Blog series (#1) Lessons Learned: Building Networks During a Crisis

Co-Authors: Nikki Uyen Dinh, Audrey Jordan, Leah Ferguson & Dee Washington


The Community Change Leadership Network began with the intention to create a treasured space for RWJF Change Leadership Programs alumni and participants to connect, collaborate and innovate together. 

This project is managed, in large part, by the work of a project team (consultants and CLP alumni) that is tasked with supporting the evolving scaffolding of this emerging network. While our team has deep expertise and experience in supporting network leadership, a pandemic has ways of shifting our collective focus as well as our communities’ needs. Adapting to this moment requires an openness to change and experimentation in approaches and strategies (i.e. taking risks, and growing and failing along the way).

To help unpack some of the behind-the-scenes work of this network, we have created this introspective on our journey as project team staff. It is our intention to use this space to both (1) lean into transparency in a time of uncertainty and (2) share learnings when the journey is not linear. 

May 19, 2020 – Nikki Uyen Dinh 

Learning 1: Equity is a practice. 

I’m reflecting back to 2019 when a Design Team made of about 40 Change Leadership Program alums (or soon to be alums) worked with the LLC team to gather information and form the early foundation of this network. We met once in Oakland, several times virtually and then again in Chicago. While there were so many unknowns at that point, one of the clearest themes that emerged was the need for equity throughout the design, process and action of whatever would be created. We built a loose container and put all the things related to equity in it such as “equity is sometimes code-switched for power” or “equity means we need to have multiple entry points like self-selection but also peer nomination and strategic recommendations.” Mostly, equity would not be perfected like a stagnant definition or a one-time conversation.

We will have to continuously work on understanding equity, considering power and creating the most inclusive ways forward that we can. It will be a practice, and that journey is an essential part of creating a culture of health.

Learning 2: The people in this network are its greatest assets. 

Before this pandemic, our consulting team’s work was to support the execution of a plan to create a network structure based on the Design Team’s, LLC team’s and RWJF team’s input. We had a clearer blueprint and roles. Today, in light of the vast and fast impacts of COVID-19 throughout our country (and the world), I find the possibilities of the Community Change Leadership Network even more limitless, and I find the roadmap forward more obscure. For the consultants holding the scaffolding of this network, our goal is now to make sure we stay responsive. At the simplest level, our strategy is to let leaders lead and rapidly knit the network. We’ve had to move away from perfected roadmaps, to make way for what is needed now. We’re creating open spaces like the coffee chat, repurposed the equity travel and participation fund, and mostly, resetting our priorities back to the people in this network. By investing in the people, we believe that this network, one which is forming amid a global crisis, will emerge as the leaders of our new normal. 

Learning 3: Taking an iterative approach. 

As the daughter of political refugees, I don’t take well to confusion. Misinformation has been weaponized in the deadly wars my parents and community have experienced. So what is emerging for me in this chaotic time is a willingness to see chaos for what it is, and have the confidence to know that we have capacity to take on complex and complicated challenges. An iterative approach – such as taking one step at time (including steps backwards) and holding the long view with nimble intentions so we can pivot and shift as needed – helps and is palatable when coupled with strong communications. Our team has moved to a bi-weekly huddle so we can touch base more often. In addition, this month has been a lot about hopping on one-on-one calls with my fellow colleagues to listen to and understand each other more deeply. It has also been about allowing ourselves to reset the table as many times as needed, but being intentional about sharing out the learnings and process. It’s a bit of why this blog was born.  

Read the next post in this series.