The BALLE Fellowship team reflects on lessons learned to better serve our leaders and their development.
Transformative development is a big part of our work in the BALLE Local Economy Fellowship and the Local Economy Foundation Circle. Transformation means many things to many people; here at BALLE, we think about it as a shift in consciousness that allows us to approach our work from a new mindset in order to be more effective. Given how much we care about this kind of openness to change, it’s only natural that as a team, we try to stay open to the ways that we ourselves, and the program, are transformed by each new cohort of Fellows.
Below is a short reflection on five ways that our most recent cohort of Fellows changed us:
ONE, Prioritize Equity Early.
This cohort, more than any other, held our team accountable to ensuring that equity was at the center of Fellowship activities. We thought we had prioritized equity in our agenda, but the Fellows generously challenged us to set aside more time, earlier in immersions, for deeper conversations on the ways that gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, and especially race and class are central to our work of creating new economies. Because this was by far our largest and most diverse cohort, both in terms of demographics and exposure to conversations about equity, we found it was important to come to a shared baseline understanding of key terms, and some common frameworks, without using too much time for those who live and breathe deep equity work day to day.
Going forward: For our upcoming cohort, we began to bring equity into the conversation from the very beginning, starting with recruitment calls and more dedicated time in orientation calls. In all immersions we are starting with a focus on equity from the outset. We’re also examining all our sessions to ensure that the thread of equity is interwoven. Finally, we’re offering a pre-Fellowship webinar for all incoming Fellows who want extra support and training in conversations about equity: key terms, and skills to be curious, reduce shame and guilt, and stay present even through discomfort.
TWO, Make Time for the Magic of Place.
It seems obvious, but so much deep learning and connection happens for Fellows when they get to see, hear, and feel each other’s work in real life. While we’ve consistently hosted transformative and fun field trips during past cohorts, we remained in question about how integral they were to the program. There was already so much to include in an immersion, and we were concerned about budget, the workload for our staff, and most importantly, the burden on individual Fellows who serve as hosts in their community. However, we were reassured in this cohort, especially after two heart-opening experiences touring Cincinnati and West Virginia, that field trips are key to a deeper experience, not to mention a way to offer a different, fun mode of learning.
Going forward: Starting in this next cohort and ongoing, we will always host three of our four Fellowship immersions in places where we have Fellows and will ask early on who is excited, willing, and able to host. Finally, we look forward to continuing with a Travel Fund for Fellowship alumni so that connecting and learning in person can continue beyond immersions.
THREE, Shorter Immersions Mean Better Focus and Integration.
For this cohort, we experimented with longer immersions — five days rather than four — to make space for more content and to account for the larger size of the cohort: 34 Fellows participated in our fourth cohort, compared to 16 in the third. Many Fellows felt the tension of work and loved ones calling them home after such a long time, which made it more difficult to be fully present during the whole immersion. The longer immersions also gave less of a buffer for reintegration back into the day-to-day.
Going forward: We are returning to a 4-day immersion experience. This will allow Fellows to have greater focus during the time we are together, and recognizes the fact that the decompression, reflection, and integration time after the immersion is just as important as the content itself, in bringing what we learn back home. It is also more practical as we shift into a rural economy focus, where travel requires more time for many of our incoming Fellows.
FOUR, More Open Space Allows for Deeper Conversations.
This cohort helped us to really embrace spaciousness and openness in our immersion agendas. Through our two-year time together, we began to incorporate more long breaks for rest and reflection, as well as more open-ended sessions like “Open Space.” This allowed time for Fellows to have the conversations they wanted and needed to have, as well as to rest, exercise, journal, and do the other things that helped them integrate learning. The result was a more well-rounded and nourishing immersion.
Going forward: We will continue to balance required and integral immersion sessions with long breaks and open space so that the immersions can be a nourishing and digestible experience.
FIVE, Create Special Spaces + Support for Personal Work.
One of our facilitators, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, reminds us that we need to work “at all levels, all the time,” and in the BALLE Fellowship, we talk about specifically focusing on work at three levels: the “I” or personal, the “We” or interpersonal, and the “It” or systems-level. When we are hard at work in a group, or in deep dialogue, sometimes we are moved, touched, or evoked by something deep that needs to be explored or addressed further so we can learn. Thoughts could arise such as, “That comment made me very upset, but the rest of the group seems ok,” or “ I feel guilty about my privilege in this situation, but don’t want to take up the group’s time to unpack that.” Sometimes it’s helpful to use group session time and it’s comfortable for the person experiencing the reaction to address this in full circle, so we can learn together. Other times, we found that Fellows needed time to process on their own outside of the group.
Going forward: Moving forward we will offer more support through dedicated, optional 1:1 sessions with one of our facilitators, Isoke. In the future, we will be even more intentional and explicit with creating opportunities for Fellows to process at the personal level outside of the full group circle.
We have learned unique lessons from all of our Fellowship cohorts, which has allowed our program to continually improve since we first launched in 2011. We are grateful to our 2016 Fellows for their participation, patience, and guidance, helping us to evolve the way we structure transformative development, to ensure transformation in home communities. It is an honor to be in this work together, and we are thrilled to apply all we have learned, as we step into our fifth cohort of visionary leaders, focused on rural economies.