Resourcing collective leadership for frontline youth organizers

Grassroots Youth Collaborative is evolving its strategy and form to realize the mission of ‘removing limitations to advance unified grassroots leadership’ in Toronto. Here’s how.


This past weekend, I supported my friends at Grassroots Youth Collaborative (GYC) to design and facilitate their 11-year anniversary event. Looking Back, Looking Forward was a two-day storytelling, celebration and strategy retreat for a network/community in a state of transition on its way to the mission of “removing limitations to advance unified grassroots leadership.”

Resourcing the shift to ‘unified grassroots leadership’

The event went down on the eve of Amy Hosotsuji’s transition from her staff role as coordinator and convener to being an ‘Auntie’ as part of a more collective governance structure.

Amy and Duane sent out this update and welcome to the 11-year anniversary event.

We devoted Day 1 to looking back, telling our stories and honouring each others’ contributions through ceremony and affirmations. The stories that emerged were powerful, but we made agreements for these to stay in the room.

Day 2 was a time to transition towards a strategy that shifts us beyond the professionalized organizational models that held us within the nonprofit system.

The question that called us together was:

How will we sustain and resource the activities that bring to life GYC’s mission of Removing limitations to advance unified grassroots leadership?

I’d like to share the process and outcomes of these discussions.

Collaborative intentions for resourcing collective leadership

We started by asking the group to offer: ‘Why is it important for you personally to be a part of this conversation?’ Each person then distilled their intention into a short phrase.

Here’s what we heard, with their distilled intentions in italics:

  • Abundance — Self-sustain GYC and individual movements, and take away our internalized limitations around finances
  • Equality — Bring transparency to government and shift to socialist principles
  • Push — Feel a sense of collective push behind shared leadership
  • Responsibility — Create self and collective accountability, to be conscious and aware of our direction
  • Perspective — Build macro supports for all and future grassroots organizers
  • Mindful learning — Capture how committed people are learning and growing in mindful and systemic ways
  • Reciprocity — Create empowering and reciprocal economic exchange

The complicated meanings of ‘owning’ resources

We also took a moment to do some brief storytelling in pairs around the prompt: ‘Draw your first memory of owning something.’ This allowed us to ground in our deep-seated feelings and vulnerabilities about sharing and exchanging resources.

Some of the themes we noticed about the idea of ‘owning’ resources included:

  • Our relationship to ownership over resources is fraught and complex!
  • Ownership can be both petty, materialistic and individualistic, or deeply spiritual (as in our relationship with our body and well-being) and collective.
  • Often, what we own has symbolic meaning for our relationships, which can be true for better (as in gifts) or worse (as in power games).
  • Our feelings about ‘ownership’ are deeply conditioned from our upbringing and culture, and is not always something we are fully conscious of, even when it affects our behaviour.

The p̶r̶o̶b̶l̶e̶m̶ opportunity of resourcing ‘the work’ — that is, collective leadership

Jermaine Henry facilitated us in a process called ‘Solutions Circles’ — created by our mentors Jack Pearpoint and Lynda Kahn at the Inclusion Press — to arrive at creative possibilities that respond to our ‘stuck’ pattern of being reliant on short-term granting that does not best serve us.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it became a butterfly.” — proverb written on a mug at the venue

The process started with Duane Hall defining and ‘holding,’ on behalf of the collaborative, what is the problem — scratch that, opportunity — we are facing. Meanwhile, I took graphic notes on what he shared:

Solutions Circle step 1: Defining the p̶r̶o̶b̶l̶e̶m̶ opportunity.
  • We are sad to lose Amy’s inspiring energy that formed the “nucleus” of our collaborative, but losing her presence was necessary to reach our full potential, to spread, to gain traction together.
  • Amy played many roles that will now need to be filled in a more collective way, which gives us a chance to engage members who have been more on the fringe so far.
  • At the same time, we need to work with the capacity and energy that is already available to us — to hold ourselves together — rather than creating a giant vision and stretching ourselves too thin.

He tied the situation together with the image of a primordial biological soup that we are now evolving out of. That surfaced the memory of a proverb that was written on one of the coffee mugs we used that day:

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it became a butterfly.

So, how do we assemble the resources to germinate and evolve from caterpillar to butterfly?

Brave solutions that sustain ‘the work’

The next steps in a Solutions Circle is to open up a brainstorm (with Duane sitting in silence) followed by a dialogue (led by Duane) about positive directions that hold promise.

Solutions Circle step 2: Fast-paced brainstorm from our community.
Solutions Circle step 3: Possibility-oriented dialogue on promising directions.

Here’s some key insights that emerged:

  • A single call to action: A specific call to action around an issue that unites us will invite in more energy and people, especially if we can frame a compelling vision to rally around that is positive and proactive.
  • GYC micro-economies: There is opportunity for creating GYC ‘micro-economies’ with our natural allies, like formalize time-sharing systems. This could be enabled by asset mapping and surveys that make our needs and offers visible.
  • The GYC investor pitch: A business plan and pitch could be created to demonstrate our value, ask for investors and earn revenue around core offerings (e.g. events, membership feeds, access to networks, a conference).
  • Alternative funding trends: There are other currents and trends for funding out there, like collective impact, social entrepreneurship, and impact investing & social finance. All of these offer advantages (like access to coaching through the Youth Collective Impact process) along with risks— like the tendency to locate the solutions to systemic and structure injustices within individuals and communities of colour, without the needed redistribution of wealth or power. We need to learn more about these opportunities to make sure the advantages are worth the risks.
  • Direct member-to-member resource sharing: Either way, as a group we were excited (and a bit nervous!) about the prospect of practicing dialogue and trust by pooling our resources on a regular rhythm — whether that is savings, time or group labour. (As someone pointed out, many of our ancestral communities have been doing this since time!)
  • Strategic storytelling about grassroots alternatives: Another emergent theme was the potential of telling our stories more publicly about the grassroots alternatives we are creating, and why they are needed over and above mainstream nonprofit sector responses.

So… what now?

Bold steps and resolutions

We ended by letting Duane define some next steps that he will steward in his role as p̶r̶o̶b̶l̶e̶m ̶opportunity holder, which we voted on using a dotmocracy.

Solutions Circle step 4: Bold steps we can take in next 3–5 days.

Our bold first steps are:

  1. Harvest the conversation for our members — CHECK.
  2. Define responsibilities and accountabilities for our members — CHECK. (See below).
  3. Design a survey to check in with members: How are they doing? What level of membership would they like to take on? What are their pressing n̶e̶e̶d̶s ̶opportunities that the collaborative could fulfill? Which of the above brave solutions would most sustain them? — PENDING.

Onwards…!

Don’t forget our collaborative intentions!

— Abundance — Equality — Push — Responsibility — — Perspective — Mindful learning — Reciprocity —

Member responsibilities and accountabilities

GYC’s draft membership agreements.

We closed with an expansive conversation on the rules, roles and processes that will enable decision-making that will hold us together in this work.

That ‘governance model’ is still in development, but we did get consensus on a draft of key responsibilities and accountabilities for three levels of GYC involvement.

Who’s in?!

If you’re a prior member and would like to re-engage — or someone else willing to offer support or resources— please leave a comment or reach out to Duane at events@spokenheard.ca.

Enrollment to GYC’s next steps. (P2G = Power to Girls Foundation, as represented by Aisha Addo; Spoke N’ Heard, represented by Duane Hall; The People Project, represented by Fonna Seidu)
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