Imagine that you're being interviewed for a job with an innovative national funder and are asked what you would bring to the job. You would want to impress, right? Degrees, credentials, networks, tech wizardry, amazing self-starting work ethic, problem-solving capabilities par excellence, speed reader with a photographic memory, ability to write perfectly without ever using a spell-checker, speaker of dozens of languages, talented impromptu speech giver, etc.
I just talked with someone who was in that position and added something unexpected (and amazing) to the list. Healer.
Rhiannon Chester works in Detroit with ioby, a crowd-resourcing platform that connects leaders with funding and support to make our neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable and more fun. I talked with Rhiannon recently as part of my search for people who are bringing fresh thinking to the innovative edge of philanthropy and resident-centered investing. And what I discovered was a living example of why it's so important for funders to take "rethinking who" seriously.
Rhiannon is one of ioby's Detroit Action Strategists, charged with helping to introduce ioby's crowd-resourcing platform to people, groups and neighborhoods in her home town. I'm sure she can check all of the boxes in a way that would add up to an impressive resume. I love that. I love that she's been active in political action and justice issues since she was a child - moving in and out of community work through her life's journey.
But here's what I love more. When I asked Rhiannon about how she is approaching her new role with ioby, she talked about healing. And I really mean healing in its broadest sense, not therapy.
Rhiannon is not trained as a healer - medical, spiritual or mystical. But throughout her life, she's paid attention to the relationship between trauma, self-care and empowerment. She understands that in Detroit, where there has been a history of disinvestment and of outside-in approaches to fixing community-level problems, it is a natural thing for the people who are caught in the brunt of the day to day ramifications of disinvestment over the years to lose hope and even blame themselves. She also understands that when you are in survival mode, you don't have the luxury of prioritizing self-care or stepping back to think about the little steps that you can take to begin impacting something as big as poverty. She knows that poverty is trauma filled.
Rhiannon was attracted to ioby because of its fundamental belief that the people closest to issues are the ones who have the solutions and that small actions toward those solutions can have big impact. She sees these small actions as part of healing from the trauma associated with living in a place of where disinvestment and poverty make survival mode the new normal. She believes that empowered actions tackle problems and suggest new possibilities - but also make people feel better in body and spirit. And this is healing
So how do you bring this belief to your work as a funder? Here is some wisdom on that question that I gleaned from my chat with Rhiannon:
Think about your work as changing the narrative about what marginalized people can and will do, and remember that the most powerful narrative to change is the one that marginalized people tell themselves;
Don't be afraid to talk about money - and use conversations as ways to help people understand their own fears about asking for and managing money.
Help people lead from their passion rather than their nervousness. Encourage people to relax, get comfortable, and talk about themselves, and notice when people light up when talking about an idea.
Acknowledge how hard is it to always have to fight, how easy it is to blame yourself.
Encourage different forms of self-care, and giving yourself a break when faced with a small defeat.
Continue to remind people that small actions add up, and that empowered action is healing balm for body and spirit.
Pay attention and be intentional about noticing and affirming the gifts, passion and resourcefulness that you see in others.
What I love about this is includes what we do when we're with people who matter to us - family, friends, and neighbors. It's about people to people things - care, compassion, friendliness, listening vs. telling - instead of the things that you do as a professional representing an institution, interacting with a client or a customer. It recognizes our shared humanity, closing the gap between Rhiannon, ioby's staffer, and community member/ordinary person.
I don't want to suggest that someone in Rhiannon's position doesn't or shouldn't impart all of the institutional wisdom that she can. Helping people learn the ropes of how to apply for funding, use an on-line platform like ioby's or put together a more traditional grant application absolutely comes with the territory, as does helping people put together a workable plan. I'm writing this today because I think the "rethinking who" question boils down to how personal hard wiring and life experiences shape someone's personal narrative and world-view. And that personal narrative and world view enable someone in Rhiannon's position to believe that for her to be effective, she needs to think as much about healing as she does funding.
People like Rhiannon are out there, but I imagine many times they don't make it through the interview process because they do audacious things such as bringing up healing during the interview and seeking opportunities to bring their whole self into their work. You most often find what you're looking for.....and lucky for Detroit that ioby found Rhiannon.