Aja Couchois Duncan (she/her/we) is a San Francisco Bay Area-based leadership coach, organizational capacity builder, and learning and strategy consultant of Ojibwe, French, and Scottish descent. A Senior Consultant with Change Elemental, Aja has worked for 20 years in the areas of leadership, equity, and learning.
In her equity work, Aja specializes in strategy, management, and leadership development, and team, organizational, and network learning. Working with foundations, grassroots organizations, and capacity-building partners, Aja has led a number of equity-based learning and strategy projects that include: co-designing and co-leading the Network Weaver Learning Lab, an 18-month equity-based, networked leadership development program; co-designing and co-leading a six-month learning and community of practice program using the principles and tool from the Systems Grantmaking Resource Guide with a cohort of equity-focused grantmaking practitioners; leading a strategic planning and organizational capacity building process with racial justice organization working to disrupt the school to prison pipeline; developing a learning and reflection process, and creating a storytelling report to share the learning, strategy development, and impact of an equity-focused reproductive justice network.
In her organizational equity-focused work, Aja specializes in developing shared understanding, team alignment around goals and strategy, trust-building and values-based ways of working and being; assessing and refining internal policy and practices; and developing revised approaches and implementation plans to support organizations and their decision-makers in living into equity.
Aja has played an important role in the evolution of Change Elemental’s shared leadership—co-writing a blog about our approach—and frequently supports shared leadership transition efforts for clients and partners rooted in purpose, vision, and values.
Aja co-authored two of the five interconnected articles (“Cultivating Leaderful Ecosystems” and “Multiple Ways of Knowing: Expanding How We Know“) on the 5 Elements of a Thriving Social Justice Ecosystem, published by the Nonprofit Quarterly. She also co-authored the blog, Practicing the Elements of a Liberating Ecosystem, which outlines the intersecting elements and practices needed to advance equity-based complex systems change.
For nearly a decade, Aja was an active member of the Native American Health Alliance, an organization composed of University of California, San Francisco students, staff, and faculty of Native descent working together to promote cultural understanding and an awareness of the health disparities affecting Native American/Alaskan Native peoples. With a small group of Native University of California staff, she created a development program designed to increase skills and promotional opportunities for employees of Native descent across the university system. She has led workshops for Native adults and youth to promote cultural values and identity through artistic expression.
Aja is a certified co-active coach (CPCC) and holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Master of Arts (MA) in policy, organization, and leadership studies from Stanford University, where she is a member of the Stanford Native American Alumni Association.
A writer and sometimes visual artist, Aja is interested in connecting the often disparate realities of spirit and matter, flora and fauna. When not at Change Elemental, Aja can usually be found writing or drawing, running in the hills with her Australian Cattle dog, or engaging in yoga, prayer, and meditation which begins with an expression of gratitude to her ancestors and ends with an enthusiastic shout out to the extraordinary miracle of her toes.