Reflection on Leadership and Organizations

I’ll just leave a few brief reflections as an appreciation and offering to our movement family for our years of partnership and camaraderie: 

  • It is difficult, tedious, and sometimes boring work to build organization, but it is worth it. Our people need organization. And I don’t exclusively mean non-profit organizations. Organizations, period. The platforms, containers, infrastructure necessary for people who have come together around a shared interest to act together. It is not always easy to build organizations, especially fighting organizations. In the past 6 years, we have learned so much about what it means to balance the bureaucracy of IRS laws and what our movements need. We have had to be creative and we have had to practice discipline to get the not so glamorous things done, too. Because of this, we can confidently say that the sponsored projects, grantees, communities, and staff members who rely on SVA to be a strong ship capable of weathering storms can do so with evidence that we have and continue to prevail.
  • The tasks facing our movements are daunting, but we should not be so arrogant to believe we can do it alone. From day one, SVA has made it clear that we do not believe that any singular leader, personality, or organization can replace the deep organizing and base building work required to change the tides. But sometimes we forget this because of the real pressures we feel to fix, to change, to address, to confront. Being in partnership, being grounded in movement realities, and stewarding the important social and political relationships has been critical for us to remember we must build together if we are to win.
  • Leadership is not easy and we often fall short of living into our values but it is ok. We keep trying. From wrestling with my own internalized imposter syndrome to wrestling with the projections movement makes about what it means to be a leader, I have learned a lot that this is simply complicated and difficult. For an organization like SVA, where our leadership is primarily Black and brown, queer, trans, and women, youth, students, and migrant, this is can be a particularly challenging area because we, too, are susceptible to believing the scripts about what it means to be who we are inside of social movement organizations. But the more we practice our leadership with humility, honesty, and nuance, the more we can break with these scripts and build the kinds of organizations capable of leading our people.

Strategy is 10% work plans and writing things; the rest is about relationships, adapting to change, and political clarity. There is a lot of pressure that non-profit, social movement organizations face when it comes to establishing “strategic plans” that are somehow misinterpreted as magical documents capable of predicting the future. And we definitely have some of these documents. However, my time with SVA has taught me that unless we are guided by our relationships, our ability to pivot, change, be nimble, and most importantly, our political clarity and assessments, a plan is only worth but so much. The content of our strategy comes from our attempts to fight, organize, and live differently with each other then pulling out whatever language might be closest to that life.

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