About This Episode
In 2010, The American Bar Association named Janelle Orsi a Legal Rebel, for being an attorney who is remaking the legal profession through the power of innovation. We agree- Janelle is a rebel with a cause, transforming the way we think about leadership in this shifting economy. From participatory leadership to salary transparency, Janelle is leading by example to expand our definition of leadership. In this episode, Janelle shares examples of how her organization’s leadership practices create opportunities for every level of staff to be engaged in contributing to the organization.
About Janelle Orsi
Janelle Orsi is a lawyer, advocate, writer, and cartoonist focused on cooperatives, the sharing economy, land trusts, shared housing, local currencies, and rebuilding the commons. She is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), which facilitates the growth of more sustainable and localized economies through education, research, and advocacy. Janelle has also worked in private law practice at the Law Office of Janelle Orsi, focusing on sharing economy law since 2008. Janelle is the author of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies (ABA Books 2012), and co-author of The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community (Nolo Press 2009), a practical and legal guide to cooperating and sharing resources of all kinds.
Janelle’s cartoons include Awkward Conversations with Babies, The Next Sharing Economy, Economy Sandwich, Share Spray, The Beatles Economy, The Legal Roots of Resilience, Housing for an Economically Sustainable Future, Transactional Law Practice for a Sharing Economy, Governance is Life, and Citylicious.
Janelle is an advocate for a more open, inclusive, and accessible legal profession, and you can see her 10-minute presentation on transforming the legal profession here. Janelle supervises two legal apprentices — co-workers who are becoming lawyers without going to law school. Janelle and her apprentices are blogging about the process at LikeLincoln.org.
In 2014, Janelle was selected to be an Ashoka Fellow, joining a robust cohort of social entrepreneurs who are recognized to have innovative solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society. In 2010, Janelle was profiled by the American Bar Association as a Legal Rebel, an attorney who is “remaking the legal profession through the power of innovation.” In 2012, Janelle was one of 100 people listed on The (En)Rich List, which names individuals “whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.”
In her words…
“I’ve come to realize, if we cultivate the right conditions, we can end up with communities and organizations where, a lot of people, or even all the people, feel that they have power and agency to just shape the world around them.” “I have a lot of hope and optimism for what I think we can do in this world. I think a lot of my role as a leader has just been to help impart that same enthusiasm. I do that. I really hone my skills as a communicator and I do a lot of speaking, I draw a lot of cartoons, I do a lot of writing in ways that I hope inspire other people. What ends up happening is that when other people are inspired, they’re highly intrinsically motivated to get involved. That’s my form of leadership, it’s spurring a lot of voluntary and intrinsically motivated participation in this work as opposed to coercive. I almost never want somebody to do something if they don’t feel intrinsically motivated to do it. For me, my style is to create the vision and communicate it in a way that people are going to want to and feel really driven to get involved in.” “I think we need to start young and just get everybody used to having more power in agency. I think most people walk around their cities or their neighborhoods and they watch things happen. They see, ‘Oh, that building got bought up by a big developer,’ or, ‘That building’s being torn down.’ They watch things happen and it just sort of washes over us, but we don’t always necessarily feel like we have the power or opportunity to change things or shape the world around us. To the extent that we can start practicing that in small ways and creating opportunities for people everywhere to practicing that in small ways, it’ll, I think, ultimately lead to people doing it in bigger ways and having a bigger impact.” “Sometimes I hear people say, ‘there are too many nonprofits,’ or ‘there’s too much redundancy.’ You know, we don’t need more nonprofits, but in a way, I think that we do, because every organization or every program within an organization is a space in which people are able to have a lot of agency and power and to take things on and to achieve a lot. And the degree of social change that we need, if we really are gonna make it through this next 10 years, we have the UN predicting that 2030 is the year in which basically climate change is gonna be irreversible. These are huge problems to take on and of course, the inequality’s been getting worse. Racism’s been getting worse. We’re on a trajectory where things are getting worse, and so to really turn things around, it’s gonna take a lot. A lot of people really focusing on making that change.” “I think the nonprofit sector will grow and that it should grow and that there should be a diversity of organizations working in the same sector. A lot of people say, ‘don’t just duplicate efforts’. But I think we should duplicate efforts. We need a lot of people doing the same kind of work, but doing it in their unique communities, in their unique ways, trying innovative things. And so I think a plurality and diversity and multiplicity of nonprofits emerging in coming years I think will be important. And I think the highly participatory leadership structure is gonna be really critical to that in order to create that leaderful society.” “I just think the passion and the dedication and the intrinsic motivation of nonprofit workers is perhaps the most valuable resource that we have for social change. That it’s the workers themselves and the drive and the motivation that we bring. That’s what’s really going to make change. And then in order to tap into that drive and into that motivation, we have to be thinking about our organizational structures and our organizational culture. So it could really come down to that. Maybe this is my way of saying that nonprofits that aren’t really thinking deeply about their structure and their culture right now are missing an opportunity to tap into that incredibly valuable resource.”
Questions Answered on this Episode
- What is shareable leadership?
- Why do you think it is beneficial in the nonprofit sector?
- What issues or opportunities do you see in traditional structures of leadership?
- Cooperatives and shared economy models are seeing a surge in popularity. In many ways, cooperatives, in particular, are creating new economic opportunities for people who may have been previously counted out. How do we invest in those leaders and groups to prepare them as their organizations grow?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- What has been the overall response to the concept of shareable leadership?
- Are there specific conditions under which the model will thrive or fail?
- What response does “shareable leadership” get from funders? Have they embraced the concept?
- Our current political climate has birthed leaders that haven’t followed the typical trajectory but felt the need to lead in order to create something better. Do you have any predictions about leadership structures and what we may see in the next 5 or 10 years?
Vanessa Wakeman: Welcome to the Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.
Hello and welcome to the Social Change Diaries. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman. Today we’re going to be talking to Janelle Orsi. Janelle is a lawyer, advocate, writer, and cartoonist focused on cooperatives, the sharing economy, land trust, shared housing, local currencies, and rebuilding the commons.
She is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center which facilitates the growth of more sustainable and localized economies through education, research, and advocacy. Janelle has also worked in private law practice at the Law Office of Janelle Orsi, focusing on sharing economy law since 2008. She is an author of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies.
Janelle is an advocate for a more open, inclusive, and accessible legal profession. She supervises two legal apprentices, co-workers who are becoming lawyers without going to law school. Janelle was profiled by the American Bar Association as a Legal Rebel, an attorney who is remaking the legal profession through the power of innovation. She was also one of 100 people listed on the (En)Rich List, which names individuals whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.
Janelle, welcome to the Social Change Diaries. I’m eager to chat with you about leadership.
Janelle Orsi: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Vanessa Wakeman: I’m not sure if you’ve been following this season, but we’ve been exploring leadership through a number of different lenses. I know that you are a champion of participatory leadership. Can you share with us what that is and your thoughts?
Janelle Orsi: Sure, I could take a crack at it. I don’t actually use the phrase, “sharable leadership” all that much, but I do think a lot about different forms of shared and participatory leadership and I guess maybe it’s worth just starting with that word leadership-
Vanessa Wakeman: Sure.
Janelle Orsi: Because I used to actually … I used to shy away from that word quite a bit, because I always pictured something like a duck or a goose with lots of little ducks or geese following behind it. There’s always a leader and then there’s followers, but I think that’s very much my kindergartner version of my understanding of leadership and it’s really evolved over time.
And I’ve come to realize … and a lot of it’s just through practice, that if we cultivate the right conditions … and I’m happy to say more about what those conditions are … but if we cultivate the right conditions, we can end up with communities and organizations where, just a lot of people, or even all the people, feel that they have power and agency to just shape the world around them, or shape the work that’s being done.
And it means that a leader can just pop up at any moment, and in any place, or any part of an organization, in the form of a person, or a group of people, that they see potential, or they have a vision for what’s possible. It could be big stuff like, “Hey, let’s put a park in this neighborhood”. Or it can be small stuff like, “Let’s adopt a new policy” or “Let’s reorganize the spreadsheet in a certain way”.
So, anytime people take initiative and they collaborate with others to make things happen, I think that’s leadership. So, leadership … it leads to things happening. And shared leadership or sharable leadership then means that there are just a lot more people playing a role in making things happen.
And so, I think my visual understanding of leadership has now evolved from that linear leader and follower vision to something that looks a lot more like fireworks in the sky, or a fractal, or just a big mess of lots of lively things happening everywhere, which I think is what we need at this point in history, because it just feels like everything around us is a mess and that, if we’re really going to tackle the big issues of inequality, and racism, and climate change, that we probably don’t want to settle for anything less than activating every person to be able to have power and motivation to change things.
Vanessa Wakeman: Well, I love that you included the term, “a mess” or “the mess” or the idea of creating a mess. And so, I think that when we talk about leadership, there is often this romanticized version of perfection, and having all the answers, and finding the right solution, as opposed to creating this collective vision, or this collective space, where people can contribute, and through the messiness, we find the solutions.
And I feel like that is a lot of what we’re seeing with the development of different types of leadership structures and also the evolving leader. So, people taking … who aren’t in a leadership position, but still leading. And so, I think it’s a really interesting, and vibrant, and exciting way to think about leadership.
And you mentioned this idea of the conditions for leadership. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Janelle Orsi: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a lot of different factors in our organization. So, I should have said Sustainable Economies Law Center is the organization I founded nine years ago and I didn’t really mean to found it. Well, I co-founded it with a bunch of other volunteers and it ultimately … It took on a life of its own and, as funders started to see what we were doing and give us money, it became an organization with staff. And now we have 14 staff, but throughout that whole evolution, I was lucky in that, there was never a point in which I saw myself as being an executive director of something, or being that singular leader, or boss, of other people.
And what we ended up creating was just an environment in which a lot of the people who had previously been volunteers stepped into staff positions. And other people who were really motivated by the mission came to the table and ended up joining the staff.
And, in doing all that, it was a very equitable environment that we created. And there were a few things that we did, at the very outset, that created, I think, the right conditions for us to end up being a highly democratic and participatory organization.
Well, one of those things, actually, was setting equal pay for everyone. And still, to this day, everybody makes equal salaries, which I think a lot of organizations would find that to be quite radical and not ready to do. But I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions that we made, because I feel like I have such a great relationship with my coworkers, but also, that everybody takes on a strong sense of ownership. It’s not like anyone feels like they’re working for somebody else’s pay. It’s like we’re all working on this together and we decide our salaries together and I think that’s really meaningful.
But we also … We create many centers of power, like this idea of shared leaderships, of enabling every person to have a lot of agency. Basically, we’ve divided the work of the organization into many small circles and, within each circle, there’s a group of people where, that’s a space where they can take a lot of leadership, and have a lot of initiative, and have a lot of impact. And so, the decisions about what work is getting done, those decisions are being made all over the organization by so many different people. It’s not a top-down strategic plan kind of a situation.
And so, that’s really helped to create that condition is just … You could also call it, if you like big words, polycentric organization, which I define as creating many centers of power. So, I do feel like that’s one of the key conditions, but other conditions include having roles that are dynamic and not having fixed job descriptions.
So, none of us have a singular job description. We’ve broken the organization into many different roles and responsibilities. And those roles and responsibilities shift from person to person, from time to time. So, it means that people are perpetually growing their skills. They’re constantly contributing to the organization in new and different ways and it doesn’t end up concentrating the power in the hands of a single person who’s holding certain key roles.
So, roles like fundraising, for example, end up bringing a lot of power with them, because whoever’s bringing in the funders is also having a lot of influence over what the programs of the organization are. But we end up rotating those roles and involving everyone. So, that’s another way we share a lot of the power.
And then there’s a lot of other things that just show up in the day-to-day work, the culture of the organization. It’s things like, how do we structure meetings? We have highly structured meetings that make sure that certain dominant personalities don’t end up having disproportionate influence. And we have a decision-making process that also allows for a lot of, I guess, diversity, or plurality of views, and doesn’t require that we always all be on the same page about things.
So, somebody can bring a proposal, and that proposal can pass, even if not everybody’s happy with it. And the idea is to just enable more experimentation, allow anybody to bring proposals, and allow them to carry them out, as long as there’s not significant risk involved.
And so, I think all of these things foster a sense in each individual that they have power. And if they see a need in the community, or they see an opportunity in the social change movements in which we’re operating, they’re able to take initiative and be responsive.
Vanessa Wakeman: And what is the response then … ? I don’t know if you’ve had any new hires who have come from very traditional environments and structures. How have they navigated and managed this shared, this more open model of leadership? Have you had any observations on that like, “Okay, it takes a little time for people to get used to” or “they’re sometimes resistant” or “fearful,” because it’s just not what they are used to experiencing?
Janelle Orsi: Yeah. Yeah. It’s varied from person to person and we’ve had a couple people, who I would describe as middle aged, coming out of more conventional organizational structures, or big business, who now work at our organization, and feel like it’s this … Well, at least this is what they say all the time … Like, “This is an amazing place”. Like they’re almost taking refuge from the crazy environments in which they used to work.
And so, they never seem to take for granted really what a privilege it is to have this much power and flexibility in an organization where you’re working. But they were attracted to the organization, because, I think, their personalities … I think they craved that kind of environment. A more equitable and flexible environment.
I will say there are people who come to the organization, and it’s all kinds of people who will sometimes just … sometimes because they’re very passionate about their work, or other times, because they haven’t been in a position of leadership before, where they say, “I honestly just want to do my job. I don’t want to have to worry about management of the organization. I don’t want to have to make decisions about our budget”.
And so, there are ways in which the high level of participation, and the management of our organization can be too much-
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:12:04]
Janelle Orsi: Level of participation and the management of our organization can be too much for people. Of course, I think what we also have is just a culture and structural racism, oppressive dynamics throughout our society that still show up in the workplace. We have to be constantly mindful of those and how they end up creating imbalances of power that we should be addressing or that might have an impact on how power’s distributed.
Vanessa Wakeman: Jenna, how would you describe your leadership style, you personally?
Janelle Orsi: As an individual?
Vanessa Wakeman: Yes.
Janelle Orsi: I would say that … Well, you know, I have a lot of hope and optimism for what I think we can do in this world. I think a lot of my role as a leader has just been to help impart that same enthusiasm. I do that. I really hone my skills as a communicator and I do a lot of speaking. I draw a lot of cartoons. I do a lot of writing in ways that I hope inspire other people. What ends up happening is that when other people are inspired, they’re highly intrinsically motivated to get involved. That’s … My form of leadership, it’s spurring a lot of voluntary and intrinsically motivated participation in this work as opposed to coercive. I almost never want somebody to do something if they don’t feel intrinsically motivated to do it. For me, my style is to, yeah, create the vision, communicate it in a way that people are going to want to and feel really driven to get involved in.
Vanessa Wakeman: Thank you for that. I wanna shift gears for a minute. I know that your organization does some work with shared economy models and I believe cooperatives. I wanted to think through that a little bit. We’re definitely seeing an increase in the growth of both of those. We’re definitely in a shared economy. I’m hearing lots of people talking about cooperatives, food cooperatives, work cooperatives, different kinds of models that lend themselves to nontraditional leadership structures. I was also thinking about when Occupy Wall Street happened. A lot of the media coverage sort of focused on, “Who is the leader? Who is the leader?” We’re so hungry and driven to … we have to know who the leader is. These new models, which are … I think are going to continue to rise. How do we invest in leaders in groups and prepare them for these types of organizational structures where there is no specific leader, but in a way that allows them to sort of work as a collective and be able to grow and be successful?
Janelle Orsi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. That’s a very good question. In many ways, I think we need to start young and just get everybody used to having more power in agency. I think most people walk around their cities or their neighborhoods and they watch things happen. They see, “Oh, that building got bought up by a big developer,” or, “That building’s being torn down.” They watch things happen and it just sort of washes over us, but we don’t always necessarily feel like we have the power or opportunity to change things or shape the world around us. To the extent that we can start practicing that in small ways and creating opportunities for people everywhere to practicing that in small ways, it’ll, I think, ultimately lead to people doing it in bigger ways and having a bigger impact. A lot of the organizations that we support, we provide legal services to them, legal education, resources, we also incubate some cooperatives by providing a lot of funding and technical assistance to them. In doing so, we really urge those organizations and cooperatives to structure themselves in a way that create many centers of power.
One example is we are incubating a real estate cooperative right now. Unlike a lot of other traditional housing developers or land trusts, they’re … we really wanna shy away from creating any kind of top down development model, but instead, see the organization or see this cooperative as creating the space in which community members can organize themselves around a particular piece of real estate, crowd fund for it, and have the cooperative purchase it and then steward it in the long term. The idea is that each property will be organized by a small group of people, either the people who live in the building or neighbors around it or other concerned community members. We’re also incubating a solar cooperative under a similar model where each solar project will be instigated, initiated, by a small group of people and then a lot of the leg work will be done by that small group. These are the kind of hands on, practical experiences that I think build up that. It’s like exercising a muscle in us of feeling like we can look around and see possibility and then make things happen.
Vanessa Wakeman: These structures, are the people coming together like, “Okay. This is our idea,” and you’re helping to incubate? Or is it sort of different people from different areas sort of being brought together? I do think there is sort of a different energy and environment if we, me and my four friends or my friends from school, got together with this idea and we come together as opposed to, “I’ve never met this person, but they have a similar idea,” sort of like when you’re going to work at a new place. Everyone is getting to know one another and then there’s a different sort of … a set of issues that could arise around personalities and who’s in charge. Is it typically sort of people already knowing one another in your incubator sort of environments or is it sort of different people coming together?
Janelle Orsi: Yeah. It’s funny how groups of people come together. It happens in so many ways and it can be very organic and yeah, so personality driven. We really try to foster a model where the staff of an organization works really well together. The real estate cooperative and the solar cooperative that I just mentioned both have small worker collectives that are helping to grow the cooperative. What their role is is not to do the work, per say, but to create the environment in which many communities can organize to build real estate or acquire real estate or build solar projects. Because it’s the environment to enable many different communities, it means that one group of people could have a very different vision or culture or way of operating than another group of people. The two of them, those two groups, don’t need to work together. It’s really creating an organization that’s almost a space for many cooperatives under the umbrella of one larger cooperative. That way, it doesn’t end up having to be so personality driven. Each group can really be its own group and operate in its own way.
Vanessa Wakeman: Got it. Got it. Got it. Then, what about funders? Do you feel, based on your experience and what you envision happening, do you think the funders are more open to this model of leadership? Do they still have some work to do? What is your initial analysis of how funders are responding to these nontraditional nonprofit environments?
Janelle Orsi: I think it’s really evolving quite rapidly. I will say, if I were a funder, I would proactively seek out and fund the organizations that have this highly distributed leadership structure, because if I look around at some of the most effective and inspiring organizations that I know, most of them have that structure. I just see them using their resources more efficiently, which I think funders ultimately want. I see them achieving their mission more effectively, which, again, funders should want. They’re more … They tend to be more transparent and accountable because there’s multiple leaders paying attention. Yeah. I think these are all things that funders want but they’re not … many funders are not yet familiar with this kind of distributed, participatory, democratic structure.
I’ve had some funders say to us that when they look at our budget and they see that all staff make the same salary, some funders are really delighted by that because it makes them feel like their money is really going a long way. It’s really funding a lot of people power basically. I’ve had another funder call me and just say, “What’s this thing you have with the equal salaries?” They found it to be really weird. They’re like, “Well, where’s the head honcho? Where’s your highly paid executive director?” That they assume every organization should have. It’s almost like they felt like we were maybe lacking in leadership because they did not see that highly paid person at the top. I don’t know.
It’s kind of hard to say, but I think there’s been a lot of movement lately, probably among the program staff of foundations especially, where there’s a lot of consciousness about the power dynamics between funders and nonprofits and a desire to have a more participatory, democratic funding climate, which means that I’ve had a lot of staff of foundations tell me that they’re really interested in our structure and would like to learn about it. Or sometimes, they’ll whisper, “I’d rather come work for you because I love your structure so much.” I think, yeah, there are people within foundations who are picking up on this and exploring it. I have a feeling it will evolve.
Vanessa Wakeman: Have you seen anything interesting around gender in this type of model? I know particularly in the nonprofit sector, women are the majority of the workforce. We see that men are running the majority of the larger organizations. I’m just wondering if there has been anything exciting or hopeful to sort of talk about in this structure where we are seeing maybe more equity with women or potential opportunities for women.
Janelle Orsi: I gotta think about that for a second. You know, I think there are a lot of things that we’ve adopted in our workplace as part of our participatory structure that end up being a lot more hospitable for women to be in leadership roles. I think one of them is our … we’re very conscious of our communication style. Like I said, we have highly structured meetings as a way to make sure that all voices are heard. It helps to prevent some of the kind of mansplaining dynamics or those dynamics that I’ve experienced in a lot of meetings where men end up doing a lot of the talking. That kind of thing has helped.
Then, our work hours. Each person has a lot of autonomy to set their work hours. We … Our time off policy is basically take the time that you need. It means … We have mothers on our staff with small children who have been able to just continue working. They took a maternity leave, but came back and have had really a lot of flexibility to work at home or to work at different hours because of childcare needs. That kind of structure, it’s really critical to this distributed leadership because if people don’t have a lot of power to decide what work they’re gonna do at any given moment and at what time, then they can’t be as responsive to communities or as responsive to movements. We’ve really set up each of our coworkers to be highly self-directed in their time, in their work. I think that ends up creating a space for women-
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:24:04]
Janelle Orsi: That ends up creating a space for women where more conventional organizational structures might have kept them out.
Vanessa Wakeman: Got it, got it. And what about professional development? So we have seen that a lot of nonprofits just primarily due to how they believe resources should be spent, that there just isn’t a lot of money available for professional development, and I’m wondering if there’s anything different in your organization. So you’re giving people opportunities to play an extended role and be part of the decision making process. I would imagine that in some cases, people need some preparation for that. Maybe it’s organic just by the very nature of being in an environment like yours, or are you being deliberate about not only are we creating this kind of environment, but we also want to make sure that people are getting the support that they need outside of the organization, and we have professional development dollars are allocated for that.
Janelle Orsi: Yeah, there are ways in which we’ve been really deliberate about it, but there are also ways in which it happens really organically in the workplace. One way we’ve been deliberate about it, and this is unique to us because we’re a legal organization and many of us are lawyers. In a few states, including California, and you can become a lawyer without going to law school, and so four of my coworkers have been apprenticing with lawyers on our staff, and three of them just became lawyers without ever going to law school, which is amazing because right now it costs anywhere from 150 to $200,000 to get a law degree, and my coworkers during that same period of time earn that amount of money rather than had to pay that amount of money.
Vanessa Wakeman: Wow. That’s incredible.
Janelle Orsi: So that’s a pretty substantial kind of a professional development accomplishment that we’ve had in our organization. But not everybody necessarily wants to become a lawyer. And so we do allocate a little bit to professional development. $300 per staff person, it actually doesn’t sound like much, and honestly, people don’t even use it. What they do is more, we give people a lot of time for professional development, in the sense that they may want to spend more time learning a language, for example, or learning a new skill, that may not actually cost money. They might have to go attend a class or something, but we create the space in which people can do that. And we also, because of our roles and responsibilities being so dynamic, if somebody wants to learn a new area of our work, they simply need to join the committee or the circle that does that work.
And so, for example, I’m in our financial circles, which does our budgeting and bookkeeping and accounting, and we just had a new coworker join that circle, and she doesn’t have a lot of experience with bookkeeping and accounting, but now she’s learning it by participating in that circle. And so people move around a lot as a way to learn new areas and experience new things.
Vanessa Wakeman: That’s really fantastic. I would imagine that it creates an environment where people definitely feel empowered, but also have an opportunity to develop those skills that can help them beyond their current role. And so being given that kind of wide landscape is I think really powerful. Kudos to you folks for doing that.
I have one final question for you and it’s a prediction hat. So as we are seeing all the things that are happening in our current political climate and different things that are happening at nonprofits and the idea of disruption and innovation and really organizations trying to find ways to address problems, what would you say, what changes or new things do you think we will see in leadership in the nonprofit sector in the next, let’s say, five to 10 years? If you had to make a prediction?
Janelle Orsi: You know, one thing that I think could happen, which is what I think, it’s the opposite of what I think a lot of people want to happen. Sometimes I hear people say, oh, there’s too many nonprofits, or there’s too much redundancy. You know, we don’t need more nonprofits, but in a way I think that we do, because every organization or every program within an organization is a space in which people are able to basically have a lot of agency and power and to take things on and to achieve a lot. And the degree of social change that we need, if we really are gonna make it through this next 10 years, we have the UN predicting that 2030’s the year in which basically climate change is gonna be irreversible. These are huge problems to take on and of course the inequality’s been getting worse. Racism’s been getting worse. We’re on a trajectory where things are getting worse, and so to really turn things around, it’s gonna take a lot. A lot of people really focusing on making that change.
And so I actually think the nonprofit sector will grow and that it should grow and that there should be a diversity of organizations working in the same sector. A lot of people say, oh, don’t just duplicate efforts. But I think yeah, we should duplicate efforts. We need a lot of people doing the same kind of work, but doing it in their unique communities, in their unique ways, trying innovative things. And so I think that’s, yeah, a plurality and diversity and multiplicity of nonprofits emerging in coming years I think will be important. And I think the highly participatory leadership structure is gonna be really critical to that in order to create that leaderful society.
Vanessa Wakeman: Well I thank you for that. I’m gonna log your prediction in our time capsule per se. And I will definitely be paying attention to see how things flesh out. I do agree, for a very long time I was part of the camp that was saying we have too many nonprofits doing the same things. But as we have gotten to this period where the challenges that we’re facing are so dire and great, I do think that having diversity of thought and approaches and different people focusing on different communities is going to be really valuable to us in terms of how we solve problems and right the ship. So I’m in agreement with you there.
Janelle Orsi: Yeah.
Vanessa Wakeman: This is fantastic. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience about leadership or about your organization?
Janelle Orsi: I guess I’ll only just say, I just think the passion and the dedication and the intrinsic motivation of nonprofit workers is perhaps the most valuable resource that we have for social change. That it’s the workers themselves and the drive and the motivation that we bring. That’s what’s really gonna make change. And then in order to tap into that drive and into that motivation, we have to be thinking about our organizational structures and our organizational culture. So it could really come down to that. So then maybe this is my way of saying that nonprofits that aren’t really thinking deeply about their structure and their culture right now are maybe missing an opportunity to tap into that incredibly valuable resource.
Vanessa Wakeman: Thank you so much for your time and your insights. I appreciate all of it and I’m sure we’ll be having another conversation in the future.
Janelle Orsi: Well, thank you so much. It’s been great talking to you.
Vanessa Wakeman: One of the things that I really enjoy and appreciate about doing this podcast, The Social Change Diaries, is the quality of information that I feel that we are sharing, thanks to our amazing guests. One thing that is evident from the rarest conversations I’ve had this season is that there are a number of innovative approaches to leadership, and many of which are outside of the framework of traditional leadership. And so thinking about what Janell shared, these approaches also seem to offer more transparency and leadership, which likely builds more trust. There are definitely elements of these various leadership structures, the ones that Janelle spoke about and our other guests this season that I believe can be integrated into some of the more traditional structures. And so I think that we are really in an interesting time. There’s so many conversations about leadership and who should lead and how do we distribute power, that it is interesting to think about what the possibilities are for us as individuals, some of which are working in traditional environments and also for leaders, how do they facilitate and empower people in their organization to play different roles and to participate. So I’m really curious and interested to see how we begin to adapt some of these.
I want to thank everyone for listening today. Please do leave us a review on iTunes if you enjoyed the show, and always feel free to share it widely. We so appreciate that. Our listenership is growing every week, and we know that’s all because of you folks, and we appreciate all of the comments on Facebook and the various groups, and we hope to continue to get that positive feedback. We also just launched our brand new website at thewakemanagency.com. You can find all of The Social Change Diaries episodes there, along with information about the agency and our work. We’d love to hear what you think about the new site, and don’t forget to tune in next week. We only have a couple of episodes remaining for this season. And thank you all.
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