Blog series (#3) 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. 

June 13, 2020 – Audrey Jordan

Learning 1: Valuing the “work behind the work.”

The important bridging and mediating difficult and courageous conversations, and unapologetic grounding required to hold and shepherd the most transformative equity work (in a network or in an organization), is often that it is not seen or not discussed explicitly. It is too often undervalued. Mediation and bridging is the work that people of color are often asked to do, and many times intrinsically compelled to do. 

There are at least two serious problems with this. 

One problem is that because this work is unseen, it is often unrewarded as well. Meanwhile the other work, the “getting the deliverables done” work – high on execution work that is the on-stage work, like presenting to conferences, producing glossy reports, running the show and taking the credit, which is usually occupied by white people, tends to be most valued and appreciated. When in reality, what is happening in the back rooms and in the trenches is people working out their differences, talking through the hard stuff, making sure people are taken care of and that space is made for them to use their voice and power. This backroom work is actually often what keeps the team and the constituents engaged and inspired in mutual respect and support. There would be no getting the deliverables done without it.  

The second problem in this arrangement – of what is seen and valued and what is not seen and not valued – perpetuates racial inequity.  And by doing so, change happens more slowly (if at all) because the power of the invisible leadership of people of color is inhibited. Those POC that do take initiative and step-up to do what they believe needs to be done, even though it takes blood, sweat and tears do so without credit or recognition; however, recognition and incentives are going to those (usually white people) who are out in front doing all the talking, “executing” for all to see.  At some point it gets demoralizing and kills whatever initiative POC had.  It doesn’t have to be this way! 

What a difference it makes to be able to name this dynamic and be in authentic relationship and shared commitment to equity!  The Community Change Leadership Network support team has learned to name this dynamic and work together to undo it. We have benefited by unleashed initiative and power to do the work that needs to be done. And recognizing and rewarding it.  This has shifted our leadership, our processes, and our deliverables in more equitable ways. And made us more nimble and equitably responsive to the network members.