarra-Frayre, We the People Michigan The Risk of Winning” is a poem showcasing the determination and courage—as well as the frustrations and risk—of Maria Ibarra-Frayre growing into her power from organizer to Deputy Director.

Ashley Marshall, Forward Justice – “Co-leading Is an Act of Rebellion” (forthcoming) begins to unravel the complexity of integrating multifaceted identities into co-leadership models. Inspired by bell hook’s critique of the imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy, Ashley’s research explores the praxis of co-leadership, examining the relationships, values, and strategies co-leaders employ, and how the model itself subverts the dominant culture.

Bridging Conflicts and Differences

Akosua Meyers, Center for Law and Social Policy – Trust as a Valued Commodity at Work and in Movements” shares her experience and calls on others in social and economic justice organizations to invest in building trust as a core value.

Sara Suzuki, CIRCLE @ Tufts University, & Stephanie Guirand, Ph.D. Candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the Sociology Department – This collaborative blog post “Making Sense of the Alternative Highway,” focuses on why alternative public safety programs and experiments fall apart— and how we can prevent them from doing so. They outline the elements necessary for abolitionist organizations to build effective and lasting public safety programs, highlighting the importance of alternatives documenting, sharing, and learning from the past and one another.  

Aligning Operations and Management with Values

Fabienne Doucet, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools – “Reflecting on the Completing Ones” is a summary of Dr. Doucet’s learnings, collected wisdom, and resources for new EDs and fellow BIPOC leaders navigating transition.

Kelly Siegel-Stechler, CIRCLE @ Tufts University Bringing Our Authentic Selves to Work” is an illustrated call for expansive workplace policies that include and celebrate the diverse and vibrant forms that queer relationships can take.

Antonia Genao, Make The Road New York In “Connecting to Values and Mission,” Antonia Genao shares concrete tools—in the form of four meeting agendas—to help staff connect to organizational mission, values, and strategy. As a new leader of Operations at MRNY, Antonia created and used this tool to support her team to stay grounded in the work and each other during a time of significant organizational change.

We invite you to engage with the offerings and try out some practices that can support you to lean into the reflection, prefiguring, and implementation needed to advance your vision for the future.

Synthesized Learning

Navigating Change opened the initiative by culling input from participants, the program itself was deeply participant-driven, and it closed by highlighting work from participant voices from the field. Initiative leads, Susan Misra, Tamitha Walker-McKinnis, and Marcela Torres (with partnership from Natasha Winegar and Naima Yael Tokunow) penned a blog that shares highlights, lessons learned, and lived experiences from across the Navigating Change Initiative’s many learning spaces.

Approach & Impact

Navigating Change partnered with civic engagement and democracy leaders and organizations to co-create mutual learning and relationship-building spaces to navigate change toward equitable, democratic organizations. Navigating Change’s approach was to explore what’s working to shift leadership, culture, structure, and practice in alignment with vision and values and what’s needed now to advance an equitable democracy. The initiative approach was grounded in deep racial equity with an intersectional lens that included gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, and other identities as well as an ecofeminist lens that integrated human, other-than-human kin, and the planet.

The civic engagement and democracy leaders, organizers, and administrators who participated identified the learning areas they hoped to explore, based on what was coming up for them in their work. Through peer-led cohorts, workshops, and creative learning spaces, civic engagement leaders, organizers, and administrators shared their experiences, wisdom, learning, and practice with:

  • Nurturing new organizational structures and leadership transitions for co-governance, and shared power, and creating the conditions that support executives of color to advance their visions and thrive.
  • Aligning operations and management with values to enact shared decision-making, compensate teams equitably, ensure workplace well-being, and strengthen cultures and connections rooted in trust and liberation.
  • Embracing and bridging conflict within and across organizations to work together equitably, including differences that surface across race, gender, class, and generation.

The learning opportunities participants and facilitators co-developed explored these three learning areas, and, together, they built a resource library that offers a lasting impact that organizations (and the wider field) can (re)turn to. 

Civic engagement groups who participated in Navigating Change integrated this shared learning with their own experience and context to create, evolve, and adapt their cultures, structures, and practices. Through the development of trust across organizations, participants were able to explore and experiment with various solutions—and turn to feedback loops, revision, and iteration—to become stronger, more equitable, and more democratic organizations that model the future we want to see in the world.  There is not a singular solution or promised practice, there are many alternatives and options—some quite particular and others adaptable and adoptable. While working to amplify innovation, leaders felt connected to and supported by peers and consultants who worked as sounding boards and co-conspirators in their evolving journeys.

Design & Facilitation Team

Initiative Participant Organizations

  • AAPI Civic Engagement Fund / NEO Philanthropy
  • Advancement Project
  • Advocacy Institute
  • Advocates for Youth
  • Alliance for Justice
  • Allied Media Projects, Inc. / Kairos Fellowship
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Business Immigration Coalition
  • Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
  • Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation
  • Bend the Arc/Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing
  • Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD) / Highlander Research and Education Center, Inc.
  • Border Network For Human Rights
  • Building Movement Project
  • BYP100 Education Fund
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Catalyst Miami
  • CCF Community Initiatives Fund/Harness
  • Center for American Progress
  • Center for Community Change / Movement Talent
  • Center for Economic Democracy, Inc. / Boston Ujima Project
  • Center for Empowered Politics Education Fund
  • Center for Law and Social Policy
  • Center for Popular Democracy
  • Center for Working Families
  • Central Florida Jobs With Justice
  • Citizen University
  • City of SF
  • Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
  • Community Voices Heard
  • CTUL
  • Data for Black Lives, Inc
  • Democracy Initiative Education Fund
  • Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action, Ltd.
  • Detroit Jews for Justice
  • Equally American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Faith In Action Network
  • Florida For All
  • Florida Immigrant Coalition
  • Florida Rising
  • Forward Justice
  • Foundation For Louisiana
  • Frameworks Institute
  • Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
  • Gender Justice
  • Generation Citizen Inc.
  • Grassroots Policy Project
  • Headwaters Foundation for Justice
  • In the Public Interest / Partnership for Working Families
  • Institute for Freedoms
  • Institute of Public Finance Kenya
  • Interaction Institute for Social Change
  • Jewish Community Action 
  • Land Stewardship Project
  • LatinoJustice-PRLDEF
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Leadership Conference Education Fund
  • Living Hope Wheelchair Association
  • Local Progress
  • Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom
  • Make the Road New York
  • Midwest Academy
  • Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
  • Momentum Community, Inc.
  • Movement Law Lab
  • Movement Strategy Center
  • MoveOn.org
  • National Center for Youth Law
  • National Conference on Citizenship / Pandemic to Prosperity
  • National Disability Rights Network Inc.
  • National Public Education Support Fund / Partnership for the Future of Learning
  • Native American Rights Fund
  • Native Americans in Philanthropy
  • NEO Philanthropy Inc. / MPower Change
  • New American Leaders Project Inc.
  • New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Inc.
  • New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice
  • New Venture Fund/Communities for Just Schools Fund
  • New York University Metropolitan Center
  • NY Institute for Social Justice
  • Participatory Budgeting Project, Inc.
  • Partners for Dignity & Rights  – P4DR/DSC
  • People Powered / Participatory Budgeting Project, Inc.
  • People’s Action Institute
  • Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement
  • Poverty and Race Research Action Council / National Coalition on School Diversity
  • Progressive Multiplier Fund
  • Project Truth and Reconciliation / The Watershed Center
  • Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.
  • Public Policy and Education Fund of New York
  • Race Forward
  • RePower
  • Repairers of the Breach, Inc.
  • Scholars Strategy Network
  • Social Impact Fund / KW Foundation
  • Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Southern Vision Alliance
  • Southerners on New Ground
  • State Innovation Exchange
  • State Power Caucus
  • State Voices
  • Step Up Louisiana
  • Texas Civil Rights Project
  • Texas Freedom Network
  • The Advancement Project
  • The Campaign Legal Center
  • The Center for Election Innovation & Research
  • The Foundation for City College & The Office of Institutional Advancement and Communications
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • The Management Center
  • The Opportunity Agenda
  • Tides Center/National Council of Asian-Pacific Americans
  • Transgender Law Center
  • Trustees of Tufts University
  • University of California, Berkeley / Othering & Belonging Institute
  • University of Colorado
  • Voice of The Experienced (VOTE)
  • Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
  • William J. Brennan, Jr. Center for Justice, Inc.
  • Youth Engagement Fund
  • Youth Radio/YR Media
  • NYCET
  • TakeAction Minnesota
  • Texas Organizing Project Education Fund
  • We The People Michigan